Surrender 2016

“Surrendering your will to God lies at the very core of whatever grieves you today.” – Wayne Stiles

I copied this quote a while back. I’ve come back to it from time to time- not quite ready to move on. It’s haunting me, dogging me, taunting me, pushing me, stretching me, teaching me.

What?

How does that work?

Am I galvanized in the grief of a lost relationship? Holding on? To what? What once was, but is not now? Or to what I thought once was?

But what never actually was?

Or was it simply for a season and I’m reluctant to let go?

How does that connect to the surrender of my will, which, by the way, I’ve done over and over again.

Why, you ask?

Isn’t it a once and done?

Shouldn’t it be?

Ahh… evidently not for me.

Because I keep grabbing it back in selfish ignorance and then in those moments of lucid vision (light bulb moment) I gingerly give it back to God like it’s a live wire I want nothing to do with anymore.

Haven’t I learned? Shouldn’t I have learned by now?  Shouldn’t we all have learned?

The reality is that learning to surrender completely (meaning it’s finished when you’ve surrendered), is a process. We give up, give in. Easily. Readily.  Then we reach out with our grubby hands and hold on for all we are worth. Because we keep forgetting that surrender is freedom and life.

In Christ.

Alone.

How do you get on with surrender? Is it important to you? Difficult or easy?

Take a look at the exchange between Jeremiah and King Zedekiah and the fulfillment of prophecy from the Lord  in Jeremiah 37-39:6.

I SURRENDER ALL.

 

Advent is here: Do you have enough socks?

As we draw nearer to Christmas, the tensions mount. Our inadequacies become insurmountable stumbling blocks. We don’t want to let anyone down. We want to please everyone. How do we do that with our Long Expected Jesus on our minds and in our hearts? What does being the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world look like?

 

Do we have enough Christmas socks for every day of the week?

Do our children have enough?

How many pairs of Santa, Snowflake, Jingle Bell, and Angel earrings do we have?

Do we need another Christmas sweater this year?

Can we eke out one more Christmas with that blue number that’s 20 years old?

If we don’t look like everyday is perfectly full of Christmas Joy they will think we have the bah-humbugs.

How many dozen cookies do we need to drop off at school, salon, pet groomers, etc?

Did we make extra for the kids’ Sunday School teachers?

They would wonder if our child showed up without them. And the next appointment at the salon and the pet groomer’s would be embarrassing because we didn’t get them something.

Did we sign up to help in our child’s class for the “Holiday Party”?

How that’s going to happen with the toddler in tow? They are going to think we don’t have enough money for a baby sitter….

Have we gotten every teacher on our children’s gift list a present?

Oh, and mustn’t forget the principal, the assistant principal the secretary and attendance clerk! And the school nurse- since our little darlings visit at least three times a week. After all, what will they think if we don’t?

Are we the practice coach for the high school choir Christmas musical?

If we don’t help out the musical won’t sound as good as it did last year and it will reflect on us.

Did we make enough candy, cookies, snack mix, cakes for our husbands to take to work?

Did we make a double batch of each to take to our work?

You know our husbands and co-workers so look forward to our goodies we make every year!! They will think we don’t care anymore or that something’s wrong.

Have we made a list of Christmas card recipients we want to make sure we don’t forget?

How about putting them in a database on the computer so we’ll have them for future reference?

Where are the cards we received last year? 

You know we must send them a card this year, etiquette, you know.

Did we schedule a time for pictures with Santa for the kids?

Did we buy Christmas outfits for every child for the pictures?

What would the grandparents think if we didn’t send them the annual picture- they would think we forgot them on purpose. Boy, would that make for a very happy Christmas Dinner. Remember last Valentine’s day when we forgot to mail the cards? Don’t want a repeat of that conversation.

Did we schedule the progressive dinner with our lunch bunch friends and get the menu in order for this year?

They so look forward to it every year, but it’s getting harder and harder…

ON THE OTHER HAND…

What if we brought up the subject of spending the money we would have spent on the dinner to provide for those who have little reason to celebrate this year, would they hate me for spoiling their fun?

Have we scheduled in the shopping for the needy family with that group of 10th grade girls in the youth department at church?

The children in that family won’t stay warm this winter unless we bring them socks and jackets and hats and mittens and blankets. On Christmas Day there would be a peanut butter sandwich- maybe- without the food we take. And the girls begin to understand….

 Did you answer the voice mail the kindergarten teachers left for you-they need a volunteer to go with them to the nursing home to take Christmas cards and sing carols for them. Will you go?

The joy the children bring to those who can no longer care for themselves, for those who are so lonely because they have no family near, and for those who have forgotten nearly everything about life except the carols they learned as children is evident on every face. The joy the children bring back to school infects everyone they tell.

Did we make that phone call to invite the woman in our Bible Study who lost her husband a couple of months ago to the Christmas Eve service with our family? 

She’s only been back to Bible Study once since he died. Her son is serving in Afghanistan and she keeps to herself most of the time. Her heart is broken in grief; healing takes time but she’s not sure she has the strength to go on. She needs someone in her life right now to hold a hand to put an arm around her shoulders to help her continue. 

Did we welcome the refugee family whose children started attending our child’s school?  Is there a language barrier? Can we help?

They are so far away from home, and there is no home left. All of their relatives died. They came with the clothes on their backs. There is nothing left from before….

Have we stopped to talk with our kids about the Reason for the season?

Have we talked with our neighbors?

How about the co-workers with the perpetual frown on her/his face?

Do they understand why we celebrate?

DO THEY KNOW JESUS? How will they know unless …. 

 ‘Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”

‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”Matthew 25:34-40

You know the first set of circumstances don’t define us(me) or the people we connect with at Christmas, but sometimes we(I) can get caught up in the feel good work that indirectly gives us(me) the credit and we(I) can forget the hands and feet work of the servant of the High King whose coming we celebrate. 

How do you keep that from happening where you are? I’d love to hear what Jesus is doing through your kids, your family, your friends, your church and your neighbors to touch the world as His Hands and Feet.

Advent: Is the Season one of Anticipation or Dread?

glory

Advent – by its very definition is a period of waiting. It is a time of preparation of our hearts for the coming of Messiah, Redeemer, Saviour. Jesus.

It is when we reflect on past Christmases, when we read the verses from the second chapter of Luke, when we sing carols of angels and the Babe in the Manger, and it is when we pause and consciously, earnestly, deliberately worship The King of Kings. A time when we collectively remind ourselves of the first coming of Christ and look forward to the second coming of our Redeemer King.

As a child, I attended a conservative evangelical church and I knew nothing of Advent until my dad was stationed on an air base in West Germany in the early 60s. There I was introduced to the Advent Wreath- the practice of lighting a candle for each of the four Sundays before Christmas and lighting a fifth on Christmas Eve, then on Christmas Day all would be lit until they burned down. 

My family absorbed what we understood about it into our Christmas traditions. Even though we had no idea of its deep meaning, It evidently seemed like the thing to bring home from Germany. I still have the ceramic advent candle/wreath holder meant to hold live greenery around the base of the candles. It was the centerpiece of the dinner table and each Sunday evening during the Christmas season, as we sat down to eat, we lit the appropriate number of candles and when we were done we blew them out. It was a way to mark time up to Christmas. That was it.

Believers have different experiences and knowledge of how it’s properly celebrated depending on the traditions in the church they attend. Yes, now I understand there’s much more to Advent than lighting candles every week.

What I do know is that Advent, for some, is a far cry from the anticipation that most of us experience while waiting for Christmas Day to arrive with its presents under the tree and the celebration with friends and family. For them it’s a time of dread- old memories of past Christmases haunt, the uncomfortable air around the table that was as electric as Ben Franklin’s kite string in the storm as the family sat to eat together, the disappointment of forgotten gifts or thoughtless gifts or no gifts at all, the efforts made to please everyone so no one’s feelings would be hurt, the rituals that must be observed, the sadness of being alone during the holidays, and the list can go on for quite a while.

Lets face it- Christmas time brings many feelings as it approaches.  Those of us who get more excited with each day marked off on the Advent Calendar may little understand the gut wrenching that’s going on in another’s life waking up each morning to look at the calendar and know that there’s one less day between them and doom. For that is what it can feel like.

 I recently had a conversation with a friend about Advent. While I was looking forward to all the joy that Christmas brings, looking at it as I do with the grandmother filter on; she, however, had already started dreading it. For to her it brings trying to please loved ones who will not be pleased no matter what, it brings great efforts trying to keep the peace with all the dysfunctional personalities at the table and it means including people that she just feels too guilty to exclude from the Christmas dinner invitation even though their presence makes her just about lose her mind.  

She longs for quiet, non-commercial moments to remember the reason for Advent; for the coming of her Saviour.  She wants to meet Him in scripture and worship in solitude or with a few like minded friends. She long ago gave up the efforts of the presents under the tree in exchange for a few stolen peaceful moments in the hubbub that the season brings every year. 

She’s lonely in the middle of the eager shoppers and most acutely feels the need to be alone to protect her own feelings in the midst of the loud commercial promises of waking up and finding the car with the big red bow in the drive, or the opening of the small package just handed out that the woman opens deliberately slowly, knowing it’s a piece of jewelry and everyone watching the commercial sees the desperate hope in her face- will it be what she’s wanted all season? Or not?

She sees the buying, helter-skelter shopping and decorating not as fun but as a shallow substitute for what Advent really is. The presents she buys are never enough- big enough, small enough, pretty enough, enough enough.This year, she’s decided there will be none.

Over the years, she’s found that she just does not want to be in a room with critical relatives who destroy the intention behind her gifts when she’s put so much thought into the buying and even making sure she has the right wrapping paper for each gift. The dysfunctional family members who tear apart the meaning of the day with distress, dissension and disagreements she’d just as soon avoid altogether. 

She just longs to be with her Saviour.

Another friend lives alone and her family is miles away and emotionally distant. Those she knew as a child growing up are too old and feeble to celebrate or have passed on leaving great holes in her life especially at Christmas. She finds herself grieving more than celebrating. She mourns what was more than she enjoys what is.  She tries but it’s just too difficult to expose those sensitive nerve endings again to sadness, separation, selective exclusion and a flood of other feelings that she is not able to keep in check.

She finds herself repeatedly pouring out those feelings at the feet of her Saviour.

Still another acquaintance will experience this year as a widow, again, for the eighth year. Yet-every year feels exactly like the first year.  Her children are grown and have created a whole ecosystem around their lives they are living and she’s not a part of it. She sits by the tree in the evenings and reads the same verses that her husband used to read to the family when they were all together. 

Only now she’s alone and the only one who hears her voice is her Saviour.

Others have many feelings of grief and sadness at this time and just want to be able to say they’ve survived and made it through another one. The empty spot of a child who’s gone is grieved anew in the stark contrast of the lights of the tree and the ornament reminders of each year they were there and the years they’ve been absent. The inability to provide a proper Christmas dinner as the commercials push on us; or the perfect doll or toy for a child because there’s not enough for extra. When there’s never enough even for the day to day brings a hollowness, dark and hopeless to a parent’s eye. Yet there’s no escaping it- everywhere one goes the worldly world pushes itself upon us in the name of Christmas.

Would you pray with me for these brave souls who just want to worship the Saviour in peace? That Jesus will meet them just where they are and bring the comfort and joy only He can provide and that their worship at the manger will be uninterrupted and their hearts be full of  Him. Only Him. That they can shut out the world for just those few extra moments that are so badly needed before they step once more into the fray known as Christmas time. That their voice will be loud and clear as the angels’ were on that long ago night when the song went out over the barren hills and hearts waiting for a Saviour heard the joyful news that He is come!

 

 

November

pumpkinweb

Around our house November has always been a busy month, there are several birthdays in our family. There used to be more. On the birthdays of loved ones we used to celebrate, we now pause to think about and recall their stories on their day. Though we miss them we know the joy where they are is ours to come. 

This month is my favorite, in part because, I too, celebrate a birthday; but it holds so much more than birthdays- 

Here in Texas, we’ve been living through our extended summer. Other parts of the country are experiencing snow in earnest about this time; yet we are just now able to turn the AC off. Where leaves have been colorful for a month or more in cooler parts, we have had the dried up grey-green-brown leaves and burnt yellow-brown grass as the last of the summer heat made its final mark.  

The horse apples are falling from the trees and that’s how we know the cool of the year has arrived and is going to stick around for a while. 

The full moon shows its silvery face bright in the cool night and leaves its print on the lake for us to follow into winter’s delight. Well, some of us delight in winter. With the changing of the seasons there are always those who breathe that sigh of relief that we can pull out the long sleeved shirts and a light sweater or two; where others are bemoaning the fact that the temp has dipped below 90. 

Now’s the time we all take a breath and feel the energy return again; our steps are brisk and purposeful. The crops are harvested. The hay is baled, the corn is gathered into the corncribs, the cotton has been picked and taken to market. Now we see the fruit of our labor and can rest a while. The baking begins; the pumpkins arrive, the smells of cinnamon and allspice and clove fill the air with sage and rosemary not far behind. 

And, I know that this, dear friends, has nothing to do with life, the universe and everything. But it does remind us that life, the universe and everything comes from the Father. The seasons change once again and we see His provision in remarkable ways.. 

Thanksgiving is on the horizon and it’s harvest time.  A time for thanks for all that we’ve been given back from the earth; a time for thanks for all things that come from the Father’s Hand; a time to be gracious ourselves and provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. 

Regardless of the reasons;  this is the season we are called to give where we can to help them get through the winter. It is not our place to judge whether others deserve our help or whether they will use what we give them in the manner we would choose for them. We are called to give out of our abundance. And whether your abundance is baking pumpkin bread for the neighbors, donating a coat or two, giving warm blankets to shelters or helping out at the food bank, we are His hands and His feet to the world. 

The land yields its harvest; God, our God, blesses us. May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him. Psalm 67:6-7

Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President.

I must respectfully disagree with your statement that we have all become numb to the recurrence of mass murders in our country in response to the senseless shootings in Oregon.  I for one, recognize the face of evil when I see it; in helpless outrage, I too, have noted the frequency of these things occurring on your watch. 

I think the question that you, we all, must ask is “what has changed in our culture, our society, our lives that has made this now an expectation that there will be more of these kinds of things happening?” Until we can answer this question honestly we cannot truly address the issues that we abhor.  Legislation is just words on a page.  Mr. President, a course correction is needed. You cannot make this correction for the nation. We the people must be the instigators of change. It must begin with each one of us. In each one of us. 

We have to acknowledge the evil in this world and stand up to it. We can only fight with goodness. With what we know is true. We must call for that standard- truth- to be applied in every situation, we must teach our children respect by respecting them.  We must remind them it’s one thing to respectfully disagree; another entirely to argue and treat others as if they were “less than”. We must give them the tools necessary to get along with others and practice what we preach.  
How can we expect that there will be checks and balances in their world view if there are none in ours ? 
Without boundaries there is no restraint.
Without a standard to live by everyone lives in anarchy. 
There is within each of us an inborn moral compass. Whether that compass functions correctly is determined, in part, by what is learned at home, at school and in the society of our peers. 
If we live in a society that continues to give mixed signals how can we know what is “right” and what is “wrong”?
Unless we cultivate that sense of right and wrong, our children will flounder with no clear direction. 
Unless we show them where that moral compass came from, that sense of right and wrong, they will not understand why they need to listen to it. 
Unless we admit to ourselves that our moral compass is from the Author and Creator of this Universe, the One who Is the Word, Who laid down his life as payment in full for each and every person who lives in this world and that He took up His life again and is returning to earth to claim His Kingdom there will always be something missing and out of place as more and more people struggle to determine what is right for themselves without The Standard.
Mr. President, what this world and this country needs is simply: 
Jesus. 
‘Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.
24 They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.”’
All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. Isaiah 45:22-24

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death –even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father. 
Philippians 2:5-11