Friday, December 1, 2017

Noel

Noel, Noel

Come and see what God has done

Noel, Noel

The story of Amazing love!

The light of the world given for us,

Noel

One of my favorite Christmas carols is The First Noel. I love the beauty of the word. I have it displayed in multiple places throughout our Christmas decorations. Last year I discovered Lauren Daigle's song Noel and my heart was captivated (the above chorus). The story of amazing love - truly the reason for the season, when the light of the world was given to us. Our Savior, Emmanuel.

This morning as the familiar chorus played, I was struck by the word. While I love how beautifully it looks and sounds, I didn't actually know what it means. You may know me well enough to know that I have to find the meaning... So I looked it up:

- A Christmas carol

- A joyous wish

Upon further exploration, I found that at its roots it can be traced back to a Latin word that means birthday. Now you know how I love a good birthday!

Suddenly my love of this word that embodies a joyous birthday song and wish is now becoming clear.

The first Noel was the first birthday, the first celebration of joy, the coming of our Savior. 

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Don't let this be lost on you. This time of year is notorious for the wonder and awe of celebration and yet it shouldn't take the month of December to make us realize how He embodies each and every one of those names and titles. 

Wonderful.

Counselor.

The Mighty God.

The Everlasting Father.

The Prince of Peace. 

Say it out loud. Stop and pause at each one. Let it resonate in your soul, in the very depths of your longing heart. May you know and understand Who He is and all that He is.

You might not be feeling very celebratory or joyful. You may be struggling to get through this season and wondering where God is in the midst of what you're facing. I pray you'll find His never ending peace and unspeakable joy, that you'll be comforted by His might and stand in awe of His wonder. He is everlasting and sometimes we just need the reminder that whatever we're in the middle of truly is only temporary. Our true joy and hope comes in knowing the eternal security we have when we accept His gift of salvation, the reason for which He came. 

I pray you'll come and see what He's done if you've never before experienced Him. I wish you the happiest of Noel's today.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

When Giving Thanks Is Hard 

It's the season of giving, the season of loving, and sharing. The season we gather with family and friends to give thanks followed by celebrations of the birth of our Messiah and Savior. It's meant to be filled with love and hope, peace and kindness, comfort and joy. None of that grandeur is lost on me on this day of giving thanks. 

But what do you do when giving thanks feels hard, maybe even impossible? When you don't feel grateful for the place you're in. When grief has overtaken the emptiness in your heart. When despair has filled all the places where hope should be. When celebration looks and feels different because of the circumstances you've faced. When peace has been rocked by chaos and confusion. When the promise of love has left you broken.

"But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord." Jonah 2:9

From the belly of the whale Jonah cried out to God. In his distress he gave an offering of thanksgiving despite the very desperate situation he was in. I don't know what pit you may find yourself in but if anyone had a reason to despair it was certainly Jonah. The word "sacrifice" in the text also references Psalm 50:14-15:

"Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

This idea of sacrificing thank offerings - this opportunity for us to thank Him, honor Him, even when thankfulness is the very least of feelings we feel - may be a true act of sacrifice. Not necessarily because we are thankful for what we are feeling or facing but thanking Him for Who He is, for being our Deliverer and the One we can call upon in the day of our trouble. It may not always be willing. It may not come from a heart of gratitude. It may be with a spirit of brokenness and despair. It may be from the belly of the pit of hopelessness. Then, even then, from deep within, well past the hurt and sorrow, grief and pain, we find the goodness of the Lord deeply rooted within Who He is and all we're going through even when what we face and feel is anything but good. 

"The Lord is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him." Psalm 28:7

Today is the day we stop and give thanks. It may also be a day that doesn't come easily for you. It may be filled with pain and loneliness, grief and despair, but on this day of giving thanks we can call upon the Lord to be our strength. We can trust Him for Who He is even when we can't make sense of what we're going through. We can rely on Him to be our defense and helper and in that, in those promises, we can give thanks to HIM. When giving thanks is hard and doesn't feel like something we can give, He asks us to sacrificially give our offering of thanks. In my own strength it may not be possible but in the strength of His goodness it is my only response. 

Today, Lord, I give You thanks for You are truly good. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

My Source for Joy

"...in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit." 1 Thessalonians 1:6b

It hit me square between the eyes today. I was praying for wisdom and discernment, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me and fill me. You see, the truth is I haven't really felt myself lately. I'm not really sure how to describe it other than feeling my usual joyful self slipping back and forth into this feeling of sadness and despair. It looks and feels like a lot of different things and quite truthfully I'm sure it's different for each person. Chalk it up to grief and sorrow, being overwhelmed or simply being burdened by things I can only pray about, but it's been an unusual place for me and I'm learning how to navigate it. 

I've only shared these feelings with a few close people, all of whom have given me the freedom to just feel whatever I'm feeling while offering an extension of comfort. No one has told me to just get over it and be happy. This resonates much deeper than feelings of happiness. It is the Christmas season, after all, and the Spirit of Christmas should be alive and well...but it's been hard for me to find so far this year. 

I know exactly what to do. I know the place to go and how to draw upon the strength I need. I've read, studied, memorized scriptures to be my source and sustainment. It's come down to that place of knowing and acting upon what you know. Even when you don't feel like it. 

So today as I was deep into study about the gifts and work of the Holy Spirit, I stumbled upon this word. 

"In spite of severe suffering." 

I love that this translation understands the depth and severity of pain and suffering - not just sadness but feelings of angst and trauma. In my mind it says to me this isn't just a problem today and a miracle tomorrow. This resonates with me that the extremity of this suffering is a journey. No matter what I face or am feeling, regardless of what I'm going through, even then could I welcome with joy the message from the Lord? I paused here for a long time. It's a tough question to ask, an even harder one to answer. But there's a truth in this verse that can't be overlooked. 

"With the joy given by the Holy Spirit." 

It's not by my own strength or feelings. It's not dependent upon what I'm facing or going through. It is divinely and supernaturally given by the Holy Spirit. I dare say, by my own interpretation and understanding, it's so much more than the gift of joy. It's hope, peace, comfort, strength, endurance, perseverance, and so much more. It's whatever we need in the moment we need it because we have the gift of the Holy Spirit in and through us and the ability to call upon that which isn't natural or available in our own strength - or should I say weakness. 

"You welcomed the message."

The message is the Gospel and the Word of God doesn't return void, which is why this is such a powerful word. Because whatever suffering or struggle we face, we have the gift of joy given by the Holy Spirit to empower us. I can't neglect this part of the verse because then it would remove the context of the Word of God that was being spread and shared in spite of hardship, persecution, and trials. If others were to give witness to my testimony, even in my feelings of sadness and sorrow, trouble or trial, pain or persecution, would they be able to say that my life was a testimony of the Gospel? Here's one deeper - would I be able to welcome the hardships for the purpose of bringing glory to God? That's a tough one to swallow but not lost in this passage.

If I'm going to claim the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit in my life then I have to be willing to accept whatever circumstances may surround the very reason I need to draw upon Him and His strength. The reality is in my own strength I forget I have need of His supernatural work in my life. It's not because of Him I suffer but it is because of Him when I do struggle I have a source - The Source - to draw upon. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Cherish the Moments

Look at her. That sweet little baby. She wasn't a week old yet and I remember holding her while she slept thinking "I should lay her down. I'm going to spoil her." And then I remembered how quickly the time would pass and snuggled her close. We would stay that like for hours sometimes, letting the laundry and dishes go unnoticed and all other tasks and chores be forgotten. 

Two years later I can tell you I don't regret those hours for one second. I don't have any regrets other than I should have held her more. I should have cherished the moments longer. 

Mamas, don't lose sight of it. They grow so quickly - so quickly. Everyone will tell you how fast time will fly and when you're in the sleepless stressful days when a shower is rare and yet your only escape to normalcy, when you're overwhelmed with clutter and piles and feeling like you may never know normal again, remember how fast it goes. Remember how it will all-too-quickly be gone. You'll be snuggling a baby one minute and fighting a toddler's independence the next. 

I remember when I first learned of Eli and prayed he would adjust quickly and get on a schedule. What little I knew about a newborn. And what little it mattered. 

Hold onto the moments. The hard moments that take all your energy and patience. The peaceful moments that remind you it's all worth it. Hold onto your little ones while they're little because without even realizing it you'll be looking back at pictures wondering where the time went and how those moments are now gone. 

I'm not one of those moms who pines to hold a baby but I do know the reality of how quickly those babies grow up. Our calling is deep and wide, it extends to the depths of who we are stretching us beyond ourselves and asking us to go just a little bit farther. And as hard as it can be it is all worth it. Every challenging moment. Every cherished moment. 


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Get to Jesus

It's been a tough couple of days. Michael made the last minute decision to travel to Florida after his dad has been in the hospital for more than a week. Multiple health concerns and now a surgery made it apparent his time spent with his dad would be important. The kids and I stayed back to keep to our normal schedule at home. I had forgotten what it's like to be a single mom but I don't miss it in the least. 

It was a difficult night for us all being away from one another. It became apparent sleep would not be easy despite the weariness felt. I've already been up for hours and it's only 6 a.m. It's given me time to think, pray, read, and workout (I guess now is as good a time as any to start that workout routine...).

I attempted to listen to something while I got ready. It's my usual morning routine. I tried everything but all I got was the spinning circle of apps thinking about loading. LPM, Focus on the Family, Right Now Media, iDisciple...none of them were loading videos. I tried to read instead except the First Five and even my Bible app were seeningly ignoring my requests.

"Doggonnit Satan. You are not going to get the best of me today!" I exclaimed out loud. "I just need to get to Jesus!"

I need to paint the picture for you. My iPad is open on my desk. Literally 12" away is my giant study bible, also laying open. Did you catch that? The actual printed Word of God. Not a piece of technology. It may as well have smacked me in the face!

In this case, all I needed to do to get to Jesus was turn my head a few inches and hearing from Him, not from a teacher, would be at my eyeballs rather than just my fingertips. Granted the touch of the screen wasn't summoning the apps I wanted but the living Word of Truth was laid out before me ready to be consumed. 

It's often the same distance from our head to our heart. Knowing versus believing, hearing versus trusting, seeing versus doing. This literal divide between my usual technological consumption and His God-breathed Word is often overlooked, but not today. 

His Word is alive and active no matter the version or platform but there's something about feeling the weight of my bible in my hands, laying it on my chest as I pray, hearing the heavenly sound of paper thin pages as I flip through chapter and verse, seeing the notes I've written, the dates I've etched alongside promises of His faithfulness. Today I just needed to get to Jesus and thank goodness He got to me right where I needed Him.

We covet your prayers today as Michael's dad goes in for a heart procedure to check for and possibly repair blockages. We know the Lord is near, no matter how far away we may feel. Thank you for your prayers!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unwilling Participant

I had everything set. The dress, the shoes, the matching hair bow, the props. It was all laid out. Violet is a month away from turning 2 and we decided to forego a frivolous party and take a family vacation instead. But there still needed to be pictures. So I scheduled the photo shoot and got everything ready. She was all dolled up and I stood back waiting for my little princess to participate in what I was certain would be the most picturesque photos we would cherish for years to come.

I was wrong. So wrong.

It was hot. 86 degrees in October. Not a cloud in the sky, the sun was beating down on us both. She was not having anything to do with me putting her down. She screamed and cried the second I tried to pry her out of my arms. I tried to reason with her, got her blanket, was even willing to cave to the idea of a pacifier just to calm her down. Nothing worked. She met my determination to get amazing photos with her own resolve to not participate.

Forty five scalding minutes later, I was dripping and she was sporting a splotchy red tear-stained face. The photographer was gracious and patient and offered to come back in the morning when it was cooler and everyone was calmer. I'm sure she meant me because even though my daughter was the one in tears, I was only seconds away from my own meltdown.

I opted out of the next shoot so as not to be a distraction...but I could literally hear her screaming from a mile away. For real. The best laid plans and props weren't enough. The adorable outfit wasn't going to cut it. She wasn't having anything to do with my vision for this photoshoot and that seemed final.

Fast forward two days and my daughter was guiding me by the hand on a leisurely walk to the pond. We walked and talked, sang and clapped. She threw rocks in the water and then turned to me ever-so-sweetly and sat down on the grass. With the sun glistening off her blonde curls she motioned for me to come near and then said, "Take picture." She sat there as still and calm as she could and smiled like a little angel. I nearly gasped. Had she just instructed me to take her picture in the exact spot we spent almost 2 hours trying to get pictures??? Yes, yes she had. And all I could do was laugh and tell her what a stinker she was for not participating two days prior. Would you believe I didn't even take my phone to document the moment? There is no proof. Simply my own memory and now this blog of the moment it was her idea to sit and smile.

I imagine God must have been laughing, reminding me of how my best laid plans are often completely against what He has envisioned for me. Or worse, when I cry and scream and throw a fit in my unwillingness to participate in what He has planned for me. Oh yes, I'm certain I've earned my picture on the Heavenly Wall of Shame as an Unwilling Participant. Just like my daughter has earned herself documented proof of her unwillingness to get her picture taken on her own terms. Too often I want things on my own terms. I want Him to do things according to my plan. And when I don't get my way, I make sure He knows about it.

It's shameful to admit but I'd be lying if I didn't. May this be a reminder to me to know He is good, to recognize when He sets me down on my own He isn't abandoning me. May I trust His vision and plan even when I don't understand or know what it is. May I be a willing participant regardless of what it is He's asking me to do.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Tragic Monday

It seems I've been responding a lot to the Monday morning onslaught of media. Last week it was the furry over the NFL. Today it's the grief for what's happened in Vegas. The reality is I was just telling a friend yesterday that I've been purposely avoiding the news and yet there's no escaping the way these things are ravaging our nation. Last week we were divided by differing points of view, casting stones and drawing lines between "us" and "them." Today we seem to be united by our broken hearts, offering prayers and extending our sentiments toward strangers. It only takes a week and one dreaded tragedy to bring us back together and remind us what's really important.

I know when things like this happen there's questions about where God was, uncertainty about why He allows such things to happen. In the midst of what's unclear and heartbreaking, I only know to do one thing and that is to turn to the Comforter who gives strength and refuge even when I can't understand. It's not that I go to Him for answers of "why" but I do seek Him for peace that passes all understanding and Supernatural strength that exceeds my own.

I can't come to grips with knowing anything about people who would do such a thing except for the reality that God has given us each free will. Along with that ability to choose is the knowledge that a very real enemy celebrates such chaos that causes us to question everything we once thought certain. It's exactly what he wants and the stark contrast of what God desires.

It's true. God is love. The very essence of who He is and all He embodies is nothing short of perfect love. Yet His Word is clear and it cannot be missed that there is only one way to a relationship with Him and it is through the salvation given by Christ's sacrifice to cover our sins. We can't just claim it - we have to believe it and receive it. It seems in times like this people wonder how a God that exemplifies love would knowingly allow such tragedy and heartbreak and yet we know just as Eve was allowed to choose for herself to take that bite, so are we given the choice to act accordingly to our own will or His perfect will.

I'm not trying to get all "preachy" but I know some of you are wondering where God is this morning so I just need to be abundantly clear. He's here. Right here. He's never left. His heart is breaking over the lives lost, the families shattered, and the one who decided it was up to him to wreak such havoc.

We can't run amuck and have our own way then shake our fist at Him in anger as if He somehow let us down when things like this happen. We choose our own way then wonder where He's at when we need Him. I'm not here to shame anyone but I am here to relentlessly defend our need for Him and His salvation plan. I am also here to proclaim His goodness and the peace He brings in times of sorrow, the refuge He is in times of peril. But we must also understand our daily reliance upon Him.

God is here today. Right here. I can't see how He could work any of this for any kind of good but I am trusting His sovereignty and relying upon His eternal plan that I can't see in this temporal world. I pray you'll find the comfort of God today knowing His love bears all things.