Thursday, December 31, 2015

Cleaning Out


As I prepare for the New Year, I like the idea of starting it fresh. Time to do some cleaning out. 

It started before Christmas with the Great Room Switch. We further finished the partially finished room in the basement for our fifteen year old son who just wants to be able to get away from people. Siblings, mostly, which is completely understandable at times. This required a basement clean-out before we could even begin.

As Zachary packed up his stuff, our thirteen year old daughter packed up hers. As he was moving out of his old room, Haley was moving in - and out of a room shared with her 10 year old brother and 7 year old sister. 

They ran into a major roadblock: what to do with the books. I helped them sort through hundreds of books. We bagged and boxed close to five hundred books from the two bedrooms for donation. A couple hundred books remain on bookshelves ... those to be read, and those to be read again.

This inspired me to sort through the craft stuff that has taken over our dining room and spilled over into bins and bags at the bottom of the stairs. I consolidated to just what will fit on designated shelves and made up a bin of materials to bring to homeschool co-op to share with teachers and parents and whomever will make use of them.

I next will move on to the underbed  bins, my nightstand, the bookcase in the living room, and the fridge. Ooooh, how I hate cleaning out the fridge. I don't bend so well these days, and no one else wants to take on the task, so it's up to me to discover the various science experiments going on in the back of the bottom shelf and to open the containers we've all been too frightened to investigate.

As I do the physical cleaning, I do a sort of mental and emotional cleaning as well. Making space in my house helps me make space in my thoughts for how to better live my life. Getting rid of the physical clutter helps me deal with my emotional clutter as well.

I take joy in entering the new year after a good cleaning out of house, mind, and spirit. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ponder


"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:11-19

My favorite part of this reading isn't the angel's proclamation, nor is it the shepherd's haste in going to see this miraculous thing. It's not that things were as the shepherds were told or that they spread the word and amazement. 

It is this: "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

There are so many things to treasure on Christmas Day! The celebration of the Birth is enough. Time with family and friends can be wonderful. The gifts, the food, the music - what's not to love?

But when the day is done, do you take time to treasure all these new memories, all these magnificent things, how great a Gift we received, and ponder them in your heart? Perhaps tonight you can do just that ... reflect on the Love-tinged moments of this holiest of days. 


Make Room


And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-7

She birthed God, and laid him in an feeding trough, because there was no room for him in the upper room of their relative's house. 

Mary and Joseph made room for Jesus. They made due with what they had, knowing it would be enough. They didn't say, "Hey, this is GOD we're birthing here. Give us the best room. God is coming!" Mary gave birth in humble conditions, made use of what was there. 

Christmas Eve for most comes with a flurry of activity from last minute preparations to family gatherings. Have you made room for Jesus today?

There are last minute things to do, I know! Maybe just one more trip to the store! Or could you make due with what you have? Trust that it will be enough?




Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Wanderer


The birth of Jesus took place like this. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant. (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that.) Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.
While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:
Watch for this—a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;They will name him Immanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us”).Matthew 1:18-23

God is with us.

She has always been a wanderer. When she was just fourteen months old or so, and her siblings were supposed to be keeping an eye on her in the Fellowship Hall while I made a salad in the kitchen in at church, when she wandered off. She walked down a hallway; turned left; walked down a long, dark hallway; up some stairs; turned the corner and went up another flight of stairs, walked a little way and turned right, into the sanctuary. Our Pastor found her, standing serenely in the dark sanctuary, completely at peace. He returned her downstairs to us just after I asked the children where she was and they started looking for her. 

She made friends wherever she went. She would get distracted by a new, usually quite a bit older than her, friend in the grocery store, and walk along with them instead of staying with me. I would often have to retrieve her, reminding her that she needed to stay near me. Her response was always the same: "You are always with me."

I think by that she meant that she was confident that I would always help, protect, and be there for her, even if she wandered a little bit away from me. When she was a bit older, and still a wanderer, I asked her where she got her self-confidence from. Her three word answer seemed wiser than her four years, "You and God." When asked to explain, her answer was again, simple, "You trust me. I trust God." She knew that I trusted that she could do things for and by herself. She trusted that God is always with her. 

She's seven now. If she's comfortable in the space, whether it's at church, homeschool co-op, or the thrift store ... and mostly even when she's not ...  she'll still wander, she'll still make friends, and she remains confident that both God and I have her back. 

God with us. How would our behavior change if we remembered these three words in all that we say and do...even, and especially, when we wander a bit too far from God? 


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Teenage Pregnancy



A teenage girl sits alone, praying the man she loves won't be angry, won't leave her, when he finds out the burden and the blessing she carries - when she reveals to him that she's pregnant. The baby is not his. She fears he will, as most men would, take back the promises he's made and leave her to deal with her situation on her own.

He considers leaving at first. Instead he stays.

The two journey forward together, despite the reactions of family, friends, and neighbors. Their love for each other, for God, and for the child she carries prevails.

I wasn't a teenager when I was pregnant with Alex, who turns 17 today. I was eight days away from being 24, in fact. My first day home alone with him, however, I felt like I was too young and handed too huge of a responsibility.

We brought Alex "home" to my parents' house on Christmas Eve, so that we could introduce him to family and join in the festivities. We brought him home to our house on Christmas Day. What a wonderful gift - my firstborn son! It was a long nine months, worrying that I'd lose him as I had two before him. Praying for his safe entry into the world. Preparing for his birth and for Christmas at the same time.


It must have been a long nine months for the pregnant teen and her partner, and in that time, so much to do. There was a baby for whom to prepare, a pilgrimage to make, their own hearts to prepare to receive this blessed child. 

How do you prepare to give birth to God? To parent God? How should we, now, prepare for the same birth?
Mary sees an angel and is scared. The angel says "Do not be afraid!" Then the angel says "You will have a baby and he will be the Son of God and you will name him Jesus (or did the other angel say that to Joseph?). Mary asks "How could this be?" The angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will make her pregnant. Mary says that she'll be God's servant and do what God wants. Then the angel leaves.
Luke 1:26-38 according to seven year old Alia

Could you have said yes? Could you have made room in your life for this huge responsibility?

Can you, now, make room in your life, in your heart, in your mind, to carry Jesus within you?  To birth His love, kindness, and generosity this Christmas? Always? 



_________________
I promised myself that this year I wouldn't write an embarrassing post about the birthday boy, as he is now a year away from adulthood. I, however, didn't promise myself I wouldn't embed links to other potentially embarrassing birthday posts in this one, so it's not my fault if you click the links in the paragraph referencing Alex, right?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thunder in the Desert!


While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:

Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight! 
Matthew 3:1-3

"Thunder in the desert!" I think that's going to be my new exclamation. Drop something on my foot? "Thunder in the desert!" Discover something amazing? "Thunder in the desert!" I like that. 

What I'm not so sure I like is the "Change your life" part. Change my life. For what? In preparation for God's arrival? But how? How do I change my life to make the road smooth and straight?

Maybe I need to get obstacles out of my way. Perhaps I need to... to...

Let go of anger, stress, and worry.

Clear my schedule of non-essentials - of things that interfere with preparing my heart and home for Jesus' birth.

Spend time with those I love...real, focused, uninterrupted, in the moment time. 

Take time to be quiet, pray, and listen.

Get a tattoo ...err... do something nice for myself amidst doing so much for so many others.

Take to heart what I've been practicing all year - that I am enough. That my preparations, whatever they turn out to be, will be enough.

Go to worship. Read by Bible. Pray. Center myself in Advent. 

Wait, not with impatience, but with anticipation.

Open my heart to Love ... to what it feels like to receive the true Gift of Christmas.

__________________________





And yes ... I did get a tattoo ... at a nine year old's birthday party yesterday (what is my life???)... it was my Christmas gift from my husband:
The heart with LOVE written in it is a copy of part of a crayon drawing my older daughter did a couple years ago that I adore. The Bible verse is one that speaks to me and I've encountered over and over this year. The LOVE is also something I wanted to get for a while after discovering TWLOHA (to write love on her arms). The words are sketched, imperfect, as a reminder to my OCD self to embrace imperfection.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Advent List


"He’ll be filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment he leaves his mother’s womb. He will turn many sons and daughters of Israel back to their God. He will herald God’s arrival in the style and strength of Elijah, soften the hearts of parents to children, and kindle devout understanding among hardened skeptics—he’ll get the people ready for God.”Luke 1: 15-17

He - John the Baptizer - has a huge task in front of him ... before he's even born! What a list! He'll get the people ready for God! How on earth is he to accomplish that? It seems a monumental task.

What's on your list as you to prepare for the birth of our Lord and Savior? Does it look something like this:
- put up decorations
- get Christmas tree
- decorate Christmas tree
- buy gifts
- wrap gifts
- bake some yummy treats
- listen to Christmas music
- watch Christmas movies
- go to family / work/ club/ etc. parties
go to Christmas worship
- open gifts
- eat too much

That's it. Done. Right? 

Is that really the way to get ready for God-With-Us? 



Or should we in addition lighten our schedules and our loads, soften our hearts, and kindle our understanding of the overwhelming Gift we are given? 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

King of the Mountain




It was bad news. Very bad news. My stomach was doing flips. I didn't know what to say. And then two unexpected words escaped my mouth, "Thank God!" I was just given a diagnosis of Psoriatic Arthritis, which changed my entire perception of my present and my future. Words like "severe" and "aggressive," "treatment" and "immediately" and concepts like "quantity versus quality of life" and "risk of incurable cancer" came to the forefront. It seemed that as the what-ifs started staggering through my mind, thoughts of gratitude cartwheeled through, giving me assurance and peace. 
When I heard it, my stomach did flips. I stammered and stuttered.My bones turned to water. I staggered and stumbled.I sit back and wait for Doomsday to descend on our attackers.
Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen,Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted,Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty,I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain! 
Habakkuk 2:1, 3:16-19

Waiting for Doomsday, with nothing... nothing but joyful praises, faith, and sheer joy! What is Habakkuk thinking? How could he possibly be going through all of this with such strong faith? Although he stammered and stumbled at first, he called on his faith to get him through. Going through a horrific situation and feeling like king of the mountain - imagine if we could do the same!

So many times over the past few years I have found myself waiting. Waiting for a diagnosis, waiting for test results, waiting for treatment options, waiting for a prognosis. I find I'm getting better and better at waiting with hope, in faith. 

How are you with waiting?

When your world is crumbling around you, do you stress, worry, and ask why? Or do you take heart and gain strength from the knowledge that God is walking with you? Perhaps in the worst of times, praising God for our blessings is one of the only beneficial things to do. At the same time as we pray "help me" we ought to pray "thank you." 

Thank you for the people in my life who support me. Thank you for love and laughter. Thank you for being with me always. Thank you for your Son. Thank you for Love come down. Thank you for always. 

Thank you for filling me with so much joy I feel like king of the mountain!



Friday, December 18, 2015

Speak Up



He stood by the entrance to the shopping plaza, sign in hand, hoping, praying someone would stop and give him money. So many cars drove past, not giving him a second glance. He appeared Middle Eastern and was decently dressed, wearing new tennis shoes and a collared shirt. Why on earth was he asking for a handout? On my way out of the plaza, I pulled up to the light and motioned him to my window. In the 30 seconds or so we had before the light changed, I learned he simply needed $6 and change to pick up a prescription for his daughter. That was it. I told him to meet me at the pharmacy. 

It turns out he was new to the state, relocating with his young daughter and wife, both home sick. He was able to transfer her asthma prescription, but was still waiting on state health insurance to go through when she got sick and her asthma started acting up. He was two days away from his first paycheck. And he was flat broke. I paid for his prescription, for an over the counter medication for his wife, and for milk, eggs, and bread to get him through the next couple days. He insisted he needed to pay me back. I insisted he needed to pay it forward. It was possibly the best $25 I ever spent. 


Some saw just another panhandler, and possibly an "outsider" at that. I saw a person in need. 


Hathach came back and told Esther everything Mordecai had said. Esther talked it over with Hathach and then sent him back to Mordecai with this message: “Everyone who works for the king here, and even the people out in the provinces, knows that there is a single fate for every man or woman who approaches the king without being invited: death. The one exception is if the king extends his gold scepter; then he or she may live. And it’s been thirty days now since I’ve been invited to come to the king.”
When Hathach told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai sent her this message: “Don’t think that just because you live in the king’s house you’re the one Jew who will get out of this alive. If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.”
Esther sent back her answer to Mordecai: “Go and get all the Jews living in Susa together. Fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, either day or night. I and my maids will fast with you. If you will do this, I’ll go to the king, even though it’s forbidden. If I die, I die.”
Mordecai left and carried out Esther’s instructions. 
Esther 4:10-17
Esther went from outsider to insider...Queen, even. Mordecai was an outsider. Literally. He was outside the gate, in sackcloth and ashes, hoping his message would not only get to, but get through to Esther. She was in a position to do something - to help. She could speak up for the people who couldn't speak up for themselves, or who were punished for doing so. 


The baby was screaming in a car seat in a shopping cart. A harried looking mom read baby cereal labels while trying to rock the cart back and forth with  her foot. Baby screamed on. My brain screamed, "Why doesn't the mom just pick up the baby??!!!??? Pick. up. the. baby!" The anti-cry-it-out mom in me just wanted to swoop in and pick up the baby myself. The introvert in me wished I could ignore it all and walk away. Instead, I approached, and said, "What a beautiful baby!" to the Mom and then started talking to the baby, in hopes that she'd calm down. The appearance of a kind face seemed to do the trick and Baby settled down. Mom mumbled a thanks and something about trying to figure out WIC checks and no sleep and no help. Baby soon started fussing again, and I said to Mom, "What don't you pick her up and hold her while I help you sort out these checks. I used to be on WIC myself, so I might be able to help. She really seems to need you." At this, Mom's shoulders relaxed, she took a breath, and she picked up baby. "Sometimes you just need to stop everything and hold the baby - and sometimes that's the most difficult thing to do, especially when they don't let you sleep and you have so much to do! You carry her, I'll help you shop, if you don't mind." Looking shocked, she agreed. Baby soon fell asleep in Mom's arms, we got the few other things she came for, and I left them, Baby sleeping, Mom with a smile on her face, at the register. That was the best 25 minutes I ever spent. 

Have you been in a position to speak up for someone who couldn't speak up for themselves? To help someone on the outside from your position on the inside? 

Food banks, community organizations, programs for teens, senior centers, church ministries... there are so many opportunities to give. Just look around you, find something that calls to your heart, and find a way to use your gifts to help. 

Babies, refugees, the bullied, veterans, the others, the outsiders, the lost, the forgotten ... there are so many people who need your voice. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. 


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Feeling Small




She was talking about the frustrations of being a stay at home mom. Her issues had nothing to do with noisy, rambunctious children or never-ending housework. It had to do with the transition from working to staying home and the sudden feeling that she had somehow lost a great deal of her significance. She was feeling small and unimportant. 

I've felt this way, too. Not only am I "only" a stay at home mom, but I also have multiple autoimmune illnesses that make me feel like a non-functional, overtired, overly-cranky, doesn't do nearly enough with her children stay at home mom. A mom who is always at one appointment or another, sick from disease or medication or a combination, and tired...always tired. Did I mention tired? Oh, and absent-minded, too. Very. I've felt like I could do more and be more for my children. I felt the need to contribute more to the world than just raise my kids. Do something important. Be something important. 



In a moment of stillness amidst the self-doubt, I realized something. I am the most important person in the lives of my child. I birthed them, breastfed them, and have been there for every major injury to body, mind, and spirit. I have bandaged, talked, and soothed. I've nurtured bodies, minds, and souls. That, in an of itself, should be enough. Being a mother is something great.


So I pointed out to this feeling-small friend that she, too, is great. She is a mother, a teacher, a counselor, and a comfort to her children. She is a volunteer, serving her community. She is a leader to her family and their source of peace.

"What's so great about that?" she asked, still feeling small.

Let me tell you a story...
There was this guy from this small village. He grew up and, instead of taking on a traditional job, made his life's work helping others. He taught His children right from wrong, how to live lives of love and grace. He tended to the sick. He helped the troubled. He was a great leader because of the small, yet very important things he did, just as much as due to the big things he accomplished. He was, and continues to be, a great leader and a source of peace for all His children. 

"Who is this guy? He sounds awesome!" 

He is awesome. You are, too. 

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,are only a small village among all the people of Judah.Yet a ruler of Israel,whose origins are in the distant past,will come from you on my behalf.The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the woman in labor gives birth. Then at last his fellow countrymen will return from exile to their own land. And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Then his people will live there undisturbed, for he will be highly honored around the world. And he will be the source of peace. Micah 5:2-5

Out of a small village comes a great leader to His family, their source of peace.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Season of Second Chances


Today's reading is from Jonah. I can't remember where I heard it before, but the book of Jonah goes something like this:
God decrees (go to Nineveh)
Jonah flees (to Tarshish on a ship)
Storms follow (Jonah goes overboard)
Fish swallows (Jonah, for 3 days, then Jonah prays and is vomited up onto the beach)
Second chances (God says go to Nineveh)
Jonah advances (He preaches and the people of Nineveh repent!)
God relents (God is merciful and doesn’t destroy the people of Nineveh)
Jonah’s lament (he was angry, he threw a fit, a big one)
Jonah’s case (“So, God, if you won’t kill them, kill me! I’m better off dead!”)
God’s Grace (forgiveness and a second chance)
As we draw nearer to the birth of our Savior, it's interesting to think about second chances. God, after all, is a God of second chances (just ask the Veggietales!). 

How many times in life do we need a second chance? A do-over? Words explode from our mouths in anger and even as they spew forth, we wish we could suck them back in. We make a mistake in a relationship and wish we could go back and undo it, or at the very least that our apology will be accepted and we'll be given another chance.  

How often do we give others second chances? I'm not talking about hours or days or months later - I'm talking immediate forgiveness and a second chance? Do we really listen when people mess up or hurt us and then apologize? Do we take their apologies to heart and show the same grace God does to the Ninevites and to us all? 

Do we often and easily forgive ourselves,give ourselves second chances, or do we let the should haves and could haves take hold of us? 

What would happen if we spent the rest of the month freely and totally giving second chances and practicing grace? Let's give it a try and see how it goes. 

After all, God sent a "far greater preacher than Jonah" (Matthew 12:41), in Jesus. Jesus preaches Love, Grace, and Forgiveness, so 'tis the season of second chances.






Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Troublemaker


The moment Ahab saw Elijah he said, “So it’s you, old troublemaker!”
“It’s not I who has caused trouble in Israel,” said Elijah, “but you and your government—you’ve dumped God’s ways and commands and run off after the local gods, the Baals. Here’s what I want you to do: Assemble everyone in Israel at Mount Carmel. And make sure that the special pets of Jezebel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of the local gods, the Baals, and the four hundred prophets of the whore goddess Asherah, are there.”So Ahab summoned everyone in Israel, particularly the prophets, to Mount Carmel.Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!”Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.Then Elijah said, “I’m the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood—but don’t ignite it. I’ll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. Then you pray to your gods and I’ll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.”All the people agreed: “A good plan—do it!”1 Kings 18:18-24
If you made it through the reading, wonderful! You probably want to know what happened. Long story short ...wait ... I'll get to that later, as I need to type what's in my head before there's nothin' in my noggin.

So we have Elijah, the troublemaker (how I love that!), only prophet of God left in Israel versus the followers of Baal in an out-and-out oxen offering duel.  The troublemaker asks people to make up their minds - God or Baal - for there can only be one true God. 

Perhaps I'll be a bit of a troublemaker and ask you this: Which god do you serve? Do you serve the god of STUFF, whether it's the latest gadgets, the best gaming system, the prettiest shoes, or even hoarding food? Or do you serve the god of MONEY, working long hours to make more money to save more money - or to have more money with which to serve the god of STUFF? Perhaps you serve the god of ME, only thinking about yourself, only wanting for yourself or the god of ATTENTION or RECOGNITION, not feeling good about yourself unless you're being noticed and praised. Or do you serve God? You cannot serve both one of these gods and the one true God. 

Are you awaiting the stuff of Christmas? The monetary gifts? The attention you'll get from giving a great gift or the recognition you'll get from preparing a delicious meal? Or are you awaiting God? 

Meanwhile in Israel...
They set up two altars. The Baal-followers, no matter how hard they prayed, failed. Then... 
When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, “O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I’m doing what I’m doing under your orders. Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”  Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench. All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!” 1 Kings 18:36-39
Will you exclaim, "God is the true God!" and prepare your heart to adore Him? 


Monday, December 14, 2015

Land of Deep Darkness



The people walking in darkness

I feel like I've been walking in a sort of darkness lately, a sadness pulling at me, dragging me down. Even though I try to avoid media as much as possible, news of shootings, bombs, attacks, fires, hate crimes, and just plain hate creep in here and there. People rage against helping refugees while gearing up to celebrate the birth of a child whose parents have to flee their country or risk His death... anger and malice, a pall over what should be a time of joyful anticipation.

have seen a great light;

I need that light ... that Light. It is what keeps me going. It is that which lives within me; urges me toward love and goodness in all things; preaches hope in the darkness.

on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.


It is my prayer that God's Light will shine in the hearts and minds of all affected by violence - both the victims and the perpetrators - that they may find wrap themselves in the warmth of God's love and find their way to peace.

For to us a child is born,

Seven words (which I sing every time) that bring so much joy to my heart. So much joy.

to us a son is given,

A Son given not only to live, but to die. For us. To be with us, walk among us, and pour out His life for us. The Greatest Gift.

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


How can anyone not feel some Light after reading just those four names. Not only is this Gift our Savior. Not only is he Emmanuel - God With Us - but he is our Counselor, our God, our Love Everlasting, and our Peace. 

Somehow I always feel a bit lighter, feel a bit more Light, after reading (or singing!) Isaiah 9:2,6. 



Sunday, December 13, 2015

Heart Things


In 1 Samuel 16:1-12, God sends Samuel to Jesse to anoint him God's chosen, king. After seeing men who looked fit for the part, it was the runt, not deemed worthy of presenting, who was chosen as God's anointed one.  After all:
“Looks aren’t everything...God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” 1 Samuel 7

We're in the heart of Advent. There are a mere eleven days until Christmas Eve, twelve until Christmas Day. In this reading, God gets to the heart of the matter: our hearts are what are important - not our looks, not our appearances. 

As a parent, I worry that my children will judge others by their outward appearance, rather than by their heart and their actions. 

One day when my children were younger, before I was in need of crutches or a wheelchair, we were sitting in a restaurant enjoying our lunch when a man came in on crutches. He was missing one leg and had prosthetic arms and hands. One of my kids yelled, "Hey, Mama - LOOK at that guy over there!" My brain readied itself for the possible situation at hand and my lovely child continued, 



"He has the coolest hat!"

The reassurance I felt in that moment was overwhelming. That they saw The Hat, not the disability was heartwarming. 

In my house, we teach our children lots of heart things:
People are more important than stuff.
Whenever we can, we help.
Praying is helping.
Others' feelings are just as important as our own.
When you have a choice to be mean or be kind, choose KIND.
If you hurt someone, a sincere apology is the only kind of apology.
If you hurt someone, ask how you can help them feel better.
If someone says you hurt them, believe them.  
We will love you, always, forever, and no matter what.
God will love you always, forever, and no matter what.
If you mess up, tell the truth and ask for help.
Mistakes are learning experiences, not reasons for punishment.
We help each other to right wrongs and fix things. 
You are FORGIVEN, no strings attached!
FORGIVE, no strings attached!
Love one another.
What's in someone's heart is what makes them beautiful.
When in doubt, choose LOVE.

Take care that your own hearts shine with God's light and love.
See the beauty inside others that God sees in us all. 






Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ruth-full


Oh, Ruth! How we all need Ruths in our lives!

Naomi looses two sons and a husband. She heads for the home she left when she married to start over, her two daughters-in-law with her. Along the way, she comes to the realization that her daughters-in-law would do better to go home to their mothers, as they would be able to find new husbands and have new families with them. One daughter-in-law turns back, but not Ruth:
But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!" Ruth 1:16-17
We are blessed with the Ruths of the world - those who point us toward the positive; those who stick with us through thick and thin; those who see the Love all around us; those who assure us everything will be alright somehow. There are Ruths who come into our lives just when we need them, pointing us in the right direction, saying the right words at the right time, or helping us let go of what is weighing us down so we can move forward. 

One of the Ruths in my life is my friend Renee. We've known each other for over twenty years, when our (former) roomates decided to move in with each other and we were made roomates by default. This was one of the best things to ever happen in my life. Over and over again, Renee has been there for me. She has helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life. She has stuck with me even when I was a horrible, non communicative, sorry excuse for a friend - when, like Naomi, I couldn't see or feel the love, the hope, the good things to come. I love her and value her friendship more than I can express.

It is my hope that I can find ways to be a Ruth for others ... and to aptly celebrate and thank the Ruths in my life. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Bad Reputations


If you read Joshua 2:1-21, you will experience a story of a woman with a bad reputation, a king, spies, mercy, promises, and a red rope hanging out a window. 

Rahab, had faith enough to hide Joshua's spies and keep them safe. She had faith and courage enough to speak with the men to whom she'd shown mercy and ask them to swear to her that they would protect her and her family from harm when they returned to conquer Jericho. She hung the scarlet rope used for the spies' escape in her window to ensure her family's safety. The woman with the bad reputation, the "harlot," is the heroine in this saga.

I find it comforting that again and again in the Bible, the least, the worst, the other, the lesser, are the ones who make a difference in a big way. 

As I think about this story in the context of Advent, I think of Mary, a teen, unmarried, having faith enough to listen to and believe the angel and to be "the Lord's Maid, ready to serve." (Luke 1:37MSG) She had the faith and courage to tell her betrothed the truth, hope for his acceptance, but be dedicated to carry out God's will, whatever that turned out to be. How strong she must have been to endure what others must have said about her: unwed and pregnant - the harlot! And delusional, too - visited by an angel! In this story, the pregnant teen turns out to be the mother of God. 

Perhaps as we move through Advent, the Christmas season, and beyond, we can strive to see or to assume the good, the God, in people instead of judging. The harlot may just turn out to be the heroine and the teen mom may just change the world.  


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Commands, Covenants, and a Case of the Crankies


Please forgive my lack of typing out all of the reading today. Post-Remicade infusion ickiness has set in. Insert your favorite version of the Ten Commandments in the appropriate space...

God, our God, made a covenant with us at Horeb. God didn’t just make this covenant with our parents; he made it also with us, with all of us who are alive right now. God spoke to you personally out of the fire on the mountain. At the time I stood between God and you, to tell you what God said. You were afraid, remember, of the fire and wouldn’t climb the mountain. He said:
Deuteronomy 5:2-5
 ***Insert 10 Commandments here***
God heard what you said to me and told me, “I’ve heard what the people said to you. They’re right—good and true words. What I wouldn’t give if they’d always feel this way, continuing to revere me and always keep all my commands; they’d have a good life forever, they and their children!
Deuteronomy 5:28-29
It was nearly impossible for him to get out of bed. Ten minutes before we needed to leave for church, I admittedly lost my cool and all but threatened to ruin his life should he not drag himself to the shower. He had made a promise, had a responsibility that morning at church, so not only did he need to fulfill that promise, but I couldn't have mercy on his poor, tired, teenage self. 

A large coffee later, he was acting human again. Not only did he show up for church, but he went above and beyond delivering his Advent message presentation during the beginning of worship. His angry teen mood meshed well with the given text and his mood seemed to change with the change in tone in the message he was offering to the congregation.


When I found myself blessed with a successful pregnancy after two losses, I promised God that I would do everything I could to raise my children following His commands. I made a covenant with my first child and those to follow that I would do my best to parent with patience, love, and understanding while laying the ground rules for living.  As I had more children and my children grew into their teenage years, parenting in the way I knew I should became more challenging in many ways. 

Who would have thought that an overtired teen could unravel my promises to God and my children so quickly? It wasn't the teen so much as my own state of being at the time that was my undoing. I was frustrated with him and disappointed in myself in the end. I knew I let both of us - and God - down.

Sometimes we get lost in all the rules God has for us and for our living and miss His covenant of Love. Sometimes we get lost in all the rules we have for our children and miss the love. God knows we mess up sometimes and always offers forgiveness. I know my kids mess up sometimes and I always offer forgiveness. I've been blessed with children who know their parents mess up sometimes and always offer forgiveness. 

And always, we love God and we love one another. Always. 


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Easy Now



Today's reading is the story of Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob, recipient of a special and glorious robe, dreamer of dreams, prognosticator of prognosticators, sold as a slave by his brothers to the hairy Ishmaelites, presumed dead by Jacob. Joseph who ended up making a good life for himself while helping many, and eventually helping and forgiving his brothers. When Jacob died and the brothers were scared that Joseph hadn't forgiven them....

Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart. Genesis 50:19-21
A lot of bad stuff happened to Joseph. A lot, a lot. His brothers sold him into slavery. Potiphar's wife got him in trouble and he landed in jail. But it was this series of unfortunate events, combined with Joseph's faith in God and his spiritual gifts of prophecy and discernment, that led to him helping Pharoah save food and make it through what could have been a huge famine for his people. God used the bad for good. 

People often ask me how it is that I'm not angry with God for "cursing" me with such illness and pain. Or for not rescuing me from the abuse in my past. My response is this: God now uses, and always has used, the bad for good in my life. People (not God) have done horrible things to me. God has put other people in my life who helped me through, and has walked with me through it all, even if I might not have realized it at the time. My body (not God) has gone awry, and through prayer, faith, and not a little medication, I find the best in my days and live my life to the fullest, whatever that means in any given moment.

God has turned my suffering into the ability to help others, into compassion, into laughter, into the gift of seeing Joy in the little things and appreciating every step, sight, and sound. 


Through it all, God has been there, saying "Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I'll take care of you..." 




(Bonus points if you can figure out how many movies and/or musicals I quoted in this post.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stairway to Heaven


Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He came to a certain place and camped for the night since the sun had set. He took one of the stones there, set it under his head and lay down to sleep. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground and it reached all the way to the sky; angels of God were going up and going down on it.
Then God was right before him, saying, “I am God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I’m giving the ground on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth; they’ll stretch from west to east and from north to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”
Jacob woke up from his sleep. He said, “God is in this place—truly. And I didn’t even know it!” He was terrified. He whispered in awe, “Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God’s House. This is the Gate of Heaven.”

Genesis 28:10-16
I can't even imagine having a dream like that...or what I would think upon waking from such a dream. Oooh, it makes me wonder!

A stairway to Heaven, to God, is an Incredible, Wonderful, Holy gift to Jacob. If only we could have a stairway to God as well.


But wait, we do! God also gifts a Stairway to Heaven to us, in the form of his only Son. Jesus is our stairway to God, our connection to the Almighty. 

I really never thought of it in quite this way, but did the other day in a conversation with a friend. She was talking about how she finds it difficult to talk to her father, because he's the authoritarian type, demanding a lot from her, and she's afraid of disappointing him... but that she can talk to her brother about just about anything. Her brother will often then relay to their father what is going on with her, in hopes that he will be more understanding when they do talk. Her brother is her comfortable connection to her father...even though she knows her father loves her with all his heart. 

It hit me that this is sometimes how I feel about talking to Jesus versus talking to God. Perhaps it's my Roman Catholic fear God / Jesus loves you background, but even though I know that God is Love, I sometimes find it easier to chat with His Son, "Jesus, our Brother, kind and good - humbly born in a stable rude..."

This Advent, this Christmas, when you are celebrating what a wonderful Gift we are given in Jesus... Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace ... you can add Stairway to Heaven to the list. 






Monday, December 7, 2015

God Sees To It


Today's Bible reading is long and my time is short, so, in the words of Inigo Montoya, "No, there is too much. Let me sum up." 

In Genesis 22:1-2, 6-14 God tests Abraham, asking him to sacrifice his only son, Issac. Abraham does as God says, and as he takes out the knife for the sacrifice...

Just then an angel of God called to him out of Heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes, I’m listening.”
“Don’t lay a hand on that boy! Don’t touch him! Now I know how fearlessly you fear God; you didn’t hesitate to place your son, your dear son, on the altar for me.”
Abraham looked up. He saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Abraham named that place God-Yireh (God-Sees-to-It). That’s where we get the saying, “On the mountain of God, he sees to it.”

Genesis 22:11-14

Several things struck me about this reading, especially thinking about it in the context of Advent.

The first is, how often do we stop and listen to God? 

How many times do we feel God urging us to do things, and we ignore Him to do what we would rather do? I find this happens to me especially when I don't want to let go of something that I need to in order to move forward, or when I have some fear or anxiety surrounding the direction in which God is guiding me. 

How many times do we pray for something, but not spend any time actually listening for the answer? Or expect the answer now, or be unwilling to accept no or not now as an answer?

The second is "God-Sees-to-It." Do we trust that God will see to things in our lives? That God will provide for us, guide us, support us, walk with us? 
 In times of health crises, financial insecurity, and just plain not knowing how to move forward in life, I sometimes find it difficult to remember that God is seeing to my life. How much calmer I would be and how much more smoothly my days would go if I could just remember to breathe and trust God!


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Laugh with Me




God visited Sarah exactly as he said he would; God did to Sarah what he promised: Sarah became pregnant and gave Abraham a son in his old age, and at the very time God had set. Abraham named him Isaac. When his son was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him just as God had commanded.
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born.
Sarah said,God has blessed me with laughterand all who get the news will laugh with me!
She also said,Whoever would have suggested to Abrahamthat Sarah would one day nurse a baby!Yet here I am! I’ve given the old man a son!

Genesis 21:1-7
How wonderful that Sarah could experience laughter in such a miraculous, yet admittedly odd situation! She sees laughter as a gift, a blessing from God. I couldn't agree more.

If there is one thing that serves me well on this rollercoaster we call life, it's my sense of humor - my ability to laugh at life's more ornery situations. Laughter is a priceless tool in parenting, teaching, and living life with chronic pain and illness. 

Just the other day I had bilateral cat scan guided sacroiliac injections to hopefully treat the pain and inflammation therein. I called the day before the procedure to see if there were any specific instructions, an earlier arrival time, or the need to stay after the procedure for observation. I was transferred to radiology, who transferred me to same day surgery, then registration, then back to same day surgery, and finally was told that radiology would call me back with instructions. By the morning of the procedure, I hadn't heard back from radiology, but did receive a call from them shortly before we were about to leave, asking if I could come in early. We rushed out the door and to the hospital.

Upon arriving, I followed the instructions to take a certain elevator to Same Day Surgery to check in. Same Day Surgery sent me to Radiology, who looked in the system and sent me back to Same Day Surgery. The wonderful woman there checked her list, her computer, talked to a couple people, called Registration, then called Radiology and instructed me to return to Radiology. 


I could have gotten angry at the runaround, both figurative and literal, that I had been getting for two days, or I could choose to laugh. I chose to employ my sense of humor and tendency toward forgiveness.  It seems that a couple transposed numbers in the system had me scheduled in the wrong place, therefore the confusion. 


In the confusion of that day, I forgot to call my Mom, who was my ride home, to tell her I was going in early and therefore needed to be picked up an hour or so earlier. Upon returning to the hospital lobby after the procedure, I realized that it was just minutes before my originally scheduled appointment and my Mom wouldn't be picking me up for another hour and a half. I could have gotten annoyed with myself for once again not connecting the dots, leading to wasted time, or I could take a deep breath, take in the Christmas tree and peaceful surroundings, and be thankful for time to myself I chose the latter. 

How would your life improve if you chose the gift of laughter over anger or frustration?