Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Cradle: To Support Protectively or Intimately

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:11 NIV)

“Christmas is meant to take us to the level of spiritual maturity where we are capable of seeing in a manger the meaning of an empty tomb. It is meant to enable us to see through the dark days of life to the stars beyond them.” (The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister)

The days after Christmas often leave me at a loss. A darkness overshadows the recent joys of the season. This year I planned to avoid the post-Christmas blues. I would observe Christmastide or the Twelve Days of Christmas, continuing the feast until its culmination on January 6th, Epiphany. After three days, my observations have been fairly mundane. I wrote down the gifts of each day—the moments that stood out, while practicing thanksgiving in all things. I found myself enjoying home, running errands and visiting with friends.

As I drove around today in a low energy mode, pushing myself to finish the errands, I kept asking God what do I need? I haven’t been very hungry for His word. My mind wanted a break from thinking.

After returning home from errands, the high intensity of the past six weeks caught up with me. I began to wonder how I would make it through the dark days of winter. I wanted to be cradled, to be held close and to rest. So I took a nap.
When I woke up, I was drawn back to my intention to observe Christmastide. To take time to sit quietly with God. Silently. No words needed. Enjoying the twinkling lights on the tree, brewing a cup of coffee, snuggling up with a blanket on the couch to be cradled by the Presence of God. Reminding myself that it is perfectly fine to have no agenda right now. Permission to rest, to breathe and to enjoy the moments of each day.

Today I choose to celebrate the glory, which started in a cradle, albeit a feeding trough, and culminnated on the cross and ultimately  was revealed through the empty tomb.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Birth: To Bring Forth

“And the glory (majesty and splendor) of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.” (Isaiah 40:5 AMP)

“And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth.”
(John 1:14 AMP)

“My Son has set you free to love, to believe that I am good and that the good story I am telling is unfolding under His control. Faith in Me and hope for tomorrow free you to love today. And loving with divine power releases a kind of joy into your soul that nothing else can bring.” (God’s Love Letters to You, Dr. Larry Crabb)

Marvelous morning. After a night of laboring, a child is born. It often happens this way; the mother goes to the hospital with contractions close together. The staff settles her in her bed, and then the waiting and the breathing and the groaning begin. Sometimes things slow down for awhile, and then the pain increases, the pressure builds and after a fair amount of pushing— love gushes out. Joy comes in the morning.

Here we are, we have arrived at Christmas. We can welcome the memory of Jesus’ birth in its fullest. But He was not only born, He lived and loved. He dwelt among us. And through the Holy Spirit dwells with us still. My soul is overwhelmed within me. A supernatural, miraculous wonder and awe overtake the quiet moments of early morning before anyone else in the household rises. I am alone with my Savior, our Savior.

I am drawn to the nativity. Figurines set out on tables to remind us that Jesus was born. It was recorded, His parents pondered Him, the shepherds proclaimed Him and the Magi proceeded by a star entered the scene to give Him the honor due his birth.

Can you believe it? Will you embrace this good story? The hope, the joy, the peace and the love transcend anything our minds can comprehend. Yet there is a place in us in our hearts, souls, spirits, minds and even our bodies where faith wells up and needs to be expressed. A desire, a longing that no words adequately express.

Silently, with tears brimming in my eyes, I marvel at this Birth.

For unto us a Child is Born!
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Clean: Free From Dirt

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
(Psalm 51:10 NKJV)

“Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing up
is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.” (Phyllis Diller)

Today I tackled a long neglected task: deep cleaning the family room. We are expecting guests over the Christmas holiday, so I am motivated. I started in one corner moving furniture to the opposite side of the room. About halfway down the wall with windows, we have a AC/heating unit. I figured since I was deep cleaning, I should take out the filters to vacuum them.

It never ceases to amaze me how much dust, dirt and animal hair can accumulate in these filters. I looked a little closer and realized I should take the front cover off to clean inside the unit. After I was done I wiped the vents with antibacterial cleaner. It felt good to know that I might ward off some germs and allergies by taking the extra time with the unit. I spent all day cleaning and rearranging the furniture to be ready for Christmas. This kind of cleaning is exhausting, but satisfying.

Whenever I encounter this neglected dirt in my cleaning ventures, I think about the how the dust and dirt silently accumulates. Then I think about the subtlety of sin. Sometimes I’m too busy to look deeper. But just like the filters on the AC/heater, which need routine cleaning, I need to regularly bring my heart before God and ask for His cleansing forgiveness.

I wonder how much longer the unit could have kept going with all that dirt. And now that it's clean, I hope it runs more efficiently. My life would run so much smoother if I spent regular time asking God to search my heart. Since I accomplished so much today in the house, I am thinking tomorrow I will spend some extra time with God to examine my heart and make sure it’s ready for Christmas, too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Haste: Eagerness to Act

 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
 and they were filled with fear. (Luke 2:8-9 ESV)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:13-14 ESV)

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."
 And they went with haste . . . (Luke 2:15-16 ESV)

As Christmas approaches, my heart is beating faster. This past Sunday, our pastor asked us to reenter the story with a fresh perspective. Eyes to see. Ears to hear. Hearts to comprehend. An invitation to welcome Christmas once again.

We watch with the shepherds as they encounter the glory of God. Great fear and trembling overcomes them. The mighty messenger angel calms their fears. And just as they are beginning to recover, ten thousands of thousands, a multitude of more angels proclaims the greatest news—“A Savior has been born in Bethlehem! Just like God said! All glory and honor and praise and majesty be unto His name!”

The angels part just as suddenly as they appeared. The shepherds have seen the glory of God! Their hearts race, their minds whir and their bodies move. They make haste. “Let’s go see this thing!” And the thing they find—A mother and a father with a baby lying in a manger. This thing that happened was made known to them by God, to mere shepherds whom no one would even ask to represent them on the witness stand in a law of court.

But God. God chooses them to be His first witnesses, the first ones to hear the good news proclaimed and see it fulfilled— the first ones to testify to the world: “We have seen our Savior. We have been in the presence of God. He has been born among us.”

The shepherds return to their flocks. Praising and glorifying. Hooting and hollering. Causing a stir in the community: “Will wonders never cease?” Causing a mother to ponder and treasure: “Can it be that my God should be born for me?”

Monday, December 19, 2011

Calm: A Period or Condition of Freedom from Storms

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:39 ESV

Overtake us.
Raging through us with
Much fear.
Stifling our Peace.

Christ speaks with
Leaving in His wake
More faith.

A storm of tasks overwhelm me as a face today. I grab Jesus Calling and the words calm me: “If you focus too much on these…tasks, trying to get them all out of the way, you will discover they are endless…Seek My Face continually throughout this day. Let My Presence bring order to your thoughts, infusing Peace into your entire being” (Young). My shoulders relax and I take a deep breath, ready for another day.

As I read through the gospel of Mark, another storm catches my attention. Jesus and his disciples are moving around Galilee, so one night they climb into a boat to cross over to the next town. A storm pops up producing great fear in the disciples. Jesus sleeps. The disciples frantically poke him, crying “Don’t you care? Wake up! Do something! We’re going to die!” Jesus rises. He rebukes the wind, “Peace! Be still!” Immediately calm returns, a great calm.

Silent awe fills the scene, and then Jesus rebukes again. This time he addresses the disciples, “Now are you afraid? Don’t you know me yet? Where is your faith?” The rebuke stings, yet they marvel and talk among themselves, “Such authority! Can you believe this? Who is this man?” Jesus restores their rest, their natural fear ceases and their faith has been reinforced. What a storm of emotions must have been rippling through their hearts and minds, yet reverent respect overrides every other thought or feeling to take hold of their hearts.

Jesus appeared to be sleeping through their storm. But as soon as they run to Him and wake Him, He sets everything back in order. I find it hard to understand this aspect of the story. Maybe it was just a lesson for the disciples to strengthen their faith at this point in their relationship. I think it is hard to admit that sometimes, it feels like Jesus isn’t paying attention to our circumstances. But He is present. And for some reason, He waits for us to rouse Him into action. Jesus’ life remains a paradox, sleeping yet alert.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hope: To Cherish a Desire with Anticipation

“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25 ESV)

Eternally Focused!

This morning I woke up with great hopes of accomplishing everything for Christmas and more. Since I have finished with school stuff, I was gearing up to dive into the Christmas rush. I almost fell for that trap, but instead I retreated to the quiet of my couch to read the devotionals scattered on the coffee table, asking God for a word. A word to keep me focused on Advent. I opened Jesus Calling and read words of hope:

Your longing for heaven is good, because it is an extension of your yearning for Me. The hope of heaven is meant to strengthen you, filling you with wondrous Joy . . . the phrase hope of heaven highlights the benefits you can enjoy even while remaining on earth. This hope keeps you spiritually alive during the dark times of adversity; it brightens your path and heightens your awareness of My Presence. (Young 366)

Then I picked up God’s Love Letters to You, and the theme continued:

If you could see right now what is happening in the unseen world, you would be filled with hope. . . The hope I provide anchors a weary, empty, troubled soul . . . Beneath difficult feelings, hope encourages by giving you reason to persevere with the joy of anticipation. Happiness depends on present blessing, which I do not guarantee. Joy depends on future hope, which I do guarantee. Do not expect to feel good. You may. You may not. My work of hope reaches into the center of your soul to strengthen your character and deepen your resolve in any circumstance of life. (Crabb 56)

Rich thoughts to chew on. I want my life to be more and more marked by hope, rather than despairing about what I think I don’t have. I will still get caught up in the moment, but I want to do it with an eye to the future planned by Jesus. That future where we all get to live with Him forever in heaven, no longer prisoners of this temporal world. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Embrace: To Clasp in the Arms; Cherish

The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds' feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]! (Habakkuk 3:19 AMP)

“Know this: those who live by faith will struggle in ways that those who live to make their lives work will never know. It is that struggle, to believe despite desperate pain and confusion that a good plan is unfolding, that will open your eyes to see Me more clearly.” (God’s Love Letters to You, Dr. Larry Crabb)

Habakkuk is one of my favorite minor prophets. I could just hug him for being so real. By the way, his name means “Embraced by God.” Habakkuk prophesied judgment upon Israel, not a pleasant task. Everything was falling apart. Yet he rejoices in God! He knows God is his strength. He knew how to worship God. He ends his book with a song, lamenting the situation, and yet his song concludes by rejoicing in God!

In the Amplified version, the first verse gives direction to how to approach this prayer song: “A PRAYER of Habakkuk the prophet set to wild, enthusiastic, and triumphal music” (Habakkuk 3:1 AMP). His faith rocked!

The disparity of good and evil around him caused him anguish, but he wasn’t afraid to ask God questions. His faith was bolstered by thinking deeply; he had to ponder hard questions. In the Literary Study Bible, Ryken mentions that Habakkuk was a philosopher of sorts. His oracles reflect “the branch of philosophy known as theodicy (reconciling God’s goodness toward the human race and his omnipotence, considered within a context of evil and suffering)” (1413). As the narrative of Habakkuk unfolds, he remonstrates with God over the pain and injustice he witnesses, then God answers. After their dialogue, Habakkuk pens his prayer song.

As I contemplate the coming of Jesus into our sin tainted world, I marvel at His courage to live among us in order to embrace our flesh, to suffer our punishment, to experience death and resurrection so that we might be reconciled and embraced by Him. Marvelous, matchless love!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ponder: To Think or Consider Quietly, Soberly, and Deeply

“Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”
(Psalm 111:2 NIV)

“And all men shall [reverently] fear and be in awe; and they will declare the work of God, for they will wisely consider and acknowledge that it is His doing.” (Psalm 64:9 AMP)

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NIV)

What are you pondering these days? I am in awe of all that God has been accomplishing in and around me this Advent season. Today I finished my last two papers and my last ever final exam as an undergraduate. I really just wanted to suggest today that you ponder the Goodness and Grace of God as we continue this season of welcoming Christmas. Maybe tomorrow, I will have something more profound to offer once I ponder for awhile.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Hurry: Disturbed or Disorderly Activity

“. . . those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” (Isaiah 43:29b NIV)

“Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

Reasons to
Yourself Ragged

My Anxiety

“Hurry up! Hurry up! Only 13 days until Christmas!” This is what my internal holiday clock mutters to me this morning. I want to yell back, “Don’t remind me! I know, I know!” But the Holy Spirit quietly hushes me during this rush of anxious thoughts. “Just enjoy today. Watch and see what I am going to accomplish. Trust me.”

God’s not in a hurry, so why am I? He has faithfully ordered my previous days and He will direct me this day as well. Yet, it is a constant exchange of confessing my anxiety and yielding to the reassuring presence and peace of Christ. I must place my hope in God once again, asking Him to remind me that there is only one thing that really matters. Sitting at the feet of Jesus, while He settles my heart in His presence, inviting me to sing praises to His name and soaking up His peace. Only then will I be ready to face the day ahead.

Whatever tasks loom before me, like final papers and final exams and Christmas shopping, I will trust God to help me finish. He never disappoints! He always comes through, and even if I feel frazzled or fear failure, His love never fails.

For now it is time to play Christmas carols and worship Him, as I move forward into the work of this day, not tomorrow or next week, but just today. May His calming Holy Spirit breathe peace as you live out this day.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rest: Peace of Mind or Spirit


"Cease striving and know that I am God . . .” (Ps 46:10a NASB)

Remember to
Enjoy and Absorb.
Trying so Hard.


Why is it so hard to rest? We were designed to rest. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made on account of and for the sake of man…” (Mark 2:27 AMP). This comforts me. God is not asking me to fill every moment of my life with activity. He wants me to take time off from worrying and fussing.

As I approach the end of this semester, this journey of going back to school for personal development, I marvel at all I have learned. I could tell you all my new knowledge about literature or how I survived College Algebra. Yet my greatest lessons had to do with trusting God, which included learning how to rest, how to surrender time to Him.

This semester especially, I kept hearing the gentle call to rest, to absorb, to enjoy the content. To not try so hard at getting it right and getting the perfect grade. This idea applies to any aspect of our lives. Why do I think that I control time? Time is God’s gift, and when I realize this, my life has more peace and less anxiety.

The gospels show Jesus resting in a way that reflects His Father’s intentions for the Sabbath. He healed, He modeled love and He even ate with His disciples. Rest doesn’t always mean inactivity, but it does cultivate a confident trust in God’s ability to calm and provide everything in His time.

As the Christmas season often pushes us into frenzy, I want to invite you to rest. To take some time to reflect on the goodness of God. To follow Jesus, who is “Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sin: A State of Human Nature in Which the Self is Estranged from God

Interesting statistic that popped up on my screen when I was looking up the definition of sin: "Sin is currently in the top 40% of lookups on"

“She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus . . . for He will save His people from their sins [that is, prevent them from failing and missing the true end and scope of life, which is God].” (Matthew 1:21 AMP)

Saying, Shouting, Screaming—
“I don’t
Need God!”

What does sin have to do with Christmas? Everything! The very reason Jesus was born. It’s not a pleasant thought. I’d rather think about decorating the house and sip coffee while listening to Christmas carols. Yet all around me suffering screams out for notice. I can’t ignore that something is horribly wrong. Life is painful, yet I put so much energy into avoiding this truth or finding relief.

Sin and evil are real. A friend recently explained that evil is the lack of the intended good. This really pierced my heart. It could be easy enough to point out the evil of others, but God in His grace points the finger back at me. I have a moral evil in my heart that needs to be eradicated. Yes, Jesus has saved me from sin, but the struggle remains to resist sinful choices, attitudes and even behavior.

Frustration reveals my lack of trust. Anger indicates a loss of love. Selfishness is the fear of lacking recognition, affirmation and validation of who I am. The list could go on, but it is helpful for me to think about how each sin points to a lack that was intended goodness. Contemplating this truth changes my mind when I am faced with temptation to sin, to offend, to tell God “I don’t need YOU!”

Sin is the foolish belief that I can make my own life better or good.

God’s love brings to my attention my ingrained tendency to refuse Him. His grace reaches out and asks me to trust Him with the struggle of living.

Today's reading from God’s Love Letters to You gives me hope as I face the truth that sin is real:

No matter how great your pain or how confusing and intense your suffering, live in the mystery of My love. Struggle to trust me.

Do not live with the priority of making your life in this world as good as you can make it. You will suffer, at times unfairly, but you will be given what you need to enter strongly and wisely with supernatural love into every circumstance you face.

Doing so will be your joy, your hope and you deepest fulfillment now as you look forward to a world where every child runs and laughs. (Crabb)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Story: An Account of Incidents or Events

“If you've heard this story before, don't stop me, because I'd like to hear it again.”
 (Groucho Marx)

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:11-14 KJV)

I love to keep a journal. This is the place where I recount my day, where I daydream about the future, basically where I keep track of my story. I also like to collage. Rip pictures and words from magazines that inspire me and then glue them down to enjoy the serendipity and meaning that I might glean from the new arrangement. For Advent, I decided to join these two loves. The pictures and the words prompt me to write and reflect on something new.

On the page I opened for today was pasted the word...story.

Something about that word just warms my heart. Give me a good story and all is well. Maybe that’s what I love about the Bible; it’s full of good stories. In it we meet all kinds of people and situations. As I mentioned before I am reading a daily devotion that has thoughts related to each book of the Bible written in the form of a love letter from God. Today the reading was from one of the most romantic stories of the Bible—Ruth.

Girl meets boy. Boy falls in love with girl. They get married and live happily ever after. Not that they didn't have to overcome quite a few obstacles to get to this ending. Part of the happy ending is that they become the ancestors of the central figure of Scripture—Jesus. The reading in the devotional shed a little different light on what a happy ending means:

“Ruth’s life is a they-all-lived-happily-ever after story, but it is not a parable of My power to make life comfortable; it is a parable of My power to make people holy. Know this: holiness and only holiness brings joy. No problem in your life, whether difficult problems such as disadvantages and loss, or agreeable problems, such as wealth, can stop My plan. Faith and hope together release love. And love is holiness. Hear what I’m saying in this love letter: no matter how dark the world around you, no matter how difficult the world inside you, My plan [love] overcomes all obstacles…” (God's Love Letters to You, Dr. Larry Crabb)

Love conquers all. Love never fails. Let’s enter the greatest love story all over again as we contemplate the coming of Jesus as a babe, and ultimately as the Lover of our Souls.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gift: A Notable Capacity

“Everything in life is most fundamentally a gift. And you receive it best, and you live it best,
by holding it with very open hands.” (Leo O’Donovan)

“I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil-this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.
God does it so that men will revere him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:9-14 NIV)

Gift is a big word this time of year. What gift do you want for Christmas, we ask our loved ones? Sometimes I hint at what gift I’d like. Gifts are good. They express our love and concern and creativity.

We are born with a notable capacity for living. This is gift.

Today I was contemplating the difference between accepting gifts and demanding them. I want health. I want rest. I want blessing. But am I willing to settle for none of these. I am willing to embrace God alone. This is hard. I am needy. I like material things. I enjoy food. I desire appreciation and companionship. But if all these were taken away, would I still think my life was a gift?

What is the notable capacity of life? To love, this is the burden God has laid on us. To love is to give. This is indeed one of the hardest things God asks of us, of me. Will I love this Christmas? How can I rest in His love and know it is enough? These are the questions I am asking today.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Feast: Something That Gives Unusual or Abundant Enjoyment


“These are the LORD's appointed feasts,
the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times.”
(Leviticus 23:4 NIV)

Last Sunday inaugurated a new year. The new liturgical year or as some call it the church calendar starts with Advent. My welcoming of this holy season has been slow. In between resting from a cold and going to classes, I snatch a few moments here and there to contemplate the upcoming feast of Christmas. Remembering, recounting, retelling the beautiful story of a child born into our world brings comfort to my soul.

We will be feasting on favorite foods, traditional candies and cookies and the home baked gifts from friends. Sharing food together brings abundant enjoyment. Today I had the joy of going with a dear friend to a farmers’ market. The fresh produce stacked on tables, colorful cauliflower of orange, white and violet; along with homemade pies and fresh roasted coffee beans were available. We each bought a bunch of carrots. We sampled the coffee and chatted with the vendors like new found, yet old friends. I bought a small pear apple pie to feast on tonight with my family.

These are the sweet little feasts that bring me material joy. In the same sense, I desire little feasts for my spirit and for yours this season, like lingering on a portion of Scripture that draws us closer to the heart of God or offering a little devotional book to hold in our hands. I want to stir up an appetite for the goodness of God and feasting on His grace, instead of the gloom and worries of life. May we often take refuge from the hustle and bustle of the world pressing in around us. To enjoy the blessing of presence, the sharing of a meal and celebrating the Giver, these are my idea of a feast.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Announce: To Give Notice of the Arrival, Presence, or Readiness Of

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her,"Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!"

But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was.

(Luke 1:26-29 NKJV)

Yesterday I was greeted with an unusual message on the refrigerator white board: “Viva La Revolucion!” I wondered at it, and also noticed the Scripture reference: 1 Timothy 4:12. I looked it up to see what was behind the announcement of this revolution in our home, it says, “Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” I figured the message at youth group must have really moved the messenger’s heart and he felt compelled to announce it publicly.

It wasn’t until the afternoon, when the younger son came home that the revelation of this revolution was to become clearer. Over pancakes at a local restaurant the night before, the older son and the younger son with a friend discussed the idea of getting an apartment together in January. This was a sudden announcement for me. We had been telling the boys that they needed to move out in the future because they are in their twenties now and they have decent jobs. To be honest the reality of this declaration hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but their readiness to move forward delights my heart. They want to band together with other young believers and be an example in conduct and service to the body of Christ.

I am thankful for their resolve to live dedicated lives, yet their revolution impacts my world. This morning as I was thinking of their announcement other pending news overwhelmed my heart. Soon I will be sending out the announcement of my graduation from college and the birth of a book (I go to pick up the self-published fruits of this labor of love today!) My life is changing rapidly, but in so many good ways. I also am looking forward to the arrival of my sister and her four kids after Christmas to spend a season in St. Louis.

This good news thrills my heart. Yet I have to consider the impact these events will have on my current perspective of life. These ponderings brought to mind Mary, the mother of Jesus, as her world was changed with the most amazing news ever! She was to give birth to God’s son! Now, that’s a revolution!

As we consider the good news announced by Gabriel to Mary and to the multitude of angels to the shepherds, may our hearts thrill with the announcement that God is With Us, even now, through the Presence of His Holy Spirit. God wants a revolution in our heart that will overflow with love, joy and peace toward others. Will you join me in observing this Christmas as a beginning of something new and revolutionary? Will we be willing once again to announce the birth of Jesus Christ as the most wonderful news ever? “Viva La Incarnation! Spread the Love of Jesus!” and "Glory to God in the Highest!"

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Celebrate: To Observe a Notable Occasion with Festivities

“They will celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.”
(Psalm 145:7 NIV)

Come with
Eternal Hallelujahs!
Bring loud
Enter in!

One way to welcome Christmas is to celebrate. As the years go by, and as our family has grown up, our celebrations have transformed. As a young wife and mother, I wanted traditions to observe that would be just ours. Advent piqued my interest as it was a new tradition for me.

I remember making my first Advent wreath out of greenery, votive candles arranged in a wreath form and a single candlestick for the white Christ candle. My husband and I lit the candles each Sunday and read from Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration. Later when the boys were big enough they would fight over who got to blow out the candles. We did the crafts and activities that went along with the readings.

A couple years ago, each one of us took a Sunday sharing a Scripture and devotional thought. The last year or two it has been harder to gather together. And just when I think that some traditions have been outgrown, I find out that my twenty-one year old son still wants a chocolate Advent calendar to count the days until Christmas.

In a moment of feeling “better” from my cold, I ran around town this afternoon to find him one. But they were sold out. Not to be discouraged, I came up with an alternative. I found chocolate foil wrapped ornaments. I decided to pull out our little tabletop tree and decorated it with the candy. I had another little tree, which I decorated for our twenty-three old, so he won’t feel left out.

I have a sweet little arrangement on the buffet. It’s starting to feel a little more like Christmas around here. I also dusted off the Christmas music, which is playing in the background even now. It’s time to celebrate! Let the festivities begin!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amplify: Increase the Volume Of

“He will bring us goodness and light. . .”
 from Do You Hear What I Hear?
(Felix Bernard and Richard B. Smith)

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8 NKJV)

“And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth.” (John 1:14 AMP)

It is the third day into the Advent season and I haven’t dug out my Christmas music yet. What is wrong with me? I am taking a little longer this year to warm up to my usual Christmas traditions. I am between two worlds—finishing my degree and welcoming Christmas.

My student status soon comes to an end. I am thankful. It was a lifelong dream to go to college, and even though I waited until my forties, it has been a great experience. Yet I am ready to move on to a new season. The thing with going to school is that you have to squeeze your regular life in around the academic schedule. Amazingly every year Christmas still gets celebrated, and I carve out moments of reflection between reading text and writing papers.

As this season ends, my prayer is that God would amplify Himself and His word in my life. I need to hear from Him. I want to see His goodness in the land of the living. I have seen Him as a student, but now I want to experience a fresh measure of what He has in store. I am expectant.

Today in my Advent journey, the book of the Bible highlighted in the devotion was Exodus. The subtitle gave this invitation: Consider The Lengths I Go To, Just to Be With You. Isn’t this invitation the essence of Christmas? Let’s consider the length, breadth, height and width of His love together this year.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Grouse: Complain; Grumble

“An inward grouse is a devastating thing.” Amy Carmichael

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise:
be thankful unto him, and bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting;
and his truth endureth to all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5 KJV

Thanksgiving comes but once a year, yet I desire to cultivate a thankful heart the whole year through. It’s not easy. I came down with a whopper of a cold over Thanksgiving break. My tendency is to whine and moan between the fits of coughing. I’ve heard somewhere that it helps to thank God for the bad, as well as the good. But I heard even better advice today. Thank God for his goodness and grace.

This evening I watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The transformation of the Grinch’s heart speaks to me of the transforming grace of Christ. The episode opens with the townspeople singing: "Welcome Christmas"

To welcome Christmas. . . that is what I’d like to do over the next few weeks. Will you join me?

It takes conscious effort to move from grousing to rejoicing. I know this from personal experience. Even this morning, I almost gave in to wallowing in self-pity. “Woe is me, I have a cold.” My plight is not unusual; probably the majority of us will have a cold this winter, as it is called the “common” cold.

Part of my complaint was common; I don’t have time to be sick. I got things to do: cleaning, studying, buying, decorating and apparently now—resting. I chafe against rest. If had pushed myself today, I wouldn’t have had time to reflect on the devastating effects of grumbling. I would have missed out on practicing the art of giving thanks on all occasions. So maybe I didn’t thank God for my cold, but I did thank Him for his goodness in reminding me that rest is an important part of life.

Usually I pick a devotional book that has daily readings for the Advent season. This year I picked up a book, I read earlier this year. It’s called God’s Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional Experience written by Dr. Larry Crabb. Each day focuses on a different book in the Bible. Today was Genesis—a very good place to start—the beginning. Written from the first person perspective of God, the subtitle for today’s reading warms my heart: I Have a Plan: Trust Me. The devotion raises the question of why doesn’t God immediately relieve our pain. It didn’t answer the question, but gave me space to contemplate it. The last sentence offers food for thought: “You must live now in the tension between anguish and hope.” Again, I found no direct answer, but something to mull over. How can I live in this tension? Will I trust God’s plan?

My expectation after Thanksgiving was to gear up for the end of the semester at the highest speed possible, but my health has slowed me down. After a day of resting in God’s presence, reading books and ruminating on God’s words— I give thanks for His grace for this day.

I am ready to welcome Christmas at a pace that embraces the goodness of God.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Coming Soon!

Kel Rohlf loves WORDS! In this little devotional book, she invites you to “see” God through definitions, Scriptures and everyday experiences. She points out ways to notice God more. So grab your Bible and a dictionary, and relish the adventure of Defining Moments Overflowing with Living Words.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Occasion: A Favorable Opportunity

“Taste and see that the LORD is good.
Oh, the joys of those who trust in him!”
                           Psalm 34:8 NLT

photo by Kel Rohlf

“Don’t save anything for a special occasion.
Every day you’re alive is a special occasion.” (Unknown)

“If it’s worth seeing or hearing or doing, I want to see and hear and do it now.” (Ann Wells)

What is it about keeping things for a special occasion? I have this beautiful museum quality journal that a dear friend bestowed upon me. It remains on my shelf. One of these days, I will put my most beautiful thoughts in there, right? Fine china collects dust in the buffet. Craft projects beckon to be finished. And I used to make homemade bread. Today on my drive home, I wondered why I’m waiting for a special time or uninterrupted life to do things that I enjoy.

I stopped by the grocery store for my weekly groceries and made sure to pick up some yeast. When I got home, after unloading the food, I searched the internet for a Pumpkin Yeast Bread recipe. Gathering the ingredients, pulling out my Kitchen aid mixer and preparing the dough took little time. While I puttered around the house the dough doubled in size in its bowl. I divided the dough into a loaf and twelve rolls to rise again. The process of waiting really didn’t hinder me from doing my usual meandering around the house checking email, working on a craft project and just relaxing. By dinner time the aroma of bread, ginger, pumpkin and cloves filled the house. I slathered butter on the tops of the rolls and bread. Then I munched on a roll as soon as it was cool enough to pop into my mouth. Mmm…so good!

Another thought that occurred to me this afternoon had to do with spending time in God’s presence through His word. Why do I keep looking for a particular Bible study? I keep searching for the perfect “read the Bible in a year” plan, but in my quest I neglect to read it at all. I read devotional books, snatching bites of the Word. Yet I long for a full course meal. My Bible intake comes in spurts or on special occasions like Sunday morning at church. I want more. I don’t want to save God’s word for certain occasions like celebrations and Bible studies. His word is my daily bread.

I am not sure how I will accomplish it, but I want to wake up tomorrow, grab my Bible along with my cereal bowl in order to savor God in the moment.

"For He says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor , now is the day of salvation."
                                                             2 Corinthians 6:2 NIV

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sustain: To Give Support or Relief To

Would your wealth
or even all your mighty efforts
sustain you so you would not be in distress?     
Job 36:19 NIV

Your frustration with everything, including yourself, makes it possible to turn in deeper dependence [upon God]. Your weariness requires the strength of supernatural love to continue serving [God]. Your haunting sense of futility shuts you up to a kind of endurance that can be sustained only with hope in [Jesus’] return.             
God’s Love Letters to You, Dr. Larry Crabb

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.   
Psalm 51:12 NIV

How can it be November already? I am in the last weeks of my final semester at UM-St. Louis, looking ahead to the freedom from the pressure of meeting deadlines. Amazingly, I feel fairly calm. God has sustained me thus far, what will keep Him from continuing to do so? I will rest in His faithfulness.

Even though I am not facing a major trial, I find myself facing common frustrations of daily living. Like, when will my house ever be clutter free? I dread the weariness of waiting for the next season. And often, I am taunted by the futility of organizing and reorganizing my life, my stuff and my schedule. The mundane seems harder to manage than the unknown future.

Lately God has been pressing my heart about a tendency to seek blessings instead of His presence. He confronts me about my practice of thanking Him for things, rather than expressing a deep gratitude for forgiveness and grace. He reminds me that joy comes from experiencing His salvation, more than from the comfortable pleasures of this life.

These human experiences of frustration, weariness and futility come upon us like labor pains. We want to them to cease, but if they do, we will not be brought to maturity. Instead, we need to breathe through the pain in order to experience joy of relying on God’s strength. Remember, weeping lasts for the night, but joy comes in the morning! How I long for the morning when Jesus shall return and take us from this weary world. Until then, I will depend on His sustenance.

Whether I am struggling, suffering or sliding through life with ease, I need God to sustain me. Only His love can keep me from despair. Hope pours into me through the Holy Spirit. His word nourishes me. Will I give up my own striving, and rest in His presence?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Capacious: Able to Contain Much; Roomy

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV

“Unbelief fixes its gaze on men, and things, and likelihoods and possibilities and circumstances. Faith will not concern herself with these; she refuses to spend her time and waste her strength in considering them. Her eye is on her Lord; and she is persuaded; that He is well able to supply all her need, and to carry her through all difficulties and straits.” (F.B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm)

One day I was journaling to God about how incapable I felt, especially regarding the work load this semester. In His gentle way, He reminded me that He was able and capable. While I was looking up the word capable in my handy dictionary, I came upon the adjective: capacious. Struck by the immensity of this one word’s meaning, I found a new way to describe God. This word was big enough to encompass all of God’s character.

Now that I know this word, I have a new lease on life. When I start feeling inadequate, because really I am; I say “God, You are Capacious!” I smile to myself because the word feels like a made up word. But it’s not. It sounds like capable and spacious merged together. And then I laugh because God is spacious; there’s so much room in His love. And God is capable of accomplishing so much more than I ever could imagine.

I am experiencing His capacious love, grace and strength on a daily basis. I am often juggling homework, housework and heart work. I recognize my limitations. But I rejoice that God can contain so much more than I can. Sometimes I believe He purposely places us in a situation, where we have to rely on his capacious nature. Won’t you enter into His presence, and just see how roomy God really is? He’s waiting for you and for me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Idolize: To Love or Admire to Excess

Therefore, my dearly beloved, shun (keep clear away from, avoid by flight if need be) any sort of idolatry (of loving or venerating anything more than God).            1 Corinthians 10:14 AMP

“My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for his creature: of whom I had made an idol.”

(Jane speaking of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)

“. . . I was very sad for Hindley’s sake; he had room in his heart only for two idols—his wife and himself: he doted on both, and adored one, and I couldn’t conceive how he would bear the loss.”

(Ellen Dean speaking of Hindley in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte)

Idolatry is a tough topic. It is not the first sin I tend to confess, when I sense my spiritual life is suffering. It’s easy enough to admit pride or telling a lie, but I do not want to be identified as an idolater. And it is even dangerous to mention this because some may argue with me that a true follower of Christ cannot be an idolater. However, I am not talking about a lifestyle of idolatry. I am referring to a tendency of mine to place more affection on other people, other things and even on my own need for comfort and contentment than on God.

In my literary “travels” this semester, I keep coming across narratives that point out the downfall of idolatry is a person’s life. Jane Eyre admits that her love for Mr. Rochester has consumed her to the point she neglects God. Hindley, one character in Wuthering Heights, so idolizes his wife that after her death, he neglects his son, his estate and his own well-being by choosing a life of dissipation. Wuthering Heights is a case study for the demise of those who idolize others. Heathcliff resents everyone because he can’t have his idol. Edgar won’t confront Catherine, after she becomes his wife, which I believe is a direct result of his fear of offending the woman he idolizes. Those are just the major examples of idolatry in the novel. In some of my other readings, people become so consumed with the beauty of another character that they miss out on a healthy relationship with the person.

I understand their dilemma—the physical presence of perceived perfection in another person eases my ache for something that will completely satisfy. From the beginning God commanded us not to partake in idolatry. It is interesting that one of the Hebrew words for idol can mean “worthless” (Mounce). Anything that takes our affection from God is worthless. Even if it seems that the person, thing or achievement gives us a fleeting sense of value, in the end it will disappoint. God is the only one who keeps his promise to always satisfy.

Early in our marriage I did idolize my husband, and when we were separated for seven months due to his military service, I was devastated. I literally couldn’t function. My mom came to live with me to help me with our son, and I sought counsel and support from other believers. It was in Les' absence that I realized that I had placed my hope in a man, rather than in God. Let me say something else here, the person we idolize is under immense pressure to live up to our expectations. Putting them on a pedestal sets them up for a fall, because they are incapable of loving us exactly like God.

Idolatry is subtle, and can manifest itself in many forms. It occurred to me the other day that sometimes my concern for others can become idolatrous, especially when I think I can offer them the kind of help only God can. I am neither all-powerful, nor ever-present, and it is foolish for me to act like I can offer that kind of relationship to another person. Yet I find myself doing this over and over again, until God humbles me, and shows me that I have become actually quite arrogant in thinking that I can “fix” someone else. And even more insidiously, I believe they need my help, and I’m the only one who can offer it. This is painful to admit, but a relief when God gently rebukes me, and reminds me of my limits.

Lest this become a depressing topic, may I invite you to flee idolatry in order to pursue God. He, like the father waiting for his prodigal son, waits each day for us to realize our blunder and to run home to Him.

I'll leave you with a quote speaking of our essential need for God in our lives: “All eternity is held in one moment in Your presence, and all of time is empty apart from Your fellowship.” (Frances J. Roberts)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Direct (Adj.): Frank; Straight-Forward

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.

Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
                                                         Psalm 139:23-24 NLT

“Restate to yourself what the purpose of your life is. The destined end of man is not happiness, nor health, but holiness.”                        
                                      Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

As each new season approaches, I find myself musing about the direction of my life. Am I headed in the right direction? Do I need to make any adjustments? I ask God to direct my paths, as he promises he will in the Psalms and Proverbs. One of my objectives in seeking direction contains an element of needing the definition of what my life could look like if I were in line with God’s will.

One place I look for definitions is in my dictionary. One morning before the new school year started, I was thinking about whether my life was on the grid of God’s will. (A friend had shared this concept, and I was plumbing the depths of the metaphor). The word “grid” was fairly straight forward in its definition—“vertical and horizontal lines evenly spaced”. Not really the inspirational meaning I was looking for, so I flipped back to the definition of direct. The first entry was its verb usage, which offered this definition: “address; cause to move or follow a certain course; show (someone) the way”; all common meanings that I had mulled over before. But this time I went a little further and found the adjective usage of the word, which was “frank or straight-forward”. In that moment, my heart did a flip from my usual begging for clarity in reference to my life course to asking for God to be direct with me.

I no longer just wanted him to tell me what to do with my life, but I wanted him to look into my heart and redirect its course. Is there anything in my heart that hinders God’s will for my life? Does he see any hurtful ways that I relate to others? It was a bit frightening at first to ask these questions, but after a while I saw the freedom that comes from directness. Who wouldn’t rather that others be direct and frank with them, especially if there is something amiss in our appearance? Even more, I want to know if I am being a jerk.

My new approach to prayer will be to ask God to be frank with me, as the psalmist prayed, “Point out my sinfulness.” Not so I can squirm under scrutiny, but so I can be free from insulting God and hurting others.

“Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ.”
                                                                                                                 2 Thessalonians 3:5 NKJV

Monday, August 15, 2011

Retreat: A Place of Privacy or Safety

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
(Psalm 42:2 NIV)

“Possibly the barrier is not time at all. What we are up against is not really the pressure of events, not the many demands on our time, but a stubbornness within ourselves, a hard-heartednenss that will not yield to transformation and change.” (Emilie Griffin, Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat)

The squeal and swoosh of the school bus brakes have returned to the neighborhood. Just when I was getting into a summer routine, the bell is ringing for classes to start. I am ready to finish my final semester at UM-St. Louis. I am one of those non-traditional students, who late in life decided she wanted her college education after all. As I gather notebooks and textbooks into my backpack, I begin to lament that my unhurried times in the gazebo gazing off into the cosmos of God’s heart will soon be over.

Instead my time will be filled with huge amounts of reading and writing papers, and collaborating with other students on projects to fulfill our requirements. How will I meet with God in the midst of this chaotic pace? It occurs to me that I will have to plan “retreats” during the week. This will take discipline because some days I will be overwhelmed and others just apathetic about anything. These feelings occur on a regular basis, so I want to plan in advance a strategy to ward off complacency.

Thankfully most of my classes start around 11am this semester, giving me more time to linger in the refuge of mornings on the porch or snatched moments of contemplation in the gazebo. This all sound a bit romantic, but sometimes I need to couch my life in these terms to find the adventure and joy of it all.

I like the concept of a retreat because it is an intentional way to escape the pressures of life. Usually when I think of retreat it is a time and place set apart with a group of people to reflect on God and learn more about how He wants me to live out this life. Since I don’t really have time for one of those right now, I want to incorporate the idea of retreat into my regular schedule.

In reading Emilie Griffin’s, Wilderness Time, a book about spiritual retreats, my interest increased in designing personal retreats in the midst of every day, ordinary life. I don’t know where this interest will lead me, but I hope to see some fruit in my personal life, and hopefully extend an invitation in the future for others to design their own personal retreats.

In the meantime, may I encourage you to spend some time thinking about and asking yourself, “When can I meet with God?” And maybe even contemplate why this is a good idea?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Journey: A Day’s Travel

"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage."
(Psalm 84:5 NIV)

“. . .they relish the spirit of the journey, which is as much about the camaraderie as it is about reaching the intended destination.” (“Great Journey, Great Loop” by Bobbye Kenyon, Boating World magazine)

I love to travel. Planning our next destination is often the topic of conversation, when my husband and I are returning from a trip. We dream about the possibilities. We discuss the benefits of going to certain places during certain times of the year. While trips are fun and exciting at the time, I often come back from a trip a little blue. I miss the freedom from responsibility. The day after a trip I usually want to sleep or feel a great pressure to get something done.

This is where I find myself today, coming off of a great family time at Sunset Bay, NY. Our days included coffee in the morning, meals throughout the day, sunbathing on the beach, playing Pictionary and watching the sunset each evening. Now that I am home, I am back to figuring out my schedule. What do I need to get done before classes start in three weeks? How can I stick to a “one day at a time” philosophy, when it seems so many duties are facing me? Laundry, grocery shopping, doctor’s appointments, catching up with friends and some summer school assignments loom before me.

I’d rather just go back to bed, but the day is calling. We often think of a journey as travelling from place to place, but from its French root word- “jour” there is a sense of daily. To separate the long term journey mindset from the daily journey is not that easy. My romantic side wants to dwell on the great hope of the next destination, but my practical side needs to live in the day. How can I add a little romance to the daily?

I think it comes from realizing that each day has potential for camaraderie with God and others. God’s presence with Moses and the Israelites was a daily reality. The word for journey in Hebrew literally means to "break camp". The Israelites camped out until God initiated the next move. (See Numbers 9:15-23). To be attuned to God’s movement in my life takes paying attention. This takes time, energy and faith. I want to become more and more yielded to his Spirit, and respond with joyful obedience. I don’t know how this looks specifically, anymore than the Israelites probably knew where they would go next. The main thing they knew was that they wanted God’s presence to be in their midst. My ultimate heart’s desire is to be so absorbed with God’s presence that is doesn’t matter if I am in a romantic state of mind or a practical state of mind, but just that I am enjoying His company no matter what life brings my way.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Name: A Word or Phrase that Constitutes the Distinctive Designation of a Person or Thing; Having an Established Reputation

Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.    (Psalm 9:10 NIV)

“The ancient Hebrews followed a practice of naming sons with magnificently descriptive words. They believed that the good name they bestowed on their offspring actually endowed the child with the power to attain its qualities. God wants us to know that the same is true for us of his names. . . And he wants us to run to the security of those names, fully persuaded of their meaning and power.”

(David Wilkerson, Hallowed Be Thy Names)

“Putting a name to a bird is the first step in preserving and protecting it. Without names, birds are generic and often ignored, but once you attach a name to a species, both it and you are transformed. For then you can consider this particular bird’s nesting requirements, its feeding niche, its migratory pathways, its singularity; and you care about its welfare.”

(Jonathon Alderfer and Jon L. Dunn, Birding Essentials)

“What’s your name?” This is the initial question when introducing ourselves, but just knowing a person’s name doesn’t mean you know that much about him or her. I can list several names of God from the Bible, even the Hebrew translations of them like: Adonai, El Elyon, El-Shaddai and Jehovah-Jireh. But if you do not know Hebrew, these are just foreign words. To get to know God better, I spend time with him becoming familiar with what his names mean.

I am not just getting a definition of his name, any more than I am looking for the literal meaning of an acquaintance’s name. In a relationship, I want to know what it means to be Joe So and So or Sue Such and Such. What has it been like living in their skin, how are they related to other people and how have they come to where they are today-- are all things I would want to know as I spend time with them. In a sense, I would get to know their reputation by living life with them.

Since the beginning of time man has not only been giving names to each other, but also to animals and plants. And then as time unfolded, we began naming places and events. We have been endowed with a propensity for naming. No wonder over the years, God has revealed himself through names. God also has been given names by those who have walked with him, because they knew that names hold much significance. This significance comes from more than just stating God’s name. God wants us to have more than just mere knowledge of his names, he desires us to experience the reputation of His names.

A recent struggle with my health brought this truth home to my heart. One spring evening, I suffered a series of incidents with numbness on the right side of my body. When I shared my symptoms, some friends advised me to get to the ER immediately. My trip to the ER landed me in the hospital overnight, and I knew that God was with me. All the tests taken the next day showed that nothing in my head or heart seemed to be the culprit. I went home thankful, and with orders to follow-up with my family doctor, yet with no clear diagnosis.

I waited a few more weeks, with this numbness still nagging at me. So I chided myself into making the phone call for the follow-up. My doctor listened attentively and ordered a MRI for my neck and my brain. I got through the neck MRI, and although it showed a bulging disc and a narrowing in the nerve area, he felt this was not the cause of my demise. Next came a month long battle to make it back into the MRI machine. Although I made it through the MRI of my neck, the experience revealed a weak spot, of which I have no control, namely, I am claustrophobic.

All through this struggle, I was praying and I was asking others to pray. I even had come across El-Shaddai, as a name of God in my Bible, and had done some digging into what it meant. Here’s what I read in the note at the bottom of the page, “El-Shaddai is the name of God which sets Him forth primarily as the strengthener and satisfier of His people. “All-sufficient” [is] . . . the characteristic use of the name in Scripture. God Almighty (El-Shaddai) not only enriches but makes fruitful.” (Note on Genesis 17:1 in New Scofield Study Bible, NIV)

The note in my Bible gave me an insight that I promptly filed in my “new knowledge” folder in my head. Then I left it there, thinking, “Wow! I never knew that about the meaning of El-Shaddai.” But God was not going to just leave me with this great knowledge; he was orchestrating a month’s worth of proving his reputation, and the experience of what it means to rely on El-Shaddai.

It took me three attempts to get through the MRI for my brain. The first attempt lasted seconds, the sounds of the machine seemed unbearable, so I squeezed my panic button, and asked to go home. God didn’t let me down; I just hadn’t quite understood yet that I was relying on my own courage to get through the procedure. I called my doctor’s office and asked if I could get some kind of sedative to get me through the test. They ordered it and I went back a week later, still covered in much prayer, and having spent the week resting and spending time with God in my secret garden gazebo.

This time, I took Les with me, and a dear friend came to sit with me again. The medicine relaxed me, and I had moral support, so I bravely walked with Les back to the machine. But once I got in the machine, I started hollering and kicking my feet for the technician to get me out of it. We were all disappointed, because I knew that God was with me, and that others had been praying. And I even had been rehearsing all the great Scripture verses about trusting in God and his promise to never leave or forsake me.

I went back home, called the doctor’s office again, telling them I really needed something else to get me through. They ordered an open MRI, but no mention of sedation. I told myself to be strong and that God would surely get me through this third attempt. I had a couple weeks before I went back and I tried not to think or talk about my trauma. I told myself I could do it. I started claiming promises that God would let me sleep through the procedure, asking friends to pray for this same type of deliverance.

My anxiety still was rising every time I thought about the MRI machine, and especially the terrifying noises that it makes. Two days before the scheduled test, I called about a sedative again. The doctor’s office ordered an increased dose. During those two days, I still wrestled with doubts about getting through this experience. On Wednesday night, I decided to act on the promise that praising God helps take away our fears. I went to a praise and communion service at a neighborhood church with two friends. As I worshipped and wept, God reassured me of his love. I confessed to him that I was a coward, and that I needed his courage, his “El-Shaddai”-ness to get me through.

The next morning with my body sleepy due to the medication, and my spirit calmed because of the surrender the night before, I groggily walked into the room with the open MRI. The technician was a very sweet woman, who got me settled. I told her I was going to say a verse before I started. So I said out loud, “When you lie down, you will not be afraid. When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” (Proverbs 3:24, NIV)

The technician offered me a plastic rosary to hold. I took the cross with Jesus’ body on it and held him in my hands. His Spirit spoke peace to me, and gave me realistic images, instead of nightmarish ideas of what the sounds were like. Instead of terrifying metal monsters, the sounds were like a jack hammer and techno music and Morse code. I didn’t fall asleep, but I definitely knew Jesus had not left or forsaken me at anytime, just this time I was experiencing his strength, sufficiency and peace.

My numbness prevails, but my heart has been opened to a deeper sensitivity of what it means to call upon the names of God. My MRI results were normal. Of course, many people question the psychological validity of that diagnosis. I am relieved to know that God will be with me during this mysterious season, and that I am not currently facing a major physical illness.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Secret Garden

“And the roses—the roses! Rising out of the grass, tangled round the sun-dial, wreathing the tree-trunks, and hanging from their branches, climbing up the walls and spreading over them with long garlands falling in cascades—they came alive day by day, hour by hour. Fair, fresh leaves, and buds—and buds—tiny at first, but swelling and working Magic until they burst and uncurled into cups of scent delicately spilling themselves over their brims and filling the garden air.” (The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett)

“I think it’s possible to forget how alive we really are. We can become dry and tired, just existing, instead of really living. We need to remind ourselves of the juice of life, and make that a habit. Find those places inside that jump for joy,, and do things that bring out your best, most magic self.” (Inspiration Sandwich by SARK)

Magic: (figuratively). “An inexplicable and remarkable influence producing surprising results; an enchanting or mystical quality; glamour, appeal. Also: exceptional skill or talent, inspired accomplishment.” (OED online)

“Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4 NIV)

A few years ago, my clever husband transformed an outgrown tree house into a gazebo in our side yard. I did not know this, but when he built the tree house with the boys, he planned one day for the floor to be lowered to ground level in case he wanted to put a shed up. We already had a shed, so we made a gazebo instead. It became my Secret Garden retreat.

Last year, I neglected this space. This spring when I went out to scrape paint and to spruce it up, I decided it was too much work, so I told my husband he could tear it down if he wanted. I just didn’t seem to care about it anymore. Yet some little children had not forgotten about it. On a Saturday not so long ago, I was talking to my nieces and nephews on Skype. They range from almost ten to four years old. The almost ten year old asked about the Secret Garden, and then they all chimed in. "Can we see your Secret Garden?" Even the four year old wanted to know about it, and she was just starting to toddle the last time they had visited and we played there.

I told them I needed some children to come help me restore the garden.

As a child I was enchanted by the story of three young people who found a neglected garden, and secretly began working to restore it. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I would ask my mother and three sisters what was a favorite story from their childhood. Unanimously they each individually mentioned The Secret Garden. The magic of that story has stayed with each one of us. I am sure we each would have different reasons why it meant so much to us.

For me it is the joy of seeing something that was neglected being restored to its former beauty. It reminds me of the work that God does in our hearts. How when we delight ourselves in Him, as He delights in us, our lives are made new. Desires are rekindled, we want to run and leap for joy. Even when we feel dry and worn out, we can count on God to bring the restoring life of the Spirit in-- to remind us that life is worth living.

Inspired by four little children, I went back out to the gazebo this week. I scrubbed it clean and decided to not repaint the floor. I gathered some items from around the yard and house, creating a little retreat for me to sit and read. Maybe I will dust off my copy of The Secret Garden.

I would love to hear about one of your favorite childhood stories from a book or even your own life.