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!

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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!

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.

 

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.

Are You Laughing With Me, Or At Me?

Did you ever do anything just for the fun of it? You know, just to make others laugh, even if it might be at your own expense?

This year on Halloween, I did exactly that. I deliberately dressed for the fun of it. I dressed to make people smile and laugh along with the fun of my outfit. I wore a tam-o’-shanter (that’s a type of beanie, or hat, for those who don’t know) that looks like a large orange pumpkin (including the green stem out the top), black cat earrings and a white sweatshirt with Jack O’ Lanterns and the words “Trick Or Treat” embroidered on it. It’s my traditional Halloween outfit if it’s not a workday, and the only time of year I wear orange. (It’s not a good color on me!)

The shirt usually doesn’t cause much comment. The hat, however, can only be worn by a person who has what my late mother once described as a generous sense of humor and a hearty dose of chutzpaChutzpa is a Yiddish term which means, “shameless audacity, boldness, temerity, cheek, nerve, and guts,” all of which my mother often said described me!

As a business owner, I don’t often get the chance to break out of my professional mold and do crazy stuff. Halloween is a rare chance to get a little goofy, and invite the world along for my slightly crazy ride. I donned my shirt, hat and earrings with pride, and off I went as if I was dressing for just another normal Saturday of errands.

I got my hair cut, ran errands at 4 stores and finished the night with going to dinner and wandering the mall with my husband. Except for when I had to take if off to get my hair styled, the hat stayed firmly planted atop my head, as if there was nothing abnormal about it, and it wasn’t there at all.

I got looks. Did I ever get looks! Fellow shoppers looked at me. Some stared. Others smiled, and a few chuckled. Some commented they liked it. Even other drivers did double-takes as they passed me in parking lots! As I moved through my day, I looked for reactions. Sometimes, I was disappointed. Most of the time, I was not.

Normally, when I go through my day, I try to brighten it for the people I encounter wherever I go. I tell people I like what it says on their shirts, or that the color is flattering to them, or I like their shoes (women get that one a lot), or how much I appreciate their customer service or helpfulness. Wearing the Halloween shirt and hat wasn’t a rebellion against wearing a costume, as much as it was giving in a little to the spirit of the day while doing it in a way that would brighten others’ days as well. While laughing at myself, I encouraged others to laugh at me and with me, making them happier in the process.

In a deeper sense, it’s also good to remember sometimes we are seen as fools and laughed at, not for celebrating an innocent day with the world, but for going against it with our convictions. I Corinthians 4;10 talks about being made fools of for the sake of Christ. In I Corinthians 1:25, it says,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The world often laughs at and mocks what it cannot understand. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is definitely something the world cannot understand! The world is befuddled and bewildered by it and uses mockery and derision as a defense against what it can neither defend against nor explain away. 

As a Christian, I cannot allow the mockery and derision of the world to cause me to falter or fail in my faith. I must always keep in mind that Jesus was hated by the world, too, and He is my example. As He said in John 15:18,

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.

“Hate” is such a strong word, isn’t it? We almost want to modify it to “Ignore” or “tease” or something more innocuous. But in every translation I checked in English, those words of Jesus Himself are translated to “hate.” It’s because often we have to step up to the harsh reality of the world that completely opposes Jesus and decide on which side we’re going to stand. It’s a choice we all have to settle in our minds and hearts once we are clearly confronted with the salvation message and its truths.

Once we settle where we stand, what the world thinks becomes unimportant to the point of insignificance. Settling where I stood took care of knowing where my place was, who my “Daddy” was, my identity as my Heavenly Father’s daughter and my security of belonging to His family in the Church. Settling issues like these freed me emotionally from needing to desperately belong anywhere else, or with anyone else. Wherever His people are, I am home, due to the acceptance found in the knowledge of who I am in Christ.

And when I settle such deep human needs like those, I am then free to satisfy an impulse to indulge my whimsical side, such as I did this Halloween, with a pumpkin tam-o’-shanter to make people who saw me all day smile and laugh. Because when they were laughing at me, I was laughing right along with them!

Simple Pleasures

What do you do in life that brings you simple pleasure? Is there something you own that just makes you smile when you see it? Or is it a past time you enjoy?

We all have stuff we enjoy to differing degrees. For me, writing is one of them, hence this blog. However, this time I want to talk about another one. It might seem a bit silly to some, and a whole lot silly to others. But don’t we all have things in our lives that are that way to others, really?

My simple pleasure is my collection of solar bobble-dolls in my car. I cannot call them bobbleheads because only 2 of them have heads, the turkey, and the scarecrow. The others are flowers (4 of them). They bob up and down in different ways in the sunlight on my dashboard, mostly ignored while I sit daily in my office at work. They are a bright spot of color on dreary days and they never fail to make me smile when I see them. Image result for solar bobble head images

My husband thinks they are completely silly. However, as long as I limit the collection in his van to its current 4 (2 flowers, and a similar turkey and scarecrow), he puts up with them because he loves me. He also allows it because I only buy them at the $1 store and don’t buy all I see. I’m picky in my additions, particularly as the dashboard of my car gets more and more crowded!

I was thinking about them because I was listening on the radio the other day to the K-LOVE Morning Show. The hosts (Craig, Amy, and Kankelfritz) were talking about simple pleasures. They mentioned things that gave them pleasures and invited people to call in. I heard a couple of callers mention theirs. I thought about calling and telling them about my solar bobble-heads. But as I was getting ready to get out of my car at work, they said something that stopped my calling idea cold and prompted this post.

Craig, Amy, and Kankelfritz said our pleasures are good things in life because they are things God has put into us to make us uniquely individual. We all like different things because of our uniqueness. Then they said God has simple pleasures, too. Because God takes pleasure in us.

So many people believe God is an angry judge, ready to slam down on us for real or imagined sins we may or may not have done, or left undone. I used to feel that way. I was convinced every time I did something wrong, there He was, mad at me and ready to punish me. My strict upbringing probably had a lot to do with that feeling. But how I ended up with that feeling is not as important as that I had it.

It was not until I realized the immensity of God’s love, the joy He takes in loving me and in me loving Him and my fumbling efforts to please Him, that I was able to escape this trap. The point was brought home in my Bible when I read

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.

Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

Do you see what I saw? The God of the universe, the One who put it all together, rejoices and exults over us with gladness and loud singing! God takes so much pleasure in people who love Him, He throws a party over them!! Image result for party images free

I don’t know about you, but I love it when people throw a party for me. I mean, they take time, trouble and usually money and spend it on me. Who’s not going to be appreciative?? It’s the same way with God. He takes pleasure in us so much, He throws a party over every fumbling effort to obey Him, every time we get it right, every time we come back and repent when we’ve blown it. He doesn’t throw a fit when we’ve blown it, like we do. Instead, He throws a celebration when we get it! That sounds about as far from the image of the harsh Judge I used to have as I could get!

So I will continue to take joy in the simple pleasure of my bobble-dolls, secure in the knowledge of God taking even greater pleasure in me. Come along and enjoy God’s pleasure as we enjoy our simple pleasures in life on our journeys together.

Charlie, Get OFF My FEET!

Dear Readers, over the years on this blog, I’ve introduced you to various members of my family. There is, of course, the long-suffering Bob, who is not only my dear husband of almost 35 years, but also my editor. He patiently puts up with the life of a husband of someone obsessed with words and getting them down and out of my head before they drive me nuts with their clamor. His thoughtfulness of others gives him the right to edit all my work, suggesting less offensive ways of saying things, as I can tend to be too blunt many times. And he does all this with a gentle and sweet spirit, loving and easy going in his ways. Besides being my husband and editor, Bob is also my business partner and the steadfast emotionally stable rock of our family. He puts up with me when I go off half-cocked on some new wild scheme, and often just watches and enjoys the ride, preparing as needed to help clean up my mess after. (I can’t say enough good about him!)

Our oldest is daughter Beth, married to (acquired-by-said-marriage-son) Tom. Yes, we view Tom as just as much one of our adult kids as the two we birthed. They are, if you will recall, parents of our 4 remarkable grandchildren, Keyna, Ariel, Tommy, and Samantha. Beth and Tom have recently started a business in collaboration with ours, and we are rejoicing in their early successes. We adore the times we get to spend with our grandchildren and know our grandchildren are our rewards as parents for allowing our kids to survive when they were such seemingly impossible beings when we were raising them!

Youngest is our son David. David is in the process of launching into the world and leaving home. He has found a roommate, a job and they are now looking for apartments together. He had some struggles to find his way for a while, trying college and flunking out only one semester before graduation, but he finally seems to have found his niche, and a job he enjoys. We are pleased to see him finally find his feet in life, and now are just hoping a nice girl will catch his eye soon, so he can start giving us a few more grandchildren to spoil . . .

There are a few family members I know I haven’t introduced you to yet. These are our fur babies, 3 cats named Simba, Boots, and Charlie. We adopted them from a local animal shelter a few months after a couple of other of our former cats had died, when the time seemed right to do so. I went in that day with the intent of only getting one, but when I saw the trio in the cage and began to interact with them and saw how well they got along, I just couldn’t stand to break up the set! Poor Bob was at the gym working out that afternoon, and had no clue what I was doing (or how much I was donating to the shelter for them!) until I got home with the 3 borrowed cat carriers in the back seat of my car! He took it all in his usual affable stride, removing the carriers from the car and helping me bring our new acquisitions into the house.

Simba came with the name of “Red” originally, but it just didn’t suit. He’s not red. He’s a caramel and peanut butter colored tabby, with virtually no white. He’s our shy guy and avoids the noisy grandchildren like the plague! He has decided he is my cat, and I am his person, and we’re both content with that arrangement. He’s very playful, and always game for a string chase. He’s young, healthy and athletic though he’s very timid of loud and sudden noises. It took Simba the longest to get used to us, hiding for weeks before we managed to coax him out. Simba likes to sleep at night on our bed, near Bob’s feet.

Boots came with the name he still has. He’s a traditional orange tabby, with a white chest, belly, and feet. Nothing flusters Boots. Grandchildren don’t phase him. He puts up with their fumbling attempts at affection until he’s had enough, and then leaves. Boots prefers comfort above all things and a full belly. He is also young, but not tremendously athletic. Honestly, he’s fat. Really fat. His nickname is “Lard Fur.” Boots likes to sleep at night at Bob’s side.

Charlie is our elder statesman. He’s a few years older than the other two. Charlie is a muted toned dark traditional tabby, with white highlights. He came with the name of “George,” but my father (of the same name) had died within a year or two of his acquisition, and we knew it would freak out both my mother and us to hear us refer to the animal with my father’s name. He got his name the first night home, when he crawled right up on our bed with Bob, purring and cuddling. Bob said he was a Good Time Charlie, and the name has stuck. He is also good with the grandchildren, and mostly very affable and easy going.

However, Charlie has one particular quirk that drives me nuts, and thus the reason for this post. Charlie likes to do what cat experts have termed “cat piling,” meaning he likes to rest against something else for warmth and comfort, preferably another cat, although any warm body will do. He will also snuggle the back of the couch, or a pillow if there are no bodies available.

Charlie’s habit of cat piling with me has led to some memorable skirmishes between he and I over the years. Due to chronic sciatica issues, I sleep with a pillow between or under my legs, depending on my position. Charlie likes my pillow. He likes it so well, it’s his favorite spot to lie down in our room, cat piling next to it as it sits under the covers. When I am not in bed, I’m fine with it. However, I have a bit of a quirk of my own, which runs completely counter to his — I cannot in any way stand to have more weight than the covers and pajamas on or adjacent to my legs or feet when I am trying to sleep. I’ve had cats park themselves on my stomach or chest (one tried my face, but that was a bit much!) while sleeping, and been fine with it. But Charlie and I go through almost nightly battles for dominance of who will be sleeping where when I lie down. These often involve me pushing him away from under the covers, with ever-increasing fervor, using my legs and feet, until he gets the hint I truly mean business yet again. Grumbling at him on my part is another important part of the ritual, whether aloud or silently.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s not to complain about it. Nor is it to hear from you, dear readers, how horrid I am to Charlie about my own quirky likes and dislikes. It’s because last night, as we battled yet again, something occurred to me. My battles with Charlie over the dominance and position on our bed are remarkably similar to the battles we all face when dealing with faults and failings that so often beset all of us.

The Bible talks about these things, calling them “besetting sins.” Our modern language might refer to them as “nagging issues.” The meaning is the same. Hebrews 12:1 – 2 has quite a bit to say about it

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.

We’re surrounded on a daily basis by people who witness our lives. Oh, I don’t just mean the people with whom we interact, and neither did the writer of Hebrews. The writer was talking about a crowd in a Heavenly stand, of those gone in faith before us, who now cheer us on as we run our daily race of life. Yes, the ones we interact with daily are visible, but that doesn’t make the Heavenly ones any less real.

The writer likens it to a runner who has tossed off everything unnecessary to the completion of his race. We’ve all seen Olympic competitions. The runners are seen prior to the race, wearing warm-up suits and often have a towel around their necks, and possibly some other gear to keep warm and dry. But just before the race starts, everything that isn’t his or her minimal uniform and sneakers is shed. The runner doesn’t need the weight or drag on them as he or she moves. Can you imagine trying to run an Olympic sprint wearing weights? It would be impossible! In the same way, we are called to daily toss off those besetting sins to run that day’s race with our best efforts.

There is also the issue of the goal. In an Olympic race, the goal is the finish line and the prize is a gold medal. While as a Christian my eventual eternal goal is Heaven, there is a goal here on earth, too. Evangelist and theologian Charles Finney called it the striving toward personal sanctification in this lifetime. The way the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it is to keep Jesus in our view at all times, seeking to live in His Father’s perfect will moment by moment.

The writer of Hebrews is saying just like Olympic runners shed everything unnecessary to their goals, it’s the same with us. Just as I work nightly to shove Charlie from my legs and feet so I can sleep in peace, I need to examine my life on a daily basis to see what is holding me back, to be aware of what is hindering me, to repent of the sin entangling me, so I can move forward freely in peace with myself, God and others once more.

And just like my nightly battles with Charlie, some sins will take longer to throw off than others. Some will be blind spots, for which I will need the wisdom and grace of a mentor and trusted friend to point out what I cannot see. Some will be deeply ingrained, requiring God’s Holy Spirit to completely renovate my character. And some, though unfortunately very few, might just be as simple a solution as encouraging Charlie to cat pile on Bob . . .

I pray you are able to see your goal, throw off your weights, and come run with me!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Simba (top left), Boots (bottom left) & Charlie (right) cat piling with my pillow on our bed:

Here’s a cartoon I found, just for fun!

A Girl Worth Fighting For?

What kind of expectations do we place on ourselves? How about what we expect of others? Are they true and real ones, or are they more often based in fantasy or unreality?

I’ve been exploring this topic for myself lately, and I’d like to share a few thoughts about it. While sick with a horrible cold, I decided to take a couple of hours over a few days and watch the charming Disney movies Mulan and Mulan II. There is a song in Mulan that reprises in Mulan II, and it became the subject of my thoughts, and thus this post. Here’s a video link to the song in the first movie: A Girl Worth Fighting For

The song is charming, expressing the longings of men heading into a dangerous situation, who only want to know what they are about to face is worth it for someone back home. They express their hopes and dreams of what each believe is their ideal female, and how much they want the presence of these ladies in their lives when they go home. In the second movie, the song is taken further, by heroes come home who still don’t have the women of their dreams by their sides.

At first, I listened to the music and just enjoyed it. It speaks of what Wild At Heart by John Eldredge details. It says how all men really want is a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue and to be a hero. As a woman, I find these concepts somewhat foreign, but I’ve studied enough on the differences between men and women to understand these compelling needs. After all, as a woman, I find myself often yearning to be the beauty to be rescued, to nurture my hero and guard and care for the helpless, particularly those closest to me.

The problem came as I thought more about the song. Because as I did, I started to change the lyrics. I started to make them personal. Instead of a man wanting a girl worth fighting for, I wanted to be that girl worth fighting for.  I started to think of whether or not I was worth fighting for, if I wasn’t slender enough, pretty enough, smart enough or just enough of whatever. I started to wonder if I was too much of whatever. I started to think the expectations of the lyrics to be a girl worth fighting for were on me.

It was then I realized I was giving in (yet again!) to our culture’s domineering critical nature against women, and my own self-doubts and fears I battle daily. I next realized as a daughter of God, a born-again Blood of Christ covered repentant sinner, I am enough! I am enough in the sight of God, and if HE says I am enough, it ends the matter.

The problem next happened that I started to put it on my poor long-suffering spouse. Now, instead of thinking why I couldn’t be a girl worth fighting for if there wasn’t a problem with him seeing me as a girl worth fighting for. So I started ladling unrealistic expectations on him, instead. I wanted him to be instantly something he is not, instead of who he wonderfully is and allowing him the same process he allows me daily to change and grow.

How often we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others, instead of simply realizing we’re all a work in progress and being patient with everyone’s process, including our own!! It’s so subtle and sneaky, too! I thought I had it beaten, but then this darn song went and proved me oh, so wrong, giving me yet another opportunity to repent, change and grow. As I realize what happened and what I did to both of us, I feel so absurd. But then, that’s what unrealistic expectations are, really. They’re absurd, and the sooner we recognize them for what they are, the happier we’ll all be.

Now, I need to go watch another movie and find a new song, so I can get this dratted one out of my head!!

Words That Changed Everything

In the beginning,

in the time before time,

God spoke into the void and changed everything.

He said,

Let there be light!

and so there was.

In the garden,

in another time before time,

God spoke into a hard place and changed everything.

He said,

He shall crush his head and he shall bruise His heel

and it was so.

In the city of Ur,

in a land of strangers,

God spoke into a family and changed everything.

He said,

My covenant shall be with your family forever

and it was cut.

In the Nile delta,

in the palace of a pharaoh,

God spoke to a nation and changed everything.

He said,

Let My people go!

and it became a reality.

In the hills outside Jerusalem,

in a place of grief and graves,

God spoke to the world the words that changed everything.

His angel said,

He is not here! He is risen!

and it was so.

Death is defeated! Jesus is risen! Alleluia!