Monday, December 10, 2012

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."  (John 14a)

Each Christmas, for the last 5 years, I have pondered the same thought ... Christ's sacrifice was not reserved for the cross.  His sacrifice for us is written all over the Christmas story.

Jesus was. Always has been. Always will be.

"All things were created by Him and for Him" (Colossians 1:16b).
It is Jesus who created time. He created the beginning and is in charge of the end. Yet He, who never  experienced a boundary or a constraint, stepped into His creation of time and became subject to a beginning. He had a birth and He would have a death - and He did it all for us. Yes, Jesus would experience death ... His enemy. He would experience death and reveal to us that not even death could separate us from the love of God that is found in Him. But, back to the Christmas story, Jesus also experienced a birth and that means so much more than a nativity scene with a cute little baby sleeping in a manger with the adoring gaze of Mary, Joseph and shepherds.

Jesus would submit Himself to limitations for the first time. He would need time to sleep and need time to accomplish all that He came to do. For the first time ever, His eyes would close. Jesus is Lord of all, yet submitted to His creation of time.

Jesus never experienced a boundary. His permanent residence extends beyond any confines. He always existed in total freedom. The book of Genesis gives us details of the creation of this space where we live. Jesus did the unimaginable when He stepped into this space and into the womb of a woman. He became constrained by boundaries for the first time.  To go from total freedom to the tight confines of a womb, not to mention the limitations Jesus would experience for the rest of his life on this earth, is more than I can comprehend.

Jesus, who had not one single need, became a man with needs ... needs for food and drink, needs for instructions from His Father, needs for strength. Again, what a sacrifice! Can you grasp what it would be like to go from never having a need to living in a perpetual state of needs?

And on my list, is my "need" to deny temptation - temptation to idolatry, temptation to compromise and take the easier route, temptation to ... Jesus had never experienced those kinds of things. He IS God! Yet, he stepped into this world as a man and went through the same trials we experience. And we cannot fool ourselves and think that because He was God, it was easy to say no. He was also fully man and suffered through temptation. The only difference is He was totally obedient to His Father and said "no."

Before being born, Jesus never had to choose between good and evil. He is absolute in His character of goodness. Yet He agreed to step into a world filled with choices. And in that process, He revealed how we too could overcome ... through quiet times with His Father, through prayer, through commitment, love and obedience to God, the Father.

And Jesus, who was rich, became poor. He who owns "the cattle on a thousand hills", stepped into a life of poverty. He would be born in the poorest of conditions.  He was born in a stinking barnyard because no one would make room for Him. And He would live His ministry without a place to lay His head. All for us! He did it all for the joy set before Him.

Sacrifice at the cross! Yes, without a doubt.

Sacrifice at His conception! Oh, yes.

Jesus was born into a community of indifference. After all He sacrificed for us, how can this be a choice for us?

Joy, unspeakable joy, born in a manger. For us.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Still seeking!

"Life verses" ... sometimes that phrase can be heard within the Christian family. I've used it. For me, a life verse is a passage from the Bible that has registered in a profound way within my soul. It is a verse I read when I knew... that I knew... that I knew... I could claim it as my own. Some have been promises and some have been instructions.

The very first time I experienced this kind of connection was when I read Jeremiah 29:13, "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." These words seemed to have a life of their own. It was if they jumped off the page and filled my soul with an amazing joy. In that moment, I knew that if I looked for God, I could find Him. It was just that simple!

One time I lost my car keys. (OK, I've lost my keys several times but I had this revelation only once!) As I diligently searched for them, realizing that I needed them if I wanted to get to my next destination, this verse popped into my mind. That's what "seeking God" resembles - diligently keeping my eyes open, searching for His presence, knowing that He is there!

I once thought that God was hiding from me. Maybe He does sometimes. Maybe He wants to observe how much I desire Him. Will I faithfully seek or will I grow weary? Maybe He wants for me to experience the delight of "finding" Him once again. Maybe ... but more often that not, I think I am the barrier to finding God and walking with Him. I am the one who takes my eyes off of Him and when I do, it seems as though the world, with all of its false glitz and glamour, begins to allure. I begin to focus on the gifts instead of the Giver, the creation instead of the Creator.

But I have this promise ... When I seek Him with all my heart, He promises that I will find Him. It was Israel's promise and it is my promise ... and it can belong to others! If they want it.

I have a few more "life verses"... maybe I will share more in future posts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Who do we thank?

A young friend serving in a former communist country in Europe told a story ...

One Thanksgiving she shared the American tradition with a group of friends. She asked them, "For what are you thankful?"

One very astute friend replied, "To be thankful implies there is a God to thank and we don't believe in God. So I'm not thankful for anything."

Sad ... on so many levels.

This bright young woman is totally correct. If we are thankful, we must understand there is "someone" to thank and the original source of our gifts and our pleasure is God.

On another level, thanksgiving also implies joy and contentment. It requires that we look at all we have with fresh eyes of wonder. Thankfulness pulls us into a "happy place".

So to deny a day of thanksgiving in order to deny God is a travesty. A denial of personal happiness and contentment.

Thank you God for the gift of Jesus. Thank You for your living presence in my life. Thank You for surrounding me with loving family and friends. Thank You for the gift of the church. Thank You for the "feast" you have given me. May my heart always be inclined to share it all - including You. May may heart be forever thankful. Amen

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;  come before Him with joyful songs.
Know the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are His, we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever,
His faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Tree House

Leslie, Travis and my niece, Alex (all adults, I might add) just moved into a new, stunning home. It's a dream home with everything a growing family will ever need or desire. And their bedrooms have the most gorgeous views.

Last night the three of them grabbed sleeping bags, climbed into the tree house and camped for the evening. Why I ask? Why? One hundred yards from their comfortable home yet they chose the hard floor and the damp, cold air!

To be honest, I just don't get the whole camping thing. And it's not because I don't love the outdoors. Nobody, and I mean nobody, loves the outside more than I do. You will find me outdoors almost every single day - reading, walking down to the creek, gardening. Yes, I would rather weed any day than work inside. But I still don't get the camping! Why choose sleeping outside at night with critters moving around that you can't see? Why choose sleeping on the hard ground when you have a soft, comfortable bed? And need I mention the accessibility to indoor plumbing? There are people living on the street who would trade sleeping spots any night of the week.

Possible answers: adventure ... because I can ... for the experience ... to say I did it ... it's fun...the adrenaline rush ... the taste of freedom! How may things have we chosen to do for these reasons when realistically, they did not make sense? Entire industries have been created for these reasons. Bungee jumping, leaping out of planes, skiing down a mountain as fast as you can (which has been a favorite sport of mine!)... Really, do you see any logic in risk?

Why do we crave adventure? Why do we have this desire to do the unexpected? Why do we want to go where no man has ever ventured? Why do we often feel as though our lives need more excitement? Why does the beauty, creativity and majesty that surround us become mundane and boring?

As usual, lots of questions, no perfect answers. Perhaps we were created to live our lives with "oohs" and "aahs" and we just forget to look around us with fresh, open eyes. Perhaps we have this built-in desire because our eternal life with Christ is meant to be filled with adventure and excitement. Or could there sometimes be something ugly within us - a portion of us that is never content, that wants more, that wants attention, that finds our worth in what others think of us. Actually I prefer to think that we were created for adventure.  And as in all things good, humans can distort with wrong motives.

Back to this idea of sleeping in a tree house... it could be a fun adventure for an evening but I think I will pass. You will find me under my down comforter!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Throughts by which to raise babies!

Friends having babies ... and friends having grandbabies ... causes me to ponder.

Parenting has got to be the hardest yet most rewarding of all jobs. And if that wasn't intimidating enough, it is a job with eternal value. So why do we accept the challenge? Perhaps because children are a gift, a treasure to love and nurture. We get to share life with them.

Looking back, I could be so discouraged by focusing on mistakes I made.  Many things I got right but if I could just have a few "do overs." The good news is that grace, given by both God and my daughter, has covered all of my mistakes. And I think I learned a few things along the way. So, as I reflect, I'm going to record a few lessons learned - maybe it can be credited as wisdom - maybe it can be used as encouragement for future generations.

1. First, enjoy your children. Yes, it is true - in what seems like a blink of the eye, they become adults. Sometimes enjoying them requires an attitude adjustment (from you!). Sometimes that requires focusing on what is praiseworthy. Enjoy each phase of their lives. Those phases will soon be gone only to be replaced by a new one!

2. Share the gospel, but more importantly, live the gospel.

3. Point out where you see evidence of God's presence and His goodness, faithfulness, kindness, provision, trustworthiness, etc. The reality of who He is and the relationship you have with Him cannot be kept in the dark ...  and isn't it our hope that children will soon recognize our "invisible" God? (And we want them to remember that just because you cannot see God doesn't mean that He is not present at those teenage parties!)

4. Love your child's father/mother well.

5. Look carefully at any traits in your children that may annoy you or may not be acceptable behavior. Sometimes those same traits will be invaluable in their adult life/calling/ministry/job. Children need to learn how to harness these"obnoxious" traits so they can be used for good. Example: Stubbornness exhibited by a child can develop into the perseverance an adult needs to get the job done with excellence!

6. Establish boundaries that create a safe home where everyone can be themselves and loved unconditionally. Everyone needs to feel safe and secure from  the harshness outside the front door. Ex: No one is allowed to call another family member a name that hurts. There is way too much of that going on in the world. Such ugliness need not reside in your home.

7. When a child says, "If you love me, you'll give me what I want," respond, "Because I love you, I'll give you what is best for you."

8. While a parent cringes at the word "no", a child needs to learn that there are appropriate and necessary times to use that word. Sometimes a child needs permission to say no. And honestly, perhaps our children need experience in saying no. Perhaps they need to experience the power and respect that can come with a "no". Use your wisdom and discernment on this one!

9. Establish relationships with parents of your children's friends. Then, when they say "Nicole gets to do ...", you can respond, "Let me call her mom". Trust me, I used that line more than once. It's amazing how quickly children can recant.

10. Listen and respect healthy differences of opinion. Our kids are not designed to be carbon copies of us. They were created in God's image for His good pleasure and for His good plans. Respectfully listening to children teaches them to listen to us.

11. Expect loving behavior and express your disappointment should you witness or experience anything less - sometimes with discipline, often with a hug, always with love.

12. Learn to say: "My job is to keep you safe."
                            "Maybe you are ready for that, but I am not. Give me time."
                            "You are right."
                            "I'm sorry." - and mean it!

13. Random lesson: Write a strict contract when teenagers begin to drive. Set boundaries up front with the consequences outlined.

14. Pray!

What did I miss?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Camera That Reveals More

We attended a beautiful wedding last weekend in Connecticut. Beautiful weather, beautiful chapel, beautiful bride and groom, beautiful guests.

Obvious response to such a setting - photos, lots of photos trying to capture the moments that were fleeing quickly.

Many of the guests had their smart phones in camera mode. Including me. One feature that I love about my phone is that I can snap a shot of what I see in front of me:

and with the touch of a button, I can reverse the lens and take a picture of myself (hopefully accompanied by a friend!)

Which causes me to ponder:

In my life, I observe a situation through the lens of my eyes. The picture I see "is what it is." My observations, judgements and conclusions have absolutely no affect on the picture I see.

But ... at the same time, there is always this "invisible camera" with the lens reversed - looking at me! It reveals a lot about who I am by how I respond.

Stepping into the "picture" of the wedding was easy. In that setting, I witnessed amazing love and joy. But what about those other messy, difficult, dark, draining "pictures" I encounter? What about the "pictures" of loneliness, pain and disappointment? It would be so much easier to look away (and regretfully, I've done that!). But what does that reveal about myself?

Standing outside, observing and judging = no power to help others. No transformation. No display of love. No growth. It's just a snapshot in my mind.
Stepping into the picture = Unlimited possibilities to make a difference. A display of courage or compassion. Justice for the oppressed. Hope. Healing. Growth.

I believe God often opens our eyes to see circumstances with a desire that we step into the picture. Why do I hold this belief? Because that is exactly what Jesus did. He left His throne and stepped into this messy, broken world to save us from disaster. He came to offer redemption. And I am supposed to have the same attitude.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross!"  Philippians 2:5-8

And I am so thankful for that good news!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rumors spread quickly about this professor!

Rumors spread quickly about this college professor. Freshmen were advised that if they wanted favor in her psychology class, they would be wise to remember two things: 1) Never wear yellow! The explanation given was that she hated mustard and the color of yellow reminded her of that condiment. Crazy story! But I didn't have a problem with eliminating yellow from my wardrobe, just in case. After all, it wasn't my favorite color either.

And 2) her favorite teaching quote was, "To be mentally healthy, one must feel needed, necessary, imported, accepted, loved and understood." Instructions from knowledgeable upper classmen were, "On any given exam, if you did not know the answer to a question, somehow use this quote." Since all exams were essay, I used this line on more than one occasion. So much so, that is in ingrained in my memory bank.

Now, thirty years later, I find myself pondering this teaching. My thoughts:

1) Love should have been number one on her list. In fact, real love includes every other thing on her list ... and so much more.

2) That being established, if a list is required, then I could add to her list. I could add chosen, connected, included and appreciated.

3) Aren't the words needed and necessary synonyms? Why did she include both words on this list?
    The truth is, regardless of "feelings," we are necessary in God's economy. He created us with a plan for our lives and as long as we are breathing, He still has a plan for us.

4) "Important" ... what did she mean by that? Important to whom? Ourselves? Others? Mankind, in general? The truth is we have great value in just who we are ... not because of what we can do or will do. We are important because we were created in the Creator's image. We are important because we were created to know Him intimately.

5) "Accepted". Check! Through Jesus, we are accepted. We are accepted by the King of all kings, the Lord of all. In fact, we are adopted into God's family as His precious, beloved children. Does it get any better than that?

6) "Understood". Oh, we have One that totally understands. Jesus understands. He walked this earth with all of the trials and temptations that come with life. He wept on more than one occasion. He was betrayed by His closest friends. He was disappointed. He had no home. He was mocked and ridiculed. He was falsely accused. He was misunderstood.

7) And that brings me back to "love". God first loved us. Oh, how He loves us. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). He loved us so much that ...
Yes, God has already shown us how much we are loved and he showed us at a great price.

Hmmm, if I could just remember that professors name ... I want to tell her that while I agree with her statement on one level, I have learned that I will never find fulfillment, contentment and peace that totally satisfy because other people make me "feel" good about myself. But I do find great joy in knowing that God tells me that through Jesus Christ, I am needed, necessary, important, accepted, loved and understood.

Oh...In case you were wondering, I made an "A" in that class!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I am an aunt!

Question we asked: "How can we help?"
Warning: Do not ask this question unless you really want to know!

Answer: "You can de-lice  a dorm of about 100 little girls."

Response (among ourselves): "Wow! Ok ... how are we going to make this fun for little girls (and for us)? How can we make certain the little girls know they are honored and loved through this process?"

Someone in our group of 25 women came us with the idea of "playing beauty shop" with our "soon to be new friends" in Guatemala. So off we went for a crash course on cutting hair.

A week later, we arrived at Casa Aleluya equipped with scissors, capes and smiles that were masking our total lack of confidence. Actually, it turned out to be a very sweet time.

While the girls were attending school, we tackled one dorm room at a time. We washed sheets and treated hundreds of stuffed animals. We prayed over each bed as we lovingly remade them.

When the girls returned, we washed and carefully combed through their hair, on a mission to find each and every louse (singular tense ... and appropriate word) and nit (lice egg). We offered our new found "expertise" in hair cutting. A few girls cried because we cut more hair than they expected but many girls returned for a second trim. Really, I think they all just wanted a little more attention. Maybe that is because our team would "ooh" and "ahhh" over each one of our "masterpieces."

The beauty of that entire experience was that every little girl was noticed, touched, praised and prayed over - even the ones who were so shy they never would have sought our company otherwise.

Yes, we loved those girls for 5 glorious days. Then ... Thursday evening arrived and they realized we were leaving the next day. The sniffling began, tears followed and soon the room became a chorus of deep sobs. My heart began breaking. I lashed out to the One who was closest to me as I silently screamed, "God, how is this good for these little girls? You sent us here to love them and we did what You said to do. And now we are going to leave them! How is this good?"

Almost immediately I knew the answer. It was as if God whispered to my soul, "It doesn't have to be that way. You can be the "aunt." You can be the "grandmother" who returns each year for a visit with her family...and don't forget, I am always here!" I pondered ... that is how it often is in families. Beloved relatives arrive, spend time loving one another and then return home. Tears are shed but there is always the hope they will return for another visit, another time.

"Yes, God, I can do that."

Oh, and I have been back - every year for ten years - to visit my Guatemalan family.

We were created for relationship, first with our Creator and then with one another. Whether in another country or right down the street, we are told to love one another ... and love well.

I met a new friend today and she reminded me of my story as she told me hers. And so I felt compelled to record it ... lest it slip to the back of my mind again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Time...Time for everything, including me?

Keith and I married very young - while in college. To make ends meet, we ate a lot of tuna casseroles and meatless spaghetti. We saved our pennies (literally!). I remember being excited when our savings account boasted a grand total of $60 ... and then, the tire blew on our car. So we started saving those pennies again. Needless to say, we did not have money to spend on nonessentials but we had time to spend ... time that we spent getting to know each other, time spent enjoying family and friends (much cheaper than dinner out) and time spent learning our careers.

Nine years later brought the arrival of our baby girl. As much as she was a delight, that little "delight" required a lot of attention. Time became a very precious commodity.

It seems as if we had not even figured out how to be parents when our daughter left for college. It came as a total surprise when I no longer found myself in "waiting mode." I didn't realize how much of the past 18 years had been spent waiting. It's obvious when they are toddlers because they are so slow and they stop to ask lots of questions. It's more subtle when they are teenagers. But yes, you wait! You wait in school lines, you wait at after school activities, you wait to eat dinner when homework is finally finished, you wait for them to come home on Saturday nights. Then one day, they leave home and you discover this gift of time again.

Time ... it comes and it goes ... and we always want more!

Last night, in a small group of women as young as early 20's to later 50's (me), we discussed the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Clearly, the message is that we must be wise stewards of what is given to us. But a suggestion was made that before decisions can be made about how to invest the "talents," the "talent"/gift must be accepted. We may have accepted out gift of salvation and we may be investing in God's Kingdom by using our gifts but do we accept the gift of time each day to care for ourselves spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally?

It wasn't until the Teacher (thought to be King Solomon) was an older man, that he was prepared to pen the wise words found in Ecclesiastes 3:1. "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven."

There is a time to "fill up"/receive and a time to give.

Regardless of the diversity within my small group of friends, we all wrestled with the concept of taking time for ourselves. Why do we consider it selfish? Perhaps it is because we see so many needs around us. But the truth is that we must receive before we can invest in others and give.

The world may tell us that taking a half hour to quietly read or soak in a bubble bath is a selfish act but what if ... What if that thirty minutes was actually a gift from God to be accepted without guilt so that we could invest it in our well-being? Could the end result be stronger, more committed servants who are more effective in ministry? Could the end result be that more is actually accomplished? Could that investment reap more rewards for God's kingdom?

Ok, on a personal note, I was pondering this thought over a pile of laundry so I just stopped midway, turned off the iron and took the time to journal my thoughts. The ironing can wait until another time. Maybe tomorrow, maybe! But for now, ... I'm rejuvenated, inspired and off to serve at PACN with great joy and expectation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Last week, Keith and I (and a team of new friends) visited our Compassion child in Honduras for the first time. Her name is Cindy.

At the project, we learned about Cindy's day to day life and her dreams. And after an invitation to her home, we  were able to experience some of her life.

First, she lives up a very, very, very steep, rocky hill. Up and down that hill she travels by foot, several times a day. I tried to look indifferent to the climb and not gasp from a lack of oxygen, so I just took a few breaks "to look at the scenery."

Scenery- hmm...that would consist of homes packed next to each other with curious Hondurans watching our every move,  the first dog I've every seen that I could count all of his rib bones, "free-road" chickens and an occasional blooming bougainvilla.

After visiting with Cindy's mother and two sisters on their front porch, we were invited into their home. I saw the bedroom where the 3 little girls sleep - void of any decorations or toys - but with nice beds. In the backyard, I saw dinner (beans) cooking over a wood-burning concrete pit. I saw another concrete pit that held their fresh water for the day. And I saw joy - joy on the mother's face as she showed off her immaculate home, joy as Cindy showed us their little chicks. Joy as they shared their life with a few gringos.

I did not want to give my heart away to another child. I have two "spiritual children" in Guatemala who I adore. And I have an Iranian "daughter" hiding in an underground church in her country who I will never get to see again in this life, but who I pray for often. But as God would have it, Cindy captured my heart. Once again, love has multiplied. Once again I've taken notice that the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17) has given me much more than my meager offering to Him.

Today I read, "From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth-he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do" (Psalm 33:13-15).

At any one moment in time, God sees all people, no matter how many miles separate loved ones on this earth, and He observes our choices. There is always, always a choice, a call to respond to the things He reveals. Even if I were to ignore all the things He showed me in Honduras, that would be a response. But ... how could I not respond with a heart open to transformation?  Cindy's sweet face has been planted in my heart. I saw His children. I saw His love for the nations. I saw...