Monday, December 30, 2013

What a Southern gal learned with two blades strapped to her feet

Growing up in the Deep South as I did, ice-skating seemed the stuff of fairy tales.

The closest we came to it was sliding across the driveway after an ice storm.

But in the 1976 Olympics, Dorothy Hamill perpetuated the fairy tale. In graceful splendor, she sailed across the ice and into our hearts with an Olympic Gold medal in both the short and long programs.

We wanted to spin like Dorothy. We wanted her haircut.

She planted in the heart of a young woman more experienced at swimming than spinning an aspiration to don a glittery costume and perfect an arabesque while gliding across the ice on two blades at twenty miles per hour.

Well, take away the glittery costume, the arabesque, and the twenty miles an hour, but I finally did it.

 Unable to find ice thicker than the skim on the birdbath around here for decades, an ice skating rink finally came temporarily to my town, and I strapped on a pair of blades.

When I first stepped on the ice, I said to my daughter who was with me, “I’ll never get this.”

She turned to me and said, “I felt the same way when I first did it.” She’d ice skated in the city where she attends college and had at least a working knowledge of what to do.

I clutched the rail as I inched my way around the rink. In short order, my daughter struck out on to the ice leaving me trying to avoid the flailing arms and legs of those in front and behind me. Halfway around, I arrived at a few conclusions.

First, this creeping along was not ice-skating.

Second, I was in more danger at the rail than on the ice, with the bladed feet around me splaying in every direction.

Third, I was never going to learn anything white knuckling the rail.

So, contrary to my careful nature, I let go.

Just the blades, the ice, and me. Oh, and the toddlers, the teenagers, and the retirees flying past as if I were standing still.

With every move, I saw myself Dorothy, elegant and agile. I wanted to do tricks—skate backwards, do a triple jump, something. But I suppose my biggest trick was managing to stay upright on the ice without splatting on my hiney.

 I don’t believe in bucket lists, but I do believe in living our whole lives well and for me, putting on those ice skates was a dream come true.

So glad I turned loose of that rail.

Looking towards a new year, I suppose there are other ways that I’m metaphorically holding on to the rail. But I’m looking to let go in those areas as well—to unfurl my fingers and glide into the future with Jesus.

Oswald Chambers said it this way, As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, unremembering delight, nor with the flight of impulsive thoughtlessness, but with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ. Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.”

Maybe you have white knuckles, too, clutching onto the familiar, holding onto the past, when God is calling you to step out with Him. It’s scary. It’s unpredictable. And it may not be all that safe.

But this southern gal is here to tell you, there’s nothing like it.

Let go that rail and have a blessed New Year!
". . . I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic. I’m right here to help you" (Isaiah 41:13 The Message).

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

When someone lets you down

Someone let this little shepherd down.


Of course, it wasn’t intentional. He’d practiced and memorized his line perfectly for the play:  “There it is! There’s the star, right over that stable there. This must be where He is.” But as the person cueing him on, I forgot to turn on the microphone--and after all that hard work.

I agonized over the faux pas, made my apology, and in the process, God sent a consoling word to me. In my spirit, I heard these words from the Lord: “I didn’t need a microphone to hear him.” God assured me the little shepherd had the ear of the King of Kings.

When someone lets us down, we often feel passed over. Forgotten. Alone.

But, we have the attention of the Master of the Universe who never overlooks us, forgets us, or nods off.

He’s on the job 24/7.

“My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:2-4).

As I heard concerning our small sheep herder, it’s such a comfort to know God doesn’t need a microphone to hear us, either.

In the middle of the night, when our hearts ache, and the words won’t come, what a blessing to know God even picks up on the unspoken cries of our heart.

This season with all of its joys can also be a time of disappointment. So this Christmas, if someone has let you down, remember God is always present to hear and lift you up.
Take it from me and the little shepherd.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Angelic appearances

We’ve seen a few angels around here lately.

At least, they looked like angels.

Thanks to the incredible skill of the costume designer for our church play, the angel wings seemed they might actually work.

“What if we really fly off?” one young cherub said, apparently entertaining the idea that anything might be possible.

In an attempt to portray the mightiness of the angels, our designer draped a chain bearing a heavy cross around one of the angel’s necks.

When I saw it, I had to think about whether an angel could wear a cross on the day of the Savior’s birth. The cross was a point in the future, yes?

But according to Revelation 13:8, Jesus is “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.”

We want everything to play out in a linear fashion, but God’s time is not our time. When the God-man Jesus pierced the space-time continuum, God saw the cross through the bleating sheep, and the brilliance of a star, and the baby in a manger.

Perhaps some of the angels who announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds were the same ones who might have attended him as he hung stripped on a splintered cross.

The God who does not count minutes as we do heard the cry of “not my will but yours,” over an infant’s cry and persisted towards his goal of wresting us from death’s grip.

When I think of the intricacies, power, and sacrifice of God’s plan, I stand in awe.

In that sweet scene we reenacted is what the apostle John described: “The Word of Life appeared right before our eyes; we saw it happen! And now we’re telling you in most sober prose that what we witnessed was, incredibly, this: The infinite Life of God himself took shape before us” (1 John 1:2 The Message).

That angel’s cross reminds me “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16 The Message).

An eternal life.

In the words of an angel, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke2:11).

Can’t you just feel the brush of angels wings as they once more direct us to the Savior?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

If you're looking to light the night

 I'm so aware this is a difficult time of year for many. Christmas of 2010 presented us with unbelievable challenges. In fact, a friend who knew all the circumstances said, "I don't know what else can happen to your family." Just a few days after the post below was written in December of 2010 my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, as we continued to deal privately with another situation equal to the cancer in difficulty and threat. We relied on God's grace, and the kindness and prayers of others to traverse those very deep waters.
Today, three years later, we find my husband's tests showing no cancer. The other situation has also seen a miraculous touch of God in ways that I'd love to share, but it is still someone else's story to tell at this point. But I'll say this, it is an extraordinary accounting of God's working behind the scenes in ways I could have neither scripted nor anticipated. We are so grateful and well aware that our outcome could be very different. I'd like to think our hearts would still be full of praise.
So, if you're struggling in the midst of difficulty this Christmas, I pray the scriptures below speak to you as they did to us during our dark time and help light your present night, as well.

I make several out of the way detours at Christmas to take in the lights in our town. Workers spend many hours winding strands around the gingko trees, which line the streets. Beautiful, don’t you think?

This Christmas has presented our family with the most serious challenges we’ve ever faced—only one of which is a biopsy my husband is having tomorrow. Others I do not have the freedom to write about now. I know many of you face challenges as well. So, I thought I’d share scriptures that have carried me in these last weeks.

Two verses from Ecclesiastes: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men…” (Ecclesesiastes 3:11). “Anyone who is among the living has hope…” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

From Philippians: “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Isaiah 35:3-6: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.”

No matter what else is happening, it's a time to celebrate God sending Jesus to rescue us. In Psalm 77, David lamented his desperate situation for many verses, then he says, “…I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”

So, I’m meditating on all that God has done for us in Jesus and how he has shown himself mighty through the ages. In particular, I’m rejoicing and giving thanks for His faithfulness to our family for many, many years.

The last words of John Wesley were, “The best of all, God is with us.” Yes, Emmanuel has come to save us, to be with us. That truth lights my world brighter than the gingko trees on any dark December night.

Monday, December 9, 2013

When the thread runs long

Our precious friends from Nigeria, Joseph and Antonio, recently passed through here. Our relationship with them goes back to my husband's seminary days when we first connected. Over the years, either one or both of them have spent many weeks in our home.

I love the pictures which document our journey together, from a few months after our son, Aaron, was born—

Through the time our children were in high school (children a little sleepy as it's 7 a.m. before school)—

And from just recently—

Joseph and Antonio could have chosen an easier route than the one they travel today. Educated in this country with a doctorate in ministry, Joseph could have opted to stay in a more comfortable place, but they felt called to minister in their own country. There’ve been times they did so under threats of death. Other times, they continued their work living sacrificially for long periods with little remuneration.

 A friend who heard Joseph speak this week mentioned how he often says “In Jesus name.” And I shared with her that when we’re in the car together or just sitting in our den, he or Antonio will begin to recite scriptures, speaking the blessing of God over our lives. I’ve learned much about dwelling on the word, and declaring the blessing of God from Joseph and Antonio.

Their lives have demonstrated to me that the walk with Jesus can sometimes lead through treacherous times even when we are giving our all in service to Him. But God calls us to faithfulness in every circumstance, and I’ve been inspired by their example to persevere in the midst of difficulty. Their passion for serving Christ is contagious.

When I’m with these dear ones, I’m reminded there are many others like them around the world who minister in adversity for the sake of the gospel, and though we may not even know their names, their labor in the Lord may be changing the course of history.

Yes, our relationship with our brother and sister in Christ has now spanned decades, but also thousands of miles geographically. When the thread runs long, we look back, and stretch our arms wide as we offer thanks to God for binding us together “In Jesus name.”  It’s our privilege to know them.
"Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer. I find myself praying for you with a glad heart" (Philippians 1:3 The Message).
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

Thursday, December 5, 2013

If you want to shop for Christmas, alleviate poverty, and stop human trafficking

At this year’s Catalyst Conference, I came across the Worldcrafts exhibit and was immediately drawn in. According to their brochure, Worldcrafts operates under Fair Trade Federation standards and seeks to help women and men around the world to “earn a living with dignity and escape the grip of poverty.” Their parent organization, WMU, is engaged in the fight to stop human trafficking. Their mission statement declares they want to “involve Christians in understanding and becoming radically involved in the mission of God.”

Without realizing it, I’d already made a purchase from them some time ago. On a mountain retreat, I came across some of their fair trade products in a gift shop, and purchased a lizard made in Kenya from strips of soda cans for my wildlife biologist to-be son as well as jewelry for my daughter made in a far-flung place.

I also made a few purchases at Catalyst and received their Christmas catalog a few weeks ago.

As I thumbed through the pages, I took a tour of how people around the world see the Nativity, for among the offerings in the catalog are handcrafted sets made in places like China, Bangladesh, and Kenya. I thought of the beloved Alfred Burt carol, “Some Children See Him.”

The stories of Worldcrafts artisans stir my heart. At 80 years of age, a basket maker in Kenya accepted Christ for the first time. In Yunnan China, women who work all day in the fields only make $36 a year. Through Worldcrafts, they’re able to use their embroidery skills to make $12 a month.

Worldcrafts is not paying me anything to write this, but if you’re looking for unique gifts, the purchase of which will make a real difference in someone’s life, please check them out.

Cause no matter what color Jesus seems to you, helping families feed their children, or saving a young girl from human trafficking is what true religion is all about.

“Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world” (The Message James1:27)

You may watch a short overview of the Worldcrafts mission here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A ham, a lamb, and when everything seems haywire

We’re putting the last of the turkey leftovers in the freezer, pulling the Christmas decorations out of the closet, and I’m about to post a festive new blog banner. I actually did it way back in July. How’s that for long term planning?

The Christmas Season is upon us.

To that end, I’m helping to direct the children’s Christmas play at church this year.

We have our challenges.

The shepherds have a disposition to shoot down the aisle early preempting Mary’s “Away in the Manger” solo. One lamb would rather be with his mom than a bunch of diminutive sheepherders, so he tries to slip the clutch of his handler. And it seems that in the spirit of the classic children’s story by Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, we may find ourselves with a ham on the altar the evening of the performance. (If somehow you missed The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, find a copy and read it to any kids you can round up. It will definitely unlock the child in you, too.)

But, despite the crowd control issues, there are poignant moments when these precious kids who have a grip on my heart have me dissolving into tears almost making me forget who I’m supposed to cue on stage.

All this has made me reflect on the original cast. I can see many opportunities for things to have gone haywire then, too.

Instead of saying, “Be it unto me even as you have said,” Mary could have told God she wasn’t going to the prom carrying an infant. After learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph could’ve simply defriended her. After recovering from their angelic appearance shock, the shepherds might have sought greener pastures--in the opposite direction of Bethlehem. And the Wise Men? They could’ve thought it wiser to keep their distance from a baby who had Herod in such an uproar.

But God was the original long-term planner.

Somehow, from the beginning, God knew this motley bunch of characters would play their part in the unfolding of a story that split history.

He knew we’d need to see that ordinary people could play an extraordinary part in God’s plan of redemption for the world.

And He knew a baby would change everything.

There’s a culminating moment in our pageant when we understand that every line and action in the play points to the baby Jesus. All eyes are on the infant King. That’s when I almost lose it.

God chose to become Jesus, a vulnerable, tiny person in the care of a teenager and a carpenter, and included farmhands, astronomers, and livestock in the celebration of His historical entrance. You gotta love a story like that.

When life seems to be going off the rails, it’s a comfort to know the God, who became one of us, sees, knows, and is always working even through the difficult circumstances to accomplish His purpose.

So, the night of our pageant, if a ham shows up, it’ll be okay. Because we’re going to be looking for Jesus, God with us, and there’s nothing like a child to show us the way.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
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