Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Year in the Rear View

- Time. Impossible to pin down . . . impossible to hold back . . . impossible to hurry . . . impossible to keep . . . impossible to ever have enough. I can't decide whether to be happy to see 2009 flow away or to savor the last few drops of it--so I choose both. That seems to be the way when I'm grappling with mixed emotions. It is seldom a one-or-the-other conclusion. Today I skimmed through the entries of this year's prayer journal where I have poured out my heart to the God who can handle whatever I bring Him. While it is by no means complete, I read with amazement some of my most intense in-the-moment processing of life through 2009, including the ugly, scary monsters in my closet, the ravenous grizzly bears under my bed, and the just plain old ugly things in my heart I had to show my Father. Even more than these, I got to read the answered prayers, the good and perfect gifts, the unexpected Godlight He shone into my days, and the delighted expressions of gratitude for blessings large and small. I read all the real life snapshots of a year now mostly in the rear view mirror. Looking back gave me a way to look forward, not with trepidation, but with an eager hope. What I saw in that backward glance was that I have many reasons to repent of old ways, and many reasons to walk toward newness of life with the God who was there every moment of the year. He was even there when I was accusing Him of not being as THERE as I wanted Him to be. Amazingly He never gets angry when I fling myself at Him, pounding His chest in a childish fit of frustration with the things that prove beyond my control. As long as I bring it all to Him, He just calmly waits for me to finish casting my cares on Him and then He holds me close and calms me down so I can settle into His grace. With my emotion spent, He can soothe all my upset and I am open for Him to fill me with Him.
"Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you." (1 Peter 5:7, KJV)
Time is always flowing--2009 is flowing away, it's true. But 2010 will seamlessly flow right in behind it with brand new days to live, brand new opportunities to watch God at work in the details of my little days and nights while I joyously watch for His return. Yes, God really does work in even the tiniest details, like the status updates we post on facebook and twitter. I just discovered a fun little application on facebook that tells you the most-used words in your status updates during the last year. Mine were: today, good, thankful, happy, family, getting, very, praying, exicted, after--or in a more coherent order, Today--good! Happy family getting very excited after praying! :) So as I watch 2009 tumble on down the rapids of the river of time, I am thankful for the profound blessings God has directed my way, and I am humbled by how truly He has been with me when the debris of difficulty has touched my life. I know that I can trust Him in the new year that is on it's way and that the river of time takes me ever closer to Him and the day He will come back in all His splendor!
I hope you enjoy these pictures of one of my favorite places on the planet, the Ashnola River near Keremeos, British Columbia.
How has God shown Himself faithful to you this year? How will you include Him in your celebration tomorrow night?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Life, the Way God Makes It

-- Beloved recipes, generations old, passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter to great granddaughter. Christmas makes me run to my old rusty, greasy recipe box to find the stained and spattered cards that hold the treasured family recipes for holiday favorites like scalloped corn, the brownies there are never enough of, and Christmas morning coffee cake. The flavors of home are inextricably intertwined with the feeling of being at home with the people I love most in the world. A piece of coffee cake, the way my mom makes it, can make the miles between us feel fewer and smaller and bring home-love closer. That means a lot to this grown-up girl who has been too many years without going home for Christmas. It's more than just a piece of cake, it's a beloved tradition that reminds me who I am and where I come from. All this cooking and baking during the last few weeks has more than once brought to mind a story I read somewhere about a little boy who was surprised to find out that most of the individual ingredients his mother put in the cake she was baking tasted just awful by themselves. He made funny faces, tried to wipe off his tongue, and looked at his mother with question marks in his eyes, wondering if she really knew what she was doing! He couldn't figure out how all those terrible-tasting things could go together to make something that tasted so good . . . something he loved so much. As I look back over the year that was 2009, all the things that have happened, good and bad, happy and sad, difficult and funny and bewildering, I think it is a lot like the baking I do during this season of celebration. Each day of 2009 was a mix of ingredients, some of which were as sweet and pleasing as the sugar that figures so prominently in the things I love to bake for my family. Sprinkled in here and there were some amazing blessings that tasted just like chocolate chips--sweet and melty and perfect in my mouth just as they were. Strangely enough, I never got tired of these yummy ingredients and it was easy to see why God would include them! However, I didn't only taste the sweetness of 2009, I also tasted experiences that were more like the dusty flavorless flatness of flour, or the metallic bite of baking soda. Some experiences were salty with tears and some were like the slimy thickness of raw egg and almost refused to be swallowed. At the time of those experiences, when I thought no one was looking, I'm sure I made faces at the unpleasant taste and wished I could untaste it and avoid it completely. I was like the little boy who couldn't understand how unpleasant, awful-tasting things could make anything good in the end. I have even had moments where I have asked God with huge question marks in my heart whether He really knew what He was doing (even in the midst of KNOWING the answer to that question was a resounding "YES.") Fortunately for the little boy, his mother knew how to put those ingredients together to make a delicious treat for the son she loved . . . fortunately for me, my Heavenly Father knows how to put all the ingredients of my life together to make something wonderful for the daughter He loves. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28 NIV (emphasis mine) God wasn't any more perturbed by my questions than the little boy's mother was by her child's questions. They were both confident in the goodness of the end result and knew their "little ones" would soon learn for themselves that each ingredient was important, even necessary, and it really would turn out to be a delicious thing when the process was complete. That little story helps me. I know from years of learning to bake from my mother, even more years of baking from a point of view like the mom in the story, that you can trust the results will be good if you start with a good recipe, put the ingredients together in the correct proportions, and you follow the instructions in the right sequence. I know too, from years of experience watching God at work that His recipe is perfect, and His technique is flawless. He is an expert at turning nasty-tasting odds and ends of life's struggles into beautiful, delectable results as He mixes them with the sweetness of His love, the butter of His wisdom and the baking of His timing--He knows what He's doing. Whatever 2009 has held for us, we can trust God that He will bring good out of even the things that tasted awful. No matter how unpalatable some experiences have been, our Father can work wonders in His kitchen and make the end result taste like home. When we really get a hold of this truth, we can live gratefully and hopefully as we look forward to 2010, and the distance between earth and heaven will feel smaller when we taste life the way God makes it.
How have you seen God baking something worth celebrating out of the ingredients of 2009?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Generosity Beyond Measure

-- Imagine an edict has gone out from Heaven, putting humankind in charge of determining who is going to receive eternal life. How do you think people would go about it? For a prize so great to be given out, people might hold a contest of some kind, like a beauty pageant or a football game, a singing competition or tennis match. People would have to prove they were the best at something, wouldn't they? There would surely be forms to fill out . . . lots and lots of forms and disclaimers and legal mumbo jumbo--just to make sure it was all handled fairly of course. Or maybe the powers that be would decide to create a difficult quest of some kind and only the people who successfully completed the quest would qualify for eternal life, yeah, that's probably how they'd do it. Imagine the rules that would have to be followed and the entry fees that would have to be paid. I'm guessing there would be major hoops to be jumped through and hurdles to be cleared for anyone who fancied a chance at eternal life, if it were even possible. I mean in the world of humanity, nothing comes for free, and certainly nothing of any value comes without a high price tag! Thankfully, people don't determine the distribution of eternal life, God does. Eternal life for finite, broken, little old us, was God's idea. He could have done anything He wanted to do and with limitless possibilities open to Him, He chose to send His only Son to be born as a baby, grow up as one of us, and ultimately to die in our place to pay our sin debt in full. This is what Jesus said about God's plan for giving away eternal life: "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." John 5:24 NIV Are you as incredulous and amazed as I am at the incomprehensible generosity of God. Whoever BELIEVES!! Not whoever is beautiful enough, not whoever is strongest, fastest or bravest, not the people with the deepest pockets, not even the ones who could jump over all the hurdles or fill out the forms without making any mistakes, no . . . Jesus said,
It's so simple, it's beyond profound:
The gift whose worth cannot be measured given freely to people who can never measure up!! THAT is Christmas. THAT is the Gift. THAT is the Generosity of God.
As we approach these last days leading up to Christmas and we anticipate the fun of giving gifts as generous as we are able to give to our loved ones, I am praying that we will experience and share the knowledge of God's great big magnanimous soul as never before, and that we will each receive His gift of eternal life to its fullest measure.
From the Friday Family to you and yours, we wish you a Merry Christmas filled with His incomparable joy!
holy experience

Sunday, December 20, 2009

All He Ever Wanted

-- "'Dear Santa Claus,' it began. 'You know I have never written. I could never think of anything I needed or wanted for Christmas. But this year I had a different idea. What do you wish for Christmas Santa? You always answer children's wishes, but what about your own? Isn't there one thing in the world that you wish for but do not have? If you will post a letter back to me, I will do all that I can to bring your dream to life. Respectfully, Your friend, Christopher C.'"

In Brittany Ryan's enchanting novel, The Legend of Holly Claus, this child's letter set in motion an amazing adventure of love and sacrifice . . . and redemption.
"What do you want for Christmas?" It's a familiar question this time of year. Lots of you are probably way ahead of me and have your shopping done already. Whether you're wrapping the presents you've bought, or still wracking your brain to find that certain something for that special someone, when the gift is prompted by love, the giver always wants to know what gift will delight the loved one's heart. We don't want to give ordinary, no-imagination gifts that could have been From: Anyone, To: Anyone. We don't want to give the kind of gift you take to those generic gift exchanges where you don't know who will pick your package, so you just get something anyone might like.

Two years ago we got to give a gift to She-So-Sweet that took her completely by surprise. Her old violin was in a bad way and while she desperately needed a new one, she knew money was tight, so she only asked for a new case. On Christmas morning, when she opened her big box and saw the new case, she was thrilled! Then, we had the fun of seeing her surprise turn to shock and watching her heart melt right before our eyes as she looked inside and realized there was a new violin to fill up her new case! It was a family moment we will always remember!!

There is just nothing like knowing that our gift has found its mark in conveying our love to someone in a way that was personally picked out just for them. In all our hunting for those just-right presents for the people we love, I wonder how often we remember to ask Jesus, "What do YOU want for Christmas?" After all, it is HIS birthday. Is it possible that if we ask, we too can embark on an amazing adventure of love, and sacrifice and redemption?

What would we do if He told us exactly what He wants for Christmas? Would we stop at anything to find it, get it, wrap it up, put a bow on top and wait breathlessly for Him to open it up on Christmas morning?

There is only one place in all of Scripture where Jesus actually expresses His personal desire to His Father and says the words, "I want."

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." John 17:24-26 NIV


Go back and read that again.

Did you let that sink in?

Did you hear what He said?

What Jesus wants for this Christmas, and for every Christmas and for every day forever and ever is . . . US!!!

He wants us to be with Him, where He is.

He wants to have the fun of showing us His glory.

He wants to share His Father's love with us and wants us for His dwelling place.

Jesus, how can it be that when You could ask for anything, You ask for me? I am undone at the thought of You asking Your Father to give me to You. How can I be on your wish list at all, never mind in the top spot? How could I ever refuse to be treasured by You? I couldn't!! I wouldn't!! I can only stand in amazed surrender and accept Your inexplicable love. I want to be with You where You are, both here during my time on earth and someday in Your home in heaven. I want to see Your glory as You show it to me! And yes, I will daily submit to being Your dwelling place overflowing with Your Father's love.

We are all He ever wanted!!! The gift He asked His Father for, feels more like a gift He gives to us, but isn't that just like Jesus?!!

Won't you join me in giving Him what He wants for Christmas? You can even put a bow on top, if you like!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Incarnation, Then and Now

-- There is something about Christmas that flat-out refuses to be simple. It just will come with cramped quarters, groans and struggle, hard work and extreme inconvenience--Mary knew all about it, didn't she? Her life, so beautifully planned, suddenly and monumentally interrupted by none other than God Almighty! The angel He sent, Gabriel, told Mary she was favored among all women, and had been chosen to bear God's only Son. Her still innocent child's heart was so trusting, so willing to accept the honor and the profound responsibility of parenting the great I AM. Her faith astounds.
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Luke 1:38 NIV
As if she and Joseph didn't have enough to deal with, what with trying to explain the baby before the wedding and all, suddenly Caesar Augustus had his brilliant idea to call for a census. Not only that, but they had to travel all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem right at the time of her due date! Eighty miles on the back of a donkey when you're that far along can't be easy. This trip, this complication in their lives couldn't have come at a worse time!! What was it about Christmas? Why did the Incarnation have to arrive with such upheaval? Why does it still? The particulars of my Christmas this year are worlds away from Mary's, and I don't pretend to know even an inkling of what she endured, but her faith and her example can speak to me in my experience today. While much more ordinary, my strains and inconveniences during the weeks leading up to what should be a joyous season echo many of the struggles and question marks she must have grappled with. Right before Thanksgiving my life was unexpectedly (and gladly) interrupted by the great joy and honor of being asked to take my daughter and some other girls from her youth group to a conference for teenage girls. I hadn't planned on it, hadn't known it was coming, but what a great opportunity!! What a blessing!! After a wonderful time of touching heaven and letting heaven touch us with how much God loves us as His daughters, we came home on a mountain-top high. Two days later I had what would develop into pneumonia that made me miss Thanksgiving with my family. After antibiotics, another infection and a second round of antibiotics, I'm not sick anymore, but the nagging cough seems reluctant to leave completely--it makes me weary. Hard on the heels of being so sick, I was called by the Census Bureau and was offered a job in our local Census office--I started work two days later, last Thursday. What a whirlwind!! All this when Christmas is fast approaching, I'm supposed to be registering to go back to school for the spring semester, AND my kids will be out of school for three weeks and I won't get to be there. I have been a stay-at-home-mom for 18 years, and this is a hard pill to swallow, no matter how much of an answer to prayer it is for our finances, no matter how willing I am to do whatever it takes to help care for my family. Groans, straining, hard work and extreme inconvenience--yes, Mary would know how I've been feeling. It's been a little bit hard to get as excited about Christmas this year as I usually do. Saturday morning, in the middle of all my feelings of upheaval and claustrophobic demands and limitations, I had promised my kids (now 18 and 13) that we would decorate the tree together and surprise My Tony with it when he got home from his meetings that afternoon. I had promised, but I wasn't feeling it . . . AT ALL!! I was fighting with myself, knowing I would ruin the whole day if I didn't get my attitude right, but all I could think about was all I had to do and how little time I had and . . . and . . . AND . . . Finally I did get into the groove and with the kids' great help we got the decorating done and had a great time together. A great time together until . . . My Tony walked in and I realized I didn't have dinner ready, the after-decorating cleanup hadn't begun, I looked a mess, there were dirty dishes in the sink and I just crumbled. In that moment all I could see was that my big surprise must have seemed more like a big nightmare when he walked in the door. It felt like a disaster. But just before I could completely lose it, incarnation happened. Jesus put on flesh in my very own house. First She-So-Sweet looked intently into my brimming eyes, knowing me so well, and reminded me of what we had learned at our conference, "Don't forget!! You're God's daughter!! He loves you!" Then Drummer-Boy grabbed me by the shoulders and said, "You're a good mama!! We love you so much!!" While they were putting the scattered pieces of me back together, My Tony put aside the chaos in the house and started dinner so we could concentrate on finishing what we'd started. Through each of them, I saw Jesus and Christmas and incarnation in the midst of my upheaval. I don't really know why Christmas seems to know no other way but to come in the midst of and in spite of chaos, except that it mirrors what Jesus did when He came. Our entire existence on the best of days is chaos compared to what God intended. His deepest desire was to give us back what we lost, so He sent Jesus into our chaos to bring us into His incomprehensible peace. I pray that your Christmas season, no matter what circumstances surround it this year, will be filled with the sparkle of moments of dazzling incarnation that will fill you with great joy and the peace Jesus came so far to bring.
Tell me how Jesus is making His incarnation come alive for you this Christmas!!
holy experience

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Just This, Just Now

Green grass, fresh, dewy, tender, brand new green grass grows outside the window--the kind my horse would have gone crazy for.

A backdrop for Christmas?

Groan . . . I would so prefer a deep, powdery, soft-as-eider-down, foot-thick blanket of snow outside my window. I long for the kind of snow that comes floating down like big lazy feathers, silently, with no trace of wind. The kind of snow that makes quiet voices sound sweetly amplified . . . the kind that makes the air feel warmer, softer than you think it should . . . the kind you simply must go for a walk in, especially after dark, when it really isn't dark at all because the snow makes everything glow. Yes, that is what I would prefer.

But, it's awfully green outside my California window.

I've been in California a long time now--longer than both my snow-blessed homes combined. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but still it's hard for me. There is a gap between what I would prefer and what I get.

Every year, once or twice we get a little snow on Mt. Diablo that usually lasts just until the sun gets high in the sky, and then it's gone--I look forward to it more than you can imagine. This year, to everyone's great surprise, the snow level dropped way down low, and it stayed on the mountain for several days. At first, all I could think about was how unfair it was that so many of my friends had snow right in their yards, and I felt like I was the only one whose house got no snow. Didn't God know how much I NEEDED some snow? Didn't He care that I felt left out, when I was the one who "deserved" it most? Can you hear me stamping my feet and see my lips poked out in a pout? I almost cheated myself out of enjoying the beauty of the white hills all around the valley, the beauty that lingered for days instead of hours, because I was stuck on not getting the snow the way I wanted it, stuck on the fact that time and circumstances didn't allow for me to go somewhere to play in it. Foolish girl!!

Fortunately I only ALMOST cheated myself.
Just in time, I got a hold of myself and did what I usually do, I did the thing that has allowed me to walk around in this California world, still so foreign to me, for more than 25 years without going crazy. When the green grass at Christmas is getting on my last nerve, I force myself, sometimes with clenched teeth, to look for the beauty in it.

This is a scene I wouldn't find in either of my other homes where I so loved the snow. I would never see the contrast of the bright-white snow and the ultra-green of the new grass springing out of rain-soaked hills. This is a beauty unique to this place, this moment in time, this gift from God. I could have missed it in longing for other places, other gifts and other blessings, living in the used-to-be's or the not-yet's.
INSTEAD I choose to notice, appreciate, savor, and thank God for this, just this, just now.

This is a choice I have to make, but it doesn't always come easy--just ask my teeth. At the moment, my family is and has for several years, been weathering a season where there are some real gaps between what we would prefer and what we are currently getting. It can be hard to feel contentment in the turmoil of real emotions, especially at Christmas when we have so many wishes and hopes and dreams of how we would like things to be for the people we love.

In the flurry of emotions, I can feel sorry for myself and my family. I can feel deprived, ignored, left out and disgruntled, OR I can choose to look, with clenched teeth if I have to, for the real, honest-to-goodness beauty in it all. I have to look around at
this time, this place, these gifts from God with an eye for what is special about them. Nothing else will ever be exactly like this time, and I could cheat myself out of what is uniquely beautiful about it by wishing it away, or longing for other places, other gifts and other blessings, living in the used-to-be's or the not-yet's. INSTEAD, I choose to notice Jesus and the beauty of Him in the moments of this day, just this, just now.

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever."
1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV

Do you ever get stuck wishing for used-to-be's or not-yet's? How do you stay content when there are gaps between what you prefer and what you get?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Traditions and Tiny Obsessions

-- Every year since My Tony and I got married, we have bought a new Christmas ornament . Most of them commemorate some event during the year (like 9/11), some family joke or shared experience that we want to remember. My favorite part of decorating (which I haven't even started yet) is putting the now large collection of ornaments on the tree. Now, my kids will tell you, this wasn't always so much fun . . . FOR THEM. I used to have this THING. You know, a THING, a hangup, an obsession. I was a teeny bit crazed about the necessity (in my mind) to put the ornaments on the tree, one by one, in chronological order. To be fair (and I KNOW you want to be fair) I started this FROM THE BEGINNING when there was only one ornament, then two, then three, and so on. However, by the time my kids were 12 and 7 and each of them had personal ornaments too and the number had grown to more than 25 ornaments, my little ritual had outgrown itself. It no longer served a good purpose. It had become a burden. I had. to let. it go. Initially it wasn't easy for me, because I liked the sequence to be a walk down memory lane, IN ORDER. But as soon as I let go of my need to do things 'my way' everyone else was able to enjoy the process again. Maybe we didn't do them in order, but we still danced and skipped our way through the memories of each year's ornament and the fun was restored. For so long I had confused the form of HOW we put the ornaments on the tree with the SUBSTANCE of the memory-sharing. When I finally realized that the form was actually hindering the substance, I could let it go. I am learning in other things to make myself stop and distinguish between the form and the substance. If the form doesn't serve the substance, the form is the thing to go. Sometimes we have very strong ideas about how things SHOULD be done, and there's nothing wrong with traditions and rituals. In fact, they can be very important and a rich part of our family's experience together. We just have to be willing to notice and adjust if one of those traditions or rituals becomes more of a burden than a joy. Tradition for tradition's sake is empty--tradition that illustrates a beautiful timeless truth is priceless. God Himself designed and gave traditions and rituals, feasts and festivals to His people as a way to remember and celebrate the milestones of their life with Him and to pass the stories of His care for them from generation to generation. "This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD -a lasting ordinance." Exodus 12:14 NIV These are good things! They ARE good things as long as the traditions are treated as vessels to carry truth forward and as long as the traditions don't become more important than the stories they tell. I pray that we all will cherish our old traditions and maybe make some new ones this Christmas and most of all that the traditions will only carry glitter off His glory.
Are there any traditions or tiny obsessions that might need to be adjusted in your family? Do you have a story of a ritual you've changed and the difference it made to your family? I'd love to hear your stories!
holy experience

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Deep Faith and Old Hymns

I went to visit my dear friend Fran yesterday. Late in her 80's now, she lives with her son and his family and she is slowly slipping away. She doesn't really know me anymore, and she doesn't remember 30 seconds after I leave that I've been there, but I go as often as I can because she went so far out of her way so many times for me.

Fran, or "Franacious" as we lovingly called her "back in the day" was the librarian at the Bible college I attended. She started that library from the ground up and she painstakingly logged in every book, and spent countless hours lugging boxes and shifting shelves to put a proper library together for the Bible college students that had descended upon her church.

She was an excellent librarian, yes, but she was so much more--
She was a kind of surrogate grandmother to anyone who needed one.
She asked questions and listened like she really wanted to know . . . because she did.
She comforted all manner of homesickness, lovesickness, the common cold (she had been a nurse in an earlier career), and the bone-crushing fatigue of all-night study sessions--she would stay as long as anyone needed the books.
She fed anyone who was running a little short on cash.
She gave a place to stay when roommate issues were overwhelming.
She drove those of us without cars all over creation (if not for her and all the rides she gave me to the BART train station, Hero Husband and I might not have even gotten together).
She encouraged, reassured, helped, commiserated and loved so many so well.

We have stayed in touch ever since. Christmas cards, phone calls and the occasional visit after I moved away from San Jose where we met. She came to my wedding, which I'm convinced wouldn't have happened without her.

Last year I asked our worship team to go with me to the memory care facility where she lived then to sing hymns for her and they agreed to come. When we arrived, Fran was in a very blue mood and was reluctant to come out to the main room. With a little coaxing she finally shuffled in, head down, shoulders hunched, teary and sad.

I introduced her to my friends and we began to sing everyone's favorite hymns. Much to my surprise, Fran started singing right along, not even looking at the hymnal in front of her! Here was this woman who has trouble stringing one thought to the next and suddenly she was singing, loud and strong, sometimes going into harmony parts and doing hand motions she had learned as a little girl. We were all fighting back tears as we watched her literally unfold out of the huddled, inward shell she had been moments before and we saw the real Fran emerge, feisty, funny Franacious, by turns directing the singers and even joking with everyone and basking in the attention they all gave her.

What a transformation!! What a revelation!! It was as if the hymns we sang had flipped a switch to a part of her that was still whole and alive. We had a marvelous time that day with her and with the other residents who also were touched and blessed by those familiar old hymns, so rich with timeless truth. I have never visited since without singing a few hymns with her and the effect is dramatic to me every time. The moment I start singing Jesus Loves Me or Trust and Obey or Victory in Jesus, she comes back from that distant, disjointed, frustrating place her mind takes her and her blue eyes get clear and focused and Fran is Fran again, if only for a few minutes. Yesterday we sang Christmas carols together and I made her fluffy white teddy bear dance to the music--she was delighted!

I can see that it does her good, but it is such a blessing to me to see that for this sweet lady, whose deep faith has seen her through so much, the most real part of her, maybe the only part that is still intact is the part that rests in knowing "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." It is not mere rote recall of words and music she learned long ago, but that those songs and the faith she placed in the truth they contain are breath and life to her.

Thank God for the hymns you know--they're stored in a very durable place in your brain and they are powerful medicine. If they can have that kind of effect on someone at Fran's age while her mind is deteriorating, imagine what they can do for us--SING, SING, SING!!

"Gray hair is a crown of splendor;
it is attained by a righteous life." Proverbs 16:31 NIV

Is there an elderly person in your life who needs a good old-fashioned hymn sing?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Find the Perfect Gift

-- Up and down . . . round and round . . . shoppers search and sift. Hustle, hurry . . . go, go, go . . . find the perfect gift! In all the scurrying activity of Christmas shopping, it's so easy to forget what it's all about. It's so easy to get stressed and grumpy, strained and out of sorts. Your heart is in the right place, but if you're at all like me, before it's all done, your head is throbbing! I pray for each of us this Christmas that we will not do one single solitary thing that isn't a pure outflow of joy and celebration and gratitude for our great Giver-God who has already given the absolute perfect Gift that could ever be given in His Son Jesus. Every gift we ever give should be because He gave. Every song we ever sing should be because He lives. Every light on every house glows the Light of the World. Every tree we ever decorate whispers both rough-hewn manger and old rugged cross. I pray that we won't get stuck on cascading escalators in crowded stores, but that we would see how far He came down to reach us, and that our spirits would rise with the angels who sang glory and peace and goodwill from God to man. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “ Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14, New King James Version)
How are you keeping Christ in Christmas this year?
holy experience

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Do You See?

-- Take a look at this picture (click on it to open a larger version in another window)--what do you see? Blue sky? Trees? Bull rushes? Well, yes . . . and no. That is what it looks like, right? So why am I giving you the impression that maybe you shouldn't trust what you see? As the photographer, I may know a little something about this picture that could change your perception of the whole scene. In fact, I do! Have I digitally changed this picture in some way? Not at all--the pixels are completely unaltered from the day I took the picture. So what do I know that you don't know (maybe some of you have picked up on it)? The picture above is upside down. The blue sky, trees and bull rushes are mere reflections of the real things. Here is the original in it's right-side up presentation: The lives we live are often like this picture--we think we know what we're looking at, we think we recognize the scene in front of us. Then, based on our perceptions of what is and what should be, we think we know what we should do, how things should go. Let's face it, we even think we know what God should do and how He should behave, when He should show up and what action He should take. Ah, but there's the kicker--OUR perceptions! What happens if our perceptions aren't completely true? What if we knew that we were seeing only a reflection, a reflection subject to ripples and blurring and visual distortion. Would we be so quick to go by what we see? "For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. 1 Corinthians 13:12 AMP Just as I, being the photographer of the picture above, could bring a more informed perspective about the picture you were looking at, Our Heavenly Father has a much more informed perspective about the lives we are looking at. He knows what is real and what is illusion, what is blue sky and what is deep water, what is a living tree and what is just a watery reflection. He can tell us where the solid ground for our next step is, even when it looks to us like empty space. He sees with crystal clarity and His perceptions are perfect. His vision is not murky, His eye is not dim! Whether we feel like we know exactly what we're looking at or we can't tell which way is up, we are only on a firm footing when we ask God for His perspective. We can fully trust the One who fully knows and fully understands each of us and who can perfectly see the lives we're facing.
What is God teaching you about His perspective?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Echoes from the Mayflower

-- Listen! Can you hear them? Can you hear the echoes of that very first Thanksgiving feast? In the hustle bustle of the kitchen with clanking pans and sizzling turkeys, listen close and you'll hear the distant sounds of women cooking over open fires, turning the spit for hours as the meat grew more fragrant and delicious by each turn. I wonder if they had any idea that we would still be following their lead and continuing their tradition 388 years later. Their hearts must have been so full as they reflected on all God had brought them through. They must have been keenly aware of missing people from home, and of the loss of friends and family who had started out with them, but who had not survived this far. They must have held each other that much more closely in this celebration of harvest and life, hope and freedom, all out of their gratitude to Almighty God who held them together.
Tracing . . . tracing . . . tracing . . . generation upon generation . . . back and back and back . . . exactly ELEVEN generations back to my nine-times-great grandfather, a man named Edward Doty, who arrived on the Mayflower. He was there for that very first Thanksgiving feast! For me, maybe for many of you too, these were not just distant people from a history book. One of them was family. Something about that direct-line family connection brings the Mayflower and all it symbolizes much closer to me. Although Grandpa Doty was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, I am so glad that he made that long voyage and did what it took to survive and thrive here, that he was part of the beginnings of this great country. Edward Doty is just one of many of my ancestors who were among the very earliest settlers in what would be come the United States of America. Each of them brought an intrepid spirit, a willingness to risk everything for freedom, and the bold resolve it took to cut a new trail into a vast wilderness and turn it into the great country we enjoy today. One more thing--the majority of them believed whole-heartedly in the God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ. I am truly thankful--today, and everyday--for all those who have gone before, for their sacrifice, for their determination that made my life here possible. I am most thankful for their faith in God, a faith that put boots on the ground and persevered down through eleven generations.

"I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers,"

Philemon 1:4 NIV

I pray everyday that I will be as faithful in my generation as they were in theirs . . . that I will not fail to pass the baton to my children as it was passed to me. I speak of both the baton of Christian faith and the baton of the passion for freedom born out of that Christian faith. Thanksgiving Day in 2009 brings such a mix of emotions and images to mind--it is family and fun, food and football, but it is even more about faith and freedom. It all goes together, and I owe it all to the great God who started the whole idea of celebration feasts to begin with! If I live with Thanksgiving in my heart everyday, maybe my life will echo and ring down through the generations to come--I truly hope so!
What echoes from the Mayflower did you hear today? What do you hope sends an echo forward from your life? --

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Love Letters

-- Love letters are the stuff of story books, fairy tales, movies and songs. Kept and treasured for years, worn with frequent handling, love letters are more precious to the loved one than gold or jewels or riches. Read and reread, pored over and memorized, love letters pour love from one heart to another. I find love letters from God all the time! He has this endearing habit of designing hearts into His creation, and then He waits and watches to see if I'll find them . . . and notice. Here are a couple of the recent love letters I've found: There is another love letter that is my favorite one of all. This one is filled with so much love it is sixty-six books long, detailing a love like no other, and written just for me . . . and you . . . and anyone willing to be loved. This love letter is the passionate expression of a completely sacrificial, nothing-held-back, all or nothing, utterly incomprehensible love to outshine all loves! This letter lays bare the heart of the greatest of all Kings, who loves His beloved to the point of His own death. So who is the King who sent this amazing love letter? Who is capable of a love this powerful? There is only ONE! He is the King of kings, the Hero of heroes, Jesus Christ Himself. His letter tells of His unfailing love, of His Father who sent Him on this rescue mission, and of the Holy Spirit who, while our Beloved Hero King is away, waits with us, eagerly watching for His return! Just like the romantic kind, this love letter is the inspiration for story books, fairy tales, movies and songs. Kept and treasured for years, worn with frequent handling, this love letter is more precious than gold or jewels or riches. Read and reread, pored over and memorized, this love letter pours love from His heart to mine. This love letter is my Bible, God's very own words written to me. It is my treasure, my heartbeat, my breath and my life. He wrote it to you too! You are loved beyond measure!!
"The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. '" Jeremiah 31:3 NIV

P.S. I am sitting in a quiet little hotel business center, reflecting on an amazing experience. I wrote my Love Letters post before I left on Friday to bring my daughter and a group of girls from our church to an event called The Revolve Tour. During this weekend conference, each speaker, every band, every drama presentation, told the Arena filled with thousands of teenage girls of the love of God in a powerful, passionate, dynamic way. Their theme was so simple, but so profoundly important:

"God Loves You. The Real You. 4Real."

I was struck by the thought that these people were walking, talking, singing, dancing Love Letters, sent to these girls (and grown up girls) to pour His love into their hearts. That is what happens when we truly receive His love, we get to become living love letters to the people God puts in our path. I was privileged to carry that mission out in a one on one time with a beautiful young girl last night and I am humbled to have been given the opportunity to be a very personal love letter sent to her.

I am so thankful that my precious daughter and I were able to share in this experience and that we will be able to remind one another of the mountain top experience we had. We will become His love letters to one another and to the people to whom God sends us. We are so blessed!

Tell me your favorite lines from God's love letter to you, His Word. Tell me about a time when you got to BE a love letter!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Playing For Keeps

-- My Mama-heart trembles with questions that toss and jumble. I try so hard to make sense of all the conflicting, confounding concerns for my children that clamor for my attention. Which concern takes precedence? Which need is most important? In a world runaway with its own insanity, how do I as a mom, how do we as parents help our kids navigate the mine-fields of their generation's culture wars and the enemy who would love to derail them? It feels like the movie scene that gave me nightmares as a little girl. Snow White, fleeing from the wicked Queen's murderous plot, runs through the creepy dark forest with the tree branches grabbing and grasping at her cloak with evil intent. That is sometimes how I see the world my children go into every day when they walk out our door. Sex, drugs, alcohol, and violence are everywhere from TV to the school yard, packaged in profanity and peer-pressure. Not only that, but ideas, influences, attitudes and ideologies come at them from all sides, promoting all manner of confused and destructive thinking. There are so many things our kids are forced to know too soon. There are so many choices our kids are forced to make . . . so many choices WE are forced to make, and each choice is playing for keeps. Is it more important to keep them safe or teach them how to take the right risks? Is it best to have tight boundaries or give them room to stumble and help them learn their own lessons? Is it right to shield them from darkness or should you show them how to light it up? Most of the time it's a little of both, but it can feel like this impossibly delicate balancing act where a whisper of breath in the wrong direction could topple everything. I have this sense that I could spend all day and all night on my knees and still not have prayed for them enough. I am so blessed that both my children love God and have a desire to live for Him. I could not BE more thankful for that. Still, it is a daunting responsibility to be entrusted by God to guide them through a world so diametrically opposed to all we believe in. My temptation is sometimes to think that we are all alone in this, even to think we're all alone with God in it--HE is enough, but there is only one of me, only one of my husband, and even in God's enabling, there is only so much we can do because we can't be with them every minute. Last night I got a truly encouraging reminder that God brings other people alongside our children, and He brings other influences, other voices, other lives to impact their own. We have just recently started attending a different church, and I had taken my daughter to youth group. As I talked to the youth pastor's wife, getting acquainted for the first time, I felt this weight I'd been carrying begin to lift a little, because I heard in her words and her story and her personality, all kinds of divinely appointed reasons why God has aligned our lives at this exact moment in time. He orchestrated it all, just so He could reinforce, expand, advance and deepen my daughter's already growing desire to walk with Him. The cool thing was, as I was marveling at God bringing this young woman to us at just the perfect moment, she was expressing how God was encouraging her and her husband through my daughter!! How very like God to answer our prayers through one another. What a privilege He gives us when He not only answers the cries of our hearts, but uses us to answer the heart-cries of our brothers and sisters!! Parents, love your kids with your whole life! Pray for them like there's no tomorrow! But TRUST GOD and know that He hasn't left it all up to you!! He was playing for keeps with their hearts long before He entrusted those precious children to your care . . . He still is!
"being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6 NIV
How has God used other people to influence your children in ways you never could? How will you express your appreciation to them?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

God Got There First!

-- "For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; " Psalm 91:11 NIV
We would surely be amazed if we knew all the near misses we have with calamity. Once in awhile, sometimes twice in two days, we get a glimpse of the results of the unseen efforts of God and His angels to protect and guard us through the hazards of this life. Last Wednesday night, my mom in Canada was at her weekly Bible study with friends, expected home around 9:15. My daddy was happily watching a Gaither Homecoming video, and assumed the noise he heard outside about that time was the sound of her car driving up the long gravel driveway. He anticipated she would be in soon, but when she didn't come in the house, he went out to see what was keeping her. To his surprise, she wasn't even home yet. And then he saw it! His truck was missing!! As he looked around for clues, my mom drove up, much later than she ordinarily would be getting home. As we talked about those events the next morning, we all marveled at the protection of God that he kept both my parents out of the way while the crime was in progress! The loss of the truck is a real blow, and the sense of having their haven from the world violated is the hardest pill to swallow, but THEY ARE FINE!! UNHARMED!! SAFE!! With the evil of the world swirling around, too close for comfort, it did not come near them!! God got there first!! Shortly after I hung up the phone from that conversation, my 13-year-old daughter's school called to let me know she had taken a bad fall during her PE class. They thought she was basically okay and since She-So-Sweet, (tough cookie that she is) was INSISTING in no uncertain terms that she did NOT need me to come get her, I waited to pick her up until after school. When I got there, she could hardly bend one knee which had bled through layers of large bandaids and right through her jeans. The palms of both hands were badly skinned up with gravel still embedded in her wounds, and wrists too sore to carry her backpack. Mama-Bear decided a trip to the doctor was in order. We were so thankful to find out that our basketball-loving, violin-playing, lion-hearted "little girl" had no broken bones, and didn't need a cast on any of her aching appendages. Hard to believe all that was the result of a walking accident!!! Speed-walking that is. Her mile was cut short by running into a nasty trip-hazard that just launched her. So how did she wind up with a scrape on TOP of one wrist AND one shoulder??? In my mind's eye I can see an angel grabbing her as she fell, flipping her into a somersault to help break the full-force of the impact, preventing anything from breaking. Yes, she still has some healing to do, but so much less than it could have been. God got there first!! The world can be a scary place, and our fears can loom large. When God lets us see the evidence of His protection in these near-miss incidents, it is so comforting! We can go about our lives in confidence, trusting that God has our back. Of course we do what we can to be smart about managing the risks of this life, but we don't have to worry and live in fear that our safety is all on us. We are guarded and watched over by Almighty God and the host of angels who obey His every command concerning us!!
He ALWAYS gets there first!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ His watch is ever-vigilant. Never unaware. Already in our great unknown Before we meet Him there. He prepares the way before us, Shows His tender care, Sends trusted angels to shield us. Before we meet Him there.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Greater Love Remembered

-- Words are such small containers for the profound thoughts that come today in remembrance. Whether by choice or by necessity, those who have answered the call of a country's battle cry and a desperate world in trouble are to be honored above all. They who . . . --do what must be done, ---sacrifice their own comfort, ----their right to their own path, -----their own dreams, ------time with their own families . . . they stand head and shoulders above the rest of us on whose behalf they fight. They sacrifice their own way so we can . . . --do what we want to do, ---live with the comforts of home, ----pursue our own path, -----dream our own dreams ------love our families up close without interruption . . . we look up to them as the best among us. There is not a reward we could ever bestow on all the brave men and women who fight for our freedom that would be great enough--that's not why they fight anyway. The very best way we can reward them is by showing our extreme gratitude, and by living out our freedom with as much honor as was required to win it.
Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13 NIV
He should know.
His entire existence on earth was about laying down his life to save people who couldn't save themselves. He volunteered, enlisted, jumped at the chance to leave His glorious home and His beloved Father in Heaven to go to a completely foreign and hostile place to fight for the freedom of a world of people, most of whom hated Him. That's right--He laid down His life, not just for His friends, but even for people while they were still His enemies. Greater love indeed! Veteran's Day. . . Remembrance Day north of the border, is a day to remember those who have fought to secure our freedom. We remember them because of the selflessness of their sacrifice and willingness to lay down their lives for others in the greatest demonstration of love possible. As we remember, let us never miss in their example, the echo of the young man of Nazareth who gave His life, all the way to dying, out of His love for each of us. Our veterans have purchased national freedom from tyranny for us with their blood, sweat and tears. Jesus bought us eternal freedom from the tyranny of sin with His perfect, sinless blood, selfless sweat and tender tears. In both cases, the only gratitude that can approach the greatness of the sacrifice is the gratitude that lives out its freedom with the same love and honor and passion as those whose blood secured that freedom. We should live like we know it was blood-bought, and NEVER take it for granted. My most humble thanks to all our heroic veterans--I can never express the depth of my thanks. May God's richest blessings and protection be abundantly on you and your families. And to the King of Kings, the greatest Hero of all, who set aside everything to come to my rescue, my life is Yours.
"This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." 1 John 3:16 NIV
Go out of your way to honor a veteran today! A simple, but heartfelt "Thank you for your service," is enough to light their face with a smile.


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