Sunday, December 25, 2016

As We Wait

As we wait for Christmas to arrive, what are we really waiting for?

I've been thinking of those, from years past, who were waiting for their lives to end. Who, by choice or not, each heard the call of death. And I've been wondering what must have filled their hearts and minds as they prepared to die?

Jonah ran away from God. Was swallowed by a great fish. And called out to God in his distress.

A widow gathered sticks. Planned her last meal for herself and her son. And made a cake for Elijah.

Elijah ran for his life. Collapsed by a broom tree. And prayed that God would take his life. He was done.

Hagar wandered with Ishmael. Sobbed in despair. And discovered that God had provided a well.

Each one was

Waiting for death. Receiving life.

God sees. Even when we feel hidden. And hopeless. And helpless.

Surrounded by darkness. In a seemingly never-ending wilderness.

We cannot escape His presence, even if we try.

He pays attention to every detail. And He lovingly touches the brokenhearted.

What are you waiting for?

Simeon has to be one of the greatest wait-ers in history.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

Simeon knew that he would encounter the long-awaited Messiah before he died. He held on to that hope for many years. And he lived to see God fulfill His promise. He wasn't just waiting for his death. He was waiting to hold the Giver of Life in his arms before God brought an end to his days on earth.

How are you waiting to receive the Life He has for you this Christmas?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unwanted Gifts

Sometimes we receive gifts that we don’t really want. Like the time my husband crossed paths on campus with the Chinese director of the English Department and was a little too enthusiastic as he marveled over the beauty of his newly purchased porcelain horses. When he realized his mistake and tried his best to back pedal on the praise, it was too late. His protests were no match against Liang Laoshi’s insistence that he bring them home as a gift. Unfortunately, because we really didn’t want them and had no place for them in our tiny apartment, those horses have collected dust–never leaving their box–these past 20 years.

What have you done with the unwanted gifts you’ve received?

As we exchange gifts this Christmas season, we pause to reflect on the greatest gift ever given: Our complete acceptance as sons and daughters by our heavenly Father. A once broken-by-sin relationship restored for eternity by the gift of God’s perfect Son. And we humbly receive His freely-given, grace-filled Sacrifice with empty hands and needy hearts.

Through God’s deeper-than-we-can-imagine love, enshrouded in mystery, He offers us other gifts as well. Some of those gifts are answers to our prayers and just exactly what we wanted (the gift of a spouse, a friend, a child…) Other gifts come in packages that we feel much more resistant to unwrap (a broken marriage, betrayal by a friend, infertility…)

One of the gifts God has lovingly chosen for me is the Gift of Pain through migraines. And when I said, “No, thank you. I’ll take the pain-free life instead,” He didn’t give me the trade-in I wanted...

You can read the rest of this post at Velvet Ashes:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Gift of Advent

We pressed pause this week. And lit some candles after dessert with our Grace Group. As we soaked in the peaceful silence of the candlelight, a sense of calmness settled over the table. And our souls found space to rest. 

An Advent gift from God. 

We talked about Light/Darkness based on an Advent reflection by Christena Cleveland. As the dancing lights flickered through the broken pieces of glass surrounding the candles, Charly played a song for us that he's been listening to a lot this week. A song that he shared with our close friends across the ocean who are going through a very dark, difficult time in their marriage. Wondering if the shattered pieces can be put back together. If there is any life at all in a relationship that seems dead. 

This song breathes hope. And new life. And a story that's not finished yet.  
When we see wounded He sees mended:

by Matthew West

How many times can one heart break?
It was never supposed to be this way
Look in the mirror, but you find someone you never thought you'd be

Oh, but I can still recognize
The one I love in your tear stained eyes
I know you might not see him now, so lift your eyes to me

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I'm not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

You see your worst mistake
But I see the price I paid
There's nothing you could ever do, to lose what grace has won

So hold on, it's not the end
No, this is where love's work begins
I'm making all things new
And I will make a miracle of you

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I'm not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

I see my child, my beloved
The new creation you're becoming

You see the scars from when you fell
But I see the stories they will tell

You see worthless, I see priceless
You see pain, but I see a purpose
You see unworthy, undeserving
But I see you through eyes of mercy

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
You're not too far gone
You're one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I'm not finished yet, no
When you see wounded, I see mended

Ooh, I see mended
Woah, oh I see mended
I'm not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

Beauty from ashes in God's gift of Advent. Waiting in anticipation. For the Healer, Messiah, Immanuel. The story He's writing through our lives doesn't end in darkness. 

Do you see the Light?

Jesus fulfilled the prophetic words of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come." Luke 4:18-19

Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Gift

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Simple Act of Noticing

Last week Charly checked out a book from the library that he thought I would like called Listen Love Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World by Karen Ehman.

It's an encouraging book and I appreciate all the practical ideas she offers for noticing and then acting on the needs of those around us. She calls them heart drops (glimpses into a person's heart through their words or a feeling we get from them).

And she highlights Jesus as our ultimate example of paying attention to those in need:

“Although he was the Son of God and on a very big mission, Jesus was never too busy to notice. He lived alert. He could be among a crowd of thousands and yet focus on one weary soul who needed a look, a word, or a touch from him. Sometimes, even while on his way to do something important, he turned his attention to what appeared to be lesser requests. Because Jesus wasn't about doing big things. He was about doing the right thing. And often for him, the right thing was noticing one simple soul.”

She goes on to describe what it looks like for us today:

“People all around us every day are longing for someone to notice them. They may feel alone or ashamed. Afraid or apprehensive. The simple act of noticing someone as he or she journeys through life can lovingly mirror the behavior of God. But in order to behave like Jesus did, and spread the healing balm of his love, we must be willing to drop our agenda—or at least put it on hold—to reach out and touch those who need it most. The scene doesn't have to be impressive. The circumstances are usually quite ordinary. And often the stage is set right in front of us as we go about our days. In fact, sometimes the stage is set right within our own four walls.”

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents last month and I observed a beautiful example of how they live this out. One of their elderly neighbors across the street had just returned home from an extended stay at the hospital. My parents had been checking in on her husband while she was in the hospital and walking their dog for him. My Dad noticed how discouraged he seemed and offered to take him out for coffee. He also extended an invitation for them to join us for our Thanksgiving meal, but the wife didn't have enough energy yet. So my parents said they would bring the meal to them. And they filled two trays with portions from each one of the many Thanksgiving dishes, in individual containers for easy reheating. My Dad and I delivered them before we started our meal. 

And then we enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with other friends my parents had invited. The Mom of the family was sick and couldn't come, so my parents had one of the daughters fix a plate to set aside for her, before anyone else went through the line.

I'm sure my parents will be surprised (and even embarrassed) that I shared this with you. These kinds of acts of service are, to them, as natural as breathing. They are always on the alert, always reaching out, always seeking to bless. Whether its serving in the soup kitchen, interacting with senior citizens at the memory loss nursing home or listening to young readers at the library (with their therapy dog Rocky), wrapping Christmas presents for a friend with rheumatoid arthritis, helping a friend organize his garage, taking neighbors to the airport or checking on their houses while they're gone, their lives are all about service. And serving others brings them joy.

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” St. Augustine

What needs are you noticing around you today?
Which ones might God be prompting you to act on?


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