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Looking forward

December 31 marks the end and the beginning.  They come in tandem.

We celebrate the beginnings. A marriage. A birth.  A new job.  And we celebrate the endings. A graduation. A finished project. A race.

Sometimes we are just glad the thing is over, wanting to move on, hoping for something different, something better.

I’ve been both places.  Haven’t we all?

Some years I planned and listed goals and worked to accomplish them.  Other years I simply put one foot in front of  the other, leaning into the wind of adversity, hoping to survive.

As I look back over the year, I ask questions.  What did I do with the time I was given?  Did I use my days well?  Did I appreciate each one?  Was I present in the moments?

As my years increase, the days of my life become more precious.  I don’t want to spend what I have left foolishly, wasting it on fear, anxiety, unresolved anger, unforgiveness.  There is an abundant life offered to me, and I really do want to take hold of it and live it well.

Looking forward, I know there will be joy and sorrow.  They run side by side at times.  There will be challenges, hard places on the journey, and there will be joy unspeakable and full of glory.

I look forward with hope.  That hope is in Someone who has a plan and I’m part of it.  Hope calls me to live with courage to press on, to press in, to press forward.  When the muck and mire weigh me down, when the rain pours hard and soaking, when the fiery trial burns hot and unrelenting, I hope in the Lord who is God over my life.

There is only One worthy of my hope.  He is the One who can redeem my past and give promise to my future.

So I ponder the coming year, the new day, the next tiny second.  What am I going to do with the rest of this one wonderful life I’ve been given?

I will hope in God and I will yet praise Him.  He is my health and well-being, the One who is before and behind and surrounds me with His presence.

In Him my unfolding year is secure.

happy new year

 

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December 21

It’s the week of, and all roads lead to Christmas.

Folks gather in churches for special programs of choirs singing, musicians playing as they musically tell of the good news.  The old familiar carols play and some that are brand new but equally eloquent and beautiful.

Teachers are glad the semester is over and are breathing easier.  Kids are sleeping in and planning on movie and video game marathons.

Presents have already been exchanged with good friends.  Families have gathered to share celebrations, and plans are being made for more while houses are freshened and food is purchased for more guests.

Parents and children are packing suitcases for the long trip to grandmother’s house.  And in another place grandparents are loading up the SUV with gifts galore, wanting to be on the road in anticipation of seeing those smiles and giving those hugs and hearing those words “we’re so glad you’re here.”

Last minute shopping will make the highways crowded, the malls even more so.  Shopkeepers will work long hours and their feet will hurt at the end of the day.  Patience will be at a premium for everyone.

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The Christmas train is moving at top speed.  You’ve got to get in, get out, or get run over.

Thousands of years ago, a couple were making their way to Bethlehem.  Just a few more days and they would be there.  She is round and heavy with child, weary from this long journey.  He is hoping to find some comforting place for his wife about to deliver.  A clean bed and some fresh water would be nice.  A warm meal and a “welcome, come in and stay with us” would be priceless.

Their first Christmas was not a piece of cake.  There weren’t any song fests or presents to wrap or relatives waiting for their arrival. No family gatherings planned and the table set with the choicest fare.  There were probably crowds of people and yes, patience was at a premium then also.

The glory of their Christmas was holding back, restrained until the right moment when the fullness of time would come.  There were still miles to go, hardships to face, questions that would bewilder them.

But the glory was there nonetheless.

Far away, there was an ancient couple, Zachariah and Elizabeth, rocking a sleeping baby and wondering at this miracle.  There were angels waiting for final instruction in fervent expectancy.  There was a brilliant star forming in the sky.  There were wise men pouring over scrolls trying to uncover the mystery.  There were the faithful believers still waiting and looking for the consolation of Israel, the long-awaited promise of God.

The glory is all around us.  Sometimes it is hidden.  But it is there.

Look for the glory.  Look for the beauty of God in the faces of people.  Look for His creative process in changed lives.  Look for God’s love in kindness and generosity.  Look for His amazing grace in yourself.

The glory shone all around.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

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A simple year

I don’t have a themed Christmas tree nor is there one in every room.

There are still boxes (yes boxes!) of decorations upstairs that are completely full.  This year, I just didn’t want to overdo and be overdone with the whole decorating process.

There are enough reds and greens at the Wright House.  Nativity sets sit on table tops to remind us, and any who enter, why we do this thing called Christmas.

But this year, it’s simpler.  And I’m OK with it.  Actually, I’m really good with it.

I like driving at night and looking at houses with lights on roof lines, trees and bushes in the yards.  I remember a year when I was a child, and my uncle, who lived next door, completely outlined his house in colored lights.  From a distance, it looked like it was glowing in the sky.  It was wonderful!

We’ve never done anything so elaborate.  I put simple lights in my windows because they take me back to my childhood home.  I recall decorating with my mother when I was a small girl, sweet memories.

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It seems I see a trend toward simplifying our lives and learning to live on less.  Maybe we are trying to learn contentment?  Perhaps the pendulum is swinging in the other direction after our “more is better” kind of lifestyle.

The Nativity StoryI watched an old movie this week, The Nativity, and noticed the drab clothing of the community where young Mary lived while Joseph planed his proposal.  There were no bright colors or extravagances in their lives.  They were doing what was needed to survive.

And within the simplicity of their existence, the most glorious event took place, the promised Messiah came to an ordinary young girl, engaged to be married to an ordinary working-class man.

And then it all begins to get interestingly complicated.  Glory is splashed all around.  Angels appear with unbelievable messages.  Dreams direct the next move.  Magnificent light shines around.  Brilliant signs appear in the heavens.  Foreign dignitaries bring rich gifts.  Plain people proclaim prophetic words.  And Mary ponders it all in her heart.

Suddenly the simple life became wondrous.  Grand.  Splendorous!

Perhaps that can happen to us.  In our simplier celebrations this year, perhaps we will see His glory, the glory of only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

 

You are here

The call came early, unexpected.  Sudden death.  No warning signs.  Life cut short.  A grieving family wonders why.

And we are here.  The cold icy grip of loss has invaded the festivity.

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There is a hunger that cannot be filled with Christmas cookies or a cup of eggnog. It is the hollow place left gaping for someone gone from us this year, another year; someone far away; someone missing from our celebration.

Social media reflects family gatherings with a wealth of pictures, and isn’t family our real inheritance? Because there’s no place like home for the holidays.

Many will gather around decorated trees and tables laden with food to share laughter and stories and the gift of togetherness that cannot be contained in packages.  Building more memories while feasting on the food of fellowship.

Some will not.

Families are estranged on Christmas Eve just like the day before.  Soldiers are stationed on the other side of the world. Money is short and weather is uncertain so travel is made impossible. Bodies are broken and minds don’t recall last year or yesterday or even a few minutes ago.

And some are dead and gone.  Forever is a long time.  Because death takes no holiday at Christmas.

Our longings go unfulfilled.  The pain of missing is real.  And we are found wanting at Christmas time.

We still have one wish to make:  Christmas-ing with you.

The refrain yearns for someone far away.  I feel the musical strain, the pain of the melody.  You are missed.  You are cherished.  You are remembered.  Your sweet presence is the gift we want more than anything.

December 25 will come and go as it does every year.  Some years, we just want it to be over so we can move forward.  The anticipation of it is hard.  The reality is harder.  The ache is honest.

The hollow of our being feels like it will never be filled.  How do we learn to live again, like this, without?

There is a Presence that can heal, comfort, and fill our hearts with joy even here.  It is the same holy Presence who filled young Mary’s womb, her consenting heart accepting the unknown.  “I am willing to do whatever He wants,” she said.  This is the place where following Him gets real.

I still believe He fills the hungry with good things.

It is a hunger that can only be filled with the glory that is God.  He alone will be enough.  Enough to fill the emptiness. Enough to satisfy the longing. Enough to sustain us in the hardest of times.

He has come to be with us in just such a time.  We are the reason that He came, the reason He laid aside His power and the glories of Heaven and became small, like us.

Come Lord Jesus, come in.  Fill us with Yourself.   Be enough in the pain and the strain and the heartbreak.

Be enough for us where we are this Christmas.

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The heavenly host

In light of yet another senseless shooting, this time in California, I wonder how long until it comes to my back yard.

Why are we surprised when evil raises its ugly head?  Since time began on earth and even before, there was conflict between the Force of good and forces of evil.  It is first recorded for us in Genesis, and the ongoing rumblings of war march through history.

What does any of that have to do with Christmas?  A lot.  Let’s take a look at a little town called Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born.

The shepherds in the field on that night were in the right place at the right time to get a personal message from the Almighty.  Caring for lambs most likely headed for temple sacrifice, they were hoping for a quiet night.

Instead they got the surprise of their lives.  An angel broke into their silent night proclaiming the most astounding news.  Good news!  News of a Savior, Christ the Lord.  Lying in a manger.  This was quite a proclamation to men who were not used to rubbing elbows with the upper crust of priests and kings. They were simple folk simply doing their job.

Before they could fully comprehend the message, suddenly a massive group of heavenly beings appeared.  A multitude of the host of heaven.  But these were not as we often picture them on Christmas cards or in our pageants.  They were not a sweetly-singing celestial choir but rather an army of the troops of heaven.  A heavenly knighthood.  They were prepared to do battle.  We don’t know if they sang or not, but their mission was to war as needed.

Angel warrior

Lucifer and his minions used all their efforts to thwart the plan of redemption, ready to devour the Child, this One who would one day rule the nations with a rod of iron.  The sweet little infant Child in a manger was the greatest of threats to the kingdom of darkness.   And they would do anything to keep God’s plan from being completed.

I wonder if they were surprised, just like the shepherds in the  field. Surprised by the Lord’s host, those who were ready and willing to serve because their Captain lay as helpless babe in a feeding trough.

Through the earthly life of Jesus we read of angels intervening, bringing messages, coming to strengthen and help, doing God’s bidding.  Until at the end of His life, at the last breath the God-man cried, “It is finished.”  And satan was defeated!

There is an enemy, and it is not your neighbor, your spouse, your co-worker, your in-laws.  We must recognize this and fight the real foe.

As children of the most high God we will be in the thick of the battle, called to be courageous, to fight the good fight of faith, to stand and when we have done all, to still stand.

Take heart, child of God.  The battle is not ours but the Lord’s.  We are not in this alone.  The Captain of the Lord’s host, Jesus Christ himself, has come to take over.  And. He. Is. Victorious!

And when it is all said and done, we who are on the side of the Lord, we win.

And that is something to sing about.

 

{Revised and reposted from December 2014}

 

 

 

Loving Him

My guest at Strengthened by Grace today is Debbie Moore.  Debbie is a pastor’s wife, mother, grandmother, woman of God, and my friend.  She speaks and writes with beautiful words.  Listen with me as she shares her heart with us.  

And Mary said, ”My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46

It is our family tradition to decorate for Christmas the day after we Give Thanks for all of God’s blessings.  

This year as we carefully unwrapped and arranged our Nativity scene, crafted by my parents, our granddaughter, Ella Grace, asked us “Why is Mary not holding Baby Jesus?”  She picked up the Christ-child and tried unsuccessfully to place Him in Mary’s arms.  

Then she lovingly hugged Him to her own heart.

Her tender three-year-old perspective gave me pause.  For as many years as we have displayed our Nativity, I had never pondered such a question.

Every character in our Nativity is postured to worship Baby Jesus, including the humble young mother of God’s own selection. It was almost as if Ella Grace could not bear that the Baby was not cradled in someone’s arms, someone who loved Him.

Ella Grace

This new Christmas season, could we long to hold the infant Christ close to our hearts with the innocence of a child and join the angel worship chorus, “Glory to God in the Highest?”  Might we expectantly follow the Star in the moonlit night to the stable in Bethlehem and peek into the manger with shepherds’ hearts?  Shall we  lift our hands on bended knees before the greatest Gift the world will ever know?

Let us delight in Jesus’ newborn sweetness and cherish the miracle of His birth above any other in the course of time eternal. Only then may we forsake the lure of the secular that steals our joy from the season and cling unashamedly and passionately to the holiest of earthbound gifts, Immanuel, God with Us.

 

What is Christmas?

It isn’t about the holiday.  It’s about Hope.

It isn’t about the shopping.  It’s about a Savior.

It isn’t about the packages.  It’s about His Presence.

It isn’t about the bows.  It’s about the Blessing.

 It isn’t about the garlands.  It’s about the Gift.

It isn’t about the tree.  It’s about the Treasure.

It isn’t about the food.  It’s about our Faith.

It isn’t about the decorations.  It’s about Deity made flesh.

It isn’t about the customs and traditions.  It’s about the Child.

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An illusive “perfect Pinterest Christmas” is beyond our reach.

Yet, the perfect Christmas Gift is available to all.

Christmas is Love.

Joy.  Peace.  Grace.  Acceptance.  Redemption.

Abundant Life.  Now.  Forever.

And this is the reason I celebrate.

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{Revised and posted from December 2013}