Two Important Questions

 

How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me? This is the first line of a song written by Andre Crouch: To God Be the Glory. Yes, it’s impossible to ever say it enough, but I need to live my life trying.

As I think about living a life of thanksgiving, I can’t help but think of the last month of my sister’s life. She was a woman on the go pretty much till she took her final earthly breath. She’d texted these words to many of us two weeks prior to that day: “I ain’t down yet!” And, she wasn’t.

Kimberly and I had a phone conversation a month before she stepped into eternity that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget it because she asked me a question that shocked me. It shocked me because it was coming from someone whose life was fading because of terrible cancer. Her question was, “Have you ever felt like God was giving you the desires of your heart?”

I think I kind of stumbled around trying to formulate my answer. I said, “I guess so, but many times those desires aren’t material but spiritual.” I was having trouble with her question because we’d prayed so much for her healing over many years and it wasn’t being answered the way we wanted. That was the main desire of my heart and I know it was hers. And yet it seemed she was living on a different and higher plane than I by asking me that question. Now I can’t help but wonder if she already had one foot in Heaven. She probably did.

Kimberly went on telling me many things God was giving her and doing for her. I was blown away by what she was saying and with the joyful attitude she was saying it. So, I asked her for a favor. I asked if she would write down these blessings in a journal so she could share them in person with me since I was going out to see her soon.

A few days later I got a text from her saying she was just going to text these blessings to me. These are some of the things she wrote the last weeks of her earthly life:

  • Today I am SO blessed! This is the day the Lord has made! I’m having coffee in bed. I slept 7 hours!
  • Today I’m really resting. I’m in bed with pillows propped up, have a food tray, TV remote in hand that “I” control, Jesus going before me like a hurricane!
  • Today I’m headed to Arkansas for a wedding. I got a portable breathing machine. My breathing is 100% better!
  • God keeps doing so much for ME minute by minute. “I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” God is in control!
  • I’m having a fun snack: chocolate chip cookies, lime potato chips.
  • Let us rejoice because JOY is in this morning

How was she able to live her last days with this kind of joy and attitude? She was joyfully fighting to live and make it to one of the most important days on her calendar – the wedding of her son. She was fighting not with her own strength but with the strength of her beloved Jesus. At the time she said Jesus was going before her like a hurricane I had no idea what that meant. Now I do. She loved contemporary praise music and the song she must have had on her mind was “Fierce” sung by Jesus Culture.

 

Before I call

Before I ever cry you answer me

From where the thunder hides

I can’t outrun this heart I’m tethered to

With every step I collide with You.

Like a tidal wave

Crashing over me

Rushing in to meet me here

Your love is fierce

Like a hurricane that I can’t escape

Tearing through the atmosphere

Your love is fierce.

 

Kimberly experienced Jesus’ powerful love in ways she’d never known before. She had spiritual eyes that could see the Lord Jesus at work in her life during the most difficult journey she’d ever taken. She found joy in that last leg of her journey because of His love – the most powerful energy there is in the Universe.

We can never say thank you enough to the One who gave His all so that we can really live. But we can live trying. It makes a difference in the way we look at our yesterdays. It makes a difference in the way we view today. It makes a difference in the way we view our tomorrow.

Thanksgiving allows joy to take over instead of despair. With the apostle Paul we can say, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

 

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Sacred Moments Always Remembered

 

My mother had Alzheimer Disease for eight years. I live in Tennessee, Mother and Daddy in the Texas Panhandle. During her battle with this disease, I made trips to see her and Daddy once every three months. I wish I could have gone more often, but it’s a long way from Tennessee to Texas. Daddy’s a tough Texan who had the strength to take care of Mother at home until the very end. What a gift he was able to give her.

I was already in Texas with Mother and Daddy, three years ago, when she began her final decline with this cruel disease. God has gifts for us even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death with those we love. The gift He gave me was that I was there with them during her last days here.

Hospice came regularly. For two weeks they told us her final breath was imminent. God holds the key to life and to death. Only He knows why her lingering was as long as it was. I trust Him in His timing but those were rough days.

The morning of October 23, 2014, I got up about 6:00 and decided to go and sit with her while I spent my devotional time with God. It was one of those mornings I wasn’t sure where to read, but I landed in Psalm 119. It’s a long chapter! 175 verses!

I did something I’d never done before. I read it out loud. I sat awhile and read, I walked awhile and read, I prayed some of these verses over all of our loved ones. Even though her eyes were closed, I knew she heard me and was delighting in the Word of God as I.

The entirety of this Psalm is devoted to the praise and honoring of God’s Word. The room where Mother took her last breath became a sacred sanctuary. The aroma of Jesus filled that place because His presence and His word were with us. His Word gives comfort, gives strength, gives joy, gives hope, gives guidance, gives refreshment, gives wisdom.

Mother took her last breath as I finished reading this Psalm. It was a sacred place.

Every time we worship God in quiet stillness, in reading and meditating upon His Word, and in prayer the place is sacred. There is a blessed communion among Father and child. This Psalm is the place where my eyes will focus on all the October 23rds that are given me by my gracious loving heavenly father who knows my days, and knows your days, too.

Even though there is another sorrow in my life, which is deep and fresh with raw emotion – the loss of my sister – this Psalm tells me: “God’s unfailing love is my comfort. When I’m laid low in the dust, my life can be renewed.” We are told, “Your compassion is great, O Lord; renew my life according to your law”.

What can we all be sure of in our darkest moments? We can be sure that He sees, He knows, He cares, He soothes. And the way to receive these blessings and more is having a heart that hungers enough and loves Him enough to spend time, not only reading His Word, but immersed and consumed by His Word.

Melancholic Joy

 

 

This week marks the four month anniversary of the death of my sister, Kimberly. It’s hard to believe that it’s already a third of a year. I seemed to experience more melancholy last week than this week. It’s probably because I was remembering the days that led up to her death. On the anniversary day of this week I woke up feeling great serenity, until I went to Yoga.

Tuesday during my Yoga class I discovered something new in my life: a melancholic joy. That’s kind of an odd place to discover this, and yet as I think about it, it’s not odd at all.

I tried Yoga a few years ago and wasn’t too crazy about it. Some of the poses were strange and I couldn’t achieve many of the positions to which our instructor guided us. I saw nothing relaxing in it at all, so decided it wasn’t for me. The time of the class didn’t work very well in my schedule either, so that too affected my decision not to go back. It’s funny though, how we change and how God uses all kinds of ways to take care of us in areas where we are unaware.

My renewed interest in Yoga came because a friend in another city began attending a Restorative Yoga class. I became intrigued and quite curious again about Yoga when she told me of the many benefits she is receiving. By the time each class ends she knows her body has let go of an incredible amount of tension which can build up so quickly in just a week’s time. When a new Yoga class opened up at our church’s family ministry center, at an optimal hour for me, I knew it was time to try this type of workout again. I was open to anything that could take me to deeper places of serenity.

The types of stretching, interesting poses, and focus upon deep breathing all are important components of the de-stressing processes of Yoga, but for me, the best thing about this class is the relaxing and spiritual environment that presents itself each week. Of course, I know this wouldn’t be possible without the incredible instructor God beautifully placed to lead this class. It’s evident that the Spirit of God is leading through her. When we’re in the pose with our hands together she often says, “Lift your hands in prayer to God.” This place becomes a worship workout with directions like that. The music she chooses to play during our class connects me to the heart of God. That’s where it dawned on me that there is a place of rest and serenity that is a melancholic joy.

It’s good the lights were low on Tuesday because my face got all scrunched up, my eyes became teary, and my nose sniffled with the closing music. The instrumental music that closed out our workout was Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. Later that afternoon while doing some things around the house, I tuned into my favorite Pandora station: Lullabye Radio. Two instrumental songs played: Amazing Grace and Be Still My Soul. I sobbed. I knew it wasn’t accidental that I was hearing those two songs again.

I thought, “God, why am I hearing both of those songs again?” It’s like He said, “It’s not the beauty of the melody that is bringing on the tears of melancholy, but there are some of the words of the songs I need to remind you of.” This phrase from Amazing Grace captured me, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” From Be Still My Soul, I focused on, “Bear patiently the cross of grief and pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide. Through thorny way leads to a joyful end.”

I experienced a melancholic joy because even in the sorrowful place of missing my sister, Kimberly, I was overcome with joy because God’s goodness and graciousness was all around me. I had only to open the eyes of my heart, soul, and body to see it. It is in that place that I choose to continue living.

I will continue loving the One who loved me before I was ever born. I will continue being on the look out every day for things to write down in my thankfulness journal that come from Him. I will continue deepening those relationships most dear to me and cultivate the new ones that God brings into my life. This community of family and friends brings incredible meaning to my life.

I will be comforted everyday in the hope that I will spend not only 10,000 years in the perfectly prepared Home awaiting me, but will stay there forever. It’s in that place that I can gaze on Jesus who redeemed me, my sister, my mother and all others who put their faith and trust in Him alone. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully… I Corinthians 13:12 The suffering of Jesus made possible the joy in sorrow I am now discovering which will one day be made perfect.

A Hoopla Worth Experiencing and Pondering

A lot of hoopla began at least a year ago in our town and surrounding area that I knew nothing about until about a month ago. I’m not a student of astronomy so I was unaware until recently that my town was in the path of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017. As this day got closer and closer, I thought this eclipse mania was over the top. But, I got my glasses, made sure all my family members got theirs and decided there was no way I was going to miss this “event”. This event didn’t cost me a dime. I had some of the best seats in the house! My front yard!

Those few moments were breathtaking as the moon passed between the sun and Earth. How I wish we all could have frozen those minutes of being awe-struck with a wonder we’d never seen before and may never see again. “All things are held together by Him”, Colossains1:17 took on new meaning for me. This fact connected to my heart in a new way through visually seeing this eclipse.

I noticed something else about that day. This was an event to celebrate and many people did it with others. We each viewed this spectacular site through our own special glasses but somehow it became even a deeper experience because we enjoyed it with one another in community. We heard squeals from children and shouts of excitement from teenagers and adults. And some of us just shouted from our insides. Some hailed science. Some praised the Creator.

My soul praised the great Creator God. He’s the One who spoke the world into place. He’s the One who made you and me. I must admit I felt tiny as I looked at the stunning sight of the eclipse. I am tiny when I compare it to the scope of the universe, and yet I’m not tiny and insignificant in the eyes of God. He sees me, He loves me, He knows my name. I matter to Him.

Some of us, like me, in the beginning entered into this “hoop-la” with a little bit of resistance. Some entered full throttle from the beginning, and some totally resisted. In fact, I observed one of those in the resistance category – a person full of fear and anxiousness. They were in eclipse-fear mode. Even though we were told there was nothing to fear, except stupidity by not wearing the correct eye protection, they couldn’t trust that all was going to be okay.

Everyday, not just unusual days like eclipse day, we are confronted with the question of living the day in peace, serenity, trust or living the day in tumultuous confusion, fear, and worry. There is only one way to live in the place of peace. This way is found in knowing the One who holds all things together. Just as scientists have studied astronomy for hundreds of years we must study our Creator God. When we study Him as He is revealed in Scripture we will come to understand that we don’t ever have to give ourselves over to the giant of fear that will eat us alive if we let it.

There are days of incredible joy and there are days of incredible pain that can come because of worry, fear, and sadness. I must admit that it’s in the days of pain and sorrow that I need to remind myself that He is holding me together and He will always hold me together no matter what.

Just knowing “HE IS” is really all any of us need for today.

Today I will remind myself that the awesomeness of God is something I can rejoice in everyday no matter what. I will remember to be still and know He is God.

Just knowing “HE IS” is all I need for today

Hope or HOPE!

For the past three months it seems like the word hope has shown up over and over in my life.  It has come from different places in the Bible where I just happened to be reading. It has also appeared in secular books I’ve read. And then Sunday the worship leader read Romans 12:12 “Rejoice in hope.” I thought it rather strange that he read that scripture since it wasn’t the passage the preacher would be focusing on in his sermon. It was a word for me. I’ve think lately I have tried to run away from leaning into the word hope because of the grief in my life and possibly because it’s a word I overuse. We use this word for all types of wishes and desires. We want something to happen. Recently these are some things I said or thought:

  • I hope I get enough sleep.
  • I hope I can find that receipt.
  • I hope I can find my fit-bit.
  • I hope the new recipe I tried turns out.
  • I hope there’s time to get everything done that needs to get done.

When I look at this list I can’t help but ask myself the question, “Do I feel anxiety every time I use the word hope in these situations?” The truth is, probably so. Yes, I pray in many of these instances, but there’s a lack of peace when I don’t get a positive yes to what I’m hoping for. These types of hopes are wishful thinking. These are not earth-shattering things, but I do allow these things which are really minor to bring disruption to my soul. These aren’t bad desires. These things can seem small, but are still worthy of praying about. Then, there are majorly serious things in my life that I have hoped for. Many of these hopes have been fulfilled. I’ve been happy because of them. I give God thanks for them.

But, one of my hopes wasn’t fulfilled. The disease of cancer invaded my sister’s body 5 ½ years ago. Cancer took her life on the morning of May 26. My hope, her hope, hundreds of others’ hopes – prayers prayed in faith didn’t receive what we hoped for. It didn’t turn out like “we” wanted. God in His goodness has been blasting out this word HOPE for a reason. God in His goodness wants me to take a good look at what this Biblical HOPE really means.

“Rejoice and exult in hope…” (Romans 12:12) What kind of hope is it that I can rejoice in? Can this kind of hope help me to not get bent out of shape over the “little things” that might not go my way? Can this kind of hope carry me through grief when my heart is broken? Absolutely and emphatically, YES! Hope is tied to something that I hope will happen in the future. Most things I hope for have some uncertainty in them. Biblical HOPE is a hope of certainty. It is based upon the Word and Character of God. There are some things I KNOW are true for today and therefore are true for tomorrow. What are they?

  • I am never alone. Jesus is always with me. “And lo I am with you always.” Matthew 28: 20
  • I don’t have to stay in a place of discouragement. God says, “I will strengthen you, I will help you.” Isaiah 4:11
  • God will lift me out of the pit, Psalm 40:2
  • God will turn my mourning into dancing, Psalm 30:11
  • God will use my pain to bring Him glory and to develop maturity of character in me, Romans 5:2-5
  • I have the gift of eternal life in Heaven awaiting me. I will see Jesus face to face and experience living with Him forever! I will see my sister again! 1 John 5:13
  • I am perfectly loved by God and will always be perfectly loved by Him. Nothing will ever separate me from this perfect unconditional love. Romans 8:31

God is my HOPE and He never fails. I can rejoice even in my pain, even through my tears, even in my waiting because I have attached myself to the God of sure, secure hope. This rejoicing is not based on how I feel; it is based on knowing who God is and what He freely and lovingly gives me. These gifts are never given because of my performance, but because of my faith and trust in Christ and His love for me.

I had a text from Kimberly the day before I flew out to see her, three days before her death. She wrote these words, “It’s been another PERFECT DAY WITH JESUS, and Annalena (her grandbaby)! I’m doing fine! In recliner resting.” She understood what Biblical, Christian hope is and she was doing FINE! She knew she was secure in Jesus and she was satisfied.

Joy and satisfaction and peace can be found only through anchoring our whole self to Jesus, who is our Hope for today, tomorrow, and always. As a friend said to me just this morning, “How can we live without hope!” Because of Jesus and what His death, burial, and resurrection means, we don’t have to! He’s our hope of Glory!

Joy Out of Despair

A while back I had the joy of leading my Bible study group since our leader was out of town. The lesson was from 1 Samuel 1. Many of us who were brought up in church are quite familiar with the story of Hannah. She was barren, prayed for a son, and God answered. Many times in our study we spend most of the time focusing on the main character of the story. Usually this would be Hannah. In reality, however, the primary character is God. In my study, I focused on the character of God and how he responds to someone in great distress and need.

This story takes place in a time when polygamy was the norm. This was not God’s perfect plan, but the culture embraced it. And, it always made life messy for everyone. Hannah’s husband had two wives. The other wife, Peninnah, had children, Hannah had none. It appears that Peninnah’s main goal in life was to make life miserable, even unbearable for Hannah. She wanted to crush her.

The Message, I Samuel 1:6, reveals the true environment for Hannah, “But her rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year.” All of this finally took its toll on Hannah. She stopped eating. She was despondent. She wept. She was crushed. At least she felt crushed. But, she wasn’t.

She went to the sanctuary of the Lord and she cried out to God in prayer. “In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord.” (v 10, NIV) I read this verse in 13 translations and this is what I found about her emotional and physical condition:

  • She was in deep anguish
  • She was in bitterness of soul
  • She was deeply hurt
  • She was crushed in soul
  • She was in great distress
  • She was resentful
  • She was sad
  • She cried bitterly
  • She was brokenhearted
  • She was bold enough to ask for something big.

This was severe hurting and she did severe crying! She was in excruciating emotional pain. She came as she was. She was even vulnerable enough for Eli, the priest to see her in this condition. She was desperate. She was broken. What did God do? He heard, He comforted, He restored, He understood, He answered. He blessed. He restored her physically and emotionally. Verse 18, 19 says, “She went on her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast. Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord.”

Four weeks ago I found myself in the midst of all the emotions that Hannah experienced. My despair was different from hers, but every bit as intense. My sister died. She lost her battle with cancer. Kimberly was 6 years younger than me and what joy came to my life when she was born! We loved each other deeply. We valued this special relationship and honored each other in ways that allowed us to nurture one another in the good times of life and in the bad times of life. We mothered each other, we were best friends, we were blood sisters, but more than that, we were soul sisters. We understood each other. We could be real with each other. We accepted each other even though we were very different.

SO many gifts received through this amazing woman! My loss is deep. My hurt is deep. My grief is deep.

I am greatly blessed to have family and friends who understand this deep agony. None of them have the attitude of, “Get over it.” They let me talk. They let me feel. They let me cry. They check on me. They pray for me. Oh, how this helps! God is using so many to help me walk this journey.

Even though these precious ones are helping me walk this journey, I know that no one can comfort me in those deepest places where the deepest pain resides in my soul like Jesus. He knows every little thing about me. He knows what each pain is connected to. He has perfect understanding of all the inward workings of my heart and soul. He knows how to give me the comfort, restoration and healing that needs to ultimately come. He is present. I must be aware of that Holy Presence and spend lots of time resting in that place.

What are the results of going to God in our brokenness, pain, and desperation? What happens when we come to him with sobs of grief and hurt and pure honesty? It takes us to a deeper place of knowing God. It takes us to a deeper place of trusting God. It takes us to a place of humility. It takes us to a deeper place of surrender. It takes us to a deeper place of worship. It takes us to a place of hope and healing.

We are always welcomed into God’s presence just as we are. These words penned by David Crowder in the song “Come As You Are” express this place so well.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been
Come broken-hearted, let rescue begin
Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal.

My sister found Heaven’s perfect joy and healing when she took her final breath here on Earth and went safely Home to live forever with her Beloved Jesus. For us still here, we can be assured that mourning doesn’t last forever. It is for a season. There is an ebb and flow to this time of suffering. The time of tears will be further and further apart. I have faith and hope because of the Words of Life that I find in the promises of scripture and because of the One I’ve put my trust in.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” David’s words in Psalm 30:11-12. These are words for me . . . and perhaps for you today!

Taming the Inner Critic

 

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I love to be with people, but in small groups. It’s just how I’m wired. I love leading and facilitating Bible studies and other types of small groups, but I have a “favorite” number for group size – five to seven. That’s where I’m most comfortable. Oh, and it’s really comfortable when I actually already know one or two in the group pretty well. It gives me comfort and security. Needless to say, I’m an introvert. It’s how God designed me.

But, in my life God has asked me to get out of that place of comfort and share my life with bigger groups. It’s quite scary. I’ve said “yes” many times and I didn’t faint, get sick, or die. I know I’ve felt sick, but it didn’t happen. I have God and His strength to thank for that. However, I don’t come away from those uncomfortable situations to a place of joy and peace, thinking to myself “oh how God used me. It was wonderful!” I come from those places with my own inner critic screaming at me saying things like, “What you said was confusing. That didn’t go so smoothly. You should have done better. On and on and on my own inner voice goes.”

How grateful I am to be in a better place of understanding this about myself: I have a strong inner critic that God wants to tame. And, he’s in the taming business! So what are some things I’m learning?

  • There are times I won’t be at my best, and it’s okay. When God calls me to a new place where there’s some stretching going on in me, there is never any need for beating myself up because it didn’t go perfectly. Give myself grace. It will go better next time, if there’s a next time.
  • Accept that no matter what, I am Christ’s beloved. That’s the only thing that really matters.
  • Give thanks to God when He shows me something I need to correct in my life. It’s out of love He shows it to me. He’s not pointing it out to beat me up or condemn me. He’s revealing it to me so I can grow up more.
  • I am me and His design in me is good. So, there is no need to ever compare and compete with anyone else.
  • I ask God to show me how to replace those critical remarks I make to myself with life giving thoughts. He will do it.

Thank you, God, that even as I ponder and write these words, I realize more and more how easy it is to fall back into living in a “me centered” place instead of in a new creation place. Although I’m never perfect, help me to always make forward movement that brings greater freedom in Christ .

To what new place is God taking you? How are your getting there? What are you learning on the journey?

Don’t Worry about the Didn’t

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Last year at the beginning of the New Year I was proud of myself for sitting down and working on some goals. One of those goals was better time management. I didn’t do as well as intended but one thing I’m learning through this is – there is no reason to beat myself up over it. Life happened. That life event that I had no control over knocked the wind out of my sails. Some could shake their heads at me and think, “You’ve got to be kidding! That’s nothing. Pick yourself back up and get going.”

Well, I did keep going but my journey for awhile was hard. It affected every part of me: It affected my sleep, my inner peace, my joy, my outlook on life. Part of my “time management” plan was that by such and such hour of my morning I would have accomplished some intentional and specific tasks and then get on with my day.

It looked good on paper. I know getting things down on paper is extremely helpful. Many times it’s the thing that moves us toward success. But, when life circumstances affect the deep parts of our soul, we have to ride it out.

We have no idea what it’s going to look like. We have no idea how long it will take. We have no idea how long the unpleasantness will last. But, as believers in Christ, we know one morning we will wake up and restful sleep will have returned. Sweet rest, deep rest will again be a reality. The day will be lived in a place of order and peace. The day will close and there will have been joy.

As the first month of 2017 comes to a close, I don’t have to worry about that specific “didn’t”. I can be content with the “did” because God did a work in me. There’s joy after the struggle because of the new work that took place within me. It took me to new places of dependence on God, new places of transformation, new places of knowing more about myself. Places that needed to be tended to and listened to.

Difficult times will come again that will hinder “my plans” that will hinder “your plans.” What do we do? We ride out the storm knowing Jesus the living water, loving water, and lasting water is with us. He doesn’t let us go – because He can’t. It’s not His character. In Isaiah 61 we are told that He gives good news to the poor, freedom to the captives, comfort to the hurting, bouquets of roses instead of ashes, messages of joy instead of news of doom, a praising heart instead of a languid spirit. (The Message)

How will you ride out the storm this year? How much deeper do you want to go with Him in 2017?

The Two Most Important Colors of Christmas

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Two years ago we bought a new Christmas tree. Our new house needed a slim-line tree since our living area is smaller. We found the perfect one for the space we have. Since it was a new tree, I decided to get new ornaments. The colors I went with were white and red. For my decorating taste, there is something elegant about the white and red balls among the white lights. I am an early riser which means I get to sit in my comfy chair, turn on the gas logs, and enjoy the beauty of this lighted Christmas tree.

I decorated with white and red because it is what I like. It comes from a preference. I didn’t choose those colors because of anything spiritual. However, God can use all kinds of things to get our gaze closer upon Him. If there’s anytime our gaze needs to be more on Him, and less on ourselves, it’s Christmas. The colors white and red can’t help but draw me more into an emotional, joy-filled place of praise because of what these colors represent spiritually. These two colors symbolize what Christmas is all about. They remind me of who Jesus is and what He did for me and all peoples of the world.

The color white expresses the purity, perfection, and holiness of God. Jesus is the exact representation of His Father. The prophet John tells us in John 1 that Jesus is full of grace, truth, and light. This grace, truth, and light was born so we could experience life as we’ve never known it before.

But, red had to happen in order for us to have life as God intends. Red in the Bible symbolizes blood. Before Jesus’ birth, a perfect lamb without blemish had to be sacrificed in order to approach God. Now, that is no longer necessary because Jesus – the perfect Lamb of God – was born. He shed blood that led to death. It’s why He was born. Jesus was born to die. The good News is – that wasn’t the end of the story – Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered death so that man can really live here on earth and eternally in heaven.

Trusting Jesus as a Christ-follower doesn’t mean we don’t have problems, but it means He is with us guiding us, directing us, strengthening us, loving us, embracing us, providing for us, transforming us, preparing us to one day see Him face to face.

Let us not miss seeing Jesus during this special time of the year when we celebrate the most amazing and spectacular birth that ever took place. He shows up in all kinds of fascinating ways. May we take time today to ponder what He’s doing in our lives that draw our gaze more directly upon Him, the perfect lover of our souls.

How do you celebrate the birth of the Lamb of God? What will you give Him this Christmas?

 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

(From In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti)

Developing a Heart that Sings When Thanksgiving is Hard

beautiful-autumn-leaves

 

Reflecting on the time spent celebrating the holiday we call Thanksgiving fills my heart to overflowing. There’s nothing sweeter than hearing the laughter and playful spirit of four children, ages 21 months to eight years old. There’s nothing dearer to a mother’s heart than having her children and their families gathered around the table for a meal where love and unity is evident. What totally amazes me is that even though I get to see three of these grandchildren at least once a week, I still couldn’t wait for their grand entrance to Mimi’s house on Thanksgiving Day, 2016. These children bring contagious joy.

That day thanks came easy. However, there are many days that giving thanks is not easy. Many who celebrated Thanksgiving were not able to utter words of gratefulness because their hearts were breaking due to painful, difficult circumstances. I don’t have to look far to see those who are in desperate places in their own health or the health of family members, in marriages, in struggles with children, in the lack of basic necessities of life. There are emotional needs that can cause intense pain: depression, fear, anxiety, uncertainty. I know at any time one or many of those things can knock unexpectedly at my door. I know because I’ve been there before. I know because we live in a broken and fallen world where we never know what tomorrow brings.

Can we ever prepare for the unexpected knocks of hardship and difficulty – even the tragic ones? I doubt totally. I believe, however, there are things we can all store up that will help us be more prepared when life takes a hard turn.

We begin with what we know about God: His goodness, His love, His redemption through Jesus Christ, His faithfulness, His provision (little or plenty). The best and perfect tool we have to know Him is the written word. It tells of His works. It tells of His character which is what we must hold onto when we are knocked down.

As I think of the power of the Word I can’t help but think of the movie we watched a few weeks ago: “The Insanity of God.” It tells the stories of many who live in places in the world where people are persecuted for their faith. Many do not have access to a Bible. Those who do know their lives may be in danger simply because of this. One man in Russia, before the fall of communism, owned a Bible, read it for himself, then read it to his children, then others gathered to hear these precious words until the house church reached 150.

News of the house church reached local officials. He was imprisoned 17 years with 1500 hardened criminals for His faith. He was 1000 miles from his family. Dimitri, however, had established habits early on in his life that would carry him through days of horrendous suffering. The Word became embedded in Him because He spent time reading it over and over. He read it out loud to others. He preached it to others. The reading of it put a song in his heart. It made him strong. It gave him a supernatural courage. It built spiritual muscle. The two habits he had learned from a believing father and a believing grandfather, carried him and sustained him. The habits were a steadfast reading and breathing in of the Word of God and singing to Him.

Those two habits didn’t stop during those 17 years of horrible imprisonment. Whenever Dimitri found any type of writing material – a scrap of paper, something with which to write – he would write down scriptures he remembered. Then, he would stick that paper high up on one of the four tall concrete pillars in his cell, which were always moist. Guards would see them, read them, tear them to pieces, and then beat him. The other habit he’d learned from his disciplers (father, grandfather) was singing to Jesus every morning. Upon wakening, he’d look to the east, raise his hands in worship and sing out to God. He did this singing every morning like clock work. The prisoners laughed and did everything in their power to drown out his singing.

The guards came up with a plan to break him. They paraded a woman prisoner, dressed like his wife past his cell. Of course, he believed it was his wife. They told him she was his wife. He heard her cries for three long days. Finally, he said, “This is too much. I can’t stand it. You win. I’ll sign whatever document you bring.” But, the next morning when the document was brought before him to sign, where he would be renouncing his faith and give in, he boldly said he would not do it. God let him know during the night that his wife and children were safe at home. Two weeks later, after writing and posting another scripture, the guards beat him, and promised he would be facing death in just moments. When being drug out, all prisoners lifted their hands toward the east and began singing the songs to God that they’d heard him sing all those years. Dimitri was released.

Even when times are hard and life is dark and gray, we can stand strong, we can kneel strong, we can be on our face strong, we can sing strong, we can give a strong word of thanks because of the love that God sings over us everyday in spite of our circumstances. Let us do whatever it takes to be steadfast in the daily taking in of the Word of God. There is a reward: It develops a heart that sings.