Archives

A Christmas longing

Sweet William and I savored the bliss of being with our precious ones several times this year. It began with a serendipitous visit, early in the year, from the one and only son when he was on a job near the Wright House. He came and spent the night. The visit was short but oh so very sweet.

The whole family came in the spring, and we attended Easter services together. My pew was full and so was my heart.

We  drove the miles and through states twice in 2016. One for a graduation celebration and one for a sweet sixteen birthday.

And then here they all came for three-day visit at Thanksgiving. It was more than I even dreamed. We have been blessed by companionship in 2016.

So of course, I knew all of us were done traveling for the year. I have accepted the fact

And yet, there is a longing in  my heart as Christmas approaches. Early mornings as I sit and sip my coffee, I remember other years, other Christmases.

I remember when the one and only son was so young and the excitement of the season was almost too much for him. One year he wanted me to put his opened presents back under the tree the morning after and pretend it was Christmas day all over again.

I recall when my mother was alive and how she made the holidays special. She loved to give gifts. After we tore into wrapping paper and boxes at our house, we walked the short distance to my parents’ home where we had more presents to open and a delicious waffle breakfast sitting around their table.

When our son and his family lived in the house next door, we gathered on Christmas Eve to eat a celebratory meal and open gifts. Stockings for each one were stuffed with surprises. My dad and step-mother gathered with us. The big trestle table with two leaves added, bought with the purpose of making room for all,  overflowed with laughter, stories, and love.

At times like this I am deeply thankful for extended family close by, those who open their homes and their hearts to Sweet William and me. We gladly share in their celebrations with gratefulness.

Though I prepare myself for the absence of others I hold so dear again this year, I find tears moistening my eyes as I think of each one. I have a longing to be with them, to give and receive gifts, to see the expressions of surprise and  happiness on their faces, to feel their hugs and be warmed by their love.

I know I’m not alone. There is longing in hearts this Christmas. Some grieve. Death has taken its toll, and Sweet William and I have visited too many funeral homes this month. Distance keeps people apart. Sometimes it is the miles that separate and sometimes it is unresolved differences.

For whatever reason, we are left holding only our memories when we want to hold those we love close to us, feel their warmth and hear their laughter.

It’s a Christmas longing.  A longing that can leave us feeling empty and bare.

broken vessel

Centuries before, a couple traveled away from home, a great distance for those who journey by foot. The birth of a first-born son would not be celebrated with their families gathered near. What longings did they have? A warm welcome, a comfortable bed, familiar faces, loved ones who would rejoice with them instead of questioning and doubting the angelic message they were given?

This was not how they expected these days to unfold.

Yet, they were in the place God had planned, part of His great design. They were part and parcel of the miracle of Emmanuel. The strong God coming to mankind in a way no one could have envisioned.

The characters of the Christmas story received unexpected favor.

Zachariah and Elizabeth got a son in their old age. Mary’s womb was filled with a miracle. Joseph became a father to God’s own Son. The shepherds were filled with wonder. The wise men were rewarded for their searching hearts upon discovering the King of all kings.

Simeon’s wait for the consolation of Israel was complete as he found God faithful to His promise. Anna’s years of fasting and praying prepared her worshiping heart for this day of discovering the Christ Child.

A heart empty can be filled. Though Christmas longings can leave us feeling lonely and wanting, there is a miracle of love to satisfy all the barren places.  When we give our longings to God, surrender the tears and the wounded heart, open ourselves up in honest hunger for something more, we become vessels to be filled.

Jesus is the gift we need. He is the Gift that gives to overflowing time after time. He fills the hungry with good things. He satisfies fully and makes us glad with the joy of His presence.

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today. Come in to stay.

Let every heart prepare Him room.

100_3313

 

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.

100_1325

Even as I write those words my eyes mist with tears.

100_1339

 

I am well acquainted with the givings and the takings of life.  I am sure you are too.  We don’t get very far in our journey without experiencing both.

100_1360

 

Recently, I had another “the Lord takes away” event that has left me with a hole in my heart about the size of three precious grandchildren.

I had 12 terrific years of living across the field from Elyse who is now 14 years old, Celeste who is on the verge of 11, and Ethan who is 9 and a half.  I was close enough to see them in their yard, hear them playing or taking the dogs out for breaks.  They were close enough to hear me whistle at them, and they scanned the horizon looking for me.  We both would wave a great big “hi” and talk loudly to each other.

The “Lord gives” part of this experience filled me to capcity.   How often I felt sad for grandparents who didn’t get to see their grandchildren like I did.  I was allowed the precious privilege of watching them grow from babies to teen, preteen, and big boy status.  I was a “Grammy close by” for many wonderful years and adventures.  Recently, the grandchildren and their parents moved almost 700 miles away.

But I was on the receiving end of the Lord’s giving for 12 wonderful years.

I rocked the babies, cuddled the toddlers, cheered when they learned to walk and talk and use the potty.

I attended soccer games and piano recitals, school talent shows and awards day.  I visited their church when they sang solos on Sunday mornings and Christmas programs.

They put on aprons and helped me prepare food.  We baked cookies and their very first batch of homemade Rice Krispy Treats.  They learned to set the table at my house where we had family birthday and holiday celebrations.

They drank my special blend of Hot Cocoa Mix from the Saturday-morning-after-spending-the-night mugs.  There were always plenty of marshmallows.  They sat on the three stools at our kitchen counter to stir and mix, to pat biscuits, to nibble or eat lunch.  The conversations we had were priceless.  They are my Three Amigos full of smiles and chatter and hugs and “I love you, Grammy.”

I’ve carried their tired bodies to bed.  I’ve bandaged their boo-boos.  I’ve washed their dirty feet after playing outside barefoot, calling it a “foot washing.”  I’ve tucked in their sleepy heads.  I’ve listened to some of the sweetest and funniest prayers at bedtime and at meals.  I’ve prayed prayers of blessing over them, naming their gifts and talents, and asking God to use them for His glory.

I answered questions and helped explain math and told stories about my life when I was a girl.  I rocked them by the fireplace until their legs grew so long that they touched the floor.

I took them to plays, to church, to work.  They accompanied me to the mall, the grocery store, yard sales and Goodwill.

We hit croquet balls, softballs, wiffle balls, basketballs and badminton birdies  in our yard.   I’ve seen chalk drawings all the way down my driveway, art that was too quickly washed away by the rain.  Sweet William and I watched them play the very life out of an appliance box in one afternoon.

They learned to win and be good losers at regular checkers, Chinese checkers, and Jack Straws.   I taught them to play The Game of Life on the same board on which my mother taught my son.

I told them Bible stories and challenged them to live obedient  to God.  We’ve sung praise songs in the car on road trips.  We’ve boogied to the beat of Steven Curtis Chapman or the final song at movie’s end as the credits rolled.  They listened to my classical and worship CDs and learned to appreciate different styles of music.  They were offered musical instruments to play and experiment.

We’ve eaten popcorn while we watched a movie they had seen so many times they could recite the words.  And they did.

We had tea parties and dress up games.  They pretended to be ballerinas, pirates, doctors, mothers and daddies, puppy dogs, kittens, heroes, and damsels in distress.

I could probably go on, but I think you see the picture.  My life has been full and overflowing for 12 years.  The Lord gave.

Now it is time for the rest of the phrase to be my life.  How can I complain when I’ve been blessed with so much, with more than most grandparents have in a lifetime?

At the moment I realize I am very much at the center of my own universe.  It’s all about me right now, my loss, my pain, my loneliness, my tears and how I am going to handle it.

As the leaves begin to die and loosen their connection from the tree, making their way to the ground, I identify and feel myself in an Autumn season.  The fullness and ripeness of summer has given way to the endings of fall.  Winter will come soon this year.

But winter will end, as it always does.  And Spring will break forth in all her glory.  I have to believe in the hope of a spring season.  As one dear friend wrote to me, “I whisper a prayer for you often that God  would . . . comfort your heart and reveal His glory through it all.”

Comfort.  Revelation.  God’s glory through it all.  That’s what I want.  I will wait with hopeful expectation, endure the winter and look toward the spring.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Broken and spilled out

When I was in my 40s, my nest was suddenly empty. Having only one child means one day the nest is full and the next day it’s empty. Travis went away to college, leaving Sweet William and me to bump around the house alone.

The Lord in His graciousness, knowing how my heart was, filled me up with a group of young people where we attended church. They became a drama team. We began to work on skits and pantomimes, performing at church services, our own and others. We even traveled to Michigan where we put on a workshop for the youth there and performed several times during the weekend.

It was great fun and a lot of trial and error. The kids could drive me absolutely up the wall sometimes. But most of the time, I was so proud of their efforts and their sincerity as they portrayed Bible scenes or humorous skits, all with the purpose of glorifying the Lord.   I so prayed the truth they acted out would take root in their hearts and draw them closer to Jesus.

One of the songs they performed was called Broken and Spilled Out by Gloria Gather. It was made popular by singer Steve Green. The song tells the story of the woman who brought her precious ointment and poured it out on Jesus feet.  The fragrance of the perfume touched the senses of all who were witness to her loving deed that day.  Jesus commended her for her act of love.

I’ve been humming that song a lot lately. It think it must be because I’ve felt broken and spilled out in the last several weeks.

I know I’ve been broken because the tears keep spilling out.

Sweet William and I have been through some trauma together. Recently, it has taken more out of me than I had in reserve.

I’ve given this some thought, and have come to the conclusion that being emptied out can be exceedingly unpleasant.  There is still so much of my self-will left in me.   My flesh and my spirit do battle quite often.

As Paul said in Romans 7, “I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (The Message)

There are times I think to myself, “O wretched woman that I am!  Who will deliver me from myself?”

The answer, of course, is Jesus who took all my punishment for my past, present and future sins.  Thanks be to God for the victory He won on the cross!

I am so thankful for the promise that though I am faithless, He remains Faithful! 

I am often struck by the profound thought that God never gives up on me, no matter how long it takes. He is the Potter who is committed to conforming me into the image of Jesus, molding, squeezing, remaking, so that I will reflect Him more and more in my motives, thoughts and actions.  I often think He surely must be getting tired of me by now. 

How many times have I prayed, “Lord, I want to do your will.”  Or “”Make me more like Jesus.”  Or “If you can use anything, Lord, You can use me.”  I’m finding out He takes those kind of prayers seriously and begins to make it happen.  It can be a painful process.

Giving up my own agenda, my own wants and desires, my own will can be likened to the woman who gave her most precious possession.  You see, my self-will is pretty important to me.  It can become my most treasured possession.

Sometimes life takes a turn toward hard and uncertain days or weeks, even years.  It becomes God’s means of molding me, even breaking me if necessary.  I am His project and He will not give up.

The wonder of this brokenness is that it results in more room for the Spirit to fill me up with Himself.   Empty of myself, I can be full of Jesus.   Perhaps it is the way to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ (I Corinthians 2:14).

Ah, now that is a beautiful thought.  It makes being emptied out a transforming and beautiful process.  It means I’m growing, I’m becoming, I’m on my way to reflecting the image of my Savior more and more. 

There isn’t anything else that is more important than that.

Have you been broken and spilled out?  Leave a comment.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The privilege of worship

    I am continuing my thoughts on worship today, having written about Epiphany and the gift of worship in a previous blog post. 

    On a typical Sunday morning, Sweet William and I will be found at Little Flock Ministry Center on Sundays at 8:45 am.  Bill likes to arrive early, take his seat and chat with our friend Bob who always sits behind us.  Even in a large church, we find our small group, our community of believes and familiar faces.

A little before 9 am, the band begins to play the prelude.  The worship team walk out on the stage and “worship” begins.  At least it begins in form.  How often have I stood up for the songs only to be distracted by thoughts of last week, plans for next week, questions about what is for lunch today, or observations of people coming in the sanctuary and finding their places.

I may be standing up on the outside, singing songs with my voice, but where is my heart?  Is that really worship?

One such Sunday, I had an “epiphany,” an insight into the meaning of worship, a moment of  revelation.  I began to wonder at this amazing privilege called worship.  How marvelous it is to enter into the very presence of God with my praise and adoration!

My understanding of the Jewish rules of temple worship tells me the place for the Gentile was far off from the center of it all, not in the closer arena of the chosen people of God, and definitely not near the sanctuary where the priests were serving.  The opportunity to enter the Holy of holies was zero to none.   Only the high priest entered that special place on the one day of the year set aside for the Day of Atonement.    

I let that thought sink in and then consider where I am standing today.  I am being led in a worship experience by singers and band members, proclaiming loudly and in harmony that we are in the presence of Jehovah.  And I am in awe.  The Almighty God, Creator of Heaven and earth, the One who holds the universe and all of time in His hand, has extended His heart to me and invites me to come in.  The invitation is written in Hebrews 4:16.  It reads:

” . . . let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.” (HCSB)

Boldness is interpreted as being fearless and confident.

Take in those words. You and I can come to our Father’s throne room without fear and with complete confidence of being accepted because we are His children, purchased with the precious blood of Jesus.  We are members of the family, and family doesn’t need another invitation.  They are always welcome around the Father’s table.

The Jewish law instructed the people to come into Jehovah’s presence with an offering or a gift.  I read in places like Exodus 23:15 and 34:20 that God told them not to come empty-handed.

As a new covenant believer, I don’t bring the blood of bulls or goats, I don’t bring a meal or a drink offering.  What I do bring is my sacrifice of praise.  That is my gift to Him, my worship.  Just like the wise men, it should be what I offer first.

Standing there in the pew at church I realize I am afforded the greatest benefit, the most enviable of all invitations, “Come unto Me.”

I answer that request and I come, bringing my heartfelt praise, my adoration, my thanksgiving and worship. May I never take this precious privilege for granted.

Tell me about your worship experience.  Please leave a comment.

The gift of worship

 

Today, January 6, is Epiphany, a holiday celebrated by Christians in remembrance of the wise men’s visit to the child Jesus. History tells us Jesus may have been about a year old at the time. Because the wise men, or Magi, were not of the Jewish faith, Epiphany holds significance for Gentiles. Jesus came to the Jewish people first, but we Gentiles were included in the glorious manifestation of God coming to earth.

The word epiphany has come to mean an insight into the meaning of something, a moment of revelation, usually as a result of a simple or commonplace event.

You remember the story of the wise men who traveled a long distance to find this Child who would be king. They searched the heavens for clues about His location. They eventually arrived in Jerusalem and asked the reigning king, Herod, if he could help them find the child. Guided by the star, they found Jesus with Mary and Joseph, and their joy was over flowing.

We have assumed the Magi found him on the same night the shepherds came to see the baby in the manager.  At least, that is the way our Christmas programs portray the scene, isn’t it? 

We have also assumed there were three of them because Matthew 2 mentions three gifts presented to the Christ Child, gold, frankenstein, and myrrh. It was a surprise to me when I actually searched the Scriptures to find there is no mention of how many wise men there really were.

There is something else we might overlook in the story of this strange visitation. Did you ever stop to think that there were not three gifts but four?

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11, emphasis mine) 

The first gift the Magi offered was their worship.

 The Jewish law instructed the people to come into Jehovah’s presence with an offering or a gift. I read in places like Exodus 23:15 and 34:20 how God said they should not come empty-handed.

As a child of God under the new covenant, I no longer have to bring the blood of bulls and goats.  A complete offering was made for me at the cross of Calvary.

Yet, when I come to God, my Father, I must not come empty-handed either.  The gift, the offering I bring is my sacrifice of praise. 

 Just like the wise men of old, I bow down and I worship.

 

Leave a comment.  I love hearing from you.

Where joy and sorrow meet – December 4

I woke to a light dusting of snow with flakes still falling.  In the still-dark morning, it was a lovely awakening.   The day seemed promising and full of anticipation.

But a shadow clouded my sleepy thoughts.  My sweet William and I would go and share a great loss with dear friends this morning – a loss that cannot be explained, a grief that surely seems unfair.

As I sat in a small chapel crowded with friends and family, I thought, “We cannot take their grief away.  We can only share it.”  And then the Holy Spirit whispered, “God does not take our grief away either.  But He did come to share it.”

My mind went back to another December in 1982 when I waited in a hospital room while my dear mother endured a treatment on her lungs, by now infested with cancer.  The treatment was simply temporary relief to her breathing.  The doctor had told us she only had three months to live.  His diagnosis/prediction was very accurate.

It was Christmas time but there was no Christmas spirit in me.  Thankfully, my extended family took my nine-year-old son with them so he could enjoy the holiday festivities.  I certainly was not interested in shopping, baking cookies, or putting up a Christmas tree.  My mother lay dying in a hospital bed.

She wanted me with her while the treatment was being administered.  I sang to her, quoted Scripture, held her hand, and tried to appear strong for her sake.  I was anything but.  I was falling apart on the inside.

While she rested awhile after the treatment, I looked out of the hospital window and wondered where God was in all of this.  How could people be celebrating the joyous season, how could I? The sweet whisper of the Spirit spoke to my heart, reminding me that Jesus came to the earth in human flesh for just such a reason as this, because of sin, sickness, and death.  He came to share in my humanity with all of its joys and sorrows. 

I am comforted to know the prophet Isaiah called Jesus a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with my grief (Isaiah 53).  While Jesus lived on this green and blue planet, He purposely clothed Himself in blood cells, nerve endings, human emotions and skin just like mine.  He subjected himself to life and death, to friendship and betrayal, to joy and sorrow.

And He did it all without sinning.  I cannot say the same.

This is what makes my Savior the Great High Priest that He is, the One who entered the inner sanctuary behind the curtain on my behalf; the One who lives to intercede for me, the One who runs to my cry when I am tempted, tried, and suffering.  (Hebrews 7:25, 6:19-20; 2:18)

Don’t we anticipate the days leading to Christmas as being joy-filled and happy?  It is just not so for countless fellow travelers on this road called life.   Even Mary the mother of Jesus, in the midst of her joyful moment of dedicating her precious baby at the temple, was given a grave prophecy by Simeon.   “A sword will pierce your soul, too,” he told Mary.

Sorrow is part of life just as much as happiness and joy and peace and celebrations.  The final Word on it all for me comes from Hebrews 13: 5b . . .

” . . . for He Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support.  I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake nor let you down, relax My hold on you — assuredly not!”   (Amplified Bible)

There is no greater assurance than that.  And no better reason to celebrate.

Organizing

I love to organize, pull things out of a drawer or closet, toss out the unnecessary and reposition everything back in a neat, orderly fashion.  I know, I’m weird.  I’ve been this way since I can remember.  As a little girl I kept my toys, dolls, and room neat as a pin without my mother telling me to.  She used to say I was like my Aunt Dottie (Doris Marie Rayhill), a kindred spirit when it came to having things in their place.

I believe I have a natural bent toward being organized.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mother’s womb as I was being formed in secret, there was a strong gene, part of my DNA, that stood up and shouted, come on now, let’s get organized.  It will be fun! 

Just recently, I was trying to find something in the cabinet under the bathroom sink.  I had to pull out a few things and soon the contents of the cabinet were all out and I was organizing!  When it all gets put back, I get a rush akin to a runner finishing a race.  I start looking for a closet or drawer to go through next.

With that in mind, you might not guess I am also a pack rat.  I know, I’m weird.  I keep things that have a memory attached to it or something I think I just might need in the future (hopefully I can find it then).  The pack rat in me wars with the organizer in me.  What am I to do with all the stuff I keep keeping?  Where can I put it, out of sight, still keep it orderly, and be able to retrieve it later?  That is the dilemma.

I have determined I have too much stuff.  My stuff is taking too much of my time.  Because, of course, I have to keep finding neat, orderly places for it all.  It’s time to let go, to turn loose.  I have the urge to purge.  I’m in the mood to remove.   

Simplify!  That’s it, I need to simplify.  But wait.  I have company coming next week.  No time to pull out, to review the stuff and decide what to keep and what to discard.  I’ll just stuff it back in the closet until a more convenient time (whenever that is).

There are times the Lord speaks to me to discard the stuff that has cluttered my heart and my attention.  He has dealt with me about bitterness and unforgiveness.  I’ve had to write a letter and apologize for something I did years ago, seeking someone else’s forgiveness.  Sometimes, I want to nudge that still small Voice back into the closet of my heart and wait for a more convenient time.  After all, I have things to do and places to go.  But that Voice is insistent, tender but demanding.  I have to pay attention or my relationship with Him suffers.  It is not that He would draw away from me.  Rather, it would be me turning my heart from Him in rebellion and disobedience if I do not heed the convicting whisper of the Holy Spirit.

Organizing my life, my heart is too much work.  I need the help of a Professional.

Lord, create in me a clean heart.  You who organized the entire universe to operate in an orderly and wonderous fashion, I invite you into every room and closet of my inner-most being.  Go into the dark corners and shine Your light.  Make known to me what should be dealt with, what is displeasing to You.  Make a clean sweep so that Your glory can shine brightly to a world needing to see Jesus.