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A week after

After last weekend’s celebration of a risen Lord, a joyful afternoon spent with extended family, and counting multiplied gifts from the bounty of God’s blessings, the week after is fraught with things difficult. My mind whirls and tilts like an amusement park ride. But I am not amused.

I hear of an untimely death and sorrowing parents. Sweet William underwent a minor surgery, but nothing is minor when one has been in too many hospitals to bother counting. News about a dear one’s jarring diagnoses leaves us in shock and questions. Yet another one close to our hearts battles dreaded disease and the pain that accompanies.

And we pray. What else is there to do?

We ask in faith, believing God already knows and nothing takes Him by surprise. We trust in His goodness and His strength because He is a good and strong Savior. We know we are His children and will not be given a stone when we ask for bread and fish. We petition a Mighty Warrior who fights our battles with a powerful arm.

We pray and wait to see what will be His answer.

“And we know with great confidence that God, who is deeply concerned about us, causes all things to work together as a plan for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” — Romans 8:28 Amp.

I have recognized this week that trials bring people together. Texts and phone calls run to and fro through space, keeping us updated, friends and family expressing their love and offering help in some way. As a result, prayer is our connection to those we care about and to the Father who loves us with an everlasting love.

If trials bring people together, then prayer binds us to one another, brothers and sisters reaching heavenward as the family of God and the body of Christ. One one hurts, we all feel the pain.

Jesus offered reassuring words just before He disappeared into the sky as astonished followers watched:

” . . .  and lo, I am with you always, remaining with you perpetually—regardless of circumstance, and on every occasion, even to the end of the age.” — Matthew 28:20 Amp.

In all of our trouble, trials, testing, there is only one consideration:  Jesus.

Jesus with us, in pain, in uncertainty, even in death.

Jesus, the man of sorrows who is familiar with suffering and runs to our cry.

Jesus, the One and only who came from the Father’s loving hand to open the way into His presence.

Jesus, dying for us so that we might live free and abundant.

Jesus, showing us how to love one another by His own extreme love and servant hood.

Jesus, holding onto us when the rope we cling to frays at the end and we lose our grip.

Jesus with us at all times, “regardless of circumstance and on every occasion,” giving us His strength and comfort and answers we cannot even imagine.

Pain and suffering draws people together. Sometimes we sing the song of heartbreak, disappointment and confusion in the minor key. As God’s family, we sing united.

Prayer binds us as brothers and sisters. And our chorus, ascending upward, is heard and is answered. We sing the song of the redeemed. And the world will hear the melody.

Perhaps that is part of the plan.

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Christmas grace

I remember becoming engaged. The excitement of it. Showing off the ring. Gathering my trousseau. Conversations with my mother that only women understand. The look on Sweet William’s face.

It was a time of anticipation, and my dream of becoming a wife and then later a mother was coming true. And that is what I had wanted since I was a little girl playing with my dolls and setting up my pretend house.

Did Mary feel the same?

Matthew 1:13 tell us Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph.

Her situation was similar yet different. In first century A.D. marriages were arranged by the parents. Mary didn’t get to “fall in love” or “find her soul mate.”  A contract was drawn up and covenant confirmed by both families. It was done.

Marriage was the hoped for dream of a young Jewish woman, to have a husband to take care of her and provide a home for her. And they would pray for children. Mary would expect to bear a child.

Neither Mary nor I had any idea what the future would bring.

None of us ever do. We dream, make plans, follow through with our promises, and begin walking out the life we hoped for, the perfect little white cottage with the picket fence and a life of happiness.

The unfolding of our days never plays out exactly like that.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth,
so My ways are higher than your ways, “

God’s plan is so much loftier, elevated, immense, huge. It is deeper than we can fathom. It is wider than our minds can comprehend

Mary expected a normal Jewish life, the way she had seen it lived out in her mother, her aunts, and the women of her community.

But God had grander things in His infinite mind. Plans that would take Mary on a journey she never could have imagined. Plans that would embrace a world in need of a Savior.

God’s plans for me have been surprising, unexpected, even unwelcome by my limited viewpoint. While I hoped for a flower-strewn pathway, the road has often been rough and rocky, an uphill climb, a test of endurance.

I am comforted by the promises made to Mary by the angel Gabriel.

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. . . . 
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Like Mary, God tells me not to be afraid. He says I am loved and cherished. He promises the Holy Spirit will be with me and in me, to comfort, guide, and teach. I have assurance that nothing is impossible with God and that He is faithful to His promises.

Can I respond to the mystery of the unknown like Mary did?

“Behold,I am the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

I want to. I bow my face before a Holy God in surrender to His will and His plan for the rest of my wild and wonderful life.

And this is my assurance and consolation, that we will walk together.

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Sunday grace

This morning when I rise, the house is colder than it’s been in many a month. I flip the switch to turn on gas logs and am thankful for the wonderful invention that warms us so easily.

As I grab the leash and head outdoors with Maisie, I reach for a coat and gloves. It’s chilly today.

We walk and I notice frost on the grass. I didn’t hear that prediction on the news. I reach to touch it, surprised, and wonder if my tender outdoor plants will survive this first indication of a coming winter.

I think back over this year as it heads toward its ending. In some ways my heart has been frosted and cold, even during spring and summer.

I am thankful for God’s unfailing love that melted away the frozen from my heart and gave it reason to beat warm again. He is determined to fulfill His purpose in me. He will not let me go. He will not!

I find joy in His presence again. The joy that was always there for me. I had forgotten, or chosen not to look for it.

His joy is my strength for uncertain days, challenging days. His love is the light I need when darkness falls. His peace is certain when storm clouds gather.

In His presence I am safe. I am complete. I find joy.

“Surely you have granted [her] unending blessings and made [her] glad with the joy of your presence.” Psalm 21:6

Sunday grace.

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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.

ornaments

 

Emmanuel

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Emmanuel.  God with us.

Why would He want to be with us?  It’s not because we are such good company.  It couldn’t be our gracious hospitality or our deep humility or our complete unselfishness.  None of that.

The depths of our sin drove us from the Edenic garden and separated us from a holy God who made the world in all it’s beauty just for us.  And we took His gift and desecrated it.

All the while, He had a plan to redeem us back to Himself because He knew the price was too high and we are too poor.  Our attempt at being good enough is just dirty, pitiful, unacceptable.  So He offered Himself an acceptable offering.  Totally pure.  Completely holy.  Innocent as a newborn babe.

He came to us, to be one of us, to be like us.  Subjecting Himself to the frail skin and bone and blood and guts of this sin-ugly life so He could give us the gift of eternal life.  God walking around in flesh.  Among us.  Living like us.  Rubbing shoulders with us.

It is the gift of Christmas.

We can look at that gift and say it’s not for me, not the right size, not what I really wanted.  We can reject the gift and the Giver if we choose.  He gave us that gift also, the gift of choosing Him.  Or not.

But the truth is still the truth, the way, and the light.  He is Emmanuel.  God with us.

He is God with us in our celebrations and joyous events.  He is with us in our longings, our disappointments, our hopes and dreams.

God with us in all our wanderings and our looking for Eden.

God with us in our infections and pain and suffering.

God with us in the hospital surgery unit and the waiting rooms.

God with us in our wondering if life will last one more day.

God with us when we face death squarely and try to do life without the one dearly loved.

God with us in separations and divorce and families broken apart.

God with us in our tears and longings for something different.

God with us in our healing and rebirth and joyful surrender and willing sacrifice.

He brings peace to rule over our chaos.  Counsel to our confusion.  Mighty strength to our weakness.  Everlasting life to replace death.  He invites us to call Him Father. He is Wonderful!  He is Emmanuel.

God with us. Fear not for He brings with Him good tidings of great joy!  He is with us . . .