As I sat by the warmth of gas logs this morning, I counted gifts in my gratitude journal. How can I not? I have been blessed. An unusual contentment enveloped me as I soaked in the sweetness of the moment.
I began to think of family and friends who are dealing with loss, grief, health concerns, situations that cannot be fixed with a wrapped present or a holiday celebration. I prayed for them, and I thought of other Christmases when I sank in my own gloom and despair. I understand.
Whether we purchased all the asked-for gifts or money was tight; whether everyone comes home this year or we have an empty chair at the table; whether the family gathers happily or conflict erupts; whether life feels full or we experience an emptiness that cannot be filled;
There is Jesus.
He is Lord. Lord over all. Lord of my sunny days and my dark nights. Lord of my laughter and my tears. Lord and King benevolent, always bestowing the grace of Himself. He is the greatest present. He is the closest presence.
He is God with us.
The mystery was revealed and angels gazed in wonder.
The prophecy foretold was fulfilled.
The Promise became living, breathing Infant. Child. Savior.
The Creator surrendered to the constraints of creation.
The Lawgiver fulfilled the law.
The breath of God, very Word, became flesh, dwelling with us. We see His glory.
The unutterable name of YHVH was called Yeshua. Jesus.
And thus . . .
The lost is found. The prodigal gets to go home.
The impure is cleansed. The sinner is called righteous.
The ugly is redeemed and clothed in beauty.
The war-torn is offered peace and a place of rest.
The needy receives grace.
The orphan is welcomed into the Father’s house and invited to call Him Abba.
Those thousands of years ago in Bethlehem, it was a holy night.
This day, this time in history, this moment, it is holy still.
Reading Exodus 33 once again, I am struck by the audacity of Moses’ request of God Almighty:
“Show me Your glory.”
Oh God, we need Your presence more than Your good gifts.
We work for the stuff of this earthly life, houses, cars, trinkets, bank accounts, travel. We seek education, careers, and climb ladders to who knows where, hoping for a taste of fulfillment, to find happiness, to experience contentment.
We look for fun in the funniest of places, wanting something long-lasting, expecting it to satisfy, while it floats to the ground like dry leaves.
We spend our strength on things short-lived and temporal, that which passes away, leaving us searching for the next thing.
And all the time it is You, Lord, that we need. More than comfort, more than healing, more than gifts, more than answers. We. Need. You.
Give us hungry hearts. Give us ears to hear You and eyes to see You in our everyday moments. Show us how needy we are for Your Presence, Your Voice, Your Holiness.
The day dawned magnificently, after rain and lower temperatures that enticed me into long sleeves.
With coffee cup in hand, I headed to the car, driving the miles to a long-awaited promise. The sky boasted shades of red and pink as the sun broke into the night, and my heart was eager for the day.
Parking my car, I walked to the church with Psalm 103 on my lips.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I was greeted by the women, beautiful women who had set their alarms early to arrive ahead of the crowd, who came to serve with smiles on their faces. And the joy of the Lord shone round about.
We came for Cultivate, to hear Kelly Minter teach from passages of Matthew 8 and 9, stories familiar to any who had grown up in the church. But today they were fresh, new, breathing, because the Word of God is active and living, its razor sharp edges penetrating my soul and spirit, judging the intents of my heart. I marked my Bible and took pages of notes so I wouldn’t forget.
We praised and worshiped in song with hearts and hands lifted to the only One worthy of our adoration. The music was a tender balm to my weariness. Tears washed my eyes so I could see Jesus.
At lunch I chatted with friends young and older, enjoying the fellowship of women who are dear to me. Smiles radiated on faces as we savored the experience of this day in August. Hugs were part and parcel to the love we felt.
Time flew and I was not ready for it to be over. Had we really been there seven hours? It didn’t feel like it, this taste of heaven’s atmosphere where God’s daughters are in one accord, bound together in unity and purpose.
What made the difference in this day among other days? I’ve pondered that.
We planned, prepared and prayed for it. We did our homework through Kelly’s Bible studies through the years. We were expectant and hopeful, desiring a fresh touch from our Father. We came with our hands open to receive.
And He did not disappoint. His glory was all around, and we opened our eyes to see it.
Is it possible I might experience God like this more than just one special day in a year? Is it me who holds back from receiving all He wants to give? Am I too busy with lesser things to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith? Do I prioritize time with Him and open my eyes to behold wondrous things from His Word? Do I put His commands in practice, keeping a humble, submissive heart?
Can I really have as much of God as I want? Didn’t my Father once tell me to believe and see the glory of God? And didn’t He prove faithful to His promise? Yes He did!
January has been different. It’s the only way I know to describe it.
With health concerns in the forefront of our minds, Sweet William and I began the month on the road, heading west to be with our precious ones. We needed the comfort of being with them. It’s the way we weather the storms of life sometimes, because we’re better together than apart.
Time spent with those we hold so dear was sweet, and the outcome of a surgery was positive. After a week, we headed home feeling relief and giving thanks to God for always providing His grace for our needs.
This trip we left Maisie at home with a house/pet sitter we trusted. Being our first experience, it created a little anxiety for me. I kept texting the first few days to see if everything was OK. It was beyond OK. Maisie got to play more than usual, and the house was freshly clean when we came home. It was an incredible welcome after long hours on the road, unloading the car and beginning the task of laundry and putting everything away.
I’ve been reclusive this month. Maybe it was the cold weather and too many grey-sky days. Maybe it was a case of the blues as I tried to iron out unruly thoughts. Maybe I needed the calm after the bustle of Christmas and the unexpected of New Year.
I journaled pages, scribbling and sorting through what troubled me. It’s like a free counseling session as I get emotions out of my system and onto paper. It is my hope that whoever may read my words one day will give me grace for being human and understand that I was in a difficult place.
I busied myself with inside projects and recognize it as a mechanism I use to deal. When something is out of control, whether that be me or circumstances, I do what I can control, like cleaning out a closet.
I’ve been between a rock and a hard place of trying to hygge with lit candles, snuggling in quilts, and cozy fire sitting while, at the same time, Marie Kondo prescribes that I tidy up my surroundings and turn loose of anything that does not bring me joy.
I briefly “read” (more like scanned) a book about minimalist decorating and decided I am not a fan. The pictures of rooms looked like no one lived there with their grey industrial walls and bare surfaces. I am fond of my stuff, the things I willingly dust around because each one reflects back to me a person, a memory, or simple beauty. I can find balance with my belongings without being overtaken by them.
During my January organizing, I went through old photographs, finding some treasures. One of my granddaughters recently developed an interest in studying her ancestry. I was happy to share pictures and stories with her. And one of these days, I really am going to put the black and white images in albums, especially now that someone will treasure their history.
Among the photographs, I found a couple of V-mail letters my mother had written to my father during WWII. The handwriting was tiny, but I recognized her familiar script. Her words were sentimental and romantic, a new bride of two years who longed for her husband far from home. It was poignant to read, witnessing my parents tenderly young and deeply in love. They were beginning their lives together, dreaming of a future when they were together again.
I’ve sort of recently discovered podcasts, and I have a few favorites I enjoy listening to as I do some task. In one interview, a man spoke about his life spiraling downward with overwork, alcohol abuse, and depression. He realized he had to change his habits and wrote a book about it. One of the habits he recommended was meeting with a friend for an hour every week. That sounds simple enough, but is it? We are busy folk, distracted, multi-tasking gurus. Or perhaps reclusive. It takes intentionality to set aside time, to turn off technology, to focus and quiet the heart for a face-to-face with another. I have found it worth the effort and one of the most refreshing things I can do for myself.
Another book of interest this month was The Language of God, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis Collins. Collins is renowned for his leadership in the Human Genome Project. The book was deep and made me think outside the box regarding science and faith, which often seems to be at odds with each other. I appreciated his unbiased approach, presenting the facts and then asking the reader to think for herself.
This quote from Albert Einstein has meaning for me: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” I understand better now that faith and science do not have to be in conflict with each other.
The last couple of days of the month, the electric company appeared on our lane with heavy equipment. Sweet William and I heard the noise of the machines and strained to see what was happening. To my horror, they began to cut a 50 foot tract through our little woods, ripping brush and saplings, crushing everything in the path. I drove the car down the lane and saw the devastation.
I enjoy my little woods. It has taken years for the trees to grow and fill in the area. I wanted to cry.
The electric company had every right to do their work. They purchased that stip of land years ago, underneath the high wires that run from east to west. My trees were sacrificed for the greater good of having electricity in my home and the homes of my neighbors, close and far. On the frigid days of January ending, I have been thankful for a warm house. Still I grieve the loss.
Many times as I have driven to town, I noticed yards along the road where branches have been cut to prevent them from tangling with wires. It looks butchered to me, the branches severed, trees lopsided, nothing esthetic or artful. They stand in their naked brokenness.
Yet spring and summer reveals their continued vigorous growth, leaves filling out the cut and jagged places. Often when I observe them, I think of the pruning in my own life, things cut away, often severely, leaving me feeling lopsided and naked. Is it somehow for the greater good?
Only God will tell me the reasons one day. I expect in some way or another, He will explain life to me, the whys and the wherefores of pain, suffering, loss, the cutting away that He knows is necessary for a more fruitful life. He knows the purpose He has for me and others.
Until then, I must learn to trust Him, knowing He is wise and good. This life is not about me, after all. It is about Him. Perhaps this one wild life I live will in some way point others in His direction. Perhaps God will shine through the cracked and jagged places in me. Perhaps the pruning will result in more fruit than I could have imagined.
Perhaps in the wisdom and sovereignty of God, He will produce something beautiful in me, something that will give joy. Perhaps I will even reflect His glory to the world.
The first Sunday of September stirs thoughts of fall, though the meteorologist dashes my hope with his prediction of 90 degrees.
Maisie and I walk early, before light invades the darkness. The sun is not yet visible, but its rays tinge the grey clouds with shades of pink. Stillness envelopes the beginning of this new morning.
New mercies await me.
My thoughts turn to a new Bible study beginning next week. Women will gather at the Wright House, and we will study the Word, stretch our faith, and learn anew to Believe God.
“Believe” is a word that has profound meaning for me. A number of years ago, God spoke in my desperation, me on my knees at the couch heaving sobs. My heart was broken. My future looked frightful. This was not how my life was supposed to be.
Through my tears and brokenness, He spoke words to my heart:
“Believe and see the glory of God.”
What? Where’s the glory in this ugliness? How are You going to turn chaos into splendour?
The very next day I received a letter from someone who knew a part my struggle. She wrote on the outside of the envelope these words:
“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” — John 11:40 NIV
A verse written on paper by my friend, Jesus’ spoken words lettered red in my Bible, and the Holy Spirit’s echo of courage as I knelt – His holy word was inscribed on my heart. I grasped it like a life raft. I feebly exercised my believing and waited to see His glory.
His glory finally came. It was miraculous, like the dead being raised to new life. I could not have imagine what my God was about to do.
That memory stirs my soul as I enter the season of Believing God once again. I long for my theology to become my reality, as Beth Moore says. I desire to walk in victorious faith, to actually live like I’m more than a conqueror, to receive the blessings God wants to give me.
Reading Ephesians today, the first chapter reminds me how I tried to memorize some of these verses last year. I determined that Paul was very wordy. But who am I to talk?
Paul’s usual greeting of “grace and peace to you from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ” are comforting. I like it better than starting a letter with “Dear [so and so].”
In the few beginning verses, I’m reminded anew that I am chosen, holy and blameless in God’s sight, planned for and adopted as His daughter. I am redeemed by the blood of Jesus and have forgiveness of sins. God has lavished – lavished! – His rich grace on me. He reveals the mystery of His will to me, and all of it is freely given from the heart of a loving Father.
I was included to receive this glorious message of salvation, and I am marked by the Holy Spirit. I await a heavenly inheritance that is unimaginable.
It pleases Him to bless me like this. I am astounded at that!
In light of all these amazing graces, I pray this prayer:
Dearest Father, I ask for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I may know You better.I pray that the eyes of my heart would be enlightened so I will understand the hope to which You have called me. There are glorious riches awaiting me. That you call holy me holy is humbling indeed; but for Jesus, I am not.With all my heart I want your incomparably great power actively working in me.
And may the days of my life left on this earth be lived to the praise of your glorious grace.