The day after Christmas

For over a month it occupied the space normally taken by our enormously overgrown umbrella plant. The places underneath it now bare; presents it had guarded, opened and gone. The gold beaded garland which had been hung with so much care a few weeks before now hangs in drooping, careless cascades where little hands have pulled at it. 

As I take the ornaments from their posts I feel an overwhelming melancholy. The house is too quiet and all that remains to be done is to put away the decorations. I wonder what is there to look forward to now? Where is the unspeakable joy of Christmas Eve? What happened to the sweet song of the angels?

On Christmas Day in the midst of all the squealing laughter and happy chatter I had paused to kneel in the corner of my kitchen to give thanks for the blessings of my family. Now only days later I am wondering where my happiness lies. But as quickly as those thoughts are formed the Spirit whispers to me in the quiet of the house. And because of the silence I can hear Him plainly.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Missing the faces of my family around me it is all too easy to slip into the nearsighted vision of the world. In reality, there is much to look forward to because God has a plan. A plan that is meant for me alone. Joy still abounds even in the days after the celebration. And it is because of the stillness I can clearly hear the continuous song of the angels. Glory to God in the highest!

I Wonder?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary lately. Wondering what was going through her tender teenaged mind. Knowing that many, if not most, of the people in her small town doubted her story. It wasn’t the first time that two people in love, pledged to be married had found themselves in this predicament. A baby on the way before the official ceremony, but the story she told, well it was ridiculous. Really it was more than that, it was completely unbelievable. After all, why would she above all other young women be chosen to carry the son of God? Was she able to hold her head high amid the gossip? Did her friends believe her story or did they nod in support only to secretly question her honesty?

In the last days of her pregnancy did she resist the urge to complain as she made the laborious journey to Bethlehem? When they arrived in the small city overflowing with people did panic begin to set in when she realized that she was going to be spending the night in a barn? And when the pain of labor overwhelmed her did she cry out for her mother as Joseph attempted to do the job for which he had not been trained? Was there ever a moment when she thought that surely God would have made a different provision for His son?

Sweet Mary, mother of God, when you held your beautiful son for the first time, did you know then what was in store for your baby Jesus? Did the barn’s beam cast a shadow of the cross over the manger where you laid him? Or in the Father’s great mercy, did God conceal this information?

Thirty years later as you stood at the foot of the cross did your mind flash back to the starlit stable where shepherds sought out the King? Did you wonder why the angels who had pronounced his birth did not fall out of heaven to rescue Him from death? Mary, most blessed among women, what a heavy burden you were called to carry. I thank you darling sister in Christ, for being faithful to God’s call; for believing the promise and yielding up your life to God’s holy plan. May I follow your example of selfless love.

For Unto to Us

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Those words have been resonating in my mind since I was privileged to be in attendance as my daughter directed a 200 member choir singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’ s Messiah. It was remarkable to hear middle school aged children tackle such a difficult piece of classical music and I was brought to tears as their young voices sang out praise.

But it was more than their musicianship that touched my heart. It was the fact that God was once again using the voices of children to bring me into His presence. Nearly every day as I spend time with the children in my class I hear the voice of God speaking to me. Opportunities abound for me to practice patience and kindness, but there are also times when the kindness and love they show toward me far outshines my own efforts.

Today I am thankful for all of the children in my life, those who have been given to me to love and for the Holy Child given to the world so long ago to bring love to me. The Father’s most beautiful gift – and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6  Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!

Trusted Counsel

Recently I went shopping with a friend. By no stretch of the imagination am I runway savvy, but I like to think of myself as someone who at least has a decent amount of fashion sense. There are a few friends who even take me with them to help them make decisions about their clothing purchases. This time, though it was my friend who offered a bit of wisdom to me.

As I emerged from the dressing room wearing a flowing, jewel encrusted top my friend looked me right in the eye, pointed her finger and said a vehement, “No!” I smiled because I already knew I would never buy the shirt I was wearing, but cracked up at her response. “That blouse has cruise ship buffet line written all over it.”

Thank goodness for an honest friend. We all need someone who is willing to risk hurting our feelings for our ultimate benefit. A loving word of correction is worth so much more than insincere flattery. Proverbs 28:23 tells me, “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue.”

It’s difficult to be the kind of friend who risks falling out of favor by offering counsel that might not be popular. Still I thank God for the people in my life who love me enough to hold me accountable in the things that are much more important than what I wear. They are the ones who help me check my attitudes, my motives, and the condition of my heart.

Thank-you, Lord,  for trusted counsel. I praise You for the people in my life who give me encouragement, but also correction. Help me to offer the same kind of love in return.

Forgiveness

How wonderful life would be if we could resolve our conflicts as quickly as children after a playground tussle. Two little boys, one blonde the other brown-haired, sat together at lunch smiling and laughing, trading stories and cookies. Five minutes into recess they were at my side wailing accusations. Brown-hair said he had been pushed and kicked. Blonde-hair was sporting a goose egg above his eye. Best of friends only minutes earlier were now spewing out conflicting crime scene reports. I listened intently as each one told his version then put on my referee shirt and sent them to opposite ends of the time-out area to cool down. After the proper amount of “refrigeration” we came back together, talked it out, shook hands, forgave and forgot. They ran back out on to the field of play as friends again.

I have to admit that I don’t always handle conflict in my own life quite so well. I wear my referee shirt a little too often letting that innate sense of fairness get in my way. If I get hurt, it is usually because I feel I have been treated unfairly and the road to resolution is blocked by my unwillingness to let it go. I don’t stay mad; I hold onto hurt.

Recently someone I dearly love unintentionally hurt my feelings.  It took a day or two but I got over myself and forgave the slight. After all, I told myself, I’m not the kind of person who holds onto grudges. I have always taken seriously the “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against” part of the Lord’s prayer. Still as I prayed the Spirit called me into account. I may have forgiven and given up the anger part of the offense but knew deep down I was still harboring hurt. As long as I allowed that seed of hurt to remain no good fruit was going to grow. It was time for me to live out 1 Corinthians 13:5 as an example of love. Paul writes that love “ does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

It’s hard to ignore that last part- it keeps no record of wrongs. I was fooling myself to think that just because I wasn’t angry any more didn’t mean I wasn’t keeping score. The fact that I was still hurt was evidence to the contrary. The Spirit reminded me that allowing hurt to hold me hostage is a scheme of the enemy.

And so I finally gave it up – all of it this time and managed to break out of my pity-party-prison. I’m not saying it was easy – just necessary. Sometimes putting the key into that prison lock and turning till I hear the click is the hardest thing in the world to do. And yet when I finally summon up the courage to do it I find myself basking in the sunshine again wondering why in the world I waited so long. And then like the little boys in the school yard I can run back onto the playground with a free, unincumbered heart thanking my God for the gift of forgiveness.

Thank-you, Jesus for the extravagent love and forgiveness You have poured out over me. Although I am undeserving, I accept it with a grateful heart. Help me to return that love and forgiveness to the ones around me. I love you, Lord.

A Light in the Dark

Like so many other houses this time of year, strands of colored lights outline the perimeter of my home. Our lights are nothing fancy, just your basic multi-colored bulbs.(Not that I’m being competitive, but they pale in comparison to our neighbor’s yearly elaborate flashing display.) Still, they add rainbow splashes to a darkened country road.

I’ve always loved looking at the seasonal lights. Years ago our family would pour into the minivan for our annual “Christmas light tour”. Scouring the streets of our small town we kept our eyes open in search of lights. Sometimes we ventured onto the surrounding country roads and were surprised by a lonely, neighborless house thoroughly decked out in illuminating glory. It seemed a shame that all that beauty would only be seen by the few cars that happened to meander down that way.

The memory of those glowing lights in the night remind me of how God has called me as a believer to be in the world. In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus tells us  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

In this season of Advent, as we wait for the birth of our King, there are those among us who are still searching for a Savior. Winding down a weary, blackened road they don’t yet know of His power or His saving grace. Every turn has led to discouragement and disappointment. What if they were to catch a glimpse of a glowing city on a hill that offers hope and encouragement? What a difference it could make to know that someone loves and cares for them.

As believers, Jesus has called us to be a light into the darkness, to light a path that leads to life. Each day is an opportunity for evangelism. Will I take my commission seriously?  Will I act upon the opportunity to let my light shine or will I blend in like another burned out bulb? Lord Jesus, help me to shine.