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A Christmas story

Ever felt like asking the question, what in the ever-lovin’ world is going on? Disappointment. Heartache. Broken relationships. Death and grief. Wounds that won’t heal or scars so deep they constantly remind.

What do we do when no answers come? Where do you turn when there’s no place to go? Who can offer comfort when we all are hurting?

Go with me to another time, another land, and understand from those who have gone before us.

For hundreds of years, no prophets proclaimed, “Thus saith the Lord.” The Jews scattered, wandered and wondered where God was, a nation scarred by their rebellion. The kingdom that once shone like a brilliant star had darkened, and the people were lost without a shepherd.

As the Hebrews lived daily with promises still waiting, perhaps there was excitement in the heavenlies, preparation for the Word of the Lord soon to be delivered.

Heaven’s attention turned toward a small blue and green planet in the universe and a temple standing in Jerusalem, the city of David, where Israel’s long history was venerated.

A grey-haired man had served there faithfully all his days, more years than he cared to count. Mundane tasks were ingrained in him, receiving and preparing sacrifices, the continual ritual washing of pots, pans and himself, necessary duties that kept order as people came day in and day out.

This day was different from the routine, as the choosing of clan, of family, of a man privileged to serve in the holy place was about to take place.

Was Zachariah surprised when his name was called? He was aged by now, and his bones ached. He moved slower than the young priests eager and ready to assume responsibilities. But it was his name he heard. What stirred in him at the recognition? At long last he would be the one to present sweet incense on the table of God, offering prayers of intercession for himself and for his people.

On the appointed day, he prepared himself, dressed in pure white garments, and gathered the special spices and fire as he approached the place where God had once dwelt as visible cloud. Those days were but a memory now, the Presence departing as Ichabod was pronounced.

Still Zachariah was ready and willing. Entering behind the first curtain into the holy place, he went about his duties, memorizing his special day. He would share the details with Elizabeth, the love of his life, when he returned home.

See the source image
from “The Nativity

He heard a rustling, the dividing curtains shifted as if moved by a gust of wind. Light appeared on the right side of this somber room revealing a being like none he had ever seen.

Zachariah trembled in fear, his aged bones shaking as he looked and listened, trying to grasp everything this angelic being was saying.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. There will be joy and delight for you, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord and will never drink wine or beer. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit while still in his mother’s womb. He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God.

And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people.”

The old man was barely able to stand, astonished and trembling. The admonition not to fear didn’t help. “Your prayer has been answered,” and he wondered which prayer? He’d offered thousands of supplications in his lifetime.

The words sounded jumbled, confusing. A son? Elizabeth, his equally old wife, had resigned herself to being childless decades ago, carrying with her the shame and disgrace of it.

Name him John? Who in his linage was ever called John? A son from his loins would be great, like Elijah the prophet? To prepare the way for the Lord? The messiah was coming? Now?

Who could believe such a wild tale?

And so Zachariah asked, “How?

The angel was given the right to see into Zachariah’s doubting heart. What were his doubts? Doubt that he was worthy of such a visitation? Doubt in the message and the messenger? Doubt that Elizabeth was physically capable to conceive and birth a child?  Doubt in the God who can do whatever He chooses?

It had been a very long time since anyone heard anything from God. And Zachariah was doubtful.

Zachariah’s doubt resulted in his silence. He was speechless. He could not explain this marvelous experience to anyone with words. He could gesture, or perhaps write words on a parchment, but otherwise, he was left with his own thoughts and memories of the most momentous event of his long life. In his silent days, he remembered the years of God’s silence to Israel. He soon realized that God decided to speak up.

When God speaks, we would do well to listen.

When Zachariah went home after his service in Jerusalem, he took his dear wife in his arms like days when he was young and viral. She conceived. And the words of Gabriel sang to him for months, “Make ready for the Lord a prepared people.” With his own eyes he watched Elizabeth’s belly grow round and beautiful, exactly as the angel said, the sure message coming to pass.

God will do what God will do. He will use whom He will to accomplish His purpose. His promises are sure though we wait long for them, though fear and doubt creep into our hearts. God is long-suffering and patient with His children, and when He speaks, the words are true.

What promises are you holding in your heart? Have you lost faith that God will accomplish it? Do you sometimes wonder if He remembers where you are? Do you feel He has forgotten you?

Tell Him all that is in your heart. He will not turn away from an honest confession. He will draw you near and whisper His love to you.

The days of her confinement ended and Elizabeth delivered a beautiful baby boy. She called his name John. And Zachariah believed.

Sunday grace

Do you know what’s under your house?

Sweet William and I had work done in the dark recesses under our old Kentucky home recently. It was quite costly and a bit stressful, I might add.

We knew there was a problem a year ago. But sometimes I prefer to live in an imaginary happy place resembling Oz with it’s yellow-brick roads, dancing Munchkins, and poppy fields. Let me pretend all is right with my world, if only for a little while.

It’s easy to ignore what is concealed in the shadows under the house.

Ignoring a problem will not make it disappear. After our contractor worked for days, finding more issues than we imagined, and me writing checks while I breathed heavily, the situation is resolved, and the air in the house smells fresh when I walk in the door.

Why did we wait so long? Who knows. Money factored into it, and I didn’t want to deal with the discomfort. But putting it off possibly made the problem worse.

This is not just a home-ownership issue. My inner life suffers in a similar way.

Becoming aware of an interior dilemma, sometimes I chose to bury it. In the words of Scarlet O’Hara, I prefer to “think about it tomorrow.” I struggle with choices, delaying the inevitable.

And so I wait. Until a more convenient time, when circumstances my be better, while hoping it might disappear altogether.

But usually a problem does not go away quietly.

It has a way of hounding me, resurfacing in my thoughts, looking for a chink to slip through and shout, “I’m still here. Do something.”

I don’t want to be ignorant and call it bliss.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit will not allow me to bury, hide, or sidestep what needs to be brought into the light. He keeps reminding me, whispering that He can help with what troubles me. It is His specialty.

And so I pray:

Come Holy Spirit.
Shine Your love in the hidden places where sin and fear hide.
Open the windows of my heart.
Let the fresh breezes of the breath of God flow freely.
Cleanse me of dark secrets that fester.
Pour your healing balm on what hurts.
Let me walk in freedom where joy is my companion.
In Jesus sweet name.

Sunday grace

I made a couple trips down our lane to pray last week. I stopped at the place where a fence post used to stand, a place where my father prayed when he was alive. I felt anguished for God to hear me and there is something about that spot of earth that called me.

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

The old post is long gone so I stopped where I could remember it standing. Then I took off my shoes for this was holy ground. God hallows any place where He meets us, and this was my rendezvous with Him.

Before long I was on my knees, face toward the ground, tears streaming down, words uttered out loud. And I wondered what my neighbors might think if they saw me. It didn’t matter.

After a time of pouring out my heart, I arose and knew I was heard. God was near and gave me peace for a simple act of obedience.

I ponder prayer. Is it about me while at the same time being very much about God? Is the mere act of praying a way of Him drawing me to Himself? Does He encourage me to pray so I will seek Him and find Him because He is always seeking me? Do problems come our way to draw our attention away from things that matter little to focus on things eternal? Does prayer bring me to a point of total surrender when I’ve run out of my own options and have no strength left?

After years of praying, I’m still figuring out prayer, its diamond-like facets bringing color and beauty to my life. Just when I think I might have it figured out, the light changes, and I’m left in wonder again.

Like a parent who sees her child in distress and says, “Come tell me what’s wrong,” my Father bids me come and pour out my heart. I know He hears and I know He cares about what weighs me down. I lay my burdens on Him because they are too heavy for me. I trust Him to do what is right. I trust Him to love me and to love those I pray for. I trust Him to be strong and good. And that is enough.

At the place of the old post, I rose from my knees, put on my shoes and walked home, feeling lighter. I gave my concerns to the One who knows what to do with them. I prayed. My God heard. I know He is working whether I can see the intricate details of His plan or not. He is always working on behalf of His children.

Sunday grace.

Monday grace

When the temperatures rise higher, making everything harder, and the pavement is hot on Maisie’s paws and the grass crunches under my feet from lack of rain;

When I go to bed with prayer concerns on my heart and wake to them the next morning;

When family and friends suffer and I can’t be there to do anything;

When life just feels grueling and impossible to figure out;

When trouble knocks on my own door and intrudes without a welcome;

When my questions mount up quicker than my answers;

Then I press in to look for simple graces.

Like a pink balloon on the neighbor’s mailbox announcing the birth of their baby girl.

Like the small wren with the big voice greeting me each morning on the deck.

Like fans blowing air across the bed at night.

Like the cooling shade offered by trees growing strong and full in the yard.

Like the evening shadows playing against furniture;

Like the aroma of a newly opened bag of coffee beans, a promise for the morning.

Like zinnias blooming by the walkway and a sudden appearance of pink ladies.

Like an hour spent with a friend in honest conversation.

Like brown-eyed susans and peppermint in a vintage canning jar.

Like the comfort of Scripture and the relief of laying my burdens on Jesus.

Life can be hard. But I know God has not forgotten us. He has His reasons. His throne room is filled with mercy and grace for times like these. He bids me come.

Tears run down my face and I run to Him.

Monday grace.

Sunday grace

Predawn darkness. Sound of perking coffee. Fresh air from an opened window.

The new day begins. I sit in the stillness, Bible open in my lap and prayer list in my hand. I read, pray, listen.

God was awake before I heard the alarm. He kept watch through the night. He waited in expectation for me to come. He desires fellowship with me.

I stand amazed.

Before the sun crests the tree tops, birds begin their chorus. First one, then others join. The little woods becomes a symphony of song.

The words I pray are no surprise to my Father. He knows the needs before I ask. He understands my feeble effort to express my requests, remembering that I am dust. He determines the times and seasons and works His plan to bring about His will.

What more could I ask?

I journal and pour out my heart on paper. God comprehends more than the words I try to write, the longings so tangible that I ache, the storm brewing that needs a calming.

As near as my breath, He speaks peace. “Fear not. I am with you.”

I rest in Him, a Sabbath rest that incompasses every day of the week. It is the choice I make as I rise to face the day. Whatever it brings, I know God loves me. He hears my prayers. He answers according to His perfect will, accomplishing His purpose in me and those I love.

This is grace.

Sunday grace.

The prayer

I do enjoy the re-reading of a good book. This morning, it is the account in Luke of a couple of old folks with whom I can identify. The words are anciently familiar, yet they are fresh like a sip of pure spring water on a parched tongue.

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I opened the Book to the story of Zachariah, the aged priest, who just so happened to be chosen on this particular day for a special assignment. He entered the Holy Place of the temple to offer incense on an altar that represented prayer and petition to God. The people were praying outside while the priest prayed inside.

As he offered up prayers, the smokey fragrance of incense encircling him, I wonder if Zacharia thought of that one prayer he had prayed again and again through his many years? That one prayer for blessing, for a child, a son from his loins?

Yet here he stood, an old man whose wife was equally well along in years, childless the two of them. Because Elizabeth was barren.

God’s timing for answering prayers are so often out of sync with what I envision.

The angel’s appearance was awesome, causing fear, but his announcement must have been confusing to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

Which prayer was that? You mean the one I stopped praying years ago? The one I stopped expecting to be answered because I’m old now? The prayer that would have been on a timetable more suitable for me? That prayer?

Zachariah and I, we have things in common.

The prayers I am grappling with sometimes grip my heart with their urgency. I cry out to my Father, my eyes filling with tears, longing for an answer. And please, can it be today?

How many times have I read that God’s ways are not my ways, that His time is not my time? And yet, I want Him to do it according to my prescription and on my schedule.

Faithful Zachariah and Elizabeth had lived blameless lives, following the commands God gave to His people. Surely their prayers would have been answered. Undoubtedly their desire for a child would not have gone unheeded.

After so many years they must have become resigned. Head shakes and whispers behind their backs would have been hurtful. People can wonder when trouble beats us up and we are not being blessed in the conventional sort of way.

And yet, on this day in an old man’s life, the angel Gabriel, who stands in the presence of the Almighty, was on a mission to proclaim wonderful news to Zachariah. “Your prayer has been heard.”

Praying Hands Image
Praying Hands by Albrecht Dürer

God declares in His word that my requests, petitions, prayers are heard. He answers when He gets good and ready, in His own sweet time, because He alone knows when all the pieces are in place.

So, my fellow traveler, don’t let discouragement weigh you down. Don’t give in to doubt and unbelief. Throw off the lie that you are forgotten and forsaken. Keep believing God. Keep bowing the knee. Keep trusting in a faithful God who hears your every plea and preserves your tears in a bottle.

Believe that your prayer has been heard. In the fullness of time, and according to the perfect plan of God who does all things well, there will be an answer.

And it will be spectacular.

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Revised and reposted from December 2018

We gather and we pray

How quickly a ride in the park can turn on its heels and take you in another direction, down a dark tunnel where you cannot see the light.

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After a companionable family gathering on Thursday, I got a call while still out on Black Friday. “A mass in her brain . . . being admitted to the hospital . . . it’s very serious.”

Entering my house, I tell what I know while I fumble about with the insignificant, still trying to assimilate in my own mind what I’ve just learned. When unexpected trauma appears I ask the same question, “How can this be happening?”

I put on my coat and scarf, gathered Maisie’s collar and leash to go walk. I aimed for the end of our lane where an old cedar post used to stand. It was a place my dad went to pray when trouble blindsided our family.

As I reached that spot, I paused to remember.

My cousins’ parents and mine moved to this piece of undeveloped property in the 1960s. We grew into adults on this lane. We added spouses and then houses sprung up, all of us living in proximity to one another. As our children were birthed, one by one, the sounds of childish play roamed these 40 acres, all the neighbors being our kin. It was unusual for sure, and it was beautiful beyond description.

I think of all the prayers our parents prayed for us, sometimes when we knew it, but more often when we had no idea.

The family leaned on my dad as our prayer warrior, his habits and customs unusually disciplined and structured. It was  his agreement between him and his God. He called all our names in prayer daily, nightly, and he interceded when we were in trouble. He stood at that cedar post at the end of our lane on several occasions that I can remember to speak to the One who knew us well.

Dad had a list with family names on it. It grew longer through the years as we increased in number. After mother’s death and his remarriage, he moved away from this lane into the house of  my step-mother. Though miles away, he had a nightly ritual of going outside and turning toward the south, where we still lived, to pray for each of us one by one.

I returned from my reverie of memories to the present. The old cedar post that stood as a memorial is gone. I looked about my surroundings. The fields that used to surround our homes are filled with subdivisions, privacy fences and apartment complexes. Other people live in the houses that used to be home to my family members. Things are different now.

While standing where my father stood, I reminded myself that my God is the same, never altering from His awareness of us, not any less compassionate and kind. Though our parents are gone, their prayers are not. The Lord stores them and remembers the faith of our fathers and mothers.  All of those words of petition did not vanish into thin air. Instead they are treasured in heavenly vessels.

As tears rolled down my cheeks, I prayed too. The words that came were simple: “Lord Jesus help!” I knew He heard me just as He heard my ancestors years ago.

He is a God who leans down to listen. He was not surprised by a devastating diagnoses like we were. His intention and purpose are already in place.

Our family has a traditional day-after-Thanksgiving evening meal of Hot Browns to finish the leftover turkey. I asked my cousin, who hosts us, if she still wanted to do this. She answered “I think we are better together than apart.” I agreed.

Sweet William and I entered the house and the atmosphere was somber, so unlike the day before when cheerful noises greeted us at the door. This night we are quiet, faces solemn. The axiom, “when one hurts, we all hurt,” is true.

Before the meal we were not really hungry for, we joined hands and lifted our praise to our God who has been faithful to us through the years; who has seen us through troubles great and small; who has shown Himself huge and performed miracles we didn’t deserve; who has given grace to walk the hard places; who has never left us alone to ride out the stormy gales.

We asked Him for mercy, for healing, for strength, for wisdom, for His comforting presence. Our hearts are assured He will answer our cries.

This is what my family does in times of crises. We gather and we pray.

Today I turn on music to soothe my heavy heart. This is the song I wait for:

 I Love the Lord

And pitied every groan.
Long as I live, and troubles rise,
I hasten to His throne.

When trouble comes, family gathers. We are better side by side than trying to stand alone  We hasten to God’s throne with full of assurance of His loving welcome.

We will trust, believe, and wait to see what God will do.

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