"Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

"Greetings, you who are highly favored!" 
I considered starting my Christmas letter with that cheerful approach, but feared the receivers of my letter would get the wrong idea.  I wouldn't want them to assume I considered them highly favored since they were so fortunate to receive a Christmas letter from me.  Trust me, my Christmas letters are nothing special, and I sincerely doubt the recipients consider them a great joy!

Actually, I have a really hard time knowing what to write each year.  How do you begin to honestly capture what the past year has brought?  Frankly, it gets a little boring to discuss my part-time job as a bookkeeper and Steve's job as an accountant (jobs we've had for 20+ years...and honestly, how does one make accounting sound exciting?).  I could write about our "vacations," but I fear our friends would find it quite ho-hum to read about our weekend jaunts to NW Iowa to visit the kids and grandkids (a desirable destination for us because our precious ones are there; but let's face it, Northwest Iowa is not the most sought-after vacation spot in the world!).  I'm afraid it would be a bit of a downer to write of depression and bipolar disorder (both of which were a reality in our home this year); and I would find it impossible to capture the emotions I experienced as the Bible study I wrote was finally published and printed.  But those are all honest snapshots of our year.   Hmmm, maybe I do have an idea of what to write!  If you get my letter, these words might sound familiar :).

Anyway, back to the greeting at the top of the page.  "Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you."  This was the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary when he shared with her his amazing news from heaven.  (If you are unfamiliar with this beautiful story, you can read it in Luke 1:26-38).

But, let's not leave this spirited greeting on the pages of Luke, dusting them off once a year at Advent.  These are God's words to us, too!  Words He speaks over us every minute of the day.  If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you, too, are highly favored!  Can you say this is your identity in Christ?  Or do you tend to believe that when God looks at you, He sees only your faults, your blunders, your sin.  Is it your belief that God will never call you "highly favored" until you get your act together?  Perhaps the sin we're most guilty of is neglecting God's grace...of turning our face away in disbelief and doubt when God shines His eyes on us and claims us as His highly favored.

I wonder if so much has been made of Mary's favorable attributes -- her virtue, her obedience, her unquestioning faith -- that we lose sight of the fact that God chose Mary because of His grace.  Yes, she was a loyal follower of Yahweh, but Mary was chosen to bear the Son of God because she was "the object of God's unmerited, graciously provided goodness."  "[Mary] did not ask for or seek this role in God's plans; God...simply stepped into her life and brought her into his service."  (Quotes taken from the IVP New Testament Commentary on Luke...see BibleGateway.com-commentaries).

God simply stepped into her life and brought her into his service.  And miracle of miracles -- He does the same with you and me.  I recently read this beautiful quote in the devotional, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young (p. 331).  "The kingdom of God is not about earning and deserving, it's about believing and receiving."  This advent season, let's open our hearts and our hands and receive God's gift of grace, love, and favor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

So this afternoon I ran away.  I need to do that from time to time.  When the frustrations mount I find it healthier to disengage—to go to a quiet place.  Today’s destination was Fifield Park, on Lake Red Rock.  I packed fairly light…my laptop, my tote bag with books, Bible, and journal, and a bottle of water.  (I debated stopping by the bakery for a cream-filled bismark, but wisely decided against that one!)

What a peaceful oasis awaited me.   All around I saw evidence of Elohim—Creator God.  He spoke through the tender breeze and the dancing, falling leaves.  He sparkled in the diamonds of light exploding on the lake.  I smelled His fragrance in the dry, dusty scent of autumn.  He spoke calm to my soul.  He listened so patiently as I poured out my heart.

God invited me to give voice to what’s weighing me down.   Time and again I find that it’s in the telling that I come to a place of deeper understanding and peace.

So today I tell God there seems to be no end in sight to this struggle.  Oftentimes we know a current affliction is only for a season.   We yearningly remember the “before,” we doggedly press on through the “during,” and we eagerly anticipate the promise of the “after.”   But what about when there is no assurance of an “after”—when we live day after day in the “during” and there is no end in sight?  When the realization hits that this struggle is not just for a season.

I sensed God nodding in understanding.  Then He quietly reminded me that He only ever asks me to live in the present.  To live in His Presence.  His Presence today—this very moment—is what will carry me through the “during.”  His Presence will help me live in the fullness of abundant life today.  He doesn’t want me to look far ahead.  He promises light for the step I’m on.

In the stillness of nature I read aloud God’s Words to Him...Psalms of encouragement, promise, and praise.  As I read to Him, He spoke to me.  Mutual joy and love flowed from each other and to each other.  How true His words, “He inhabits the praise of His people.” (Ps. 22:3)

It was time to go home.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Tale of Two Sermons...

On a recent Sunday morning I heard two sermons that keep playing through my mind.  The first one was from a famous television preacher.  Kyle was flipping through the channels and decided to listen in.  I was sitting downstairs with him, so I put my book down and listened as well.  This man is well-known for his “prosperity” gospel, and on this particular morning, he was on his game.  His passage was Heb. 11:6b, “…anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  Honestly, much of what he said was very true.  God does want us to seek Him and He does promise to reward those who do.  He does promise to do abundantly more than we can ask or imagine.  I am totally in agreement with these beautiful truths.  But what I also heard this preacher say was that God will reward us with prosperity.  Even though he did not say that we would get rich by seeking God, that idea was constantly intimated.  As an example of how God rewards those who seek Him, the minister told us about an oil man whose life was falling apart.  His business was failing and his marriage was on the rocks.  One Sunday morning, this man and his wife came across the preacher’s television show, listened in, and decided to start flying to this particular state every weekend in order to attend his church.  Soon after that, the oil man’s rigs struck oil!  Now he and his wife are incredibly wealthy and their marriage is strong.  Wow!  God is good, indeed!  The minister promised his congregation and those listening on TV that if we seek God, God will bring us places we’ve never imagined.  He’ll bless us in ways we never thought possible.  

A couple of hours later, Steve, Kyle, and I went out to the services at Red Rock Dam.  It was a gorgeous morning to worship under the trees.  The speaker this morning was a man from central Iowa who farms and also has an insurance business….a man of faith who simply loves the Lord and has a story to share.  He read Psalm 24 (“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…”).  He talked about having faith in God and trusting Him no matter what happens in our lives.  Then he shared with us how God has been growing his faith this past year.  His middle son (30-something) died less than a year ago.  He was diagnosed with acute leukemia and died three days later.  In his death he left behind a widow and three young children, as well as his parents, two brothers and their families, and scores of others who loved and respected him.  As an elementary teacher and a coach of various sports, he impacted many lives—not only in his life, but also in his death.  This young man loved the Lord and was not afraid to let others know this.  His dad shared that their family is simply trusting in the Lord, knowing that He is God and He is good.  He testified that God’s love is sustaining them through the worst thing this family has ever had to endure.  No glitz.  No promises of riches and prosperity.  Just an honest acknowledgment that the places God brings us are not always glamorous and delightful.  But we can be assured that no matter where God brings us, He is there.  And He is enough.

These two messages stood out in such sharp contrast in my mind.  When God promises to reward those who earnestly seek Him, it so often looks very different than what we’d expect.  When He promises to bring us places we’d never imagined, it might be a place we would never, ever choose for ourselves.  I love the way Laura Story addresses this in her song, “Blessings”.  http://www.youtube.com/artist/Laura_Story?feature=watch_video_title

“Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise.”  (Laura Story)

Life on this side of heaven will bring tears and trials; but out of these might come our greatest blessings.  What if the trials of this life… are Your mercies in disguise.  That’s honest faith.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

online support group...

Wow!  Two blog entries in one day!  Well, I guess one was last night -- late.  I couldn't sleep and just needed to write.  I usually feel better after I get things out of my head and on to paper.  Anyway, this will be a short one, I promise.

If you're a Christian parent of a child (of any age) with a disability (of any kind), there's a new online support group I would invite you to check out.  It's part of The Network, an online forum which seeks to connect people in various ministries.  This support group came out of a discussion that was posted in the "Disability Concerns" forum.  The specific link is http://network.crcna.org/forums/disability-concerns/parent-parent-support.

Check it out and pass the word along!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

on death and dying...

 Kyle and our beloved pet, Marshmallow

On Tuesday we put our precious pet, Marshmallow, down.  Marshy has been a part of our family for almost 15 years.  When Katie was nine years old, she convinced us that we needed this little white ball of fluff to complete our family!  Marshmallow, a Bichon Frise, was aptly named.  She was white, soft, cuddly, and extremely loyal.  Life and age took a toll on her, though, and the time came to make a very hard decision.  We will all miss her so much.  Kyle tells me over and over how much he misses her.  My heart aches for him as he struggles to make sense of this loss.

As painful as this is for our family, it seems almost insignificant in light of two other deaths in as many weeks.  A former classmate of my daughter died suddenly…taken by his own hand.  It’s almost too much to wrap my mind around.  What pain was in his heart and life that he simply couldn’t bear anymore?  I’m so thankful Abba can see our hearts.  We can only see the outer shell, the actions…and we just don’t understand.  Our Father, with His deep love and compassion, understands all.  He knows what silent pain lurks in the hearts of his broken children.  What hope we have in knowing that the sacrifice of His Son is sufficient for all who believe in Him.  He hears each one who calls out to Him in love…or in despair.  And He promises that nothing will snatch a child of His out of His palm.  In the swirling confusion of such a death, family and friends cling to this precious hand of hope.

The second death was that of my uncle.  Uncle John lived a long, full life -- 84 years on this earth.  A tiny speck of time compared to the eternity he’s now entered.  I was honored to be asked to play piano at his funeral, and I asked the Lord to let love flow through my fingers.  It was a gentle service, honoring a man who had lived many years.  I enjoyed hearing stories of my uncle from my cousin who spoke during the service.  Though the family was not shocked by his death, there was sadness and tears.  A much-loved husband, dad, grandpa, and friend had died.

Death.  “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  (I Cor. 15:26)  No wonder we instinctively hate death.  It is Christ’s ultimate enemy and therefore our enemy, as well.  Whether the death of a young person in the prime of his life, an elderly man in his winter years, or the death of a much-loved pet, we cry and grieve over what was and now is no more.  

We were created for LIFE and we know it!  God has such a way of turning things right side up.  He takes that which seeks to destroy us and makes it the very thing which ushers us into LIFE!  It’s only in dying that we will truly live.  Our hope lies in this mystery.  When a child of God passes from this life to the next, he never really dies!  Those who die in the Lord are more alive than ever!