Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Goal setting and real bounty

A few days after Christmas, I’m a bit weary and hoping for fairies to come and help me pack up all this Christmas stuff. I’m amazed at someone I know who packs it up on Christmas morning. Without fairies. I’m serious.


My fairies can hold off a few days, though, because as I’ve written in Christmas seasons before, I’m still holding on for old Christmas on January 6. I’ll gradually slide things away but keep the nativity sets out until then.

I’d love to tell you that this house was an oasis of calm before Christmas, but there was much to do and many people in and out. Even so, it was wonderful. I may not have sat down much then, but these few days between Christmas and New Year’s are always a time of reflection for me.

 I like to SIT and reflect.

It’s also usually a time to set goals for the year ahead.

My goals are fluid, subject to change, and I try not to let them hang over me. Even so, with God’s help, goal setting is how I’ve written almost a million words in the past eight years.

This year, I’m at a crossroads. I strive to be as transparent as possible when writing this blog, but sometimes struggle with how much to share. I’ll just say that changing circumstances may affect how much time I have available for writing. Translation—day job. This has been a possibility for some time. Lots of writers have day jobs, so I know it's doable. I’ll continue to write, but will have to scale back in some way. Because of this, I’m sort of stuck with my goal setting.

I’m reading Psalm 65 a few days ago. “You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.”

Here at the end of 2014, I’ve been meditating on how God crowns the year with His abundance—how he might continue to do that here. An element of that word “crown” in the original language means to surround. I’m thinking of God surrounding us with his provision.

 I’m also reviewing the supernatural ways God has provided in the past—way beyond our ability to imagine. As Priscilla Shirer says, “Beyond and beyond.”

But really, his bounty goes far beyond material provision. As me and my fairies are removing the visible elements of Christmas and move toward 2015, despite so much uncertainty, I will have a couple of goals, and that is to stay close to Jesus and discern his mind. And in the same way I thought of Him surrounding us with His provision, how much better to think of Him surrounding us with Himself.

If you find yourself in a similar quagmire of circumstances, wondering about the year ahead, I’m with you. But let’s allow God to surround us with the real bounty, the gift of Christmas who is Jesus.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas and the undoing

Deep in an anthology of Christmas readings, a few lines of poetry entitled, “Christmas Bells” caught my attention— maybe because the title included the word bells.

Penned by John Keble, a nineteenth century chair of poetry at Oxford University, it seemed to capture the very essence of what Christmas means.

“Wake me tonight, my mother dear,
That I may hear
The Christmas Bells, so soft and clear,
To high and low glad tidings tell,
How God the Father loved us well;
How God the Eternal Son
Came to undo what we had done.”
It’s that last line that I keep going back to—Jesus “came to undo what we had done.”

Christmas is something to really celebrate.

For he has indeed, “loved us well.”
 Merry Christmas to you, dear friend.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When it's "very much of a much"

“The costumes are gone,” someone cried.

As co-director of the children’s play at our church, my heart went pittypat. Here we were just a short time before the dress rehearsal and only four days before the performance.

I moved to the closet where I distinctly remember seeing them hung after the play the year before. An empty space yawned before me.

I turned to search the faces of the people behind me including the women who had sewn them, and the co-director. “It’s the worst thing that could happen,” someone said.

In Madeleine L’Engle’s Christmas story, “A FullHouse: An Austin Family Story,” the narrator begins, “To anybody who lives in a city or even a sizable town, it may not sound like much to be the director of a volunteer choir in a postcard church in a postcard village, but I was the choir director and largely responsible for the Christmas Eve service, so it was very much of a much for me.”

Well, this Christmas play of ours was in a postcard church in a postcard village, and it may not have seemed to be very much to many, but it was indeed, “very much of a much for me.”

And the costumes were not chenille bathrobes tied with cord, sheets with raw edges, or fast food restaurant crowns, but lovely hand tailored garments.


I wanted to cry. But I haven’t found that to be helpful in the past. So, we did what people of faith do when faced with impossible situations—we prayed.

Then, a small army was dispersed throughout the building to search every box, in every attic, in every closet, in every cabinet, in every outbuilding.

Meanwhile, we went on with the dress rehearsal —sans the dress.

When we finished our rehearsal, we discovered that no discovery had been made.

We knew that the room in which they had been stored had undergone renovations and everything in the room had been relocated, but no one remembered what happened to the costumes. We reviewed possibilities—we could throw some things together, but in four days with everyone so busy? Someone did find a box of sad looking old costumes, not even enough to cover a third of the children. We exhaled a collective sigh.

What would we do?

And then . . .

And then . . .

Just at the point of despair, someone remembered the costumes being taken to a home for safekeeping during the renovation, to the home of someone that might not have remembered them because they’d been through such difficult circumstances this year. There may have been some doubt about whether this was a real memory or just wishful thinking. But a search was made, and sure enough, there they were.

 I believe that through our prayers, God spoke into the heart of a believer to help remember where those costumes were.

Because, what is “very much of a much” to us, is “very much of a much” to God.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?” (Matthew 6:30 The Message).

Even against the world stage of events, God cares that little children have costumes that were meant for them so they can once more tell the story of His coming on a tiny stage in a small church.

That matters to God.

So take every detail, every heartache, every care and lay it at His feet this Christmas, just as our little Kings put their crowns at the base of the manger where our baby Jesus doll lay.

Because, you see, it is ALL, “very much of a much” to him.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Raw Edges and Emmanuel

I stood in line to check in at the urgent care Saturday morning. A few hundred yards away, Christmas floats lined up for the annual parade through the center of town, but the people in my line were miles away from Christmas cheer by the misery I saw on faces.

I took a seat in a room packed full of folks barely hanging on. Across the aisle, a woman, maybe in her seventies slipped down and put her head in her husband’s lap. A college-aged young man stifled coughs. A baby wailed as his weary mother tried to comfort him.

After a month of dealing with a respiratory illness, and trying to manage its symptoms, the pain I had when coughing reached a new plateau the evening before, and I knew I had to do something. So here I was. All of us strangers together on this float of suffering.

“It’s going to be awhile,” the receptionist said when I turned in my paperwork.

When I sat back down, I looked at the time on my phone. The parade would start in few moments.

I clicked over to a daily devotional site and tried to focus, tried not to cough. Then I moved to a blog where I often find strength. As I read, I sensed God moving near. There in the middle of fevers, moans, and sniffles, God took a seat.

In the sanctuary of suffering, he came. He stayed.

For the next couple of waiting hours, I sensed His presence so strongly right in the middle of human frailty, of all going wrong. Though I would miss the Christmas parade passing so close, I would perhaps, leave the clinic that day with a greater measure of what Christmas means than if I had attended.

Emmanuel means God with us. And God is with us not just in our Christmas parades and parties and plays and musicals and worship services, God is with us in ugly, hard places—like back alleys, mental hospitals, bankruptcy courts, prisons, and sick clinics. He is on the backside of nowhere and he proved it by being born in no more than a barn.

I left with a diagnosis of acute bronchitis, infection, and some seriously strained ligaments in my chest, but I also left with a peace that surpassed anything I’d had in awhile. Often God uses our brokenness to help us draw near to him, and He draws near to us in our brokenness.

Yesterday, I had lunch with someone who related the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose mother had recently sold her into human trafficking in a nearby city. The mother did it to get three hundred dollars for an electric bill. The girl went through untold atrocities in just two weeks before a Christian group rescued her from the clutches of the man that had bought her. With such a fractured soul, how would this girl ever find healing?

But then I thought of Emmanuel—God with us. And if in this world there is a way for a thirteen-year-old to find the pieces of her life, it would be through the God who is with us in all of the sorry, low-down places a child can be—the One who lived on the raw edges of this world himself. And I had hope that He would help this girl, this baby, find a whole life. A real, whole, life.

“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

He is present with his peace, his comfort, and his restoring power in any raveling margin of life you may find yourself. No matter how desolate, no matter how seemingly hopeless.

God with us. Emmanuel. In all of our raw edges.

If you're puzzling over what to give for Christmas, might you consider Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees?
Both available for purchase HERE

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent and your own version of impossible

I’d had another post planned for today, but yesterday, I received a distressing report about a friend’s dire health situation.

As I pondered the news, verses from earlier morning readings drifted into my mind.

The verses for this day in my guide for the first week of Advent came from Luke 1.

Under the heading, “A childless couple conceives,” they detailed how God spoke to the elderly Zachariah through an angel about his wife, Elizabeth, also advanced in years, and how she’d bear a son who’d be called John.

The next section tells how a virgin, Mary, conceives. The angel who spoke to Mary said, “And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God” (Luke1:36-38 The Message).

The obvious connection between these passages and the next reading from Psalm 138 is a strong thread of thanksgiving, first in Elizabeth’s response to her pregnancy in Luke 1, next in Mary’s magnificat, and finally  in Psalm 138 where the Psalmist declares “Thank you! Everything in me says ‘Thank you!’”

However, when I received the disturbing report, I remembered that Psalm 138 ends, “When I walk into the thick of trouble, keep me alive in the angry turmoil. With one hand, strike my foes, with your other hand save me. Finish what you started in me, God. Your love is eternal—don’t quit on me now” (Psalm 138: 7-8 The Message).

When we face an impossible situation, the “thick of trouble,” it’s so easy to throw up our hands at a bad report, and just go with it. Oh well, at least we prayed, or these things happen. Yet, we ought to stand tall and say with the Psalmist, “Strike my foes and with your other hand save me,” and remember the words the angel spoke to Mary, “Nothing . . . is impossible with God.” True to what He had spoken, the elderly Elizabeth conceived, and Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Both of these women faced their own version of impossible, yet they trusted God. Advent is a season of preparation to celebrate the most exquisite, impossible thing God ever did in being birthed by a virgin, becoming flesh and dwelling among us, then dying on a cross for us so that we could live.

I do not know what God’s plans for my friend are, but I know they’re good ones. And she will be healed, hopefully in this life, but definitely in the next one. But, as long as she has breath, I will stand with her in prayer and trust that God can do the impossible. When I had cancer, I didn’t want folks discussing my “sad” situation behind my back. No, I wanted people who would speak blessing over me and trust God for my healing.

If you have your own version of impossible, rehearse the things God has already done. Have hope, because He’s still doing them.

That’s what I intend to do for my friend, because for God, impossible is nothing.

If you're puzzling over what to give for Christmas, might you consider Home to Currahee or Give My Love to the Chestnut Trees?
Both available for purchase HERE

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