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When it’s not all merry and bright

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My cell phone jingled with the notification of a text: “Can you play for a funeral on Saturday?”

It is my only day this week with nothing scheduled. I respond, “If you need me.” What a silly response. Of course I’m needed or otherwise I would not have been asked. I say “yes” because this is the gift I can offer.

Just because it’s December with Christmas around the corner, we are not immune to heartache. Death does not take a holiday. More email brings announcements confirming it.

I remember back to other years, other people, other funerals. Other sorrows.

I ache at the thought of families enduring heartbreak at the time of year when so many celebrate with gusto. Children are excited at the prospect of their wish lists showing up under the tree. Holiday parties fill calendars. Family gatherings are planned and anticipated. Preparation for out-of-town relatives is a labor of love as we look forward to being together once again.

If only it were all so merry and bright. We kid ourselves if we think it is.

For some it is not: a couple facing Christmas for the first time without a beloved granddaughter at their family table; a woman whose mother died in December and the anniversary brings poignant memories; a friend who is learning to live in the unknown of a diagnoses that is terminal.

Others deal with their own sicknesses and disabilities. Caregivers carry responsibilities that drain the life from them some days. A husband and wife wonder about a job that may be ending and an uncertain year ahead. Bills stack high on the desk as funds dwindle low. Families are divided for one reason or another. Plans we made for a joyful season implode when the unexpected report crushes them.

Life can be hard even at Christmas time.

The good news is Jesus. Jesus is Christmas. Plain and simple. He is the One and only reason for any kind of celebration.

God’s plan was formed before the foundations of the earth were laid, and He planned for Christ to come for us.

Jesus birth was not haphazard but detailed in every possible way. In the fullness of time, the eternal blueprint began to take shape exactly as the grand Architect designed it.

Jesus came for just such a time as this, to give us unspeakable joy and to share in our inconceivable sadness. His name is Emanuel, God with us. He is the Comforter, the Sustainer and Provider, the Friend of sinners, the Way to the Father, the open Door to forgiveness and freedom, the Wisdom and Power of God.

He is Wonderful. Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.

He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of it all. Period.

Who else offers this kind of relationship, who invites us to cast our burdens upon Himself, who bore our sins – all of our sins – on a cross and rose from the dead to assure us of an eternal home in the Heavens?

The circumstances of our lives do not dictate the celebration of Christmas. If we are expecting the picture-perfect magazine layout, where everything and everyone looks great, to be our holiday experience, we will be disappointed every single time.

But if we are looking for a Baby in a manger, a Child who embodies the very presence of Almighty God, we will find Him. He came to be one of us. He invites us to come to the celebration of real life.

There is cause for celebration this December. It is Jesus. 

The tinsel and lights may droop. The presents under the tree might be scarce. The family get-together could be somewhat dysfunctional. The cookies might burn in the oven. The hospital corridor may be familiar ground. There may be the sound a funeral song in the distance.

Do not be dismayed. Do not fear. Do not lose hope. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

He is the reason for this season of celebration. Let us rejoice with exceeding great joy!

nativity-vectorimage from freevector.com

On this day of giving thanks

It’s early morning. Gentle winds blow the chimes on my deck and I hear music.

The house is quiet except for the popping of the gas longs. The window close to where I sit is open slightly. Even outside there is a stillness on this Thanksgiving Day.

My house is full, all beds and some couches nestling warm bodies in sleep. Three dogs still doze in the darkness of the yet unbroken new day.

I am thankful they are all here, all snuggled in, us together on this special occasion. I have been broken and grief-stricken on other holidays throughout my life time. Death and distance can wreck havoc on a heart.

But today, loved ones are here. And for that I am filled full with joy and gratitude.

I have not always been thankful in all my circumstances. In the dark place of the not knowing, in the wondering how good can come from my trial and my pain, in my own house of self-pity, I have been doubtful and fragmented.

I have coddled my misery too much and sat in my despair too long.

Life is not always an easy, flower-strewn pathway. It is often rocky and rough, the climb steep and foreboding, the night dark and long. We work muscles, reach for every ounce of strength, and learn endurance as we press on to the new dawning and the green pastures in our vision.

For there is always the hope of God’s Presence, His Word of promise of His never-forsaking love for us. He is our Immanuel, the with us God. We do not have to do this life on our own.

He calls me to a mature mentality of praise and thanksgiving, even in the hardest of circumstances. Even when loved ones are not gathered around a table. Even when death takes one held so dear. Even when pain is my companion.

He calls forth hope in Himself, asking me to focus my gaze on His beauty, to see glory, to see everlasting love, to remember His faithfulness always.

This is His will in Christ Jesus, to give thanks in all circumstances, to see Him in every situation, One who is working all things for my good, One who is redeeming every heartache and disappointment, One who is planning on bringing beauty out of my ashes.

He is a good and loving Savior who makes all things new. He mends our brokeness, filling us with Himself and shining through the cracks of our humanity so that the world may see Him in us, His children.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His love endures forever.  — Psalm 118:1

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Sunday grace

I glanced up from the Bible study book I was reading, my eyes turned toward the windows facing east. The sunrise was beginning to emerge.

I went to the front door and saw the brilliance, called for Maisie to come, knowing we must go out and experience the early morning beauty.

The rays of pink spread its arms wide in the sky, reaching all the way around as if trying to clasp fingers together. So perfectly splendid was this new day, this fresh start, this beginning again with fresh mercies cupped in a Father’s hand for His children.

We walked the length of our lane enjoying the crisp start of this day. I spoke it aloud to myself, “I choose joy.” It has become my mantra of late, this purposefully choosing to take whatever comes and accept it with the joy that is my inheritance of grace.

As we turned to walk home, the sky had already turned, from bright pink to soft mauve to muted grey. In a matter of minutes the overhead expanse was now clouded.

Is it not the way of life? Happiness turned to disappointment. Contentment turned to frustration. Love turned to hate. All too quickly our circumstances and our emotions teeter on a precarious see-saw. With a bump in a different direction, we are thrust into the depths.

Choose joy. It is the way of seeing good in all things.

Choose joy. It is how we can view life with hope.

Choose joy. It is how we look for our Father’s face in the dark.

Choose joy. No matter what. The sun shines brightly even behind the clouds.

Sunday grace.

Sunrise by MaRanda GreenPhotograph by MaRanda

 

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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The lovely

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

I’ve seen Annie Downs via the simulcast of IF: Gatherings.  But I know her in a different way after having read her book, Looking For Lovely, Collecting the Moments that Matter.

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I really enjoyed this book for several reasons.  It’s an easy read with short chapters, and Annie is funny.  She often made me smile. It’s honest as Annie talks about her struggles and her victories.  It provides a glimpse of how Annie began to see beautiful in what once was dark and painful.

And isn’t that what life is about?  We grapple with the reason behind the bad things that happen to who we call the good people.  Yet it is common to mankind.  We will have tribulations in this world.  It is inevitable.  What we do with those experiences is vital to how we survive and live joyfully.

The book is divided into three sections.  The first is Annie’s “Absence of Lovely” and the transparent way she describes her clashes against the difficulties in her life.

Section 2 is her “Search of Lovely” where she describes events that point her toward the beauty of living out her purpose, how the dark threads are part of her canvas as much as bright and gold ones. It is in this section that she makes suggestions to the reader to take some kind of action to look for the lovely in life.

The book ends with a brief “When I Found Lovely” as a summary of the search and the found prize of living her days joyfully, knowing God is a redeemer of all things and will bring beauty from ashes every single time.

I enjoyed sitting on my deck where nature’s loveliness surrounded me and reading Annie’s stories.  They resonated with me.  Life is not an easy ride.  I don’t think it was meant to be.  But it is full of beauty and lovely and joy and glory if we will open our eyes and look for it.

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

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Stones and diamonds

An old John Denver songs goes like this, “Some days are diamonds, some days are stone.”

I had a day or two this week that was pretty rocky. My tears were on the edge; my emotions were fragile.

But today was a sparkly kind of day.

Though my own son and his family are far away, and I face another holiday without them being part of the celebration, kindness has been extended to me in the dearest ways.

I think my love language includes words.  I like to speak them and write them, telling people how they have affected my life, to encourage them along their journey, and to express what they mean to me.  So when I receive words, they sooth like a healing balm.

The last two days I have been gifted with words. A card, a letter, a digital greeting, and spoken appreciation all conveyed kindness to my grieved spirit. Words reassured me that I am loved.

I needed those words this week.

I also had the privilege of offering my words to a group of women at a Mother’s Day brunch today. It was delightful to share time and conversation with God’s beautiful women.

We ate well. We talked among ourselves. We laughed and I met new friends who share my love of the Savior. We were a sisterhood.

Holidays can be hard on us, filled with expectations and pressure to celebrate in a certain way. Then they can do an about face and suddenly it is a warm quilt taking away the chill of feeling alone.

The pressure, the heat, the aggravation, and the pain are just as much part of life as the pleasure, the sweetness, the shining light, and the jubilee.

Our days are made up of the rough and rugged, the charm and wonder. They run through our lives like dual rails on a track.

There is a time for everything under heaven. Tears and laughter. Joy and sorrow.

God uses all of it to create a life as precious as diamonds.

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Tasting my life

The bargain books filled a small rolling cart and sat in the middle of the mega store. Being the frugal woman I am, I drew near.

A title caught my attention, Fresh Brewed Life, A Stirring Invitation to Wake Up Your Soul. It had a picture of big cup of coffee on the front of it.  Naturally I bought it.

It’s interesting how Nicole Johnson, the author, weaves life lessons into coffee comparisons.  I can almost smell the aroma of a fresh cup as I read along.

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The chapter on journaling was of major interest as I paused over her thoughts. Talking about her own handwritten journal entries, this quote grabbed me:

“I wanted to look at the words, savor the experience, feel the joy, and live every moment.  I was so afraid I would forget what had happened to me.”

This is one reason I write, so I won’t forget what happened to me.  At this age it is becoming more important to remember what I did yesterday, what I ate, who I spent time with, what words we shared with each other.  I want to remember.

The author writes about tasting your life by recording and reading the entries of a journal.

And isn’t that exactly the thing?  How often I zip through my day, crossing off items on my list, getting the job done, finishing that task so I feel accomplished at day’s end?

But did I taste my life? Did I savor the conversation? Did I enjoy the process? Did I notice the sky blue and the grass green. Did little girl’s antics amuse me or aggravate me?

And Sweet William with whom I share my days, did I truly listen to him when he talked or was I multi-tasking and only processing the gist of what he said? Did I seek to understand?

Did I call the person who’s been on my mind? Did I send the card I’d been meaning to mail?

Did I pray?

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I’ve gobbled down on-the-run meals when I just needed sustenance to get through the day. I didn’t enjoy my food. The pleasure of the taste did not linger.

I’ve lived some days in the same manner. Survival mode. Get through it. Hope the strength will last until I fall into bed at night.

Savoring life has to be intentional. I have to think about it. I must look for the joy. Sometimes it is a fight to count grace, to actively seek contentment. When I stumble into the pitfalls, I must put on a hard hat, stepping carefully through the rubble, and hope I don’t get hit with a two by four. Even there, I can find something beautiful.

I believe joy is present if I look for it. Maybe I will catch a glimpse through tears. Perhaps I will fall on my knees, face to the ground in surrender to the in-control-God who works good out of devastation and brings life from the ashes.  It could be my walking by faith in the thunderstorm, searching for the rainbow, is the necessary modus operendi at this particular juncture.

My goal is to taste life, the sweet and the bitter, the salty and the bland. It’s the mixture of all the flavors that gives it zest. This is what teaches me to endure,what helps me learn compassion for others, and gives me reason for joyful celebration.

Small the aroma. Anticipate the pleasure. Taste your life.

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