Friday, December 30, 2011

Old and New

I got a new curio cabinet for Christmas to replace the one I lost in the fire. Because of the carpet being replaced at the time of the blaze, the contents of my old cabinet had been emptied and wrapped and placed in a box. When we examined the damage, my curio had landed face down, shattered and destroyed, so it was a true miracle and blessing to know that everything that had once been neatly displayed inside was saved from utter destruction. It was 8 months yesterday since the fire happened, and today I proudly displayed the prized possessions I'd collected over the years in my new cabinet. 

I unwrapped each piece and had to diligently clean ash and soot off of nearly every item. There are still permanent marks on some of the pieces - forever reminders of the fire that changed everything. After being packed away for almost a year, the smell of smoke still lingered. The hand-carved olive wood nativity I purchased while visiting Israel permeates the undeniable and unforgettable smell of smoke.

I carefully displayed each item, recalling the memory, person, or circumstance attached to each collectible. The first item I pulled from the box was an Amethyst Fenton vase. It had been Nanny's. We shared the amethyst birthstone with our birthdays only a week a part, and her love of purple was evident in her Fenton collection. It brought me to tears. The wave of emotion overcame me. Missing Nanny. Wishing she could see her great grandchildren and have spent Christmas with us like Poppy did. Recalling the fire and all this past year has brought. The destruction and demolition of one house. The building and starting over of another. Trials. Pain. Hurt. Loss. New Beginnings.


Today there's a new cabinet with a bunch of old and even tarnished pieces that hold new and old memories for me. On display, they hold no value to guests. But to me, they hold priceless memories of the past and hopeful promises for the future.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Joy and Peace

At this time of year, I see cards and ornaments adorned with the words "peace" and "joy."

"Joy to the world..." we sing.

"Peace on earth..." we hope for.

Both joy and peace acting as emotions can seem difficult to achieve. When circumstances seem to produce only disappointment and heartache, how can joy and peace abound?

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

When we trust in Sovereign God, HE alone will fill us with joy and peace - despite our circumstance, no matter the things we face - we are able to overflow with hope. And HOPE gives us the belief that we can still anticipate, expect and desire more - something else - a change, regardless of our current situation.

If we lose hope, we lose the faith that keeps us expectant and, well, hopeful. While we wait, we can still be filled with joy and peace.

Joy - not circumstantial happiness. Deeply rooted in our faith in God, being joyful always - regardless of the situation.

Peace - being still before the Lord, experiencing His peace despite the storm that may rage around us.

Regardless of your circumstance. Despite your situation. May He fill you with joy and peace. May His hope abound in you, to the point of overflowing.

May it be

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Luke 2:38

Mary's response to the angel is a reminder to me that our response to God could alter our role in His plan.

I've always heard the call to action to "see what God is doing and join with Him." Meaning, God's plan and purpose will be accomplished no matter what - and whether or not I'm a part depends on my response.

We see Isaiah ready and willing when the call came asking who would go and his response was, "Here am I, send me." (Isaiah 6:8)

In Luke 2 Mary had been chosen. She was specifically picked for this mission. And yet when the angel came to her, he didn't say she was ALREADY with child - he said she WOULD BE with child. If she had responded differently than "May it be..." I suppose there would be a different story to tell. But then again, I guess her response is exactly why she was the girl for the job. She had already found favor with the Lord. And yet in that moment she could have chosen her plan over God's.

Of course, it's a reminder we're given free will. We have the "right" to choose. But when we surrender our right to ourselves, laying down the flesh and taking on the spiritual, we not only get to join in with God's purpose, we can be invited. When God comes to us with His plan, we can be ready to respond, "May it be..."

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Everyone has Christmas memories. A special ornament that reminds you of a childhood craft project. A batch of baked goods that takes you back to familiar smells and tastes of your family kitchen. If you're like me, there's a number of them stored in your memory bank. And for me, today it was a song.

It was this time 12 years ago (gulp - I will not admit my age) when I was riding across the countryside of England with collegemates on a Christmas mission trip. Learning the proper etiquette of high tea and grabbing onto the lingo of saying "Cheers" instead of hello was not why we had come. Our ministry was in prisons. To inmates. Criminals. It was a ministry called "Within the Walls" and we sang Christmas carols and performed drama presentations to present the love of Christ - no better time than Christmastime.

One of the songs we sang was Phillips Craig & Dean "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and I heard it today and it took me back. England is cold and bleak at this time of year, but even colder was behind the stone walls and iron gates of the prisons. Even colder than that were some of the hearts that had seemingly turned to stone. But that's not the memory I went back to. Instead I was reminded of the warmth and love that we shared - and received - from convicted criminals who needed to hear of a Savior sent to change the world - their world.

I received several letters after that trip and one of them wrote:"Thanks for your concert and all the joy that you brought. Thanks for your spirits in your thoughts and as you sang. Thanks for reminding us that He still guides us above - even behind these walls. But most of all, thanks for reminding us we are loved. I thought I'd been abandoned for I know I've done wrong. But the Lord is always our Savior and now I know His love will keep me strong."

You might not be behind walls, but your heart may be imprisoned. You may not be locked up, but you may be searching for freedom. Maybe your Christmas memories aren't as pleasant. Maybe reminiscing stirs up emotions that are hard to deal with.

But at this time of year, with the reminder of this song, I'm also reminded He is Emmanuel - God with us - wherever we are, whatever situation we're in, no matter how difficult, regardless of our position.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Is your heart held captive by the situation you're in? Are you mourning in loneliness? REJOICE! He is Emmanuel, God with us, Appearing to us.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Are the dark shadows casting gloom over you? REJOICE! He is Emmanuel. God with us, able to remove the shadows and clouds.

Rejoice. He is Emmanuel. No matter what you face. No matter what state you're in. Regardless of your circumstance. He is Emmanuel - God with you. Coming to you, O Son, O Daughter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1R0ki-QTkmc

What are you waiting for?

I'm reposting a Note from 12/16/09 but something still applicable a year later.

I'm usually the one with the most Christmas spirit to share. I did put up my Christmas tree in mid-November. But lately, I've been wrapped up in the whirlwind of everything else that seems to be demanding my attention. I decided to start reading the Christmas story in an effort to remember it's not about gifts or parties or cards - or even feelings...and to truly CELEBRATE the season and all that it means.

Luke 2. It's all there - clear and simple. The Christmas story. As I started to read a bit further, I discovered an unusual part of the story that you don't normally hear sermons on. Verses 25-33.

There was a man called Simeon - "He was waiting..." (vs. 25) "The Holy Spirit was upon him..." (vs. 25) "It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit..." (vs. 26) "Moved by the Spirit..." (vs. 27)

He was waiting for the Messiah. But it wasn't as if he was just an empty shell waiting...he was hopeful and full of the Spirit. Waiting because of what God had revealed - what God had trusted him with.

As I've now had the joy of cradling my own son, I wonder how Mary felt kissing the face of God. SHE KISSED THE FACE OF GOD! What an amazing thought! All the ridicule, the heartache, the mortifying moments she faced being pregnant and alone...was it all worth it when she held her Savior in her arms and rocked him to sleep? What she had waited for...the promise of hope for all the world...had been delivered.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (vs. 19)

I asked myself today - what am I waiting for? Am I waiting for Christmas day to feel joy? Am I waiting until I buy presents? Send cards? Celebrate with friends or family? Am I waiting for a change? Am I waiting for a miracle?

More importantly...do I trust God to do it?! Whatever it is I'm waiting for, do I trust He will? Simeon did. It had been revealed to him that he would see the Messiah before he died. And he waited. He waited longingly, expectantly. He waited with hope. And as soon as he saw him, he knew God's promise had been fulfilled and he said, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, You now dismiss your servant in peace." (vs. 29b)

He knew God was faithful to fulfill His promise. And once He had, Simeon was ready to go. His lifetime spent waiting was all worthwhile upon seeing and receiving salvation (vs. 30).

Today I'm hopeful. I'm celebrating the joy of Christmas in my heart. Trusting that God will do what He's promised. And believing that while I'm waiting, I can be hopeful, filled, even joyful.

I pray, too, that you find the Sovereign Lord faithful, just as He has promised, to deliver His hope and joy to you this season.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Good Intentions

It's December 21. Four days til Christmas. I'm full of good intentions and all the things I've wanted to do:
- Bake bread & Christmas goodies for the neighbors
- Handmade ornaments for a few who had monumental happenings this year
- Personalized gifts for loved ones
- Homemade ornaments for Elijah's for buddies and teachers
- Photo gifts for family members
- Christmas cards for friends
- More decor for the house
- More ornaments for the tree
....

I've got just four days to make it all happen. And I must be honest with myself - it's just not going to all get done.

I'm full of good intentions...but sometimes I lack follow through. It's usually the result of taking on more than I can handle, juggling too much at one time, and inevitably dropping the ball somewhere along the way.

Is it a character flaw? I'd like to think not. I'd rather call it the result of being overwhelmed, overworked and overcommitted. Whatever the case, I still have to take responsibility for the fact that good intentions and well meaning thoughts don't equate to the heartfelt gift of love or appreciation I had wanted to share.

The truth is I can share the Christmas spirit without my baked goods or homemade ornaments or personalized gifts.  I don't need more ornaments on the tree or to mail out Christmas cards to be mindful of the reason we celebrate.

In fact, I'm starting to wonder...if Christmas parties are so much fun and giving gifts is such a blessing, why don't we do this all year long? Why do we have to cram the month of December with an abundance of activity to the point that any normal person couldn't possibly get it all done? There are 11 other months, right? What about a friendly game of dirty Santa during April showers? Or a cookie exchange in August? Could a personalized gift mean just as much - maybe more - in October?

With four days left before Christmas and 11 days before the beginning of 2012, I'm determined not to let unfulfilled good intentions result in guilt. Rather, I'm hoping the idea of "it's the thought that counts" can help extend the deadline beyond December 25th and well into next year...or at least until I can get the list checked off!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Weak

I sat tonight and read through letter after letter, all recommendations written by my staff. A tribute they'd worked so diligently to compile as I prepare to wrap up my tenure as Career Center Director and transition to a new phase of my life and career. Accolades of my leadership, compliments of my encouragement, testimonies of inspiration. In their effort to share how I had impacted their lives over the last 4.5 years, I was overwhelmed by the impact they've all had on me and the realization that followed.

By this stage in my life I know a lot about who I am. No, I don't have it all figured out. I just mean  I can look at you and tell you what I'm good at and what my limitations are. I can easily identify my strengths and weaknesses in relation to a situation (and not just the canned interview answer). I have a lot of vision and creativity but I'm keenly aware that the best ideas are worth nothing if there is no action plan.

As I read through their words of encouragement, I realized that where I thrive is helping people realize their potential and through doses of reality, criticism and encouragement, seeing them reach it.

But if I'm being honest (you know me...) then I must admit my failures and flaws. No, this is not me seeking an empty compliment or needing affirmation about an area of insecurity. This is me digging down deep and realizing even at my strongest and best I am nothing more than inadequate.

It's humbling, really, and I don't mean that in the sense that I need to acknowledge my lowly state. But when you're suddenly faced with the reality of someone or a circumstance pointing out your ugly flaw, you get hurt. Typically, defenses go up with impenetrable walls meant to shield from the darting arrows of truth that might seek to destroy the cover. Feeling the need to retaliate, the attack ensues.

You're insecure. Dart!

You're nothing. Dart!

You're incapable. Dart!

You're ___________ (Fill in the blank). Dart!

It's bloody. The wounds are deep, even deeper are the emotional scars that have been ripped open. You feel worthless and thoughts turn toward how you surely deserved the attack you have endured.

A weakness is the state of being weak, not strong, or lacking. But there's more to the definition. Just like a choc-o-holic says chocolate is her weakness, the weakness becomes the object of her desire.

This can be used for good...or for bad. If the object of your desire is something you shouldn't be seeking, then you must run. I don't mean just stay away. I mean take off clear in the other direction and get as far away as you can. Your weakness - "the sin" that so easily entangles - must become a matter of continual prayer and accountability to give it over to God.

But in acknowledging your point of failure, admitting your flaws, and seeking the Lord's power to perfect your weakness, the object of your desire becomes Him.

Is it easy? No. It's a daily - sometimes hourly or by-the-minute struggle. But through Him you too can be an overcomer and conqueror. Even in your weakness. You're going to fail. You're going to stumble. You're going to hurt. You're going to feel and be weak. You are. And now that you've admitted it, be ready to do something about it! Just remember, you're not alone. We're doing this together.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Perfect

Have you ever looked at someone's situation and wondered how they could make it through? You'd like to believe you'd offer as much grace and dignity if you were faced with the same circumstance, but the truth is you just don't know how you'd respond.

I will never forget a funeral for a nearly 30 year old man who died just months after being diagnosed with stomach cancer. With 3 small children and the fourth yet to be born, this young widow stood to her feet among a packed sanctuary of people there to honor and remember her husband. With children by her side and hands raised in the air, she stood and praised the Lord as the music swelled to "Give us peace". We weren't crying - we were all sobbing. Four children left without a father, one who would never even meet his dad. A young stay-at-home mom grieved for the loss of her best friend and life partner. A talented musician and godly example, certainly a life taken too soon. It just didn't make sense. And there she was - giving God the glory. It brings tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat just to recall that moment. Truly, she was given grace beyond what I can imagine.

"...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." Hebrews 12:1 (emphasis mine)

But does it work the opposite way? What about "the sin" that so easily entangles? I heard a sermon once talking about "the sin." You see, your sin isn't necessarily my sin. "THE thing" that can entrap me may be a non-issue for you.

Sure, you can stand back and judge an alcoholic when you yourself have never even taken a sip, but what about the way you binge on food you know isn't healthy for your body? You might wonder how someone could get trapped by the disgusting addiction of pornography but what about the habitual and hurtful gossip you continue to spread? One may seem like such a fool who's fallen into a pit of sin, but isn't there grace enough for even he? Even she? Even me?

That same grace extended to the widow at her husband's funeral to stand and praise God is not the same grace I will receive to overcome what I am facing. (Hang with me here.) Rather, it's the grace that God knows I need for MY situation.

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:9

Whatever my weakness may be - a problem, a difficult circumstance, a habitual sin, an addiction, maybe something out of my hands - His power is made perfect in MY situation. The recipe for His power resting on me is my absolute need of Him. I don't have to hide my weakness because I can boast - or proclaim - it is in that situation where I know His strength is with me. And not only do I get His strength, but His PERFECT strength! The same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (See Romans 8:11).

As if you need the definition of perfect...but indulge me. I think you'll like this!

Perfect - exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose

Yes, yes, yes!  

Oh, praise the Lord! I don't have to be perfect. I don't have to try to attain perfection. I can admit my weakness and allow His perfect strength and power to rest on me. Now before I get away from "the sin" Hebrews 12 talks about, let's revisit the verse. 

Throw off what hinders you. This is a casting aside of your burdens, your cares, your problems, your sin.

Run the race with perseverance. You can't just sit on the sidelines. You must be willing to run. 

Then Hebrews 12:2-3 "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Set your eyes on Him and Him alone. Let Him perfect you and your faith. Remember what He endured. Do not lose heart. Don't try to be perfect. Just let His strength be made perfect in you.

Keep reading Hebrews 12...verses 4-13 for more encouragement. Maybe part 2 tomorrow...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Change is coming...

The wind is howling as I type. It was 60 degrees today despite the rain but the temperature has drastically dropped. It's cold and blustery. As in knock you down, blow you over. The winds of change signaling the onset of winter.

A few days ago I tweeted a blog by Clayton King that caused some heads to roll. I'm not trying to send any mixed signals or subliminal messages. It's true; there are things in life that will drain the life out of you and the only response should be to cut them off, cut them out, eliminate what robs you of your job and creativity. Anything that could pose as an attack or threat to your relationship with Christ may ultimately be something that needs to be cut out.

Then I read the short devotional below, words from God to anyone facing change:
SMALL STRAWS IN A SOFT WIND by Marsha Burns

"You have been in a time of old things coming to an end.  And, even though you cannot see ahead to know what is coming, you can trust Me to continue to shut the doors that need to be shut and to open the doors that need to be opened.  Do not be afraid, for I am with you to bring you into divine purpose and destiny, and I will fill the void in your heart and any sense of emptiness that has resulted from changes that are taking place, says the Lord.  Put your trust in Me."

Revelation 3:8  "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name."

Here's what I need to say before anyone else freaks out. I know a lot of people who need to read Clayton King's blog because of people, addictions, situations or 'things' in their lives that need to be cut off. I also know a lot of people who need the above words as confirmation that this time of old things is in fact coming to an end with the promise of new things to come. There are people who need to be affirmed that doors will be opened by God and no one can interfere with HIS plan. There are others who may not be able to rest tonight without knowing the void in their heart will be filled. Do you hear me on this?!

I share from my heart. Remember "sharing my business without telling all my business?"  So what I'm sharing right now is real and personal to me for a lot of reasons, some known and some not. But it's also because I know people and I know their struggles. And in my own situations, trials and circumstances, I'm praying that somehow a lesson or word of encouragement that God gives me might also be a blessing to someone else. 

So whether you're looking at the enemy attacking your life and trying to muster up the strength to cut it off, or if you're waiting for the doors of change to fling open while your present circumstance becomes a thing of the past, this blog is for you. It's so you know there's hope in the midst of the devastation; comfort in the midst of pain. Really, it's so you know - whatever the circumstance - you're not alone. 

The winds of change are coming. A new day. A new season. A new opportunity. You must cut off anything that hinders you from being faithful to God so that He might have full access to your life - every part, even the flaws and failures - so He can make room for the new doors to fling wide open.  You can look change in the eyes and say you're ready.