When Christmas Joy Becomes Sorrow Becomes Hope

Christmas tree

Well, hello 2015! So grateful to welcome the first Monday of a new year. A new year of adventures for our family and another year of meeting new friends to share our adventures with. All of us on separate journeys, each with different stories to live out, yet through our family and friendships, our stories take on the shape of God’s providence, weaved and held together by strands of grace, hemmed in behind and before by his unstoppable love and relentless mercy. (Psalm 139:5)

When Christmas joy …

The year of 2014 neared its end with an awesome Christmas Eve celebration at our church and a wonderful Christmas morning with just the two of us, my husband and I. And we actually had a fun time! I was quite surprised by that since it was our first year we were apart from family. We were hoping for a white Christmas but instead we had Indiana sunshine that is bright as a grey wool blanket. To be honest, I was struggling to feel the joy of Christmas this year and my grumbling about the circumstances that prevented us from traveling didn’t help either. I soon realized I was substituting family to experience real joy instead of reveling in the glad tidings of great joy, for unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given. Isaiah says, “Once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder…” (Isaiah 29:14). An outrageous wonder of sacrificial love… Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to all the earth. There was much joy!

Redeemer Christmas Eve

Photo credit: Chuck Horn, Christmas Eve, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Indianapolis, IN

 When Christmas joy becomes sorrow …

We received a phone call informing us of sad news that a member of our family passed away unexpectedly Christmas morning. The harsh brutal bite of reality hurt, leaving an open wound of unsettling grief. I read that death is a thief whose robbery is profoundly felt during holidays. We pray our family will believe that God will never stop pouring out his grace upon them. God keeps track of all their sorrows, collects all their tears in his bottle for he has recorded each one in his book. (Psalm 56:8)

When Christmas joy becomes sorrow becomes hope …

It is hard to find hope on your own. At least I think so. I’ve never been strong enough to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I need others to remind me that joy will come in the morning. I should be reminded of God’s promises and assurance of a living hope through Christ. Here are a few quotes (and Bible verses) that have helped me to understand that it is God’s grace that joy springs out of sorrow and sorrow grows into hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This living hope is our hope of salvation that includes an imperishable inheritance. The new life that we have in Christ is something that can never be taken away. (I Peter 1:3-4)

When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for this world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks. [1]

We are not the Author of our story. We are the characters. [2]

Suffering is unbearable if you aren’t certain that God is for you and with you…We can trust God, because the biblical story will help us endure when our own little stories seem confusing and we feel forsaken. And we can pray, as Job did. Though filled with anguish and despair, Job continued to wrestle with God—unlike his friends, who talked about God but never really knew him. In that story, God reveals himself to be almighty and approachable, transcendent and personal, and the ultimate answer to suffering. [3]

Our stories are different, our journeys are different, but to keep on keeping on, in hope, is our deepest vocation, whoever we are, wherever we live, whatever we do. [4]

Behold, I am making all things new. (Revelation 21:5)

[1] Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts | [2] Kara Tippetts, The Hardest Peace | [3] Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering | [4] Dr. Steven Garber, The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture

Sunday Respite | Show Them Jesus

sunday respite_2

”This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. Some will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; another will call themselves by the name of Jacob; still others will write on their hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel.” Isaiah 44:2-5

Dear Gracious and Loving Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this amazing scripture that gives us great hope for our future generation, our children’s children. I am thankful that you formed them in their mother’s womb and you promise to be their help. I pray that you would pour out your Spirit upon them and that your name would be written on their hand. With anticipation, I long for them to say with confident assurance, “I belong to the Lord.”

Please keep them thirsty for your love, for your truth, for your word. I pray that you would make the gospel of grace compelling and irresistible in their lives.

Help us, their parents and grandparents to be faithful to pray for our next generation to spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. This is a beautiful portrait of a life rescued by your grace. Please pour out your blessings on our descendants and help us to remain faithful to show them Jesus.

Amen.

sunday respite 1

Being Filled with Wonder and Awe

the small things 2There is time throughout the day to be filled with wonder and awe. I often forget to live life simply big, to look for those simple things that will fill my soul with wonder and awe.

Every sunrise that I greet is another opportunity to experience more grace, more hope, more joy, more peace, and more wonder and awe. Sometimes anxiety and impatience try to steal the excitement of discovering all of this. The walls of connecting rooms which I live attempt to confine the grandeur of God at work…God revealing his glory.

I pick up a magnifying glass to see what I’m missing.

I must inspect what God has promised in his Word, and to expect to be filled with wonder and awe.

To live life simply big…to be ready for more. I pray the Lord’s Prayer…”Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done…” to want nothing more than God’s glory and His will, to live and breathe His wonder and awe within these walls of connecting rooms…and beyond this place, for His Glory.

Here is a photo of my grandchild inspecting the wonder of a ladybug. It took a lot of bravery for her to hold a little insect in the palm of her hand. She was afraid because she didn’t like the feeling of the bug touching her skin.

Funny how the small things can be scary for us.

It’s in those small things that remind us of God’s infinite grace and love that will overwhelm the scary things so we can live experiencing more.  Dig deep into your memories of your first experience of wonder and awe of God’s grace in your life.

My grandchild is brave with a ladybug and it brings back a personal memory in my childhood of holding a snail…sliding on my arm…a snail with a broken shell. This simple life was sliding along a path in my mother’s flower garden. I noticed the shell was cracked. Carefully, I picked up the snail and held it in the palm of my hand.

I brought the snail, with it’s cracked shell, to my mother because she could fix everything broken. She quickly found white bandage tape and scissors and promptly taped the broken shell. Then she brought me an old shoebox and walked with me outside, while I held the snail, with its broken shell, secured with white tape.

My mother pulled up grasses and found pebbles and a little dirt to put inside the cardboard shoebox for my wounded snail.  And there it stayed. I watched it move about for many days. I held it in the palm of my hand and it would move slowly out of its shell along my skin.

One day, I released it back to the garden, with the white tape still holding the shell secure.

I can’t help but see the resemblance … I am broken and bandaged … by God’s grace.

Being filled with wonder and awe.
the small things

Wonder and Awe

A Father’s Rescuing Faith

Son Rescued

A Father’s Rescuing Faith | 40 Gifts of Lent | Gift 34

Today’s Reading:  Hebrews 8 – end

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. By faith … He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible. Hebrews 11:1 and 27

It was several years ago that he found himself in a frightening predicament. He was in a serious situation, a crisis without a clear solution. He was racked with anxiety and fear. There was no holding back the tears, his body shaking with hard sobs and his mind straining to find equilibrium. His father was notified and with urgency went to his son, to rescue his son from harms way.

The son was so distraught with hopelessness that he didn’t hear the voice of his father say, “Son, I am here.”  Again the father said, “Son, it’s me…look at me.”

The son continued to cry into the palms of his hands and again his father repeated, “Look at me. Look at me. This is Dad, I’m here.” The son moved his hands from his face and began to look up towards the sound of his father’s voice. “Look at my eyes, son. Don’t take your eyes off mine.” The son fixed his gaze into his father’s eyes and the father asked his son, “Do you trust me?” “Yes”, replied the son. “Have I ever broken a promise I’ve made to you?”, asked the father. “No”, replied the son, with his eyes fixed steadily on his father.

The son’s hope was returned, believing and assured that his father would be with him through the end. Months and years went by and the father never broke his promise to his son, he was there to rescue him time and time again.

This chapter in the son’s story has two wonderful conclusions…the son was rescued twice. Once by his earthly father extending unconditional love and then by his Heavenly Father, extending the gift of grace. Because of receiving all of that, the son is living a better story now, with his eyes fixed on God and his faith growing strong. And what about the father?  From the very beginning, he never took his eyes off God…he was reflecting God’s grace to his son. When the son looked at his father, in way he saw Jesus, a reflection of God’s love for him, the beauty of a father’s rescuing faith.

(This is another redeeming story of God’s grace to our family)

 Faith Quotes to Ponder:

Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Tim Keller, The Reason for God

The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the God we believe in.  R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture

True faith means holding nothing back. It means putting every hope in God’s fidelity to His Promises. Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Son Rescued 2

About 40 Gifts of Lent 

I am anticipating the arrival of Easter and celebrating the most amazingly good gift I’ve ever received. I want to focus my heart on the fulfilled expectation of Christ’s first coming and the glorious expectation of His second coming. To continue reading, please go here: 40 Gifts of Lent

#LentChallenge
Sandra Heska King - Still Saturday

A Really Good Story

A Really Good Story

A Really Good Story

40 Gifts of Lent | Gift 6
Reflections on Mark 1 – 5

He did not say anything to them without using a story. Mark 4:34

We want to raise a generation who find their identity in the story of God. Tell them a story they will never forget, a life changing truth that is bigger and better than themselves. Teach them, instruct them…cause them to ponder and question, to want more of a really good story.

Thank you God for making us characters in and carriers of your great story of grace. You are the author, the narrator of this really good story, the hero that rescues us from ourselves.

Look for God in these coming days, to write stories of redemption that will reveal his glory and showcase his grace—leaving you reveling in his goodness and rejoicing in him.

We’ll grow in our lives what we plant with our love” ~Bob Goff

A Good Story

About 40 Gifts of Lent 2014

I love the anticipation of celebrating birthdays with my children and grandchildren and can’t wait to gather again with my family and friends around a brightly lit tree at Christmas. My focus for any event or special occasion is mostly on the gift I will buy and then tape it up with all of the wrapping and trimmings to make it a beautiful presentation to give away. I do enjoy watching them rip into the paper and toss the pretty bow without a care to get to the inside of that package.

It’s so much fun to be on the receiving end of good gifts!

I am anticipating the arrival of Easter and celebrating the most amazingly good gift I’ve ever received. I want to focus my heart on the fulfilled expectation of Christ’s first coming and the glorious expectation of His second coming. I want to focus on the freedom I have in Christ to overcome strongholds, yet also to gain strength, hope, and peace as I lean into the trials…To continue reading, please go here: 40 Gifts of Lent

#LentChallenge

Slow Down to Notice…on a Road Trip

Barns of Passing Time

I have a hobby of taking photos from a moving automobile. Like the one above of a barn and homestead with a for sale sign in front view. I can only imagine how many memories and stories that have been noticed in that home or the life that fed that old barn’s history…stories and words wrapped up and knotted deep into a legacy.

Slow Down to Notice

So I take a photo from a moving automobile because I slow down to notice this image of a story that is posted for sale. It’s there, off the road where it’s waiting to be noticed, captured and remembered.

Recently, my husband and I packed the car for a long road trip to home. It was pleasant to be the passenger with my main man and talk about our kids, our grandkids, life, work, politics…we talk about our parents that are living and the ones that have passed to a better place. Memories are shared on road trips. Road trips give us time to slow down and notice, even while the pedal is to the metal.

We slow down on this road trip to notice each other through the stories we share. It’s a verbal embrace. There is a connection when we laugh at each other’s corny jokes or disagree with the other’s opinion about a politician’s decision.

When we slow down and notice someone by listening to spoken words, there will be community, friendship, and a feeling of being safe.

Road trips are good for this. He is not looking at me while I talk, yet he notices me.  He is listening to my words…my voice, my story. And when he shares a story, I may glance over at him, but mostly I’m looking out the window with my head leaning back and resting against the headrest…slowing down my thoughts to hear him and notice him.

It’s ironic that we own a house with a for sale sign in the front yard. Of course I know that bricks and mortar or beams of wood cannot contain life and stories but it’s the people with the stories that walk through an opened back door to have a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.

Slow down and notice them.

We may be selling a house but we are not selling the stories that happened in that house.

We’re on a road trip. We are slowing down to notice a lot more than just the two of us sitting in this car. We slow down to notice and talk about the goodness of God demonstrated everyday in our lives and the peace we have through Christ while enduring trials and a life transition.

When we slow down to notice…to remember the stories of God’s forever faithfulness to us, we are filled with awe and flooded with peace.

Stories are like a road trip. The years fly by at high-speed and there are twists and turns and potholes that slow us down. An unexpected and sometimes unavoidable crash stops us cold. We run out of gas. We have a flat tire. We need help with the repairs. We are forced to slow down and notice the grace and love from God, no matter what the circumstance.

So yeah, I want to slow down and notice my husband and family. I want to notice their stories and words, to embrace them and travel with them on a road trip wherever it may lead. I want to slow down and notice the beauty of God’s grace and his majesty…to hear his words. To be embraced and know that I am noticed by God.

An Important Read for Parents: ‘Let Them Come Home’

Bring Them Home

If you are parent, read this and be encouraged, be faithful and never give up on your kids. This article is from www.desiringgod.orgClick on the title to go to the original post.

12 Ways to Love Your Wayward Child

Abraham Piper, desiringGod.org

Many parents are brokenhearted and completely baffled by their unbelieving son or daughter. They have no clue why the child they raised well is making such awful, destructive decisions. I’ve never been one of these parents, but I have been one of these sons. Reflecting back on that experience, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child.

At first I pretended that my reasoning was high-minded and philosophical. But really I just wanted to drink gallons of cheap sangria and sleep around. Four years of this and I was strung out, stupefied and generally pretty low. Especially when I was sober or alone.

My parents, who are strong believers and who raised their kids as well as any parents I’ve ever seen, were brokenhearted and baffled. (See sidebar story below.) I’m sure they were wondering why the child they tried to raise right was such a ridiculous screw-up now. But God was in control.

One Tuesday morning, before 8 o’clock, I went to the library to check my e-mail. I had a message from a girl I’d met a few weeks before, and her e-mail mentioned a verse in Romans. I went down to the Circle K and bought a 40-ounce can of Miller High Life for $1.29. Then I went back to where I was staying, rolled a few cigarettes, cracked open my drink, and started reading Romans. I wanted to read the verse from the e-mail, but I couldn’t remember what it was, so I started at the beginning of the book. By the time I got to chapter 10, the beer was gone, the ashtray needed emptying and I was a Christian.

The best way I know to describe what happened to me that morning is that God made it possible for me to love Jesus. When He makes this possible and at the same time gives you a glimpse of the true wonder of Jesus, it is impossible to resist His call.

Looking back on my years of rejecting Christ, I offer these suggestions to help you reach out to your wayward child so that they, too, would wake up to Christ’s amazing power to save even the worst of us.

1. Point them to Christ.
Your rebellious child’s real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or porn or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk band. The real problem is that your child doesn’t see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for rebellious children–and the only reason to follow any of these suggestions–is to show them Christ. It won’t be simple or immediate, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will begin to disappear only when they see Jesus more as He actually is.

2. Pray.
Only God can save your children, so keep on asking Him to display Himself to them in a way they can’t resist worshiping Him for.

3. Acknowledge that something is wrong.
When your daughter rejects Jesus, don’t pretend that everything is fine.

If you know she’s not a believer and you’re not reaching out to her, then start. And never stop. Don’t ignore her unbelief. Ignoring it might make holidays easier, but not eternity.

4. Don’t expect them to be Christlike.
If your son is not a Christian, he won’t act like one, and it’s hypocrisy if he does. If he has forsaken your faith, he has little motivation to live by your standards, and you have little reason to expect him to.

If he’s struggling to believe in Jesus, there is little significance in his admitting that it’s wrong to get wasted, for instance. You want to protect him, yes, but his most dangerous problem is unbelief–not partying. No matter how your child’s behavior proves his unbelief, always be sure to focus more on his heart’s sickness than its symptoms.

5. Welcome them home.
Because your deepest concern is your son’s heart, not his actions, don’t create too many requirements for coming home. If he has any inkling to be with you, don’t make it hard for him. God may use your love to call him back to Christ. Obviously there are instances when parents must give ultimatums: “Don’t come to this house, if you are …” But these will be rare. Don’t lessen the likelihood of an opportunity to be with your child by pushing him away with rules.

If your daughter stinks like weed or an ashtray, spray her jacket with Febreeze and change the sheets when she leaves, but let her come home. If you find out she’s pregnant, then buy her folic acid, take her to her 20-week ultrasound, protect her from Planned Parenthood, and by all means let her come home. If your son is broke because he spent all the money you lent him on loose women and ritzy liquor, then forgive his debt as you’ve been forgiven, don’t give him any more money–and let him come home. If he hasn’t been around for a week and a half because he’s been staying at his girlfriend’s–or boyfriend’s–apartment, urge him not to go back, and let him come home.

6. Plead with them more than you rebuke them.
Be gentle in your disappointment.

What concerns you most is that your child is destroying herself, not that she’s breaking rules. Treat her in a way that makes this clear. She probably knows–especially if she was raised as a Christian–that what she’s doing is wrong. And she definitely knows you think it is, so she doesn’t need this pointed out. She needs to see how you are going to react to her evil. Your gentle forbearance and sorrowful hope will show her that you really do trust Jesus.

Her conscience can condemn her by itself. Your role is to stand kindly and firmly, always living in the hope that you want your child to return to.

7. Connect them to other believers.
Obviously, you are distant from your wayward child; otherwise you wouldn’t think they’re wayward. This is another reason why pleading is better than rebuking–your relationship with your rebellious child is tenuous and should be protected if at all possible.

But rebuke is still necessary. A lot of rebellious kids would do well to hear that they’re being fools, but you’re probably not the one to tell them. Try to keep other Christians in their lives and trust God to connect your son or daughter with a believer who can point out your child’s folly without getting the door slammed on them.

8. Respect their friends.
Of course your daughter’s relationships are founded on sin. And, yes, her friends are bad for her. But she’s bad for them, too. And nothing will be solved by making it evident that you don’t like who she’s hanging around with.

Be hospitable. Her friends are someone else’s wayward children, and they need Jesus, too.

9. E-mail them.
When you read something in the Bible that encourages you and helps you love Jesus more, write it up in a couple of lines and send it to your child. The best exhortation–better than any correction–is for them to see Christ’s joy in your life.

Don’t stress out when you’re composing these as if each one needs to be singularly powerful. Just whip them out and let the cumulative effect of your satisfaction in God gather up in your child’s inbox. God’s Word is never useless.

10. Take them to lunch.
If possible, don’t let your only interaction with your child be electronic. Get together with him face to face if you can. You may think this is stressful and uncomfortable, but trust me that it’s far worse to be in the child’s shoes–he is experiencing all the same discomfort, but compounded by guilt. So if he is willing to get together with you for lunch, praise God, and use the opportunity.

It may almost feel hypocritical to talk about his daily life, since what you really care about is his eternal life, but be sure to do it anyway. He needs to know you care about all of him. Then, before lunch is over, ask about his soul. You don’t know how he’ll respond. Will he roll his eyes like you’re a moron? Will he get mad and leave? Or has God been working in him since you talked last? You don’t know until you risk asking. God will give you the gumption.

11. Take an interest in their pursuits.
Odds are that if your daughter is purposefully rejecting Christ, then the way she spends her time will disappoint you. Nevertheless, find the value in her interests, if possible, and encourage her. You went to her school plays and soccer games when she was 10; what can you do now that she’s 20 to show that you still really care about her interests?

Jesus spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes, and He wasn’t even related to them. Imitate Christ by being the kind of parent who will put some earplugs in your pocket and head downtown to where your daughter’s CD release show is. Encourage her and never stop praying that she will begin to use her gifts for Jesus’ glory instead of her own.

12. Point them to Christ.
This can’t be stressed enough. It’s the whole point. No strategy for reaching your son or daughter will have any lasting effect if the underlying goal isn’t to help them know Jesus.

The goal is not that they will be good kids again. It’s not that they’ll get their hair cut and start taking showers; it’s not that they’ll like classical music instead of deathcore; it’s not that they’ll vote conservative again by the next election. The goal is not for you to stop being embarrassed at your weekly Bible study or even for you to be able to sleep at night, knowing they’re not going to hell.

The only ultimate reason to pray for them, welcome them, plead with them, eat with them, or take an interest in their interests is so that their eyes will be opened to Jesus Christ.

And not only is He the only point, but He’s the only hope. When they see the wonder of Jesus, satisfaction will be redefined. He Himself will replace the money, or the praise of man, or the high, or the sex that they are staking their eternities on right now. Only His grace can draw them from their perilous pursuits and bind them safely to Him–captive, but satisfied.

God will do this for many. Be faithful and don’t give up.

© Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org