Recently, I spoke at a women’s event, and my words come back and preach to me. Receive Christmas instead of Do Christmas. With Thanksgiving barely a memory, I feel the approach of the next season rushing like a fast moving locomotive.
The holidays are a season of fullness: schedules, parties, shopping, decorating, food and on and on. Looking at my planner and my list, I feel overwhelmed with too much. Likewise, the holidays can be filled with heartache, grief and uncertainty. The turning of the calendar page does not turn aside the burdens we carry with us.
With all the fullness of the days ahead, how do I make room for Christ? How do I make sure all the things, the good and the hard, don’t crowd out the Savior who came to fill me with Himself and give me the abundant life?
Here are some ideas I am speaking to myself.
Spend time in His presence daily. How can I reflect Jesus if I don’t talk to Him and don’t listen to His Words of Scripture? There might be something I desperately need to hear before the rush of the day begins, and I really must cast my cares on the One who cares for me.
Tap into the Holy Spirit’s power by reflecting that He is ever with me, guiding and teaching and showing me the way.
Sing and make melody in my heart. Tuning into the old carols of Christmas brings forth a song. I know those words, and they draw me in to the message of hope. Newer songs are just as joyful. Music has the power to turn my thoughts heavenward.
Determine to overlook potential offences. They are inevitable as people rush about, overworked, tired and frustrated. Scripture says, Love hardly notices when others do it wrong. Respond with patience instead of reacting with irritation.
Remember to be grateful. Giving thanks is not just for November. It’s a daily practice, reminding me how blessed I am.
Be generous with love and patience and kindness and gentleness, the delicious fruit of the Spirit that feeds any hungry heart.
I want the peace of Jesus Christ to fill my soul and be reflected in my countenance. I want His joy overflowing in my heart as I move through my days. I want to experience the wonder of God coming to us, to be like us, and to walk with us in all the places.
This will not happen by accident. I must decide to seek Him for the desires of my heart. If the people I interact with each day are to see Jesus in me – whether they be the shopkeepers, the drivers on the road, the teen at McDonald’s drive-through, my neighbors and family, and my own Sweet William – I must give Christ place in me. Daily. On purpose. I make this a prayer.
I am blessed to call you Father, to be welcomed into Your presence, the holy place of Your essence. You called my name and claimed me for your very own child. This is a high privilege and I am loved.
I thank you for the men who influenced my life and showed me what You are like, especially my grandfather and my dear dad. I am grateful for patriarchs of my family and for men in my life who walked in the faith, were strong and gentle, treated me with respect and honor, protected and provided for me, bent low to serve and held me up with their prayers. I am blessed to know your sons.
I pray for the fathers of this generation. How we need them to be steadfast and sure, standing true in the battle for souls, leading with firm resolve and gentle grace. They need guidance from the Holy Spirit and the power of love. Clothe them in Your righteousness and Your holy armor, for the battle is hard. Infuse Your Word into their minds to remind them what is at stake. Speak to them as you did to the warriors of old, “Be strong and very courageous.” Remind them this is Your battle and You are always with them.
I ask that you purify their hearts. Turn them from evil, the deceitfulness of riches, and the cares of life. Give them eyes to see the beauty of a precious child, the tenderness of a woman’s heart, the reward of being a servant to those in their keeping. Remind them that words can wound or words can heal and build up. Help them choose their words wisely.
Abba Father, I ask that they look to You as their only source, that they seek to be more like Jesus every day, that they live to please You above all and be filled continually with the Holy Spirit. May You shine in them and through them as Image Bearers of God the Father.
I ask these things in the name of Your Son and my Savior Jesus.
Your name is holy. I stand in awe of You. You are the Living Word who spoke all that I know into existence. Everlasting to everlasting, You are the I AM who was, is and is to come.
You are good, kind, strong, full of compassion and forgiving. You blot out my transgressions, casting them into the sea.
You remember that I am dust, weak and prone to wander. Yet, You called my name, chose and blessed me with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. I am yours, amazed at Your grace.
When I am troubled, You tell me to release anxiety and to present my requests to You, with a thankful heart, knowing You are able to do beyond what I ask or even think.
You are always with me. I am never alone.
You see my heart, my concerns and longings, the burdens that weigh on me, the distress that brings me to tears. You know what I need before I ask, and still You invite me to ask, to seek, to knock and bring my petitions to the throne of mercy, behind the veil, opened through the blood of Jesus. You invite me to come near.
You are Yahweh and there is none like you. Wisdom and power are Yours alone. Ah Sovereign Lord, You have made the heavens and the earth, and nothing is too hard for You. You are the faithful One, the Truth and the Way of salvation.
Jesus and Holy Spirit intercede on my behalf, according to Your perfect will. I rest in such great assurance.
Your Word declares that you will hear when I call to You. O Lord, You are not far off; my Strength, come quickly to help me. You Who hear prayer, to You all flesh comes.
You care for all creation. You feed the birds. You say I am more valuable then they. I am astounded at Your care for me.
I know You, I believe You, and I am convinced that You are able to guard what I have entrusted to You, those I hold dearest and love most. You are the Good Shepherd, leaving the ninety-nine safe in the fold, to search for the wandering one. You see wherever they are. Your arm is strong to save.
I love You Lord for you hear my prayers, You bend down to listen. You hear my cry for mercy when I called to you for help. For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to You. Your love, O Lord, never fails.
All of Your promises are Yes and Amen in Christ Jesus. Your plan for me is good, and I have a hope and a future. You will fulfill Your purpose in me, the work You began long ago from eternity. Those who know Your name put their trust in You.
Oh Lord, I have heard of your fame. I stand in awe of Your deeds. Renew them in our day. In our time, make them known.
Father, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, in the name of Your one and only son, Jesus,
I noticed the envelope in the mailbox, all bright and cheery, and it made me smile.
Young enough to be my daughter, she is a long-time friend, since a teenager, her with the enthusiasm for life that has not dwindled through the years. Together we shared Bible study, birthday parties, yard-sale treasure hunting, and cups of tea at the kitchen table. When she moved away, we kept in touch by letters. Hers were always so much fun, brimming with cute drawings, punctuated with her funny sayings, and filled with colorful stickers fitting her purpose. It was like a visit on stationery.
She is a mature young woman now with a husband, a daughter, and farm animals occupying her life. Letters are fewer between us. Finding one in my mailbox from this esteemed friend was a delight.
I always take my time, examining the envelope first, slowly opening it, and sitting down to read her missive. The contents are newsy and the words conversational, almost as if she were sitting across from me.
She and her husband feel the Lord’s leading in a new direction. I read of their journey thus far, anticipating a road of endurance requiring trust in the face of obstacles, one with an uncertain future. They believe this is their calling.
I breath prayers after I lay down the pages. This path will be hard, not for the faint of heart, but the faithful of heart. There will be mountains to climb, rocky and steep. There will be days when it seems their efforts are not enough. Knowing her, I expect she is fully aware, trusting in the God who leads us through uncharted waters with only Himself as the light. When the storms come, and they will come, she will learn to hold to an unchanging hand.
I send a message to her that I am just a phone call away and will be here if she sends out an SOS. I determine to begin a letter to my friend in the coming days, and I write their names on my prayer list.
The next morning Steven Curtis Chapman sings on the CD player, music lifting the atmosphere and turning our hearts heavenward and away from the burdens of life. As I help Sweet William prepare for the day, Steven is singing our song, “I Will Be Here,” and the words ring true: “When the mirror tells us we’re older, I will hold you, and I will be here . . . I will be true to the promise I have made, to you and to the One who gave you to me. I will be here.“
I remember the vows made, me in a white dress and him in a black tuxedo, making promises before God and the company gathered, not knowing what they would require of us. We both had on rose-colored glasses standing there in the church and for many months after. But eventually the rose fades and we see clearly that life is hard. God never turned loose of either of us, determined to pour out His grace and complete the work He planned.
Almost fifty years later, Sweet William and I cherish the vows we made to one another, knowing they have tested us, tried us, and kept us committed to one another in spite of ourselves. We were called to a hard obedience, a faithfulness only made possible by a faithful God infusing His strength in us by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I think of my friend starting a new journey into the unknown, and I recognize obedience will be required, when things are going well and when they are not. God will be there in it all, calling forth His strength in them when the task is beyond their own.
When I’m feeling loved and happy, when I’m feeling all alone When I’m failing to remember all the love that I’ve been shown Every beat of my heart is another new place to start to know This is a moment made for worshipping
And I wonder if the hard obedience, the moving forward when God calls us to follow, the days we press on by sheer grit, tenaciously believing God is with us in this . . . can this be counted as worship?
When we keep trying though we are weary . . .
When we get up after falling down yet again . . .
When we love by our actions because the feeling is faint . . .
When the tears flow down because we don’t understand the plan . . .
When we follow not knowing where He leads . . .
When we’re tempted to give up but know that only Christ Jesus has the words of Life . . .
The hard obedience, counted as worship. May it be so.
Spring presses herself onward while winter clings with a tight-fisted hold.
I walk the yard and notice the signs of beginnings. The crocuses by the front porch surprise me every year. Buds on branches are full. The forsythia bush opens tender flowers despite the cold. And daffodils by the side of the house bloom enough for a bouquet on the kitchen table
I listen to the sounds of the season, early bird choruses, frogs croaking in puddles, geese fluttering as a pair, abandoning the flock, preparing to nest.
The trees in my yard are winter bare, awaiting the surge to bring forth life again, except for one oak by the drive. It clings to last year’s leaf collection, all dry and brown, unwilling to turn loose.
Like the oak tree, I sometimes cling to an old and lifeless past. I bear scars, but wounds are meant to heal. What happened cannot be undone, only forgiven. I may wish I’d made a wiser choice, used better words, walked a path less traveled, treasured a relationship, opened my heart, but I cannot ask for a do-over.
Sometimes I long for what was but is no more, binding me to yesterday, unable to move forward or rejoice in today. Or I simply crave another’s perceived Facebook life, assuming it is better and easier, seen though my lens of discontent.
I’m clinging to dead leaves.
Old journals and picture albums stir memories and the emotions of life events: birthday celebrations and holidays, vacations and family gatherings. Remembering is good. The past shows where God led me. I was there. Now I am here by His grace. There’s no turning back or retracing of steps. The road leads forward, and I must press on, laying aside weights and sins, regrets and longings, that are heavy like a burdensome backpack.
” . . . when I hold on to the wrong things, the wrong things hold on to me.” — Emily P. Freeman
I’ll be observing my oak tree, watching as it swells with spring’s energy, laying bare its branches in readiness for the new and fresh. It will release winter’s hold and open to creation’s beauty.
I pray to release what cleaves to and hinders me as I walk with Christ in what still feels like a winter season. I ask the Father to refill me with the Holy Spirit’s renewing life force, the energy and power of a God who knows no boundaries or limitations. His grace is strength for the journey.
Before daylight, the birds appear on the deck, cold and hungry. They come for the seed I scatter on these frigid days. They flit all happy, glad to find food, sometimes skittering across the icy deck railing.
For this simple effort, they reward me with joy in the midst of long, hard days.
Early mornings find me in my rocker by the fire, coffee in hand, while Sweet William sleeps a little longer. The stillness is solace, the Holy Word is food, and its ancient phrases become my petitions.
I wrap my prayer shawl around my shoulders, knitted for me by one of my young friends. It is a work of art, the white and blue yarns beautifully woven into a pattern of stripes and ending in fringes at each end. As I bow to pray, I pull the shawl over my head and enter my personal sanctuary of sorts, blocking out distractions to commune with my Lord.
I withhold nothing from Him for He knows my heart like no other. I confess, I ask, I give thanks, I weep before the One who knows where I am, the One who has allowed this path and plans to bring good from it. And I ask Him “how?”
There is a place of service that is not seen. No stages, no classroom podiums, no music studios, no gathering of people to say, “good job.” I’ve been given the privilege to participate in such projects. I did the best I could, accepted the accolades, and received my reward.
These days are different, confined to home, keeping company with Sweet William and Maisie and the physical therapist who comes twice a week. Friends and family provide meals, milk, fruit, and donuts. Regularly, a text pings with “I’m going to be out. Do you need anything?” Twice we’ve had our ramp cleared of snow and ice. Often someone messages, “I’m thinking of you, praying for you,” and I am overwhelmed by the kindness, these acts of service that are not documented except in my journal and Heaven’s records.
At my dear friend’s funeral recently, I was reminded how quiet service makes a difference in people’s lives. She was not a teacher or speaker, not a musician or singer. She was a tranquil servant, doing what she could wherever and whenever she could. She left her mark on many, though she probably didn’t realize how her life impacted them.
I want to be like her.
In the mundane, repetitive tasks of the days, the bone weariness and the aching knees, I pray for grace sufficient. I count on fresh mercies each morning. I trust the name of Immanuel – God with me, with us, on this journey. I beseech the Father to produce healthy fruit in me, the result of the Holy Spirit’s working out His purpose in and through me. I pray to cooperate with Him, “for it is God who works in me, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)
I remember that Jesus washed feet. I can wash feet too.
As it has been my habit to write a Thanksgiving Joy List in November, I wonder why I’ve not started sooner.
Making note of what we have to be grateful for isn’t my original idea. Ann Voscamp made it a mantra and a Bible study. I see Facebook posts doing the same. People give thanks in different ways. I like paper.
I drew a notebook from the shelf, took pen in hand, and I began to write:
This has been a crazy year, “wonky” as a friend says. The word seems appropriate. Coranvirus invaded the USA in March and the country shut down. I assumed a few weeks of being at home would not be hard. But it is mid November and the strangeness of social distance and restrictions on nearly everything is not my normal. Masks covering faces are common, a fashion statement even, and I want to see all of the smile, not half of it.
Politics got real ugly. Cities became volatile, chaos and destruction gone too far. Businesses run by real people are hurting. Riots took the focus off the point of protesters. People are divided. I doubt what I hear on the news because truth is relative to what someone wants me to believe. I don’t know what is true anymore.
Here at the Wright House, Sweet William is on a walker most of the time. His brother is very ill. I feel all of my 70 years. And my dear ones will not be coming home for Thanksgiving.
Yet, this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is His Faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)
Then I began to number the page and count.
God is on His throne, high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple.
Kings rise and fall, but God remains, yesterday, today, and the forever of my tomorrows.
Jesus, my Savior, came to bring His peace to the world, this household and my heart.
The Holy Spirit indwells me, is my constant companion, comforter, teacher and guide. I am never alone.
11. – 14 Extended family, cousins, their children and their children’s children . . . . . . 15. Piano students, music, the years of lessons that gave me the gift of playing the piano. . . . . . . . 18. – 20. Friends: close in age who understand what it’s like; younger ones who are like daughters and sons of my heart; still younger ones who bring vigor and freshness and fun to us old folks, and for some reason want to spend time with us. . . . . . . . 23. The little woods, its seasonal beauty, how it calms and refreshes me. . . . . . . . 28. Maisie who makes us laugh, her gentle personality and liveliness, the way she loves us unconditionally with trusting eyes. . . . . . . . 35. For toilet paper, hand sanitizer, alcohol, soap and water. . . . . . . . 46. The gently used kitchen chairs bought at a yard sale. . . . . . . . 51. White out. . . . . . . . 54. The Farmers Market, fresh vegis, free-range eggs. . . . . . . . 59. The library, so many books, friendly staff, curbside delivery, and Hoopla so I can listen while I work. . . . . . . . 68. Surprise flowers growing where I did not plant them. . . . . . . . 75. Next door neighbors who call us Aunt Peggy and Uncle Bill, and their two boys, our littlest neighbors who bring a smile and sunshine on any cloudy day. . . . . . . . 83. The light of a New Day, another beginning, fresh mercies. 84. Breathing in – deep breaths – and breathing out. 85. Indoor plumbing, hot showers, flushing toilets. 86. A new blue-grey roof.
The list goes on as I call to remembrance the mercy and grace of a God who gives good gifts even in a pandemic. The daily blessings remind me He has not left me, my loved ones, or this world unattended. He is working, always working.
I will keep writing this week, counting the big and small, the major and what seems insignificant. Because nothing is insignificant for a child of the most High God. He is involved in my life, the seconds, the days, the years.
He gives a full measure, pressed down, running over, not because I deserve it but because He is good. His love and kindness draw me to Him. I run to the mercy seat where He is enthroned and reigns eternal. His arms are open to me. I am welcomed into His embrace.
He is the life-giving fountain for this thirsty soul. He deserves my highest praise.
Give thanks with a grateful heart. Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
I’ve struggled to write for weeks, not wanting the subject to be coronavirus, pandemic, social distancing, riots in cities, and daily news leaving me anxious. But here I am. My communication to friends via technology usually includes, “How are you doing in this crazy world?”
I want to move into the remainder of this year without unrest, rules that change weekly, word-wars between political parties and regular people. I don’t want to worry if I’ve been exposed to the virus and if I washed my hands before I just touched my face.
I’m tired of mob rule, authorities telling me where I can and cannot go, quarantines, and rising covid numbers. I’m tired of wearing a mask.
And yet, when I begin to count my blessings . . .
I’m eating my fill of tomatoes from my own plants. The respite of these cool August mornings are a summer surprise. Fresh herbs from my garden enhance the flavors of everyday food.
There is ink in my pen when I journal, vegetables and a note from a friend left on our front porch, and a driveway chat with a family moving their oldest to college. Friendship bread with a cinnamon-sugar topping is delicious with a cup of hot coffee.
I have my good weed eater, tools to dig and trim plants, and pots of blooming delight on the deck and front porch. I have clean water to drink.
My anticipation for bird song each morning at daybreak does not disappoint, and the little wren has the loudest voice. Squirrels perform gymnastics on the branches of trees, and I smile. Maisie greets me at the door like I’m the best thing in her world.
Sweet William and I are blessed with friends and family who check on us and pray when we need courage, those who help carry our burdens and sit with us when there’s nothing else to do.
I tune into on-line Bible studies and listen to encouraging podcasts. The ancient Scriptures refresh my spirit. Familiar songs fill my head and I sing out loud.
I laugh and I cry, and both relieve my stress. I walk on the lane feeling the sun on my skin and I sit under the shade of trees. I work my body, and it feels good to be active at my age.
I settle into a bed of clean sheets with a good book from the thrift store or my library. The fan gently hums, relaxing me for sleep. Sweet William smiles at me and we are at peace in this old house.
We shelter at home. In the middle of strangeness and uncertainty, this is our safe place. It is solace and consolation and a reassuring comfort with memories hung like art in every room.
In this world there will always be trouble, sometimes at greater degrees than others. Jesus said it would be. He said He would not leave us alone, that one like Him, an Advocate, would come to be with us, to live in us, to lead and teach and intercede for us.
While there are moments of feeling alone, stranded, and despairing, it is just that – a feeling. It is not truth. The truth remains like a rock foundation, unchanging, immovable. It will not be shaken.
The rock Christ Jesus is a shelter for me.
[Jesus said,] “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33 NIV