Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturday Selah: Christmas Blessings & Sorrows

You are good, and You do what is good; teach me Your statutes. --Psalm 119:68
I started my day thinking of the joys and sorrows of this Christmas season. My children were all around me...we had great times together with only a few of the inevitable conflicts when people are in each other's space for too long. We got to visit with family at the annual Christmas Eve party at my husband's grandmother's house. She is soon to be 93 and it is such a blessing that we get to share time with her. We had dinner on Christmas day at my mother-in-law's home, joined by my parents and my husband's grandmother.

But there were deep sorrows amongst all the celebrating. One of my mother-in-law's dearest friends passed away in the early hours of last Saturday. Her funeral was held on Tuesday. She was a wonderful lady and will be greatly missed. Her husband is the uncle of my husband's brother-in-law. He was the one who built the house we live in-in the 1940's. Their family lived here when their daughter was born.

On Christmas day, one of our church friends lost his mother to cancer. Although it was an expected passing, it is so painful for our friend and his family. He was unable to be with her at the end because she lived across the country. He was able to spend a few weeks with her in November.

Last night we got a call that the wife of my husband's uncle was playing with her grandchildren on the family room floor, got up and sat on the sofa with her eyes closed. She never opened her eyes again. My husband is in shock as he was just speaking with his father earlier and had learned that this same uncle was looking forward to to retiring from his job in a few weeks.

As sad as all this is, I was truly blessed by an unopened email that I clicked on this morning. It is an article on Today's Christian Woman website. I want to share it with you...somehow it has made me see how lovely it was that our friends and family were able to spend some precious moments with their loved ones. After the initial pain subsides, they have been gifted with memories that will bless them for the rest of their lives.

He Knows My Name

What an elderly store clerk reminded me about taking my name for granted

December 15, 2008 |

“Call me Bill,” the elderly, slightly stooped, sales clerk told me. He’d just handed me his business card. “For some reason they put ‘William’ on the card. But nobody calls me William. Only my mother did. But she’s long gone now.”

As I stood with this retired furniture salesman, now Home Depot appliance guru, I noticed a faraway look in his eyes. I figured it didn’t have to do with the white Maytag double oven we were currently discussing.

“She used to call me William when she was upset with me!” he said and chuckled. Then he turned serious. “What I wouldn’t give to hear my mother call me ‘William’ again. It’s been all these years since she passed, but I still wish I could hear her call my name. You still have your parents?”

I nodded.

“Well, enjoy them while you can. Time goes too quickly. Enjoy listening to the way your mom says your name. It’s the most precious gift.”

I’d gone searching for a new stove, but left with something far more valuable.

Back at home, I called my mom and chatted. I listened to her voice and enjoyed her quick, easy laugh. William was right; it was a wonderful gift and a strong reminder never to take someone’s voice for granted.

Later that evening as I was praying, William’s words drifted back into my mind. How often do I take for granted something as simple as hearing my name? Especially when God speaks it? How many opportunities have I missed to hear God whisper my name with love and acceptance and grace?

Names have such special meaning. In a sense, they define who we are. They bring comfort when spoken by someone we love. The “William” of childhood—who heard that name only when he was in trouble—now attached great significance to that name because it held a special memory of his mom.

I thought about Jesus’ names and how they bring great comfort to me when I say them: “Jesus,” the Lord saves; “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6); “Immanuel,” God with us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23).

I thought about Simon, whom Jesus named Peter: “I tell you,” Jesus said, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).

God attaches great significance to us through our names. Through the prophet Isaiah, God tells us, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1); “I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 45:3).

Too often in my busy days, I go through the routine of worship and devotional time. I pray, spouting off my laundry list of needs and wants and “will yous.” But rarely do I sit quietly with my Creator and simply listen to him say my name.

In his book Life of the Beloved, Catholic theologian and priest Henri Nouwen writes: “We are the Beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. That’s the truth spoken by the voice that says, ‘You are my Beloved.’ Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center [God’s] words that say: ‘I have called you by name, from the very beginning. You are mine and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst. I will not hide my face from you. You know me as your own as I know you as my own. You belong to me.’”

While my head understands Nouwen’s words, too often my heart cannot grasp that the Creator of the universe knows my name. He knows me intimately and cares about me; he considers me beloved.

We have a God who loves us so much he calls us by name. I am overwhelmed.

This Christmas, my house will be filled with the noise and clutter and chatter of five adults and four dogs for a week. The stresses and joys of the holiday will compete for my time and attention. But I hope that somewhere in there, every day and throughout the new year and beyond, I will not take for granted the knowledge that God calls me by name. I pray I will truly listen and hear him say, “Beloved. You are mine and I am yours.” And I will know that he means it.

Posted at 3:54 PM on December 15, 2008.

What a wonderful Christmas gift to have discovered in that unopened email -- to be reassured that I am the Lord's Beloved and He is mine!

And to combine with that blessing, as I typed this post, my son was going around opening windows...the outside temperature is warmer than the inside this morning: where yesterday we needed coats go outside, right now it is currently 61 degrees, and expected to get to the low 70's. We're heading out in a bit to take my grandson to play at the park and enjoy this unexpected gift (as it will go back to normal temperatures by Monday).

Dear Father, please be with our friends and family as they go through these sorrows. Thank you for helping me remember to take advantage of the time You've given me with my family. And thank You for the blessed reminder that You love me. Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

IOW: Our Own Favorites

The IOW hostesses are taking a break for the holidays. Loni suggested that we all write about our favorite quotes for this week and next. To read more and to link up your post go to Writing Canvas and sign Mr. Linky. While you're at Loni's place, read the latest about her daughter Jessica, the Christmas Miracle. Pray for them as Jessica recovers from open heart surgery.

"I am determined to be absolutely and entirely for Him and Him alone." ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

I love to use My Utmost for His Highest as part of my daily devotions. Our pastor recommended it several years ago and I went out right away and purchased an inexpensive copy at the "Big W" store.

Even though I've been through the book several times (and even treated myself to a lovely purple leather copy last year), I always find that the January 1 devotion is the most moving and heart-provoking of the whole year. And the statement that grabs me most every time, out of the more than 7000 sentences in the book, is the one quoted above.

I long for a heart completely captured by God, willingly surrendered to His will, joyfully following His plan for me. To me that is the greatest gift I could bring the Christ Child. Like the wisemen, I spend a lot of time seeking...searching the old documents...trying to find this King.

Unfortunately my sincerity is often marred my daily events, selfish thoughts, disorganized living. Even the good in my life, the service to my family and to my church get in the way of totally surrendering myself to Him.

So every Christmas I marvel at the wondrous Gift, resolve to spend the new year living devoted to Him, and by the time holiday breaks are over and life settles back into a normal my heart settles back into its normal routine: Reading the Word-sometimes in awe, sometimes in obligation; serving the Lord-sometimes in awe, sometimes in obligation.

I found the illustration of the Christmas Star above and it struck me with the thought of how profoundly it points not only to the manger, but also to the cross. Looking at the radiating points,

I see up into the heavens to God the Father and all creation.

I see the path to the manger and the kneeling shepherds worshipping the new born King.

I see the years of ministry our Lord had during His earthly life.

I see the path He took to the Cross of our Salvation.

I see the stone rolled back and evidence of His ressurection that means we who believe also will have Life ressurected.

I see Love that points to everyone everywhere.

I see that, no matter how I fail to keep that January 1st resolution, He gives me the opportunity everyday to " be absolutely and entirely for Him and Him alone."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday Selah: A few thoughts for Christmas

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." --Matthew 1:23
Christmas is just days away and I've worked to keep the true meaning fresh in my mind and heart. I can't help but be a bit "Bah! Humbug!" about certain sing-songy cliches about 'the reason for the season.' I even vetoed rhyming Christmas cards this year. I wanted to feel and send an authentic message about our true celebration.

We settled on this verse by Ron Lessin in a beautiful snowflake card from DaySpring cards.
Just think, you're here not by chance, but by God's choosing. His hand formed you and made you the person you are. He compares you to no one else--you are one of a kind. You lack nothing that His grace can't give you. He has allowed you to be here at this time in history to fulfill His special purpose for this generation.
My dear friends, it is my heart's desire: that you feel this loving message from the Lord and that you can fully realize His plans for you as we celebrate the greatest Gift ever given this December 25th. I enjoy writing for and connecting with each of you. I will be thinking about you and praying God's grace upon you this coming week.

I will leave you with the December 25th devotion from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest. I hope you can feel the love of the Father and the gift of the Son and the comfort of the Spirit all week and into the New Year.
His Birth and Our New Birth

His Birth in History. "...that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not emerge out of history; He came into history from the outside. Jesus Christ is not the best human being the human race can boast of---He is a Being for whom the human race can take no credit at all. He is not man becoming God, but God Incarnate---God coming into human flesh from outside it. His life is the highest and holiest entering through the most humble of doors. Our Lord's birth was an advent---the appearance of God in human form.

His Birth in Me. "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you..." (Galatians 4:19). Just as our Lord came into human history from outside it, He must also come into me from outside. Have I allowed my personal human life to become a "Bethlehem" for the Son of God? I cannot enter the realm of the kingdom of God unless I am born again from above by a birth totally unlike physical birth. "You must be born again" (John 3:7). This is not a command, but a fact based on the authority of God. The evidence of new birth is that I yield myself so completely to God that "Christ is formed" in me. And once "Christ is formed" in me, His nature immediately begins to work through me.

God Evident in the Flesh. This is what is made so profoundly possible for you and for me through the redemption of man by Jesus Christ.
Lord, Thank you for giving me a chance to be what You designed me to be. Thank you for sending your Son that I might become a fragrance lovely to You. Help me share this chance with others. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thankful Thursday: Random

This video is about as random as it gets. I'm so very thankful that our family makes a point to avoid turning the holidays into this:

Visit Iris at Grace Alone for more Thankful Thursday posts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WFW: The Glory of God!

Nothing says rejoicing like the enthusiasm of children!
This is the Dynamo's preschool group singing
"We Wish YOU A Merry Christmas!"
(It's also his first on-stage performance!! *proud Nana sigh*)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday Selah: Grace Woven in Darkness

I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places. --Isaiah 45:3
I have a little linen doily made by my great-grandmother. It is one of the few pieces with tatted lace made by her own hands that remains in existence. For me that makes it all the more precious and I take the task of its preservation seriously. It never sits on a table where food or drink may be used. It is never under a candle holder. When it is on display, it is used to highlight a special item that in no way can harm the doily.

Monetarily, it is not very valuable...a similar one is selling on ebay for under $10. But the value of the doily is not in its materials, for linen and cotton thread are cheap. The value of my doily comes from the hands that made it. My great-grandmother spent time using her talents to produce this little piece to make her home more lovely. She probably never imagined that the work she did in the early part of the 20th century would be adorning her great-granddaughter's home in the early part of the 21st century.

I read a little devotion from Streams in the Desert (1925) by Mrs. L.B. Cowman today that stirred the thoughts of my great-grandmother's doily. The devotion was probably written around the same time my great-grandmother's fingers wove my doily. Let me share with you the beauty woven by Mrs. Cowman's suffering on the mission field of Japan as she collected beautiful words to comfort and sustain her through the difficulties.

December 13

In the famous lace shops of Brussels, there are special rooms devoted to the spinning of the world's finest lace, all with the most delicate patterns. The rooms are kept completely dark, except for the light that falls directly on the developing pattern from one very small window. Only one person sits in each small room, where the narrow rays of light fall upon the threads he is weaving, for lace is always more beautifully and delicately woven when the weaver himself is in the dark, with only his work in the light.

Sometimes the darkness of our lives is worse, because we cannot even see the web we are weaving or understand what we are doing. Therefore we are unable to see any beauty or possible good arising from our experience. Yet if we are faithful to forge ahead and "if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9), someday we will know that the most exquisite work of our lives was done during those days when it was the darkest.

If you seem to be living in deep darkness because God is working in strange and mysterious ways, do not be afraid. Simply go forward in faith and in love, never doubting Him. He is watching and will bring goodness and beauty from all of your pain and tears. ~J.R. Miller
My husband and I are in a time of questioning. We know we are called to be ministers in our own community. But, for some reason, God allowed the little mission church we've been involved with to close its doors. The state convention withdrew its funding and the pastor is moving on to other ministry opportunities. So the work of the past years seems for naught. Except....we have not felt God telling us He has changed our calling. The present time seems to be meant for refreshing and regrouping, bathed in prayer.

I don't know what our next move will be, but I am assured that the Master Weaver has the threads of my life firmly in His hands. I know He has gifted me to weave certain threads He gives me into a design of His choosing, not mine. And I know that the final work will be a masterpiece.
The shuttles of His purpose move
To carry out His own design;
Seek not too soon to disapprove
His work, nor yet assign
Dark motives, when, with silent tread,
You view some somber fold;
For lo, within each darker thread
There twines a thread of gold.

Spin cheerfully,
Not tearfully,
He knows the way you plod;
Spin carefully,
Spin prayerfully,
But leave the thread with God.
--from the Canadian Home Journal

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm a Guest Contributor @ Internet Cafe Devotions Tuesday:

Advent Lost: A Christmas Parable

She slipped quietly into the back pew after the service started. The congregation’s song washed over her, calming her slightly, as she looked around the modest sanctuary through the veil of her hair.

The song came to an end and the worship leader told the congregation to shake hands with everyone around them. Suppressing a surge of panic, she hurried out the doors and went into the restroom she had seen as she walked in the church foyer. She stayed there until she heard the music start again.

IOW: The Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!

Lori @ All You Have to Give is hosting today's In Other Words. Visit her blog to read more and to leave a link to your post.

Confession Time: I've already had some Grinch-y moments this year. :*( The first time was when I saw the countdown to Christmas sign at the "Big W" store --before October 1st. Who needs the pressure to start shopping, decorating, cooking.....that early!!!? [Sorry. Moment of remembered panic here.] What I meant to ask is- why can't we just take it a day at a time? What about all the important celebrations we can have before all the shopping, decorating, cooking!!!!?

Besides all the health-related awareness observances...did the "Big W" store marketers pause to consider that October is Auto Battery Safety Month? And Pickled Pepper Month? And Dinosaur Month? And we just can't forget: Sarcastic Awareness Month! Then there's the weekly observances: First week of October is Get Organized Week, and World Space Week, and Breastfeeding Week? Did they even bother to put out the Teller Appreciation Week cards for the second week of October? Now that is really a big Pet Peeve of mine (observed, interestingly enough the same week as the Teller Appreciation)! Even if we fast forward through the rest of October (and skip remembering Wolf Awareness Week and National Radon Week), we still have November's observances to get through...

Which is, as we all know, Apple Month (oops...did I just do a flashback to Sarcastic Awareness Week?). In the rush to shove Christmas sales down our throats, the stores don't even acknowledge important birthdays (like Rutherford B. Hayes-Oct. 4; Evil Knievel-Oct. 17; Lyle Lovett-Nov. 1; & Harpo Marx-Nov. 23).

Of course, in the race to sell us some "holiday" spirit, they completely forget to display gifts for Hi Neighbor Month (December)...focusing instead on flashy, tinsel-filled displays of toys, jewelry, and way-too-rich foods. Instead of commemorating Ice Cream and Violins Day (Dec. 13), they incessantly blare out announcements of ONLY 15 SHOPPING DAYS LEFT! Like shopping doesn't happen December 26--Hello!!! After Christmas Sales!! (Just like Black Friday, only sadder with broken toys and returned ugly sweaters on the shelves.)

There is always something or someone demanding our attention and our celebration and our money. Greeting card companies and toy companies and political action committees and non-profits call and ring bells and hammer and pound to get one more dime (read spend, spend, buy, buy here) out of us. And I get so tired of trying to make everyone happy and fill everyone's wishes...sometimes I just wanna hide away from the entire season.

Wait! Before you start humming the tune to "You're A Mean One, Mrs. Grinch," and wondering why you even clicked on this blog post... I assure you I really am more Cindy Lou Who than Grinch---once I changed my focus from the rush to the creche.

"Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Now listen: you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call His name JESUS. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. His will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." --Luke 1:28, 30-33
Remembering the coming Savior has been the best thing I've done for my family and myself. It took getting outside the commercialization of Christmas and regaining the spirit of awe that Mary felt when the angel spoke to her and promised this Son to resize my heart (previously 2 sizes too small--oh, no...that was the Grinch). After all, the promise to birth the Son of God was given to Mary, while the promise to bear the Son of God was given to all believers. Have you celebrated this promise and shared this gift yet?

Our family makes the time to revisit the story throughout the whole Advent season. When we were deciding this year what Scripture to start with, our 3-year-old grandson popped up, in his sweet little lisp, with, "We need to start with Jesus!"

That's what it's all about, dear friends. And I wonder how relaxed and special the season would be if instead of Grinching-out when I first see the countdown signs...if I just "start with Jesus?"

They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in a manger. After seeing them, they reported the message they were told about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed. -Luke 2:16-18