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Remembering February 11

I started looking through the photos this week as I do whenever I think about organizing the boxes of pictures. I get a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing order to a hundred years worth of family images.

When I come to the old black and whites, I linger long. There is one of my maternal grandparents looking young and sassy, and then years later they are with their three young children at the beach. I gaze at faces in sepia, my newly-wed parents, in the flower of their youth, and it’s hard to imagine them that way.

There are pictures of my dad in his army uniform and small portraits of mother that she regularly sent to dad when he was overseas during World War 2. I think how handsome he was, how beautiful she was. I only know those young people by photograph, and I wonder what life was like for them with their dreams and plans still ahead of them.

 

With those faces in the back of my mind, it’s not surprising to me that I walked down another memory lane this morning.

I’ve been reading the Psalms during February, and today I landed in chapter 56. I love the songs of David, Asaph, and the sons of Korah. In deeply troubling times, I have lived in the Psalms, the words reflecting my anxious heart and my dark emotions. Always, the writer points me heavenward, encouraging me to praise the God of mercy who is full of compassion and loving kindness.

This morning, this verse made me pause – Selah – and think:

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.   — Psalm 56:3

The lyrical King James language is so familiar and how I quote the verse to myself. It is the language of the Scriptures I grew up with and learned to love. Since then I have expanded my library to include lots of versions and paraphrases, all with the aim of understanding what God is wanting to say to me.

What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” I’ve been afraid, more times than I care to admit. One particular year comes to the forefront this morning. It was 1983, the year my mother took to a hospital bed in the living room of her and dad’s home, the one with red carpet on the floor. Mother loved red, and she had her way with this house.

Dad was a builder and over the years of their marriage, he built and sold our house four times that I remember. The red-carpeted-living-room house was to be the final home, and mother was a happy homemaker in it.

My mother, who had never been seriously sick, became gravely ill. When there was nothing else to do but make sure she was comfortable, we did all we could to see that she was, surrounding her with our presence. Friends and family filled the house during the early months of 1983, bearing food and fellowship, prayers and support.

My dad made gallons of coffee all throughout the day, standing at the gas stove stirring grounds into almost-boiling water. It was his old-fashioned way of brewing, and I suppose it gave him something to do. Coffee was our drink of comfort and he doled it out generously.

My mother loved to laugh and have fun. She was a warm and welcoming kind of person, inviting people into her life, loving them like they belonged. She was a woman full of faith in her Savior, and she had a voice that could “bring the Spirit down” as we used to say in our church. People loved to hear her sing, and everyone had their favorite song request.

As her life ebbed away, and that strong, vibrant voice became a whisper, she never seemed to waiver in her confidence in the God who was the subject of her songs. The words she sang so often were still true for her.

Sometimes when my faith would falter, and no sunlight I can see
I just lift my eyes to Jesus, and I whisper “Pilot me.”
“Fear thou not for I’ll be with thee.  I will still thy Pilot be.
Never mind the tossing billows.  Take my hand and trust in Me.”

Like those who experience heartbreak, I struggled with questions and doubts, not understanding why all this was happening. Why weren’t my prayers being answered in the way I wanted? I was grappling with my own faith, and fear was a companion.

When mother died on February 11 , dad and I were devastated, as were family members and those who felt like family. We wandered like zombies through many days and weeks, wondering how to live without the person who brought joy, laughter and love to our lives. But time passed as we tried to learn how to exist without her.

One day, I happened upon mother’s wallet. I opened it and saw her driver’s license. Those pictures are never good, but this time it was precious to me. Upon further looking, I found a strip of paper folded inside the wallet. There in mother’s familiar script were the words of Psalm 56:3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee.” Then I remembered that she has written that verse on paper and tucked it into the strap of her bra, wearing it like a badge of courage during the days of uncertainty.

She had faced fear too. In her love for us, she tried to be brave, but she had been afraid. It was astonishing to me at first, but I recognized my mother’s humanity in that moment. She had been my rock, unwavering, unfaltering, always there for me with a listening ear and words of wisdom. Looking at her handwriting on a scrape of paper I saw that she was much like me, me with my with questions and struggles and my grasping for faith when it is hard.

What made the moment profound was the understanding that she had taken hold of the only One who could calm her fears, and she learned to trust even in her fear. And here was an answer for me in my own weakness.

My heavenly Father knows I am prone to frailty and fear. He speaks “Fear not” to me and asks me to trust Him when I can’t see what He is doing. His provision of grace through Jesus gives strength when I have none.  He runs to my cry of Abba Father.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of mother’s death. That day long ago is forever etched in my mind. Grief overwhelmed me then, and I didn’t think I could go on. But I was strengthened by grace, the same grace that strengthened my mother as she walked out her calling on this earth, the same grace available to each of God’s children.

I’ve learned a lot in the years since that heart-wrenching day, learned that God is trustworthy in the darkness; that He has a bigger plan than I can comprehend; that He is good and showers us with daily blessings; that He fills the hungry with good things; that He loves the unloveable and watches for the prodigal to come home; that He gives a second chance, again and again and again.

I have found God to be faithful through my years, every single time. And when I am afraid, I can trust in Him.

 

 

 

 

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I love to hear the stories

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

Let me dig right into this book review because sometimes something comes to me and I wonder where it has been all my life.

CSB Christ Chronological provides a unique way for readers to experience the life of Christ in chronological order with each Gospel writer’s account of events side-by-side. Featuring a parallel format, commentary notes for each section to provide background and context, and color-coded text to differentiate between the accounts in each Gospel, readers are able to gain fresh perspective on the life and ministry of Christ. “

 

As a long-time student of the Scriptures, I love the way this book brings continuity to the gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each have their own perspectives on the life and events of Jesus Christ, and their stories are written in their unique voices.

I have often searched through my Bible to compare Mark’s version of a story with Matthew’s or John’s, thumbing through the pages to find and read each one. CSB Christ Chronological has brought the same stories together in one place. Here are Jesus’ stories side -by-side.

In CSB Christ Chronological the gospels are color coded in the text and at the bottom of  each page.  A topic is introduced, noting corresponding chapter and verses from the gospels where it is recorded. Brief commentary precedes each section.

During the seasons of Advent and Lent, I often read Jesus’ story in each of the gospels in order to see a more complete picture. I end up with four bookmarks in my Bible as I go from one writer to another. The CSB Christ Chronologicall has done this work for me.

This book would make a wonderful addition to a Bible teacher’s library or to anyone who wants to know their Lord and Savior more.

See the source image

NOTE:   I received a copy of CSB Christ Chronological provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

 

Immanuel

I’ve written it in notes and Christmas cards this December, these words I am holding close this season.

Immanuel – God with us.

The hurry and flurry of the holidays keeps us hopping. Our homes are decorated with reds and greens, the twinkling lights gracing shrubbery, windows and the trees in our living rooms. Packages appear in brightly wrapped paper and gift bags. We wear our Christmas sweaters with pride.

Friends and family fill the spaces. We drink eggnog and eat too many Christmas cookies. Laughter rings through the house, and we are thankful for these people who gather at the table.

Yet, there are grieving hearts, longing souls, functions that are a little dysfunctional because we all have our own problems to deal with. Sometimes we put on a happy face so no one sees the pain, so we don’t rain on the parade as it marches down the street.

We get irritated with crazy drivers and clogged traffic, long shopping lines and the out-of-stock item we wanted under the tree. Checking accounts are running a little low, and there’s still a week of bills to pay. Our patience is in short supply when demands are made on us that feel more like obligations than celebration. We wonder if our Christmas spirit has gone into hiding.

December is much like every other month on the calendar, fraught with challenges and opportunities. We have a choice on where we will focus.

Emmanuel – In Hebrew, with us is God.See the source image

 

It was the prophecy of Messiah from the pen of Isaiah, re-written in Matthew as a reminder of its fulfilling.

These words, spoken to us by God over and over through our history, as if we are hard of hearing.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”    — Genesis 28:15

And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”   — Exodus 33:14

 

“The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah.”   — Psalm 46:7

Once more with a pronouncement from the angel Gabriel, God came to us wrapped in humanity, He whose name is Immanuel.

Nativity

He grew and experienced life as I do, with all of its ups and downs, with vigor and weariness, with smiles and tears, with joyful celebrations and heartbreak of separation. He came as the “with us God” and demonstrated to us that we are not alone.

As He left this earth in a burst of clouded glory, He gave one final reminder to those who believed:

 ” . . . And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”   — Matthew 28:20

Then sending the promised Holy Spirit, He remains with us in a way we could not have imagined.

Immanuel. God is with us.

Do not fret or be afraid. Walk in the power of His presence. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.

Our God is with us.

emmanuel

 

Traditions come and then they go

 

101_1310Not long ago a friend asked me about our holiday traditions. I went back 40 years and remembered Christmas morning breakfasts of waffles and syrup at my parents’ home.

Married only a few years, Sweet William and I lived close enough to walk if we wanted, but there were presents to carry and eventually a small boy in tow on a chilly day, so we drove the truck.

We entered through the walk-in basement of their home and ascended the stairs that led us into the kitchen. It was warm and fragrant of coffee and bacon.  The old familiar red and green printed cloth was spread on mother’s round table for the morning feast. Homemade syrup was heating on the gas stove. In the adjacent living room was a tree dressed in red ornaments and birds and laden with presents planned with love. Those were such good days, fondly recalled, bringing a smile to my heart.

Life moves on as unavoidable change affects us. My mother and dad are both gone now. The first Christmas after my mother’s death was so difficult for me. I knew there would be no waffles at her house that year. We had to do something different because Christmas would never be the same again without her excitement, smile, warm hugs, and loving presence.

Yet there was this small boy who needed some normalcy, needed to celebrate Christmas when I didn’t want to that year. I muddled through it somehow. Eventually I had to learn a new way to honor the holidays and life as we now knew it.

I enjoy hearing people talk about their family traditions. When they throw in phrases like, “We always . . . ” or “Every year we . . . ,” it tells me how meaningful special rituals are in the life of a family. Traditions help stabilize when the world is crashing around us.

We bring our traditions with us into a new family unit or we build new ones into the holidays on purpose. But then something happens that disrupts everything. An accident, a divorce, a death, a move, a job loss. Even blessed events, like marriage and children, affect how we will amend what we did last year. We have to adjust or risk making ourselves and everyone around us miserable.

Traditions are wonderful but they are not laws set in stone.

Much has changed for Sweet William and me over the past decade. I recall the traditions we held precious when loved ones were near. But we don’t celebrate the same way now.

More than one family is dealing with a holiday vastly different from last year. What are we to do? We may grieve while treasuring what was. We must move forward into the altered present. Learn to roll with the punches, go with the flow, modify and accommodate.

If we can’t move beyond our expectations, we strain at the bit and potentially hurt ourselves and the ones we love.

Our lives are being refined by the daily events of life. We often put importance on what seems huge and memorable. We may not comprehend how the small day-to-day incidents can clarify, purify, hone and polish us to be conformed into the image of Christ. Humbly submitting to changes with a settled joy may be part of the process of reflecting His countenance.

Change is inevitable. All I have to do is look in the mirror to see the transformations going on. The hair is whiter, the laugh lines deeper, the eyeglasses have three vision areas. And let’s not even talk about what’s going on with my body.

And yet . . . there is a changeless One giving me hope.

In Him there is no shadow of turning.

He is from everlasting to everlasting.

His faithfulness remains even when I am faithless.

Before the foundation of the earth, He is the Lamb of God.

He is a High Priest forever.

He declares the end from the beginning.

He is Alpha and Omega, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

My tradition of reading and meditating on the birth of Christ remains with me. Though He dressed in humanity, was brought forth as an infant, and submitted to earthly limitations and suffering, He was still God. He is still God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And we have seen his glory.

101_0608

 

Sunday grace

What are we searching for?

Yesterday I searched through the house for a present I knew I had purchased and wrapped but could not find. I looked under the tree, in closets, in reasonable and unreasonable places, to no avail.

By day’s end, I decided to check one more time and found it sitting undisturbed right where I’d put it.

There’s a lot of searching going on in our world.

The last-minute gift for that hard-to-buy for person on our list. The daily on-line discount with free shipping that will arrive in time. The Pinterest project that will be beautiful and easy enough to finish before the deadline. The organic, non GMO, all natural ingredients needed for the food dish we always prepare for a family gathering.

What are we really searching for?

A bunch of shepherds went searching for a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a feeding trough.

The far-eastern astrologers traveled a long distance inquiring about a king.

The old man Simeon, expecting God to keep His promise, looked for the consolation of Israel.

The widowed Anna was faithfully serving when the Spirit led her to Joseph and Mary with their newborn.

We are we really searching for in our frantic-busy, traffic-clogged, worry-filled world?

Could it be what we are really seeking is a compassionate, understanding heart?

Are we looking for peace in the atmosphere of chaos?

Do we need forgiveness for all we have ever done and the lingering guilt that torments us?

Is there someone who will be there for us and never leave us alone?

Can there actually be a love that will not let us go?

Could it be that the one thing that will fill our emptiness is what filled the manager?

What are we really searching for?

Our heart’s cry will only be satisfied with One and Only. His name is Jesus.

Sunday grace.

baby jesus

 

Sunday grace

It seems like only yesterday though it has been closer to 50 years ago.

I reached to take Sweet  William’s arm, and as I did his muscle flexed. I could feel the strength in it, in him, and I knew I was protected.

I felt the same way growing up with my dad, who was a carpenter by trade. The muscles in his arms were big and powerful from swinging a hammer all day long. With my dad close by, I was  not afraid.

Isaiah prophesied of a coming rescuer,

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1)

When Mary went to the home of Zachariah and Elizabeth, she and her elderly relative had a moment of praise and she said,

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;”

The arm of God represents His strength.  His power and might come to the aid of His people by the representation of His strong arm.

See the source image

And in a small village called Nazareth the might of Creator God was nestled in the tender womb of a young girl. At five weeks of her pregnancy, there was evidence of arm buds. Sinew and muscle slowly formed around a tiny bone, and by mid-point of the pregnancy, baby could move his arm to suck his thumb.

The strong arm of God came to rescue us in an astounding way. Who could have expected this?

God wrapped in flesh, blood flowing through a human body. He made Himself like us so He could redeem us by an outstretched arm on a wooden cross.

The arm of the Lord was revealed to us, His love the most powerful strength of all.

There is no other like that. He is Savior Christ the Lord.

Sunday grace.

 

 

Sunday grace

 

572

Through my window, I watch the sun’s red glow rise over the trees. We call it day break, when the morning rays burst through the dark of night. Sunrise pushes against the night, and night cannot hold it back.

God said, “Let there be light,” and brightness exploded suddenly into the blackness over the surface of the earth.

Light broke through when the Creator spoke it, His words full of power.

“The evening and the morning were the first day.” In Jewish culture, a new day begins at evening. It starts with night and moves into daybreak and a new morning.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. — Isaiah 9:2

Isaiah prophesied the coming Messiah, and Matthew proclaimed it fulfilled in Jesus.

The long dark night was about to be broken open by the Morning Star. And hope rises.

I have endured my seasons of nighttime gloom, wondering how long, and when will the day come. I longed for the light when my world would appear brighter, when I could see more clearly, when clouds of darkness would part and the rays of the sun would shine warm.

Weeping endures for the night, but joy comes in the morning. We watch for, we hope for, we pray for the light of day.

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. — Isaiah 60:1

Hope rises at the first sign of dawn, and Jesus, the Light of the world, is a darkness breaker.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, — Isaiah 61:1

It is for this He came, to release us from the dank, shadowed depression of our prison cells, to open the doors wide and invite us into the presence of the Holy God where glory shines brighter than a thousand days. And with Him there is no night.

Sunday grace.

Sunset in Colorado, by travis