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SANTA STEALS MY THUNDER!

santa steals my thunder

The clock was about to strike midnight. Everything was dark except for one small candle, and no sounds were heard unless you count the sweat running down a back. Even the scurry of possible mice wasn’t audible, and the falling snow outside muffled the sounds of any traffic that might be on the road. Everyone was in their “nightcaps,” in bed asleep. Finally, putting the last screw into the board and silently inserting the Phillips screwdriver, dad tightened the little dolly bed–wishing he could go crawl into his big one. There was still one more toy to be assembled and the gifts under the tree would be finished. The small Christmas plate that held a chocolate chip cookie beside a tall glass of milk was ready in its place. Dad glanced at his watch, hoping to get at least four hours of sleep before four excited children ran downstairs to see what Santa had left. He tried not to think about the money spent, the time lost in assembling toys, and just be happy that he had checked everything off their small lists.

Dad didn’t get grumpy, but as he finished his task he couldn’t help but think of the “glory” that “Santa” would get in the morning as his children saw their gifts! It’s quite unfair, he thought! They should know that he and their mom loved them far more than some “mystical” person who had attributes including flying all over the entire world in one night, delivering toys. They should get the credit for the toys! Why had they taught them this? But being tired, knowing his thoughts came from exhaustion, he put them aside, finished, and went to bed.

So, you ask, what’s the point? Every story should have a moral, right? Truthfully I’ve always hated the idea of Santa, simply because children in single parent homes are at the mercy of strangers who don’t know them, or Angel Tree gifts–which are great, of course, but how many children get nothing? How do they feel? Here it is, a hot July day, and I’m frustrating over Santa. Good grief.

My point is, often the true giver of our gifts is never recognized. How many wonderful things happen to us and we don’t stop to think where they came from? A narrow escape from a near-accident with the car; a visit from a friend; a kind word from a stranger? And have you ever thought about how many things would take off as ideas to be embellished or considered worthy of the masses if they were written in any book besides the Bible? James, chapter 1, tells us that “EVERY good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights, in Whom there is no shadow of turning.” And we call it luck, chance, or being in the right place at the right time.

An illustration in point: I have missed my mom exceedingly these past several months. Not as the person she became in dementia, but as the person I talked to most of my life. She was, for sure, my best friend. Maybe she didn’t always understand me, but she loved me, just as she loved my sister to the end. I often ask God if He will tell her I said “Hello,” and maybe tell her how much I miss her, but that I’m so happy every time I think of her happiness in the presence of the Lord. (“To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8) Two nights ago I dreamed of her–it seemed like a long dream. It wasn’t a dream of her body with dementia, but the person I had known. It was a GIFT from my loving heavenly Father almost like a visit. I woke, not feeling sad that she wasn’t there, but glad that I had had a time of being “with her” in her former state.

“Oh, that’s crazy,” you might say. We dream based on things that are happening in our lives. True. But this was a “good and perfect gift” of a visit with my mom. It was wonderful to hear her voice in the dream, and see her happy in whatever situation the dream held–I don’t even recall it. All I know is, my God gave me a time of remembering my mom so that I enjoyed her, and loved her.

I don’t want to attribute that to a “Santa-like” coincidence, chance, exhaustion, or anything else except the God who watches over me. Why should He not get credit for the great things He does for us?

Thank You, Father, for the gifts You give me.

Love, Your child.

santa steal 2

© Max Blain | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Jon Helgason | Dreamstime Stock Photos

IMPATIENCE: A LESSON IN JUDGING!

dogwoodimpatienceWaking up, stretching, yawning… all of a sudden you ask yourself, “Where am I?!!” Then it all comes flooding back: the telephone call, the quick packing, the trip, and you’re waking in a motel room. You glance outside and see flowers. Everything looks beautiful. But something is missing. What is it? Then reality hits you: someone you loved has left the earth. You will leave here in a couple of days, and go back home, with only memories.

We’ve all gone through a similar experience, haven’t we? Perhaps not that, but close. I recall coming out of a Belk store many years ago (when my mind was sharp!!), and with all the Belk stores laid out the same, for a moment I had a true panic thought, ” What city am I in?!” Too much traveling, too much change, too quickly.

And so today I “wake up,” not having been asleep, but the fog from the concussion is leaving and I am able to function close to normal. Perhaps not at 100%, but enough that this page is now being written–the outcome of weeks when the mere thought was ‘too much.’ Been there? Overwhelmed by a thought of taking on a task? Yeah, me, too.

S0, congratulations! You are now back on track, you say. Who knows? Is there really a track? I know God showed me a lesson this morning, which is the first in weeks. Not that He hasn’t been there, just that I’ve been too far down to care. Does that shock you? Yes, Christians get there. Just like non-believers. Just like you, maybe.

And so God showed me a piece of my heart this morning: life has changed this year! Do you know there’s a “syndrome” for everything?  Look up RHS–it’s a syndrome. I’m a victim. After a lifetime of being at home, raising kids, mowing yards, keeping the house clean, blah, blah, blah, my husband retired. (Retired Husband Syndrome). It should be RSS, because it can/is the same for husbands who have worked from home and then the wife retires. So far I have yet to meet someone who cannot relate, man or woman, when this happens. Love has nothing to do with it. Space has everything to do with it.

Suddenly, there’s someone in your space. You’ve been alone–or with kids–and were used to noises, and identified them mentally, and categorized them. Now it’s a new set of noises. There’s no “quiet time.” He says, “But I go to McDonald’s every morning for breakfast!” Sometimes he says he goes so he can have bacon, other times he says it’s to give me time when I’m by myself. Either way it’s the same, life is interrupted. Picky, picky, picky, you’re thinking. Your time will come. Believe me.

I notice so many changes, being with him constantly. He’s retired… that means no schedule, very few commitments, very few real responsibilities except of his own making. Yet his driving is beginning to create ulcers in my stomach. If someone is in front of him at the drive-thru window, move quickly. If the person at the red light doesn’t go, he fumes. Turn right on red, for crying out loud, it’s the rule in almost all states! I’d rather we took two cars.

I need to go to the post office; when? Who cares? Well, he just wants some idea. I don’t care, as long as it’s before 6 o’clock! Want to go to the gym? Sure? When? Who cares, you’re retired! No, Mr. Impatience wants a time. Why? I’m the one working!

He has taken over the grass cutting, which is good, since I began a hobby from home that has become a monster that is eating me alive. I want out. I dream of running away, but did it once and it created billions of problems I never want to see again. I dream of getting a job outside the home, but couldn’t make the pay I need. I just want out of my present dilemma and there are several ways it can happen. And so every day I beg God, please, let me out! I almost got out by death (that should have showed me right there He’s not ready for me), I’ll take terminal illness (would I really?), just GET ME OUT. And He hasn’t. Not yet. So my impatience grows and has become a tangible, breathing, living force in my life, driving down the joy, peace, and all that. All because I’ve gotten myself in a pickle I am helpless to get out of.

As I was pouring my first mug of coffee this morning, I suddenly saw my constant beseeching God to do something, and please, do it now, as the same type impatience my husband displays behind the wheel of the car. Other drivers are out of his control. My work is out of my control. He wants them to move NOW. I want God to fix my problem NOW. Don’t you hate it when God shows you your own heart? I do.

What to do? Everything. Confess that the things that are driving me up a wall with my husband are things that are in my own heart toward God. Realize my husband spent his whole life working for the money to let me stay home and raise kids–now he deserves his time. Trust God to move in a way that I will recognize is best when it happens. Trust Him that He has my back, and will give me strength. Trust Him that if He can SPEAK words–or THINK them–the world comes into being or a person is healed, then He can change my circumstances if it’s the best thing for me at this time. Trust—don’t fear. Perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:18), and FEAR IS TORMENT. Yikes, do we all know that?

Need encouragement? Go to http://www.trbc.org, and listen to the sermon for Sunday, April 19. Besides being a blessing on trust, you’ll hear Charles Billingsley sing “A Midnight Cry,” and yes, we’ll all be going home. Praise God–no more of this world’s garbage and impatience.

Father, You who loves me with a love I don’t understand, forgive my impatience as I beg You to lighten my load; give me strength for the race that is before me. Thank You for showing me that my impatience is no different than that of my husband, and no sin is greater than another–they’re all wrong in Your sight. Help me remember these lessons, Lord. And thank You for the resurrection power You’ve made available to all of us. Amen

 

Photo © Steve Sharp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

TURN DISAPPOINTMENT INTO HOPE!

CANSTOCK

The fish were nibbling at our bait as we stood in the Gulf. Almost every morning at dawn you could find my son and me standing knee deep in the surf, holding our rods quietly. In our shirt pockets–yes, alive and wiggly–were extra minnows. My son had developed a great throw with the heavily-weighted circular minnow net, and we would stop at one of the small pools where the little fish gathered, and I would watch, enthralled, while he did the intricate toss that resulted in our bait for the morning! Now we stood, hoping some hungry Redfish or maybe a Black Drum would decide to grab our hook. We lived on the Gulf, and it was a quiet time we both enjoyed.

Our favorite hours, though, were when we could work in an occasional trip to the long fishing pier that was an hour away. The wooden pier seemed to stretch a mile out into the ocean, and we would always go with high hopes. The fish were plentiful but the probability of getting one up onto the pier–or close enough to scoop into the net–was slim. The big ones had gotten large by being smart! They wrapped around the pilings and we would generally lose “hook, line, and sinker,” as well as the fish!

My husband knew our son loved to fish, and promised to take him to Canada for salmon fishing when he was twelve. Twelve came and went, and no trip was made. Over the next few years it became obvious that this promise was not going to be fulfilled. As my husband said, “There are some promises which are made, but shouldn’t have been.”

Our son could have turned his back on his father, as that trip was something he had looked forward to for a very long time, but he didn’t. He came to realize that life does not always contain victories, and all too often things we hope for, plan for, or try to accomplish are a disappointment. You probably know people who have had one too many let-downs, and have given up on someone they love. Or perhaps someone has hurt them once too often, and they’ve erased the name from their list of trustworthy friends.

Have you ever thought about the night before Jesus was crucified? He was eating with His twelve closest friends–although Judas was not a friend, and you have to accept that His brothers were not there either. These men had watched Him perform miracle after miracle, and had every hope of Jesus doing some amazing action that would end the tyranny of Rome over Israel. They must have felt as though everything they had envisioned was about to become a shipwreck. In a way, it’s no wonder that a few hours from that time the disciples fled. They were confused, bewildered, and possibly even angry. Peter definitely so, as he became abusive in his denial when he cursed the girl who said he had been with Jesus.

If you had been in the room with Him, having all your hopes pinned to a good ending, would you have given up after He was buried the next evening? In a way, perhaps that is what you have done now. Perhaps life has handed you some pretty rotten fruit, and you feel you didn’t deserve it–and you know that Jesus could have prevented it from happening. Have you given up on Him?

Hopefully you are like my son, who trusted his dad even when a broken promise that meant so much was not carried through. Hopefully you have the kind of trust in Christ that can say, “I’m at a loss to explain why so much bad is happening, but I know this: He is my father, and He loves me. If this is going on, it is because His purposes are far greater than I can understand.” You see, we want to know the “whys.” We want to know what He’s thinking, and doing, and why He chooses us for the trials. We want life to be pretty perfect. And it isn’t.

Don’t give up on Him because things haven’t gone your way. Because, one day, when you look back at the long path you’ve traveled, you’ll see that He did not leave you for a moment. Even when you were rebellious, away from Him, and living in sin, He still loved you–and always will.

These last three weeks have been a journey that could so easily have ended in death, if you read the last post. My head is beginning to spin a little less frequently, and clearer thoughts are coming. But I never once walked through these days alone, nor did I ask Him why He allowed me to fall. You know why? Because I trust Him–that’s why.

Lord, thank You for loving me, especially when I’m so unlovely. Forgive me for failing You, for failing to keep promises of being the type person I should be. Thank You for never giving up on me, for carrying me when I can’t walk, and being faithful. Thank You for the scars in Your hands, Jesus–they mean You took my place in death. Amen

REFLECTIONS OF REFLECTIONS!

reflection

It was so easy to tell this was a house where Death had come. There were numerous cars lining the country driveway, most with out-of-state license plates. People were coming and going, obviously bringing food and seeking to help. The elderly man who had passed away was several states removed from the place of his birth.

Not long before the viewing on the evening before the funeral, the doorbell rang. On the stoop stood two middle-aged men, dressed nicely, wearing somber expressions. I looked at their faces, and immediately said “I don’t know who you are, but you are obviously near relatives of my father!” The resemblance was amazing, to be a generation removed.

It reminded me of a time when our youngest son was less than a year old. A visitor at church had dropped off his little daughter, and entered the sanctuary. After the service I heard someone greet him, and as he spoke, he added, “I don’t know anything about that baby boy in the nursery, but I can tell you, that was his father up in the choir!” He was right.

That type of comment makes one realize that as we go into the world, calling ourselves Christians, people look at us but do not know us at all. Yet when they see our face, can they tell that we belong to God? We should have such a close relationship to Him that it shows in our face. In Acts 4:13 Peter and John were preaching, and confounding many. Luke writes, “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they [Peter and John] had been with Jesus.” The association was obvious in their faces.

Proverbs 13:20 reminds us how important it is that we choose our friends carefully: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will be destroyed.” It is our testimony and our reputation that is at stake when we run with fools. God is not glorified, and Christ is not honored. One apple, the Bible says, will rot the whole bag! One potato, left in that plastic bag on the floor, will soon ruin the good potatoes that it touched.

This new year has hardly begun, but it’s not too late to get a relationship with God back where it should be. If you’re afraid to set the alarm, pray that God will wake you 15 minutes early, so you can read His word before leaving for work. And when He does, since you have prayed, get up, get your coffee or Coke, and spend some time with Him.

The biggest thrill of your life should be that you hear someone say, “That man has to be a Christian–he looks just like what I’ve imagined Jesus to look like!” Wouldn’t that be something wonderful?

Father, You truly are our father. When we’ve had earthly dads who have disappointed us, we have sometimes given those attributes to You. Or when things didn’t go the way we thought, we blamed You. Help us to see through the pain and troubled times that You are a constant companion, loving and kind, doing the best for us. Help us spend so much time talking to You, Father, that we begin to look like You. In Christ Jesus, Amen

© Arnon Ayal | Dreamstime Stock Photos

EXAMS, TESTS & PRAYER!

dreamstimebooks

The books were right there, laying on top of the piano where I had left them the afternoon before when I arrived home from school.  I distinctly remembered  having every intention of studying, but then I pulled out the piano bench to learn “The Peer Gynt Suite” by Edvard Grieg! Where had my mind been?? SAT’s would start today! Of all evenings to have gotten a little extra cramming in, last night was the one! Trig was killing me, and physics was right behind it! Sigh. Why do some people have it so easy, while others have to work so hard for a C? Not fair! Picking the books by up, I headed out the door, already feeling the noose around my neck.

The classroom wasn’t crowded, so the teacher separated us in order to cut down on the ability to cheat. There were no cell phones in those days, and calculators or open books were not allowed in the room. Also, this teacher was a hawk: he didn’t miss an eyeball drifting sideways. I looked down at the paper, and the first problem might have been in Greek. Against the rules of the test (do each one in order), I went to the next–wow! Easy! So I zipped through the pages answering the ones I could, then going back to the ones that needed more brain time. Meanwhile, the brainy students were going one by one.

A month later the trigonometry teacher stepped into the English class and asked for attention. He gave the results of those who had scored highest in all areas. Then he stopped. “In Math, although I have no idea how she did it, considering she is failing trig, Sandy Day scored the highest.” Thank you, Mr. Whatever (his name is erased from my memory bank.) (Intentionally, probably).  I knew right then I had figured out how to take tests: go quickly through the ones you know, then go back to the harder questions. Granted, there are probably rules that prohibit doing this now in the technological age, but at that time it worked well.

No one has to be a Rocket Scientist to know that life is full of tests. Only the naive think that when they get out of school, tests will be over! The test for your driver’s license, college classes, balancing checkbooks, having quarterly reviews at work, making the outgo and the income equal out–at least in some respects,–all of those and millions more are tests. It’s definitely not exaggerating to say that each day we have tests in some form or the other. If you have kids, you have testing. If you are married, you have testing.

Recently, I found a different test–one laid out in Scripture put there by the hand of God. I wasn’t looking for it, but this, still able to be called the being the beginning of a new year, is a good time to do a self-examination, or test. I was reading Psalm 15, and was immediately impacted by the question the psalmist asked in prayer: “God, who may dwell with You in Your holy place?” (My paraphrase). And then he gets his answer: anyone who lives a blameless life (wow, can anyone do that?); who walks in righteousness; who refuses to engage in conversation that is slandering to another person; who does not listen to gossip; who does not harm his neighbor; who speaks out against sin; who criticizes those who are committing the sin (that doesn’t go down well in this age of “tolerance,” does it?); who commends (and encourages) those who are faithfully following the Lord; who keeps a promise even if it ruins him; who does not extract the highest interest rate he can get by with, thereby putting a burden too heavy to bear on those he lends money to; who refuses to testify against an innocent person even if he is bribed heavily to do so—this man will stand firm forever. Whoa!! Those are the goals of someone who wants to serve God with his entire life. This obviously was not a test where one could say, “That one is easy, that one I’ll come back to, that one I’ll never figure out,” etc.!

It is easy to see that those are the standards of someone who must have a close and wonderful relationship with the Creator God! It is, as Paul writes in the book of Romans, the reason that the commandments point us to Jesus. Just looking at that list, and then seeing where you “test” out against each one of those attributes, tempts us to throw up our hands and quit trying. That’s why we need a Savior. If there were a chain with thick heavy links holding you to God, and each link was one of the commandments, or one of those characteristics in Psalm 15, how many would it take to break chain holding you to God? Only one. Someone had to pay the price for us, or no-one would be dwelling with God in that holy place!

Hallelujah, there was Someone who was able to pay that price, live up to the standard God had set, and then paid the debt that we could never pay. Yes, He lets us sin, and no, He doesn’t like it when we do. But if your child disobeys, and then is truly repentant, you are ready to forgive. So is God. Let’s try for a “Well done, good and faithful servant,” when we stand before Him, having passed His test!

O God, how we can relate to the psalmist as he cried out, “Who can abide with You?!” We see our failings–and I confess, Lord, that I am not always sorry the moment I fail You–and feel we can never be good enough.  Then I realize how badly I need Your grace, and Your forgiveness. Help me–and others–draw near to You, so that You will draw near to us. Thank You for Your grace, Lord God, and for Jesus Christ. Amen

 

© Simon Lawrence | Dreamstime Stock Photos

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

HUNTING

The woods were so frightening! Was that a giant black widow in the web above my head? Maybe a bear was behind the tree, or even a skunk. The loaded gun felt weird tucked under my right arm and balanced with my left hand, and knowing it was ready to shoot caused me fear also. I had always heard that Indians could walk so softly that no one could tell they were in the woods, so I tried my best to make no sound. Behind me, in single file, my grandpa and grandma were also walking quietly. My grandpa must love me a lot, I reasoned, to take me hunting for the first time in my life, and let me lead the way! If I got off the trail at all, he would whisper a quiet encouragement to guide me left or right, back to the trail. I didn’t have to look back to know he was there; for one thing, he was my Grandpa and would never leave me alone in this fearsome place! For another, his quiet words of command to stay on the path, though like a gentle whisper, were evidence that he was there. I didn’t know which was greater, my fear, my excitement, or my pride.

That happened more years ago that most anyone who reads this can conceive, yet I can still feel that experience as though it happened yesterday. I was maybe eight years old, but he gave me such a gift that day as he did what no one else had ever done: he showed he trusted me to handle a gun, lead our way, and listen for his voice.

Now, so many decades later, it is the end of another year and a time to look back at this past twelve months. Did you walk an unknown path, knowing your heavenly Father was behind you, never leaving you, or did you doubt His faithfulness? His still, small voice is a command to our heart if we are about to get off the path; did you listen for it? Sometimes it is a red flag of warning if you don’t want to listen–it probably means you want to do you own thing! Did you act in a manner that He found faithful to His wishes? If so, you have done well.

Some days I feel like that eight-year-old, ready to take on the world. Other days, I feel a hundred and twenty, dreading to put one foot in front of the other! But one thing I know, every day has something to teach me. There is not a day that goes by that I do not discover something new. And because of that, I can look forward to 2015 knowing that I still have so much to learn: so much about Jesus, so much about  myself, and so much about what my purpose is in living. He has plans and a purpose for me, Jeremiah wrote, and I find it only by being in the center of His will.

You may be thinking, not me. Nope, not after the mistakes I’ve made. Not after the way I messed up last year. Not after the sins I committed, when I flagrantly yelled at Him, “Let me do this on my own!” Yet Isaiah 57:15 tells us, “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.'” There is such hope for the backslider! All you need is a humble spirit of sorrow for what you did when you got off the right path, confess it to Him (1 John 1:9), and you are forgiven! You can start 2015 out with a clean record! How much better can it get?

Do  you have goals for 2015? It seems only once in a great while that a “New Year’s Resolution” is actually kept for the year. But a goal, ah–that’s different. That’s a commitment to stay on the path that God has for you, so that you can be more like Him. What does that look like, to be like Him? Do you actually hunger and thirst to be righteous? Do you want to let others go before you? Do you mind if someone gets credit for  what you’ve done? Do you let someone else have the last word? Do you love others more than you love yourself? Yikes. That stabs. Do you keep the church’s sticker off your back windshield so that if you cut someone off in traffic, they won’t know which church you attend? My license plate says “EL EWE.” LU. I know that no matter how I drive, someone is going to recognize that I am associated in some manner with a certain university and church, and that God’s reality in my life shows in my driving. Ouch. It causes me to drive better, I will say that!

So what about 2015? Can we make some commitments that we will handle this year better than 2014? That we won’t waste as much money, perhaps eat healthier to keep our temple in better condition, that we’ll treat our family as we treat our boss, etc? We could fill up a dozen pages. But let’s go back to a few posts to the “Do Not Fear” and pull out the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord with all that we are, and love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. We can reduce our huge list to two things. And we can trust Him to be behind us every step of the way, whispering if we start to get off track, and loving us. What a God to walk with in the next year!

Holy Father, how we fail You, but how faithful You remain! Your word tells us that even when we are unfaithful, You stay faithful to us. You are willing to save anyone who calls on You, but how can they call unless they hear? And how will they hear unless we tell them? Give us boldness and courage to know You have our back, have ordained our path, and are accompanying us ever step. We love You, Lord. Thank You for the cross. Amen

The Gift of Christmas

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The car was packed with Christmas presents we had so lovingly gathered: a wooden board with a Bible verse painstakingly burned into it by our son, something “crazy quilted” with scraps of fabric from our young daughter to her Grandmother, and new things I had found at garage sales or clearance sales during the year. The gas money had been counted to the penny: $48.03. In the 1980’s, that should get us home for Christmas.

We had so many needs for that $48, but going to N.C. from FL. seemed more important than any of them. We knew my dad would give us $20 toward the trip back–he always did–and just being with my parents for a few days meant we would eat well. Going to their home represented a time of leaning on parents again!

Christmas morning dawned beautiful and sunny. The chance of snow in eastern North Carolina wasn’t great but we had hoped. With children, gifts come first, so away to the tree we went. Mother and Daddy needed none of the presents we brought, but acted so glad to get everything. Daddy’s annual traditional gift was a $1 box of chocolate covered cherries, but he acted as pleased as if it was the first time he had gotten them!

It was now my turn. Mother handed me a card. When I opened it, I found it was a check made out for $1,000.00.  I could not believe what I was seeing. Then, for the first time I ever remember, I burst into tears as the reality of her gift hit me. I can still see the memory of opening that card, and the wonderful gift from my folks, which we so desperately needed.

Undoubtedly you have a special Christmas you could tell about as well. For all of us at least one Christmas stands out above all others, when our joy was over the roof or emotions, like mine, could not be contained. Did you ever wonder how God felt the night Jesus was born? No, it wasn’t December 25, but the night had a date, and the Gift was given. Did God feel joy? Anguish at what would come? Did He celebrate as the angel announced the birth? What would it have been like for Mary and Joseph to watch as shepherds drew near to worship the tiny Babe who lay so miraculously in her arms?
Have you ever looked–really looked–at people as you pass, and see them smelly, cursing, acting in ways that are despicable to you, and then think that if you could save even some of them, you would give your son’s life? I have. I couldn’t. My love is not great like God’s love. What amazing, unfathomable love that would give the gift of your only Son to enemies! When my son was deployed, I used to hear people openly insulting the military, the men who were fighting, and I wanted to shout at them that MY son was out there, putting his life on the line so they could scream their obscenities. What a heart of love God has–for the whole world.

Do you care about that baby in the manger? Has it occurred to you that if He had not grown up and gone to the Cross, His birth would not be celebrated? He came for a purpose, He lived His purpose for His Father’s glory, and then was killed. Satan must have felt he had won. What must he have felt when his minions reported on that third day that Jesus was alive again? Did he fly to the tomb to see also? He must have ground his teeth that the Christ he had thought was dead was alive again! Appearing to so many, with testimony from witnesses all over Jerusalem, it could not be discounted.

So–what is the best gift you ever received? Well, if you believe that Jesus Christ was God, come in human flesh, and have accepted His gift of eternal life then you have definitely received the greatest gift that could ever be had. And what if you don’t believe yet? What is holding you back? The shepherds, when they heard the  news, immediately said “Let us go..and see.” It was a step of faith for them. It needs to be a step of faith for anyone. If you haven’t taken it, please consider doing so. It is a gift that is being held out–just for you.

Thank You for the Christ-child, dear Father; for loving the world enough that You would send Your only Son, so that anyone–ANYONE–who believes on Him does not have to stand condemned, but can have eternal life. Thank You for the Cross, Lord. Thank You that all–ALL–our sins were nailed to it with a big stamp of “Paid In Full” for those who believe. Call our unsaved loved ones to You, please Lord, before it’s eternally too late for them. In Christ, Amen

HOPEFUL OR HOPELESS?

hopeful or hopelessShe was young, finishing high school, and so in love! Her boyfriend had joined the Armed Services, and she put her time in waiting for him to return. But while waiting, someone stepped in, and her mom told her she needed to marry. With dread, buckets of tears, with no skills for housekeeping, hygiene or parenting, she did as her mom said. When children came, she thought every act of defiance was because she was a bad mom. Finally, she broke. Not taking the children because she didn’t know how she would feed them, she left for a few days. But she was stopped from going back, and it was only one full day until she realized, bad mother or not, her kids were her life. One year, then two, passed. She couldn’t get her children back, and there was no hope. Jobs were scarce, and life was an endless tunnel of pain. Every child she saw was hers, and to see someone hurt a child was beyond pain. Finally, knowing life would always be this way, she bought two big bottles of sleeping pills and took them all, then laid down on her bed. The next morning she woke in ICU. Someone had found her. The nurse bustled over. “I see you’re awake! We lost you so many times last night, they were ready to give up!” What she thought was great news, made the girl go further into depression. When you’re on the bottom and can’t even control death, a new low comes into your life. That is hopelessness.

The pastor spoke quietly. “Everyone falls into one of two categories” he said. “You are either hopeful, or you are hopeless.” What a truth! Although most could only grasp the words on a superficial level, I knew there would be many in the huge congregation who understood exactly what he was saying. I knew of a woman who lived with such verbal abuse that I was amazed she had not turned to alcohol or drugs to kill the pain; another leads the life of wife to a womanizer, as the term is; another’s husband is so wrapped up in pornography that he allows his child to see it; and so many more horrific situations. Do you fall into any of these? Why does the victim stay? Because, although the life seems hopeless to us, there is a tiny flame inside that “hopes” a miracle will happen and they will some day escape.

On the other hand, there are families where everything seems to be great. The women lead useful, stay-at-home lives, caring for the children and home, and Dad brings home enough that the income covers the outgo, with some left. They have tons of hope! Where did the original road start? In their parents’ home? In their wise choices?

I know a girl who married someone who was Romeo and Sir Lancelot rolled into one! That is, until the morning of the marriage when he said, “I can’t go through with this.” Everyone figured “cold feet.” For over twenty years he has abused her verbally in front of the children, with words that no woman should have to hear. But she, like the girl in the opening true story, had no skills, and couldn’t take the children. Another young lady came to  me to talk: she had married her “sweetheart” almost two years before. She is a Christian, and he supposedly was as well. However, when she came, she broke down as she admitted that the night of their marriage, he had rolled on his side and gone to sleep. In almost eighteen months, he had not consummated the marriage. There was no marriage, and I felt she had every right to get out. She did, and eventually married again. She and her pastor husband have two beautiful children, and I think of her often.

But there’s the flip side: the ones for whom no bell tolls, no tunnels end, and life is more than they can cope with. To end it seems so much the better, and they do.

Where, then, is the hope? We who know Jesus Christ as Lord know the scriptures that tell us He came to this world as a babe, because there was no other way to redeem lost mankind. He had to live among us, talk our language and live with us in order to reach us. And He did. He is the “hope of the world; the hope of all mankind; the hope of the Gentiles; the God of Hope” and many, many more! We have assurance that this life is temporary, that the trials here are because people prefer to choose their own way, rather than listen to the Creator God. He is our Hope, our Peace, and breaks every barrier down. No, life will not be a bed of roses–in fact, I can’t imagine more things more uncomfortable that laying in a bed of roses! Ouch! But neither can I imagine anymore a life where He will not take the useless and base things of this world, and turn them into something beautiful if we ask. The Bible tells us that He will give us “Beauty for ashes.” “The oil of joy for mourning.” How can one not “hope” with promises like that from the God whose promises have not failed yet? But you have to seek Him to find Him, and draw near to Him, so that He draws near to you. He will not force His presence where it is not wanted.

Hope for the Hopeless… He is!

Father, thank You for Your promise of hope for a fallen world. We cannot change our government, our parents, our intelligence, even our race or our appearance, but we can change the way we view You, view life, and we can hold fast to the way we trust You. You have promised wisdom to those who ask it, Lord, and for Christmas, I ask for wisdom to share the hope that lies within me–hope for a better tomorrow. Amen

 

 

 

© Laukas | Dreamstime Stock Photos

DO NOT FEAR!

DONOTFEARAs the group sat in a circle around the room, everyone spoke of their experiences raising an adopted child. We sat and listened, occasionally looking at each other obliquely, as we heard all the terrible situations they were enduring. These people were going through fire in many cases. It was not a support group, but a group formed of parents who had adopted, and had been invited by the state to come together and tell what raising a non-biological child could entail. They were, in effect, warning those of us who had been approved for adoption how traumatic it was going to be.

Finally, as the time was winding down, my husband and I joined the conversation. “We have two young biological children,” we informed them. “Children who were prayed for before conception, wanted as much as any of you wanted the child you adopted. We have nurtured them, loved them, and not exposed them to anything we felt would be harmful to their well-being. In spite of all of this, our children are going through the same problems you are having with your adopted children. This may shock you, but we feel that perhaps what you think of as a result of a child being adoption, is not the case. We believe that what you are seeing is a child, acting like a normal child!” Although the parents were almost unable to grasp what we had said, it relieved the fears of many of them (to the aggravation of the state workers, I might add!) that they would never have the family they had desired. They had thought all their problems were the result of adoption.

Fear today has become a daily, constant companion, have you noticed?! The economy has left millions concerned for their jobs, concerned whether their income will pay the bills, and dreading–or living in fear of–unexpected repairs to cars or homes, or medical emergencies. Not only the economy, but life in general has become fearsome. Relationships are being subjected to turmoil because unhappiness at home, for whatever reason, creates an environment where we want something different–and the kids live in fear that mommy and daddy will divorce. There is no end to fear. The story above illustrates for me what we see happening in America through situations that all around us. In other words, we zero in on what we think is the reason for our problems, when in fact it probably isn’t. Fear that most people still have huge racial hang-ups may not be the case as much as it is just the few who are causing problems the rest of us do not feel at all. Most people are open to living agreeably with their neighbors, but if you are of another ethnic background it is easier to believe everyone is against you. And fear of not being accepted by those you admire creates a lifestyle of engaging in activities to make you look like Hollywood’s version of what is acceptable, leading many down an empty path of searching for something that isn’t going to be fulfilling.

That is not how God intended us to live. We are to love our neighbor, which is not Hollywood’s take on love, but showing through our actions the type of love that Jesus portrayed while He was on the earth. He ate, walked, healed, and loved the sick, the wounded, the outcast, the afflicted. We want to love those who can love us back. Shame on us.

God’s plan for us is not fear, it is peace, love and a mind that is not swayed by wrong values. Do we believe that? Do we practice that in our lives? Do we stress about money? Yes… then trust Him. He will not give us what we want, but He will definitely provide our needs if we trust Him. And, as He told Joshua time and time again, “Do NOT fear!” Fear is not His best for us, whether it’s the economy, raising our children, facing obstacles in our family situations, relationships at work, our job…. keep going. We are not to fear. We are to rely on the plans and purposes He has for us, and rest in His everlasting arms. They hold us up, and we can relax in them.

Wow, you’re getting preachy, you say! Yes, sometimes life is not all dessert, but meat. Check out God again–this time with your heart. The thing that amazes me is that people say the Bible is full of “do’s” and “don’t’s.” Christ said there are two things that are important: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as [much as you love] yourself. Two things, and we have peace. Then let us go do them.

God, forgive us for taking the easy way out. For answering back in anger, for not seeing truth where it is, for wanting an easy life. You didn’t promise us that, and Jesus certainly didn’t experience that! Give us the faith to trust You as we go about our daily routines. Please–help us to glorify You. Amen

 

LET IT GO!!

let it go

She looked at me with hate, viciously grinding out her words,”I’d like nothing more than to kill you!” I confess I stood for a moment in stunned silence; how many people hear this said to them? Not only said, but truly meant. That was rough. What was rougher was that this was my only sister.

Going through a bitter divorce, she and her ex wanted nothing more than to hurt each other. The easiest way to do that is to tell lies, right? Or push buttons (spouses always know where to push the hardest)! In her case, her husband told her lies about having a relationship with me (there was none), and she believed him.  Maybe you’ve been there. The problem was, because she believed him, which involved me, now she wanted to hurt me. And what better way than to do it through my children? She called my adult children and told them (I can envision her dramatic anguish at having to tell them what she knew) what she had found out, which had not a grain of truth in it at all. She had “evidence” (I never knew what, probably a forged letter), and–of course–it destroyed more relationships for many years. For more than two decades, losing not only my sister, but the closeness that had been built between two of my daughters ate me totally alive, but finally, through time and much hurt, I had to “let it go.” I couldn’t fix it, but I had to move on before it killed me.

My story is no different than thousands of others. I have come to learn that the majority of people have something in their past that is like an albatross around their neck. Maybe it was marrying the wrong person while on the re-bound, and never really having a marriage. Maybe it was having a child outside of marriage, and later having to watch a boy/girl friend abuse the child. Maybe an abortion, which continually haunts you. Maybe you gave a child up for adoption. I know what you feel: every child you see may be him/her, right? And it will always be. Somehow you have to come to the point where you “let it go” and trust God’s love for the child to be working out His plan for your child. I have lived long enough now to know most of us have to be tested by fire. Relationships are destroyed, homes are destroyed, and in the end we are tested to see whom we love the most: ourselves or the Lord.

Israel had the same problem. Adopted by God and raised as a cherished child, she became a great nation, only to fall into sin that destroyed the relationship. God had to put her through the fire in order to try to re-establish the relationship, finally sending His only Son to bear not only the sins of Israel, but the sins of those (us) who were grafted in–the Gentiles. Read Deuteronomy, the last several chapters. It sounds like the USA today!

Soon the first of 2015 will be upon us, and thousands will be making a resolution to start a new life with the new year! Putting behind us those things which bring pain, those things which cause us to harbor bitterness (which gives Satan a foothold in our lives), those things which have hurt us so badly but do not hurt the other person–now is the time to “let it go.” We don’t want to spend the rest of our lives with those feelings “frozen” inside of us, like cancers, eating us alive from the inside out! We want to be free to experience the joy God is so willing to give us. We want to exchange the sadness we feel–or have felt for years–for happiness that only comes when our lives match up with the guidelines He has laid for us.

Last night at a basketball game, I was impressed at how close the guys could come with the ball to that line that marked the court. It could bounce within inches, but they deftly caught it and kept within bounds! We need to have such spiritual tenacity that we don’t let the balls we juggle each day fall and bounce away, where we step outside the lines to grab one. That only comes with diligence and practice. Spiritual exercise, the Bible calls it. Do you know how to do it? I haven’t been very good at it either. But I know Jesus promised that if I would ask (in this case, that He help me), I would receive; if I knocked, the door would be opened; if I seek, I will find! (Matthew 7:7). So, how about if we both “ask” for God’s joy to replace the sadness of our past? And while we’re at it, we can seek that joy and find that it is only in Him–He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Not a popular statement in this day of “tolerance,” but what will you say when you die and find you were wrong?

I can almost hear your thoughts: “but He gave me a rock, when I asked for a piece of bread,” “He took my (mom, dad, whatever),” “He did this, He did that… He is not to be trusted.” And because He didn’t do life the way you wanted it done, you withdrew your trust–you decided to punish Him by withdrawing your love. Just like my sister: you were hurt, so your revenge is to hurt back. Sadly, that’s no solution at all, and the ripple effect goes far and wide. It really is time to “let it go.” Trade in your sadness for obedience and joy before it’s too late.

Holy God, the years have passed in a blur, with no solutions to the problems that have been the result of trying days. But I have enough faith in You to know that Your purpose and plans for me are not to harm me but to give me life. If I could control You, You wouldn’t be God, You would be just like man. Thank you for being the sovereign power of the universe, the great I AM, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Redeemer. I ask for freedom from past choices that I made, past consequences that were from the actions of others, and ask that You be my joy, not another person, not this short life. Help me, Lord, to let it all go, and embrace the freedom that is found in You! Amen