Junk In Their Trunks

Who doesn’t love a wedding? The bride, all arrayed in her gown, tiara, veil and sometimes jewels. The groom, polished and fancy in his tuxedo or suit. A bevy of bridesmaids and cluster of groomsmen. The “best people.” The completely adorable flower girl and ring bearer. Sometimes, they get pets involved. Flowers, music, everyone in their best clothes, and the knowledge a great party with good food is soon to follow.

While a wedding is usually fun for the guests, it’s no fun a lot of the time, and is effort, energy and downright stress for the bride, groom, wedding party and/or their families. Much planning usually goes into them, and they can be occasions for family fights sometimes. Fights? Over what? Seating charts. Who gets invited and who doesn’t. Including kids (aside from the ring bearer and flower girl, and whether these will even be there), or not. Food preferences/allergies. The cake. The groom’s cake. Money is always a big one. Venue. Music choices. Decorations. Cantankerous guests. The honeymoon. The list goes on and on!

Thankfully, we didn’t have too many of these fights in planning and preparing for our wedding 38 years ago. We took care of the seating chart war by not having one. We cast our invitation net wide, and invited all our friends and relatives. Food was taken care of with a hot and cold buffet which mostly seemed to please everyone. There was only 1 cake, and everyone agreed on the flavor. Money? My mother gave us a budget (the same as my sister Judi, who was also marrying that summer), and we paid for whatever else we wanted. The venue was near the church we all agreed on, and was a suggestion of my mother’s. Music was provided by a band led by a friend of mine from grade school. We decorated the reception hall ourselves the night before. We just took care of everything as it came up, and agreed not to fight over it. (We won’t discuss our rambunctious guests from Bob’s office . . . or the Daddy/Daughter dance that almost wasn’t . . . or the Great Flower Fiasco . . . or the Polka Predicament . . . )

But just because our wedding was almost problem-free doesn’t mean our marriage has been. Oh, no! We had headaches, hassles and arguments right from the start! Bob and I are both strong-willed and stubborn, logical and determined to get our own way. He’s more quiet about it, while I have volume and emotions. Adding to it, we both had something else.

You see, dear reader, it took over 35 years of marriage for me to realize something: Everyone enters their marriages with what our culture likes to call “junk in our trunks.” We have baggage. I had, among other things, rejection and anger issues. He had, among other things, commitment and decision-making issues. We had different views about decorating, finances, child-rearing, and vacations. Our marriage put two people with that baggage together, expecting us to somehow work it all out.

I think that’s why bridal gowns have trains and tuxedos have tails, and why brides and grooms find them so popular to wear at weddings. While most people may not come into their marriages with quite all the baggage Bob and I did, or even the same kinds of baggage, we all have some.  We use those gorgeous gowns and fancy tuxedos to hide what we’re carrying along behind us, certain that if our fiance saw the full extent of it, he or she would run screaming from the church . . . At least, that’s how I felt about it, despite being aware Bob knew about a lot of mine.

Remember how I said “we were expected to work it out”? Well, the good news is we were not expected to work it out alone. Aside from friends, family, marriage books, CD’s, marriage counselors, pastors and sermons, Bob and I had an incredibly valuable resource to help us work it out. Because right from the start, within the wedding ceremony itself, we asked God to put Himself between us. We asked Him to not just to be a part of our wedding, but Senior Partner in our marriage, Whose values and opinions mattered more than our own.

Why did we do that? It goes back to a Scripture someone read as a part of that day. In Ecclesiastes 4, King Solomon said,

Two are better than one, because they have good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And although a man might prevail against one who is alone, two shall withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

Since then, I’ve found in Proverbs 16 King Solomon also said,

Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

Proverbs 16:3 (English Standard Version)

By asking God to be an active partner in our marriage, by valuing His opinions and values more than our own, we established from the very first moments a firm foundation from which to build our relationship. Without it, quite frankly, we would have been all over but the shouting and eventual divorce!

We could have chosen not to do this. We could have chosen to base our marriage on our feelings in the moment. But when the hard times came, and those feelings weren’t there, our commitment to one another needed something else to back it up. That “something else” was our personal relationships with and commitments to God, and our joint commitment to walk out our marriage together before Him.

For us, to not invite God into the center of our marriage would have been like what Jesus described in His parable of the wise and foolish builders, as recorded in Matthew 7:

Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.

Matthew 7:24-27 (English Standard Version, emphasis mine)

Had we not established our marriage on the firm foundation of our shared faith in God, in His saving work for us in the Person of Jesus Christ, in the ongoing purifying of our lives of His Holy Spirit, our marriage would have been built on sand, and would have crashed at the least calamity. And believe me, with the junk we carried into our marriage in our trunks, we set ourselves up for calamities galore, let alone the normal ones that life hands to us all.

I am not saying we were perfect then, and I am certainly by no means saying we’re perfect now! Far from it! But as my builder friends say, when the foundation is strong, the house is likely to be strong as well. Because we started with a strong foundation, because we began with God in the center, we had a basis on which to build with strength and love.

Our first efforts were, as most are, stumbling, and often came crashing down in life’s storms, at least partially. But God our Master Builder uses the wisdom of Scripture, the guidance of mentors and books, CD’s, sermons and counselors and other resources time and again to help and guide us to rebuild better. Like most things of great size and strength, it’s taken time and much effort. We’re not done. We’ll never be done, at least until we receive our eternal Heavenly reward (hopefully a very long time from now!).

If you’ve read anything else on here, dear reader, you know life’s storms have hit us, and oftentimes hit us hard. (When Life Turns Upside Down) They still hit from time to time, in big and small ways. Our “junk in our trunks” still gets in our way sometimes. But God helps us to withstand the storms, unpack more junk, drop yet more baggage behind us and move on again stronger. Each time we allow Him to unpack our junk and drop our baggage, our marriage becomes stronger and a greater testimony to God’s love and enduring faithfulness. He’s a Gentleman, who won’t force Himself in, and unpack for us. We have to allow the process to happen in order for it to work, both as individuals and as a couple. We have to work with Him.

Someone might say, “Well, I’m single! So this doesn’t apply to me!” Please allow me to point out something. We all have relationships. We all enter them with “junk in our trunks.” Many times, sadly,  other relationships end over people’s “junk,” just as many marriages do. The same God Who helps us with our “junk,” Who guides us through the issues the storms and “junk” bring up, Who heals us from the pain life causes us (and often, we cause ourselves) is ready, willing and able to help you, too. He can be your Friend, your “Junk” Dealer, your closest companion and your foundation against anything life may throw at you. But as I said, He’s a Gentleman. He’ll wait for you to ask. Of course, He might prompt the circumstances of life to throw enough at you to prompt you to ask (and throw in the proverbial towel!). But He’ll never force Himself on you. You always have only to ask.

I hope and pray you ask. In the asking, there is a Friend worth having, and immense joy for your journey.

Cathy

Advertisements

One Quiet Holy Night

Have you ever wondered what really happened in a story we’ve heard so many times before? Or do you, like all of us do at times, zone out because you’ve heard it so many times before?? Have you ever considered what things were like for those people we now see through the dim lens of history as characters? I’ve been pondering over the Christmas story as we approach the Holiday this year, and I invite you, dear readers, to join my musings. Or at least, put up with them . . .

Let’s consider the timing of the events. It was during the early years of the Roman Empire. The known Western world was at peace with itself for the first time in hundreds of years. There were open roads, patrolled by Roman armies, between countries. The speed of communication between places had never been greater, and wouldn’t be equaled again until the modern era. There was a universal language, Greek, by which everyone was understood, along with local languages and dialects. There was a stable government, prosperous commerce and people were enjoying a better standard of living than in the past.

There were also tremendous problems. Entire populations had been enslaved to please Roman masters. Taxes could be oppressive. The protective Roman army could also be brutal. Laws were stacked against anyone, not Roman, as were the courts.

And the people who knew this event was coming had been waiting for thousands of years. Told a Messiah was on His way, they lived their lives as they waited and watched. First, a people, the Jews, was chosen. Then a tribe of the Jews, as Judah was picked. Then another choice, as the kingly line was promised to David and his family forever.

And then the kingdom was gone, lost by their own sin and judgment in occupation and captivity in Babylon. And when it seemed all hope was lost, the Jews were restored to their ancient land, a mere 70 years later. War, turmoil, and occupation followed, first by the Greeks and lately by the Romans. It was only really relatively few years into the famed Pax Romana, the Roman peace that would last for the next several hundred years.

Let’s consider the extenuating circumstances. It started, as many things do, with a government edict, to receive a tax. Governments have taxed their people for countless years, and this one was no different. And yet, it was different, because to properly tax the people, their government declared there would also be a census taken. We can easily imagine the unhappiness and disenchantment this order caused among the far-scattered peoples over which this government ruled. But taxed they were to be. And the census was to be taken by everyone returning to their ancestral homes.

The uprooting, even temporarily, would be incredible! Every city’s and town’s hospitality industries, however primitive, would be stretched to the maximum with guests. Families would be staying with extended relatives when they could, or camping in fields or caves when they could not.

And this was no modern, mechanized culture like our own. This was the Iron Age, dependent on animals for transportation needs. But horses were for the well-to-do. Donkeys were if one could afford it, were what average folk used. So getting anyplace also took considerable time and often an effort, especially if one couldn’t afford animal assistance. Roads were not paved unless one was traveling in what we now know as Italy or Greece. They were dirt, dusty when dry, muddy when wet and covered with snow in the winter in places where it snowed. There was no police presence to protect from robbers, so they could also be unsafe in remote places.

Let’s consider the main “characters”. Prior to the government edict, there had been an engagement announced in a tiny town in Judea. Mary, a teenage girl, perhaps no more than 15 and just past puberty according to the custom of the times, was betrothed to Joseph, an older, established man, a carpenter. This couple was, like most around them, Jews. A Jewish betrothal was a complicated process, lasting 6 months to a year, as the groom prepared the bridal home and the bride prepared the things to go in it, and her family prepared for the commonly 3-day long wedding feast. Unusually, this couple had finalized their wedding before the full engagement period was over, forgoing the long feast and just starting their marriage together, despite the barrage of gossip from relatives and friends.

They had married early because of the amazing things the bride told her groom. She was pregnant, not by him or any other mortal man, but by the power of God. The Child she carried was to be the Savior of the world, according to what the angel had told her. He initially found it incredible and didn’t believe her. He could have publicly humiliated her. He could have had her stoned, killed by having rocks thrown at her by the men of the town, with the first coming from him and her father. He could have divorced her. He did nothing. Eventually, God showed him she was telling the truth by sending him his own angelic messenger, and he took her in as his wife, against all custom and tradition.

When the edict came, this couple, the bride now heavily pregnant with her first child, made their way to his ancestral home, a 90-mile trek. It was not at all easy for a healthy person, let alone someone 8 or 9 months pregnant!

When they got there, there were no rooms for them anywhere. Finally, they met a compassionate innkeeper. He pointed out the caves, used as stables where shepherds took pregnant sheep who were soon to bear the lambs for Passover in the spring. The only refuge they found, the grateful couple took it. And it was there the Child was born, in a primitive place, in a rustic time, to a poor and relatively uneducated people.

Let’s consider this Child. Mary’s son, yet the Eternal Son of God. Named from conception by angels to be called Jesus, named for His purpose and mission on earth. Child of many Names:

Emmanuel, meaning God is with us

Savior

Messiah, meaning promised deliverer

Lamb of God

Christ the Lord

Prince of Peace

Counselor

Mighty God

Holy One

Lord of Life

Lord of All

Wonderful

Son of David

Son of God

This is but a sampling, as the list in various sections of the Bible goes on and on! Yet He was a Baby, just like any other baby. Born just like we are, painfully and messily. A Baby, who would be hungry, cold, needing naps and feeding and changing and burping. Needing to be taught all the things children learn and have learned since humans started having them. A Child needing to grow and discover the world around Him. A Boy Child, needing to learn his earthly father’s occupation and trade. And yet, simultaneously, in a miraculous way, God. God’s Son, God made flesh, as the Scriptures say.

Let’s consider again the location of His birth. In a stable, humble and rustic, not at all the sterile conditions with which modern first world peoples are conditioned to believe are a requirement. No, these were third world conditions at best. Maybe a midwife, maybe not. It could have just been Mary, a scared teenager, and Joseph, her equally scared husband. Young girls were kept innocent until such things actually happened to them, and they were assisted by mothers, aunts and other helpers, so she must have been very scared. Men didn’t have anything to do with the birthing process at the time, and his ignorance could have been terrifying to both of them. If there was no midwife, they were two complete tyros, muddling through in a place and conditions modern Westerners would find completely unacceptable.

And that place, that place. Jesus, God’s one true and forever Passover Lamb from eternity, born where lambs for the Passover were birthed. Really, it’s astonishing when I think about it overmuch. The shepherds knew immediately where that place was, and its significance, when the angels sent them there. They were, after all, the ones tending the flocks responsible for the provision of the Passover lambs. So when angels heralded the Savior, laying in a manger, they knew what those things would mean to them and their people. Illiterate, perhaps. Uneducated, no. It was a requirement of all Jewish men to know (and largely memorize) their Scriptures. They might not be experts in theology like priests in the Temple, but they knew what the prophecies said. And they believed when the angels announced it to them.

That was no small feat, the belief of the shepherds. The Priests, Pharisees and religious establishment never saw what was in front of their eyes. They saw what they wanted to see, what they believed was true. They looked at Jesus through their own misconceptions, even as we all do, and made wrong conclusions because their minds were closed to any other possibilities. The Truth was just too fantastic to be real to them. But not to the shepherds.

Nor to the wise men. Let’s consider them for a moment. Much has been written and said about these Magi of the East we call the wise men. It’s not conclusively known where they came from or who they were, perhaps astrologers from somewhere east of Persia, or maybe even India or China. It’s not known how many of them there were. It’s not known if they came on their own or were sent by some organized group back in their distant home. Their names are lost to history and only guessed at in story and song.

All we know is they came, seeking the Star they’d seen, first in error to Herod in Jerusalem. When given the correct directions by the religious establishment there Herod consulted, they left immediately for Bethlehem, less than 10 miles away. Another thing we know is they found the Child and His parents, worshiped Him and gave Him gifts of incredible wealth in their gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Not only were their gifts costly, they were significant. Gold has ever represented kingship and rule. Frankincense represented priestly duties and intercession before God. Myrrh was used to heal and also used to prepare bodies for burial. These were kingly gifts given to people at the bottom end of the poverty levels and timed just perfectly for their needs.

Because the wise men brought not only gifts, but also a warning: Herod knows of the Child, and wants to kill Him! They left by another route and cautioned His parents to flee and do the same. Warned by angels in a dream, Joseph and Mary got up in the night, took Jesus and fled to Egypt, where the gifts of the wise men provided a living for them until they were safe to return home after the death of Herod a few years later.

Let’s consider the angels. Messengers throughout the story, speaking the words of God to His people after 400 silent years (prophesied in Amos 8) from the start of the Babylonian captivity and the death of the last of the Old Testament prophets until the first angel appeared to Zechariah, a Temple priest, to tell of the coming birth of his own son John, who would be the forerunner of the Messiah, according to Luke 1. An angel appears to Mary in person to announce her as the Messiah’s mother, and to Joseph in a dream, to confirm what she said to him. Angels herald the Birth to the shepherds with joy and great pomp. Angels appear to Joseph again in his dreams, warning him to go to Egypt, to escape Herod’s wrath. Four hundred years of silence from Heaven was broken. Not with a shout, but with angelic announcements and the cries of children, from the Messiah and His forerunner.

Let’s consider the Star. Some call it a star, some a comet. No one really knows what it was. An astronomical phenomenon never seen before or since the Star of Bethlehem is singular in history. It guided the wise men. It awed the shepherds and everyone they told about it. It was a standing star, in a sky of stars that ever move. A miracle of God all on its own, it’s a relatively minor player in the tale, eclipsed by the glory of the One who created it, and it was singularly created to herald. Like everything else in the story, it stands as unique and in many ways undefinable, even as is the incredible love of God woven throughout what we read and hear every year.

Finally, let’s consider the most astonishing thing of all, the love of God in this story. On that quiet holy night, Abba Father Daddy God reached out. The One who seemed remote and distant to mankind from the world’s creation, Who was awesome and fearful to His people the Jews, showed His true Father’s heart of love for the mankind He lovingly created.

I cannot emphasize this enough! Because if you get nothing else from what I’ve said in this post, please understand at its heart the Christmas story is a love story from Father God to you and me.

When Adam and Eve turned from God in the Garden of Eden, He could have done the same. He could have obliterated them and started over again. But He chose to send His Son, the physical representation of the Eternal Godhead of Three-In-One, to be born.

God could have sent His Son to be born in a palace, to be raised in pomp and rule from birth. But how could He have related to us that way? How could we have come close to understanding Him?? Instead, He sent Jesus to humble people, poor folk from a backwater town the religious elite would later scoff over, that His Son would be able to understand the humility and disdain everyone suffers sometimes in life.

Jesus could have come as an adult, fully formed. He could have come as a conquering king, suddenly appearing to make everything right. And indeed, He will come this way when He returns. But that time, He didn’t. Jesus came as a baby, born as we are, raised as we are, with all the inherent troubles, hazards and trials of a child growing into adulthood, that He might have compassion on us in our struggles. He came as a baby, small and vulnerable, that we might approach Him because humans ever find babies irresistible. Because we inherently know of His power, His majesty, and His might, and it frightens us. But as a Baby, a Holy Child isn’t frightening at all. As a Baby, He’s eternally approachable for everyone.

At Christmas, we love to give gifts to those we know and love. It’s an impulse that’s so innate in us, it’s almost instinctive. I believe this is because it’s put in us by the Great Giver of Life Himself, Father God. On that first Christmas, Father God reached inside Himself, becoming both Giver and Gift. In giving Himself to us in His Son Jesus, He is the Ultimate Gift we can both receive and give to a hurting world.

The Christmas story is more than shepherds and angels and stars. It’s more than wise men and Mary and Joseph. They aren’t just characters in the story and songs we hear every year, that most of us can repeat by heart. These were people like ourselves, ordinary people, who were chosen by God to play an extraordinary role in history, to reveal the Father’s love to mankind in His Son Jesus. Because that’s what it is, this history, it’s His Story.

May His Story be ever more real for you this Christmas, and bring your journey joy the rest of the year!

All-Sufficient God

Self-sufficient humans,

Going their own ways.

Created for something greater

Than the sameness of their days.

Ignoring all the signposts

Placed before their eyes,

Always struggling and striving,

Just trying to get by.

All-sufficient God

Loving wayward men.

Reaching into history

In only a way God can.

Becoming merely human

And remaining completely God,

Loving all encountered

On dusty streets, He trod.

All-sufficient God

Completely sacrificed.

Wholly and forever

Sin’s only priceless price.

Self-sufficient humans

Receiving Heaven’s best,

Some spurning the gift of grace,

Others bending willingly,

Raised up to see God’s face.

Mirror Moments

Have you ever looked at an image in a mirror and wondered, “Who is that, and where did that person come from? When did I get to look like that??!!??”

I had something of that experience recently. I was getting ready for work. Sitting at my vanity, reaching for something, my glance hit the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. When I moved my arms forward to reach for things, the skin on the lower part of my neck got wrinkly.

My glance then happened across my hands. While grabbing things, my skin was the smooth, even texture I had always seen. But when I just held them in a resting position or was using them in other ways, wrinkles appeared where none had been before.

Where had these come from? When had time done its inexorable march on my physical self to cause me to start to look so much older than the me inside feels??

Now, lest you think these thoughts are rooted in the mind of someone so selfish and vain all I care about is my image and appearance, allow me to correct that assumption. I wear makeup because as a business owner, it makes me appear more credible. I put it on as a necessary chore, not a pleasurable one. After years of searching, I finally have a hair style that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to look good in the morning. I wear coordinating clothes and jewelry because of my creative, artistic sense, not to be fashionable or to please anyone else (except my husband, who gave most of it to me!). I tend to wear the same necklace (my husband gave it to me for our latest anniversary) and the same bracelet (he gave it to me for Christmas last year) every day. In other words, my appearance is something I give about 1/2 an hour of my day to in the morning, and only scant attention to any other time. It’s an issue of practicality, not vanity.

So, why did the wrinkles bother me? Because when I saw them, I was instantly reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my grandmother. And I suddenly realized what an egotistical, self-centered jerk I had been, and how loving and gracious my grandmother had been.

I was no more than 8 or 10, and visiting their home in Syracuse, NY. I was there for the week with my older brother for Vacation Bible School, which we often did in the summer.

We were in Grandmother’s kitchen, and I was helping Grandmother and a friend of hers with some baking. At some point, I looked at their hands, compared them to my childish ones, and made some comment about the wrinkles on them. I then further compounded the immense insult by remarking about the wrinkles on their faces!

Grandmother and her friend could have rightly chosen to be offended. They could have chosen to become upset. They could have chosen to speak harshly to me. They chose none of it. They answered with love, kindly and graciously, simply saying these were signs they’d so far lived long and well, and someday I would understand.

There was something thing I realized as I reviewed that conversation in my memories. Looking at it now, from the adult’s perspective, Grandmother and her friend were likely around the same age I am now! At the time, they seemed immeasurably old. Now, at the same relative age, I look in the mirror and see someone still young looking back (except when I see wrinkles!). But I have a calendar awareness of the passage of time, as well as tangible proof like grandchildren, arthritis and gray hair (just ask my stylist).

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who could have 30, 50 or 100  years left to do all I want to accomplish in life. Okay, I admit it, 100 is pushing it! Or, I could be hit by a bus, get into an accident and my life would be over tomorrow. Don’t believe me? See When Life Turns Upside Down, in which I talk about life after a near-death experience last year. The point is, you never know.

I realized I needed to repent, and say I was sorry to God and the memory of Grandmother for being such an obnoxious, selfish and self-centered jerk of a kid. I know what you’re thinking. Kids have no filters. I certainly didn’t that day. But if time has taught me anything, it’s that a heartfelt “I am sorry” is never out of place when your conscience hits you with a guilty sting.

Finally, I realized as I reviewed that conversation the passage of time has done its work. I understand what Grandmother and her friend meant that day. I have tried to live well, for as long as I’ve had so far.

The Bible has a lot to say about aging and the experience and potential of wisdom that comes with age.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. Job 12:12

My absolute favorite on the topic, however, is this one:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:20

I know, you’re asking, “Number our days?!?!?? What does that mean??!??” It means more than that calendar awareness of time I was mentioning before. The ancient Greeks called that calendar awareness of time Chronos time. It’s the time of clocks and calendars, that we can understand, quantify and measure. What we need is an understanding that our lives, that we see as so long, so significant, so important to us, are really just blips and specks on the timeline of eternity. In other words, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. Kairos time is not something quantifiable, understandable or measurable because it’s eternal. It’s all that was before and all that is and all that will be, all in one package, all in one big picture. It’s God’s view of eternal time, as He Who was and is and ever will be.

When we get a Kairos view of time, when we learn to “number our days,” as the psalmist says, we understand our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s perspective. That sounds like it would be something to bring down our self-image and not give us wisdom, right? Well, God’s views are different. When we look at things the way He sees them, we look at ourselves and our lives through His plans, His purposes and, most importantly, His immense and overwhelming love for us. We see our faults, our failings, our flaws and yes, even our wrinkles, in the light of what He has taken us through, and where He is taking us to.

One of LIFE Leadership co-founder Chris Brady‘s favorite quotes is by noted author Henry David Thoreau:

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

In our lives of Chronos busy-ness, getting a Kairos view of things from time to time gives us a perspective to understand what we need to be busy about. Day to day living can smother purpose, gobble up passions and devour dreams in the minutiae of things that just have to get done. An eternal view from time to time realigns our perspective, sharpens our focus and reminds us what is truly important.

So, where do we go from here? For me, going back to the start of the post, I’ve earned my current set of wrinkles, and hope to earn lots more. I want to earn more doing things that matter in life, things that have a Kairos impact on a Chronos world. For me, these are things like loving people, sharing the Gospel, and being all the light I can be wherever my life’s candle is placed, just to name a few. On a more selfish level, I want to have some more adventures, a bit of fun, and maybe even acquire a few more gray hairs (for my stylist to hide) by doing exciting things in incredible places with wonderful people.

What about you? Who do you see in the mirror each morning? How are your “mirror moments” lately? Our “mirror moments” are the best when we see not only who is physically looking back, but who is looking back from within. I wish you joy in your journey of discovery.

 

The Importance of a Small Thing

Have you ever broken a bone? I have a colorfully checkered orthopedic history, according to my doctors.

It started in middle school, breaking my left big toe when I was helping to set up a trampoline in gym class, and someone didn’t hold up their end of the bargain, as it were. It continued in high school, as I broke each ankle in its turn, finding woodchuck holes on cross country courses in the region. In college, I broke my tailbone ice skating and later one of my wrists on roller skates. As a young mother, I blew first one knee skiing, and the other one a few years later when my heel broke when I was dancing. I broke my other wrist tripping over my husband’s cat when he was flopped in my path and I didn’t see him in the dark. I thought I was done, but 4 years ago, I broke my hand tripping over a curb at a rest stop in the early hours of the first morning of a road trip. (By the way, that’s just the list of what I’ve broken. I’ve also sprained both ankles and both wrists as well, in other, separate accidents.)

When I saw the orthopedic surgeon after I broke my wrist tripping over the cat, he was shocked at my history. “What have you been trying to do, girl? Kill yourself??” he demanded. “No,” I chuckled. “I was trying to find out what I could do, by finding out what I couldn’t.

I say all that to sheepishly tell you I did it again. I have more broken bones to add to the list, another misadventure ending in injury. We were in Ottawa, Canada recently for the Life Leadership Masters of Leadership Convention. It was the final morning of our trip. The conference was fantastic. The time with our partners was delightful. The hotel was gorgeous and had a great hot tub. The time away from our routine was a welcome break. The Poutine (a Canadian food, made from French Fries, gravy, cheese curds and whatever add-in’s you select) was incredible. All things added together, we were having a marvelous time.

And then the phone rang with the wake up call the final morning. It was on my side of the bed. To his credit, Bob had gotten up with it every other time it rang, because of the difficulty he knew I would have with it. This time, he didn’t. Oops. I woke up and tried to reach for it, past my C-pap machine (for breathing when I sleep), past my ever-present water bottle and realized it was too far away. I tried to angle further in my sleepy state, partially unable to see due to my room darkening mask still mostly covering my eyes, and the absence of my glasses (I’m almost blind without them!). My momentum caused me to fall off the high bed. I landed mostly on my right foot, which was turned under me, and my left leg, which hit the partly open lower drawer of the night stand. In a state of intense pain, I grabbed the phone, silencing the ringing, hollering variations of, “OW!!!” I’d badly bruised my leg, and broke my right little toe and the outside edge of my right foot in the fall, both hairline fractures.

Naturally, being the stubborn and determined person I am, I didn’t go see the doctor when I got home. In fact, I didn’t go for another 10 days! It was only when the pain started waking me up at night (after I stubbed it against Bob’s cat, who was laying on the floor in the dark where I didn’t see him), that I went and got the official verdict. However, in the meantime, I started to learn some painful lessons about the importance of our little toes,  our littlest and seemingly least insignificant body parts.

For such a small part of the body, the little toe is incredibly important! When we stand or walk, it is a crucial part of us being in balance. When we drive or use a bicycle, our little toes add strength and stability to our efforts. In short, it adds its efforts to the other toes and combines to make a mighty force in our lives we almost never notice, until something like this happens.

Breaking my little toe meant I limped, which threw me off balance, causing my hips to be out of alignment, creating discomfort in my lower back. Limping also caused strain on my other leg and knee, which had to bear more weight than normal. Finding a comfortable place to put my foot so my sandal wouldn’t rub on it caused discomfort to that knee, too. In other words, breaking my little toe negatively impacted orthopedic issues from my waist down, which had not been in any discomfort prior to my injury. It also impacted my lifestyle, and what I could and could not do, and altered plans I’d had for 5 weeks of my summer. I couldn’t swim, ride my bike or play softball, as I’d planned. It meant I had to rely on others more, something I immensely dislike doing (I did mention I’m stubborn and determined, right?). In short, it messed up major sections of my life for a bit.

Human relationships can be a lot like a person with a broken toe sometimes. The Bible talks about the Christians being in relationship like a body. Paul says in Romans 12: 4 – 5 (ESV – emphasis mine):

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individual members one of another.

He also says in I Corinthians 12:12 – 27 (ESV – emphasis mine) :

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
In the past, when I have been around as these concepts were taught, I have heard people say, “I must be a little toe, then, or something else equally insignificant. I cannot see where I am making a difference.” They are operating under the belief that if they are not out on the front lines of public ministry, if no one can see their service, it must be insignificant. Or worse, they leave “ministry” up to paid pastors and church employees and perhaps elders and other leaders, thinking if it doesn’t come with a title, it must not be a ministry. Their attitude is kind of like this:
When we think like these saints, we are living under a lie! We have been cruelly deceived, sidelined in what we can do, and a vital part of the ministry of the Body is lost in our failure to serve. We are also forgetting God sees everything we do, whether public or private. He knows our service, whether we see it as small or great. He knows it all.
Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song about changing this mindset, called “Do Everything.” He challenges us as Christians to live out our daily lives, performing our many tasks, as if God was watching over our shoulders at every minute of the day. And really, when you think about it (not to freak you out, or anything), He is! If we truly believe He knows and sees all, then He really does see and know every small act of service, no matter how unimportant we think it is.
There is also the matter of something called “The Butterfly Effect.” In short, it’s the impact of a small thing on larger consequences, the theory of how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in a rain forest could ultimately cause a hurricane and billions of dollars of damage somewhere else. Well, doing small things has a lasting impact we might never know about until we see God face to face! An example in my life is the choir director who saw talent in me when I was a quiet and shy kid who had joined only on a dare, who brought out in me a love of sharing my gift of song and taught me I love performing. Another was the youth leader who had compassion on me when I was a suicidal, abused teenager, who loved and counseled me back from the edge of disaster. Another is the mentor and leader who discovered my love to write and share from God’s truths hidden away in me and challenged me until I started this blog. For the most part, they don’t know the lasting impact of what their service rendered in my life, and really, neither do I.
I could go on and on! Who has impacted your life, dear reader? Who has done something, or said something, that they might have considered small or insignificant, that made a huge impact on you? Where have you impacted someone else? Please feel free to share a story and continue the discussion in the comments. Let’s thank them here, if nowhere else.
Dear Readers, be the little toe in the Body of Christ if that is what God is calling you to be. But please, dear saint, if you are the little toe or whatever body part you are, understand you are not insignificant. You are not unimportant. You are vital, you are needed and you are very much required and loved.  The pain in my life from one broken little toe has been proof enough of that!

When Life Turns Upside Down

What do you do when your life upends on itself? How do you handle a major shift (or even multiple ones), for which you likely hadn’t planned?

Much as my life is open on Twitter, Facebook and the like, there are certain things about which I am deeply private. Upheavals in my life, stresses I am enduring and tough things I am going through are things I do not share as I go through them, except with those closest to me. These are not for public consumption. If I do share them, I do so after, as a testimony.

However, Dear Readers, I’ve been grappling a lot with the questions I started this post with lately. I cannot say I have every definite answer on them. So why share such stuff now? Because as is my usual way on this blog, all I can do is share my journey and where I am in it, and hope it helps you in yours.

It all started on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the end of April. The weather was cool and the sky was cloudless. It was the kind of day that, when you woke up and looked outside and saw how gorgeous an early spring day it was, it made you happy to be alive in it. To make things better, we were attending a gathering that day with a group of our Life Leadership partners in Syracuse, NY, about a 3-hour drive from our home. It was a fun event, a reward for hard work and a time to spend relaxing with some of our favorite people.

On the interstate on the trip home, I was dozing in the front passenger seat of our minivan. I was tired from an exhausting week at work, and grateful I didn’t have to drive. My husband Bob was driving. Daughter Beth was in the middle seat, playing a game on her phone. Son-in-law Tom was in the back seat, sprawled asleep.

I woke to the rumble strip under us and saw the van speeding into the median strip on the left side of the road, heading toward scraping the guardrail. In a moment of panic, Bob yanked the wheel right, abruptly swerving us back onto the highway. Temporarily. The force of his yank caused the van to continue to careen to the right, swerving and tipping the van to the right, toward my side. I covered my face with my hands, and began to breathe the only prayer I could think of in such a moment, “Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!

I stopped praying when the noise and movement stopped. I moved my hands from my face, shocked to be alive, and not in the Eternal presence of the One on Whom I’d called in my moments of greatest danger and need. I was upside down, pinned in place between the remains of the van’s roof, dashboard, and my seat, held firmly in place by my seatbelt, but I was alive!

I heard Bob asking everyone else if they were okay as he helped them out. I heard another voice, who I later learned was a woman who lived nearby, asking the same questions. I saw blood all over me, but quickly realized not much of it was mine. As far as I could see or feel, I just wasn’t cut that badly. I was, however, still pinned, and having a panic attack over it. The woman (who I learned was a nurse practitioner in her professional life) told everyone to let the paramedics and firefighters get me out. But I moved my arms and legs, hands and feet, and determined my spine was not damaged. I was just stuck!

Overriding her protests, Tom crawled in and released my seat belt’s buckle, freeing me and assisting me out. The woman insisted I go to one side away from the van and sit down on the grass there while we waited for the police and paramedics. Happy at being freed from my prison, I was grateful to comply.

I looked around and realized the van, which we’d just paid off a few short months before, was a total wreck. But we were all walking, talking and none of us appeared to be seriously injured! The paramedics looked at the scene, checked the cuts and road rash on Bob’s arm, and told him it was a miracle it hadn’t been torn off as we skidded upside down across the pavement and grass. My hands were cut where the smashing glass from my window and the windshield on my side cut them, but because I had put them up to pray, they took the damage, and my face did not. Beth’s shoulder was sprained where Tom had grabbed her by it and her hair as we started to flip and she was about to fly out the shattered windows and be crushed by the skidding van, saving her life. Tom’s bad back and Beth’s and my bad knees were made worse by the crash, but we walked away.

God protected us all that afternoon in so very many ways that are miraculous. In that 20-mile stretch of road, there was only one place where such an accident could have happened, and we could have skidded across 2 lanes into the grass on the roof. Everywhere else, there are guardrails, embankments, steep slopes ending in ravines and/or trees, hillsides and all the other things traveling on an interstate through hilly country involves. There was no traffic around us to hit us. The road behind us was empty when we skidded across it.

When Bob and I went to where they’d towed the van the next day to gather the remains of our belongings that hadn’t been lost or destroyed, we realized the back 1/3 of the vehicle was completely undamaged. The roof above my seat, my door and the passenger door on my side had taken the worst of the damage and had held just enough in place to save our lives, particularly mine.

God protected us even to our clothes and belongings. The only items of permanently damaged clothing were Bob’s shirt and Beth’s jacket, his with its asphalt stains and small rips, showing the force of the scraping along the pavement, and God’s protection of his left arm, and hers with its multiple rips from broken glass. And the shirt was easy to replace! Even the blood stains came out of all our clothes, including to my white turtleneck. The only items (aside from the van) lost forever were a plastic cup I’d been using and a small stuffed Tiger Beenie Baby named Stripes on the dashboard.

God protected our grandchildren. We could have brought them with us that day. Other people had, and the option was open to us. But we’d decided to leave them home with a sitter. So other than some emotional trauma because the sitter had the phone on speaker when Tom called to say we’d be late arriving and why our oldest granddaughter heard it. It took almost a week to reassure her that we’d be okay every time one of the adults walked out the door! (We now have a rule that no one answers the phone on speaker anymore!)

The paramedics and police arrived, and things moved rather quickly after that. They bandaged Bob and mopped up the rest of us. Tom initially objected to being transported to the hospital, but relented when our friends (who were following some miles after and would bring us home later) informed him they were not stopping to pick him up! (It was a good thing they did. His concussion needed further treatment the next day.) They brought us to the hospital, and we went through an evening of the usual Emergency Room “hurry up and wait” that non-life-threatening injuries have to endure. We didn’t mind. After rounds of tests, multiple bandages both large (Bob’s arm) and small (my hands), volumes of paperwork and what seemed like a million questions from marveling hospital employees, we were finally allowed to leave. We went to the nearest fast food drive-through, got food for all of us and our dear friends who’d waited so patiently for us and who we’d scared so badly (and who were bringing us home!), and went home.

We had minor concussions (everyone), several large cuts (Bob), multiple smaller cuts (mostly mine), 1 strained knee (Beth), 2 bruised knees (mine), 1 road rash (Bob), 2 bad backs made worse by the crash (mine and Tom’s, his being the worst) and multiple bruises (everyone, but mostly me because of hanging in the seat belt). In the hours and days to come, we also discovered a bit of post-traumatic stress as well among all of us. And we are alive.

Yes, I know, I keep repeating that. It’s the first lesson I learned from this. When your whole world turns (literally, in my case) upside down, find something or some things large or small to be grateful about. In a near-death episode, alive is a good place to start! We are also grateful for the other miracles, saving Bob’s arm and my face, the preservation of our belongings, the timing and location of the crash. We are grateful for our friends who came to us at the hospital, and who called our Life Leadership leaders and let them know, so they could pray. We are grateful for the prayers of our church family when they found out. We are grateful so little was injured, and that most are already healed and restored. We are even grateful for our insurance company, who was so quick with settlements and whose paperwork processes were so simple to navigate.

I took the next day off from work, to deal with the remnants of my concussion, get the stuff from the van and recover somewhat. We spent a lot of time over the next week with one another and our grandchildren, reassuring the children we were okay, and that we return home again whenever we left the house. Family time was more important to us than it ever had been over those days. When your whole world turns upside down, you get a chance to assess and perhaps even reassess your priorities. The traditional North American priorities of money and stuff can seem rather pointless when your paradigms get shifted so radically. We got a chance to affirm our faith and our family, from our immediate to our extended members, are some of the highest priorities in our lives.

Our lives have changed since the accident. Because Bob’s inattention (which caused us to go off the road to the left in the first place) was likely caused by a medical issue that had been previously unknown, Bob went the following week to his cardiologist, who is now doing tests and may send him to a neurologist for more tests. Until he gets a firm diagnosis and treatment, Bob is not allowed to drive. That leaves all the driving to Tom, Beth and me, and we’re now down one car. It makes life more inconvenient for everyone. In the inconvenience is the second lesson I’ve learned from this. When your whole world turns upside down, tolerance, patience and striving for excellence is required of those of us who live a life in service to others. You don’t have to fall into the trap of perfectionism when more weight falls on your shoulders than you are used to carrying. Perfect isn’t demanded. Your best is required.

There’s another lesson in Bob’s medical tests and current inability to drive.  These add uncertainty we didn’t have along with their inconvenience, creating a “new normal.” I grieved for our old “normal,” expressing my fears to my best friend (the same one who came for us that night). She reminded me fear is not from God, Who promises differently:

You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.

Isaiah 26:3

When your whole world turns upside down, living with uncertainty is almost always a sure thing. Being uncertain is normal. Having a transition to a “new normal” and understanding grieving for what used to be “normal” is acceptable. Dwelling in it is fruitless. I tried that for a few days. It got me nowhere. It was only when I accepted the uncertainty as being part of the “new normal” and accepted it as “normal now” that I began to find peace in my situation.

We also grieved. When Bob and I went to get our stuff from the van the next day, as we left, I looked at it and silently said, “You were good to us. You did not deserve the death we gave you, but I thank you for it, that in your death our lives were saved.” Yes, it was just a thing. But saying goodbye to a vehicle in a culture that depends on and almost worships transportation can be emotional in such circumstances.   We remembered what was, and thought a lot about what could have been. In the end, with counsel from friends, we chose to set the event as a time of what did happen, instead of what didn’t. In Joshua 4:6 – 7, God commanded the people crossing the Jordan River to take up stones from the bottom and set them as a memorial to His power for stopping the river in flood so they could cross it on the far side. This was counsel I got from our friends: When your whole world turns upside down, the hardships of yesterday and today become the memorial stones of tomorrow. We pass that site going back and forth at least a couple of times monthly in our travels for Life Leadership. The first time was incredibly difficult for me, and I had a panic attack. On the way home, I decided to ignore it. It was on that trip we got the counsel, though I did not receive it well at the time. The second time, I took that counsel from our friends and made a memorial stone in my mind there of God’s grace and protection. On the way home, the memorial stone was there. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. The memorial stones of our lives are proof to us of it.

So, where are things now? We still face the uncertainty of Bob’s tests. The insurance settlement sits in savings, awaiting the day he will (hopefully) be allowed to drive again, so we can replace the van. If the tests never allow him to drive again, we’ll eventually replace my car with it. We are living a life of uncertainty, and just grateful to God to be living it. Because when your whole world turns upside down, remembering Who is in ultimately in charge is essential. As we are learning now, He Who saved us is also He Who continues to sustain us. And when the One who sustains you has saved you from something like what we went through, trusting Him to sustains you becomes a whole lot easier to do . . . 

The Still Place in the Storm

The world turns and spins around me

But You are steadfast and strong.

Events uproar and crash at my feet

And You remain calm and restful.

Nations rage and peoples bluster

While You peacefully continue Your intended purpose.

In a world of whirlwind

You are the still place in the center.

In a universe of noise

You are the Peace in the midst.

In a society of discord and division

You are the harmony and unity at its heart.

In a life of constant change

You are the only constant never-changing Same.

I seek You in the quiet

I find You in the center

I rest in You in the midst

Like a tiny bird in the cleft of a rock

in the midst of a storm

You hold me and comfort me.

You were

You are

You ever remain

the still place, the quiet rest,

the peaceful center of the storm,

in an ever-changing world.

 

Fighting Terrorism

Who fights terrorism in our world today? Is it the military? Is it undercover operatives and spies, gathering information to prevent attacks? Is it police and other organizations on the home front? Or does the battle belong to all of us??

I recently was thinking about this after listening to a CD by LIFE Leadership founder Claude Hamilton. He said the attitude he takes when dealing with challenges he faces in his life is, “Well, at least we’re not fighting terrorism here!” It’s his way of reducing the size of his challenges, and putting them into proper perspective. It’s a good attitude for dealing with the things life throws at us on a daily basis.

As I thought deeper on Claude’s words, I remembered something I learned in school. I studied World War II, and how the ordinary citizens of the free world responded to the war efforts. Let’s investigate that a bit.

The men went off to fight. Some men who tried to go to fight were denied because of age (either too young or too old) or infirmity. Others stayed behind because they were needed at home, or in critical industries or positions, and governments refused their service. And if brothers joined and all but 1 died, the military sent the remaining one home, as was portrayed so vividly in the movie Saving Private Ryan. Those who didn’t go to fight served at home, in civil defense and in other crucial roles.

The women supported the men. Some went to work in factories to make the arms and munitions required. Some joined the Red Cross to help the wounded. Some joined the USO to help morale. Others knitted socks or sweaters or scarves to keep servicemen warm. Some rolled bandages. They took care of children and took on all the roles their absent men would normally have done, all in the effort to support the men.

Even children and young people got into the act. They collected metal for recycling into munitions and arms. They participated in civil defense activities. They helped out neighbors who were participating in war efforts and who were caught short for workers on the home front. They learned about the principles of freedom, the philosophies the free world was fighting against and about the places where they were fighting.

In some way, from oldest to youngest, everyone in the free world helped out in World War II. They all saw it as “doing their part for the cause of freedom.” In fact, this was a common thread in the newsreels and advertisements of the day. War Bonds were purchased by the thousands by ordinary folks, just so they could do their part. It was considered abnormal not to support the war, and people were shunned in society for it. People from all walks of life rationed luxury goods, and even things they’d previously considered necessities, all to support the efforts to win the war. And win they did.

Terrorism is the war that we are fighting today. Our news media, politicians and political candidates remind us of this on a daily basis. So, in light of what we’ve just discussed about World War II and the free world’s war efforts, I want to bring us back to the questions with which I started this post: Who fights terrorism in our world today? Is it the military? Is it undercover operatives and spies, gathering information to prevent attacks? Is it police and other organizations on the home front? Or does the battle belong to all of us??

I believe the war for freedom, against terrorism, is the same as those who we now call “The Greatest Generation” fought in World War II. While the military, the undercover operatives and spies, the police and so on are our active fighters today, we all have a part to play!

What is our part? Allow me to ask a series of questions, to define some possibilities for you:

  • Do you know the principles of liberty and freedom on which Western civilization, and most particularly your country, was founded? Have you read and can you understand your country’s founding and most essential documents?
  • Are you financially sound? Are you out of debt? Do you have a plan to get out of debt, and are you working actively on that plan? Do you understand and practice the principles of sound financial management, as taught by Warren Buffet and Benjamin Franklin (get out of debt, stay out of debt and invest in self-education)?
  • Are you stable relationally? How’s your marriage and family life? Do you communicate and work well together? Are you committed for life? Do you have friends on whom you know you can count for life?
  • How are you spiritually? I’ve written about my relationship with God a lot on this blog. Do you know Him? Do you read what He says in the Bible and follow it?

I could ask other questions, but I think you get my point. For every person who understands freedom better, for everyone who leaves the bondage of debt slavery, for every better marriage and stable family, that’s that many fewer people who have the potential to be terrorists. That’s families standing up in a trickle, flow, then flood for freedom, for liberty, for marriage and family and for the values they hold dear. This is fighting at the grass roots, folks! We are fighting for the hearts and minds of individuals and families, which is where the only true changes take place.

I use the information from LIFE Leadership as my weapons in this fight.

  • I understand liberty and freedom better, thanks to the Freedom series.
  • My husband and I have crawled out from under almost $100,000 of consumer and other debt, and just paid off our last credit card and car loan, thanks to the Financial Fitness series and Wealth series information. (We’re not debt free yet, but we’re a whole lot closer to it!)
  • The books I’ve mentioned in other posts and the Marriage Pack of CD’s have made our good marriage into a great one, that improves all the time. The Parenting Pack has helped us be better grandparents, even better than we were as parents. The books and CD’s of the LIFE series have helped us to make new friends, and be better friends to the ones we already had.
  • The books and CD’s of the AGO series, along with the coaching of our mentors, have helped our spiritual lives.

Consider what might be your part in our current war. Terrorism doesn’t just impact us at home when a sleeper cell is activated, or someone sneaks over a border to do something. It has already impacted the way we live, the way we travel and the way we view the world. It has impacted our children. What we need to do now is decide the impact stops here, it stops now and push back against it. We all need to fight against it together. No one is exempt this time, either. Because, as Benjamin Franklin said,

We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.

 

An Offering Of Tears In A Season Of Joy

How do you handle it when everyone around you is happy and you’re not? How do you cope during a time when the rest of the world celebrates, and you often want to cry?

I found myself in that place last year in the spring after my mother died. She died a month before Easter, two months before Mother’s Day and the birth of my 4th grandchild (her 11th great grandchild). The world was celebrating these holidays, and my heart was trying to find joy in them while grieving my loss. The paradoxes of the situation and the need to pay attention to the demands of the situations caused me to push my grief aside and not deal with it. It was only recently, when hit with another unhappy life event in yet another joyful time, that I finally began to process the griefs properly.

I wondered about this when I was listening to a sermon about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here was this young woman, a teenager really if you look at the culture of the time (perhaps as young as 14), engaged to be married to a (likely older) man. In our culture, it’s often the happiest time of a young woman’s life, and even in her arranged marriage culture, it likely was for her, too. She likely knew Joseph and knew her parents wouldn’t have picked out someone inappropriate for her. They might even have been friends or acquaintances, with the slight possibility they already loved one another. The wedding is being planned, the guests invited, the preparations made, the household goods for their new home arranged and everything is all new and exciting for her. It’s a time of great joy for Mary, Joseph and their families.

In Luke 1: 26 – 38, into the scene enters the angel, speaking to Mary, telling her of the coming Savior. The angel says she is the chosen one, the virgin spoken of by Isaiah the prophet so many centuries prior,

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His Name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

This news was as startling and upsetting as it was joyful. The Jews had been waiting centuries for their promised Messiah, yearning and hoping. But no one expected the Messiah to come as a baby, to be born to a young woman who would be viewed as an unwed mother, who could be quite literally stoned to death for her perceived crime of becoming pregnant without benefit of marriage. They never expected Him to arrive at that place in Nazareth, or that poor and insignificant family instead of to a wealthy or influential one. 

In what should have been her season of joy, Mary had good reasons for tears! But she kept things to herself, and went to her cousin, whom the angel had said was pregnant in her old age. And when Mary found Elizabeth, everything changed.

In Luke 1: 39 – 45, we read how Elizabeth encouraged Mary. Even John the Baptist, who Elizabeth was pregnant with, leaped in her womb at the very voice of the one pregnant with the Messiah. Elizabeth’s response was just what Mary needed to hear. In Luke 1: 46 – 55, we read Mary’s lovely response in the antiphonic poem called the Magnificat.

Mary’s praise glorifies God. Through her fears, in spite of her tears, Mary chooses to see the greatness of God instead of the smallness and harshness of her situation. She deliberately chooses to be joyful, not just happy, but to downright rejoice and celebrate over God and His love for her. Mary’s poem is called the Magnificat because she magnifies God, and makes Him larger in her eyes than the problems she also sees before her.

Sometimes, like Mary, we find ourselves grieving when the rest of the world is rejoicing. As I write this, it’s less than a week before Christmas 2015. I have friends who are dealing with some tough, stressful and unhappy situations in their lives right now. While the rest of the world celebrates, they feel like the only offering they have to bring is that of their tears.

And you know what? If the only offering you have to bring is tears, it’s okay. God knows we walk through valleys sometimes. In fact, He walks through them with us! In Psalm 23, David wrote,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me;

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23: 4

The rod of a shepherd is meant for their protection. The shepherd defends them from enemies using it, and also uses it to count them and make sure they are all healthy. The shepherd’s staff is used for guiding the sheep into positions of intimacy, either with each other or himself. Thus, to be comforted by God’s rod and staff is to fall under His protection and to be brought by Him into a place of great intimacy with both Him and others of His choosing. This is a place of great comfort indeed when we walk through valleys!

Another thing to remember as we walk through valleys is that hurting people often hurt people. It’s a great temptation when we’re wounded to strike out, so we can protect ourselves and not be hurt more. But the more we lean into God, the greater we seek the protection of His rod and the comfort of His staff, the smaller the temptations become to use our own pain as an excuse to hurt others. 

As we go through our seasons of walking on mountain tops or through valleys together, it is good for us all to remember no one else is at the same point of their journey at the same time as we are, even when we travel together. May you have a blessed holiday season, and a joyful Christmas and find joy in your journey, even when your only offerings are tears.

 

Come To The Feast!

Have you ever been on a cruise ship? How about one of those all inclusive vacation packages? Have you ever attended a fancy banquet?

Bob and I have been on 2 cruises. The first was for our honeymoon, 35 1/2 years ago. We went for a week in early June out of New York City to Nassau in the Bahamas on the classic liner Rotterdam.

Our second cruise was many years later (about 10 years ago), in mid-November with a group totaling 12 business friends and partners. We went out of Miami and for 5 days to Key West and Cozumel in Mexico on a newer ship, the Fascination.

Both cruises were incredible! The food was delicious, cooked to order, the service was impeccable, the staff on both vessels catered to our every need and reasonable desire and, for the most part, the weather was lovely the whole time. The second cruise in November, the weather part was particularly appreciated, especially when we called our then-older-teenagers at home from Key West and found out it had been cold and rainy since we left!

A “foodie” myself, I cannot say enough about the food. They really went all out, especially for the late night buffets! And on the second cruise, I was daily charmed and delighted by the antics of our room cleaning staff as they transformed our towels into an increasingly complex series of animals, culminating on the final night with 4 of them all together! (We always used the ones they hung in the bathroom and never took apart the animals to use their towels. We took photos of them, instead.)

I got to thinking about these things recently when I read Song of Solomon 2:4, which reads:

He brought me to the banqueting-house, and his banner over me was love.

Song of Solomon is an allegorical picture of marriage, and also of our relationship as believers with God. God brings us into His banqueting house and spreads His banner of love over us. He covers our faults, failings and imperfections with His perfect love while we bask in His perfect fellowship and in a place of deeply perfect intimacy.

But just suppose we had gone on our cruises and not known our meals were covered? I read a story once of a lady who had booked a transatlantic passage to the U.S., bringing non-perishable foods with her for her journey to eat in her room. All this because she never realized until the very end of her voyage her meals were covered by her fare! Suppose we had done something like that? How foolish we would have been!

And yet, how foolish we all are, even me, dear readers! We are invited into the banqueting house of the Most High God, the supper table of the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world, Hope of Nations, the One who has paid the full and entire price for everything we’ve ever done, thought of doing, could do or might not ever do. We’re invited in and given Robes of His Righteousness to cover our imperfections. We’re graciously given access to a feast more abundant than any cruise ship or all-inclusive vacation package or master chef can ever dream about.

How are we so foolish? We might come to the feast without our Robes. We could come and bring what we think our Heavenly Host should share, and treat his banqueting table as a potluck. Or worst of all, we may stay outside like the woman on that transatlantic ship, ignorant of His feast or believing it’s for someone else when God freely offers it to everyone by faith in Jesus Christ.

I pray that you will come into God’s banqueting house, accept the Robe of Righteousness Jesus freely offers you and sit at the feast of the Lord. Doing so has brought me immense joy in my journey, and I pray it will be the same in yours, also.