The New Year Question

What theme is my blog to have this year?

The question above is the constant plague of every writer.  We wonder what our voice needs to say this year.  As a Christ follower, I am called to only say that which is helpful to others, according to their needs so that it may benefit those who are listening.  How do I write such that my internet voice is not just another resounding gong?

So here I am in the turmoil and torment of what to transcribe this year.  I know that I want it to always bring glory back to God.  Afterall, the theme of my spot is the search for holy ground.

If you have anything specific you’d like to hear about this year, especially in a way that sacredness can be gleaned from it, let me know.

This pregnant mama, who has two kids already, is really tired and honestly is fresh out of ideas for right now.

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Hanukkah’s Cresendo: Christ’s Humility towards Humanity

Yesterday this year’s season of Hanukkah ebbed to its conclusion as the candles wicks extinguished.

 

Eight flames flicker,

recounting radical providence.

When thieves had stripped the temple

leaving only enough supply for one day’s worship,

God anointed his people with the ability to seek him still.

He gave means for his people to

search his magnitude and praise him for eight days

rather than a measly one.

When the world was dark,

God birthed in illuminating light,

seeing fit to provide his people with endurance

that we might praise Him more abundantly,

in ways we didn’t fathom possible.

It is in coming back to him that miracles do happen;

a passion to proclaim his Passion

grants us providence to worship and to serve

in the temple’s restoration.

 

*Trying to think of a more apt title.

The Scandal

Rampant rumors run roads,

Carving the path they’ll take to Bethlehem.

A petrified patriarch cradles his wife’s hips,

easing her aches as she wobbles on a donkey’s back.

Her gut juts rotund

and the streets burst with lies.

Whispers of adultery, a slut.

Opening herself to the Holy Spirit’s will,

she filleted herself to gossip and assumption.

Depraved humanity mocks the invitation,

scorning a woman willing to bend her will

and a God who would enter the world in a manger.

Will we, like pious Israelites occupy that “moral” ground

or will we bend down to worship a Savior King, who came as an innocent babe?

 

*This of course could use editing.  I’m not quite sure how, but I’m not entirely pleased with the product of this poetry.  Perhaps it is my mind run amuck and the piles of papers accumulating at work.

Week 2 and 3: Peace and Joy

I’m a bit behind, but there has been a lot going on lately.  We’ve had complications with one of Frank’s clients.  Sadly, we focused more on the circumstances and less on Christ.  In doing so, we neglected exemplifying compassion when it was needed most.  We got caught up in pessimism and judgement rather than peace and joy.

We lit these Advent candles, but not our hearts, and thus the true light of Christ’s peace and joy did not glow in our interactions.  Thankfully, God is just and he can make all things new.  He is the God of restoration and light in times of darkness.  When we repent, he is faithful to deliver us.

A note to these clients:  We would have appreciated advance notice before you came to our home.  We apologize for raising our voices and letting emotions control us though.  You were created in God’s image too and deserve dignity.  Yes, you shouldn’t have come unannounced in front of a contractor’s children, but we should have remain composed.  May you be blessed with peace and joy even in your frustration with us.  May Christ be magnified and our human limitations and frustrations set aside.  We pray you would have good health and take delight in God’s blessings, present every day.

Needless to say, I have been unsettled.  I keep forgetting God’s power to give us peace even when we are inclined to anxiety.  When we focus more on our circumstances and less on Christ, we lose sight of the peace which surpasses all understanding and the ability to be joyful in any and all trials.

God is a God of miracles.  He is light to a dark world.  God restored the temple and Christ, when we repent and surrender, restores our souls, the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He will anoint our heads so we can proclaim the true good news with grace and compassion.  He nourishes our panting souls while fried goods wax our pallets this Hanukkah season.

Years ago, God gave victory to an army of few.  He provided for his people when they had little to nothing to sustain them.  When they wanted to worship properly, he gave the means to do so.  In the same regard, God himself entered our world through a helpless babe. He provides remittance for our sinful ways when we confess that he is Emmanuel, our Savior King.

Go forth in peace as you take joy in that blessed assurance.  (I say this to myself just as much as to you, my blogging audience.)

Week 1 Advent: Hope and Promise

Confession:  It has been difficult to foster feelings of wonder, surprise, and excitement for me this Christmas season.  I feel as if I’m wandering in a daze– a swollen gut due to a gestating babe, unbalanced hips, fatigue, and frequent headaches.  Illness and constantly needy children have left me wondering how I can inspire awe, in myself and in those around me.  How can we regain the focus of the Christmas season?  What behaviors or mindsets do we need to adopt so our hearts are charitable, our thoughts pure, and our worship true?

The other day I was reading a story from one of our Advent books.  Willow was partially listening, babbling as she frequently does when excited, tired, or unfocused.  She seems enriched by Santa folklore, the desire for presents, and just being busy.  I wanted to practice stillness and focus.  FYI: These are not Willow’s strong suits.  Regrettably, I yelled.  Screaming, I exuberantly declared: “Can’t we just focus?  Why must we be so entertained with Santa but unable to focus on this Advent story?  We can read these other Christmas books, but they aren’t what I want to read!  I want Jesus!  Don’t you want that too?  He is better and this story is good, just listen!”

She continued bouncing around before retiring to her bedroom with a bottle of milk, curled up on Frank’s lap.  In the quiet of the evening, I prayed.  I was convicted.  A still small voice, be it the Holy Spirit or just self-talk because of knowing Scriptures, I was asked, “Do you want traditions of Advent or to encounter Christ?”

It disturbed me.

I had yelled at my child because of her wonder over everything around her.  Is this not the attitude Christ tells us to have?  “He called a child, whom he put among them,  and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” -Matt. 18:2-4  We are to be humble [read: curious, respectful, not haughty, sacrificial].  I certainly did not model this behavior for my eldest daughter. My sin and ugliness disgusted me.  

(Aside: If you witness your child having a tantrum over pointless issues or his/her conduct is undesirable, ask yourself what behaviors you have been modeling lately.  Children are parrots and will generally copy what attitudes, mannerisms, and behaviors they witness.  Sometimes they are just acting that way because they are at a particular age and adults need to instruct, guide, and occasionally tame a behavior, but more often than not, kids act a certain way because that is what they see.)

Perhaps I am feeling hopeless and down because I keep giving into my impulses.  Rather than praying heavily for protection against the temptation to react from a basal perspective, I simply act on gratifying and fueling my anger.  I am satisfying my flesh instead of seeking Christ and his difficult modes of conduct.  With all the death I’m witnessing lately, I keep forgetting that we are not to mourn as the world does.  We have the hope of eternal life through the promise of Emmanuel, our God with us.

God dwelt with humanity and died on the cross.  Three days later, he arose giving victory over death and reconciliation with God to anyone who would trust in his sovereignty, love, and judgment.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.  For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”- 1Thess. 4:13-18

Christ promises to dwell with us always when we encourage one another with the truth and glory of the gospel.  It is this promise that grants us hope.  Through that hope, and clinging to it, we can weather the tides of sorrow.  We don’t need to wallow in self-pity, grief, and pain.  Christian, press on.  Continue stepping forward in faith, in truth, and especially this week, in the hope of the promise we have in Christ.  (I say this as much to myself as I do my audience of fellow Christian pilgrims.)

On a St. Nicholas Christmas

http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

“Santa” was a real historical figure who bestowed gifts to the poor in the name of Christ.  Sadly, American consumerism and human secularism have snuffed out most recollection of history.  Parents now want to give children gifts from a mythical figure who sneaks into the home and leaves lavish gifts.  I know of individuals who take on second jobs just to leave their kids gifts from Santa!

While I don’t bemoan parents who choose to adopt a mythical approach of Santa into their Christmas traditions, Frank and I have chosen not to raise our daughters with this myth.  Instead, we share the history with our girls, emphasizing that generosity should be done with humility, self-sacrifice, and preferably, in the name of Christ.  We have received judgement from friends and family who think we are stealing the magic of Christmas and imagination from our kids.

Imagination isn’t something we should only foster at Christmas and it certainly shouldn’t be based on greed!  (“What do you want for Christmas? Have you been a good child?”  As if desire and deeds only warrant gifts.  These are not the moral values Frank and I want to pass onto our children.) I hear too many Christian children talking about what they are getting for Christmas rather than Christ’s birth or what they are going to GIVE this season.

Speaking of magic, what is more awe-inspiring than a God who became man, Emmanuel?  This same God-man reconciled humanity to himself by dying on a cross.  Then victory over death was gained when this divine human rose from the dead three days later!  This was miraculous!  Perhaps if we found awe and admiration in truth rather than a temporary figure who grants wishes based on performance, we’d experience more joy this season (and frankly, in every season)!

[On a slightly controversial subject, especially with Christian circles, I will likely also teach my girls about magic through stories like Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and the most “heretical” Harry Potter!  I am a huge Harry Potter fan.  I don’t recite the incantations and I understand this is complete fiction.  Yes, there are real principalities and evil spirits associated with paganism and devil worship.  I do not believe this piece of fictional literature, if taken properly, is true evil.]

Anyways, I digressed a bit with the controversy.

Some other things I find curious about this time of year:

-Most of the time, people have a problem with their children sitting on a stranger’s lap…especially their little girl sitting on the lap of an elderly male.  At Christmas time though, we seem to promote this behavior!  (I am always hesitant letting my children do this.  I don’t know who this man is, what his background is (do Santa impersonators have to have background checks), or what fantasies he may have (even if he hasn’t publicly been persecuted for acting on fantasies).  Santa was at an event I recently attended with my children.  Willow was excited to go sit on Santa’s lap, get a gift, and show him her decorated cookie (not a euphemism, but an actual cookie).  As such, I let her go up with her sister.  It provided a picture perfect moment between my daughters.

Christmas santa 2017 girls hugging  Like I said, Picture Perfect Moment!!!

-We tell our children not too be greedy and keep asking us for toys.  At Christmas though, we ask them to make a list of their top ticket items.  Rather than giving these away to children who don’t have anything and might enjoy it, we promote and perpetuate our children’s greed.  Then we chastise their constant desire later.  Also, we experience buyer’s remorse because children generally play with the toy for a couple of days before it collects dust sitting unwanted in a dark recess of the house.

-We try to get our kids to eat fruit and veggies throughout the year while minimizing sugar consumption.  At Christmas time though, we indulge.  Not only do we pack on the holiday pounds, we are willing to decorate cookies every night of December with our kids.  (Yes, I am guilty of wanting to do this too, so please understand this entire post is really just my musings, contemplation, and curiosity, not judgement.)

-We try to budget carefully, but at Christmas we overspend and experience a drought in January.

-We are completely against breaking and entering.  Some friends even lock their doors when they are home!  However, Santa is granted permission to break into our homes if he is going to leave us gifts?  Is this not greed or at least hypocritical?  I am so confused by this principle.

I say this because I understand why our kids are conflicted and confused.  Are we not sending mixed messages?  How do we foster the behaviors we want to see when we are willing to forsake our own convictions, ideals, and/or safety measures for an entire season?

I want to be less hypocritical during this time of year, especially now that I have little parrots who are watching my every move.  (Practicing Santa as a true myth doesn’t have to be hypocritical, but it can be.  I know that temptation would be too strong for me.  Also, for some other reasons mentioned above, as a Christian I do not want to practice the myth side.  I am willing to pretend with my kids if they understand it is fiction, but I don’t want them to think a real person sneaks into our house, eats our homemade cookies, and leaves lavish gifts only to later tell them it was really me or a close family friend.)

I want to be more generous, more merciful, more patient, and especially more still (that I might hear God’s whispers about where and to whom he is calling me and my family to minister).

How do you want to be changed this Christmas season?  What are your personal thoughts on how we practice Christmas in this culture?  What do you think about Santa?

(Do we Christians know the roots of tree decorating and the like stem from pagan rituals?  Are we okay with that?  If a tradition has morphed and isn’t remembered as being pagan, is it acceptable to engage in it?  FYI, we do buy a tree and decorate it (we try to stick with ornaments with history or about Christ).  Is it beneficial though, especially if I know the roots of such a practice?  I wrestle with this.  I’m still working it out.)

A note to my husband:  No, lights are not part of the pagan ritual that I am aware of.  Jesus is the light of the world.  Lights on a home are not only peaceful, they can be used to instill relaxation and wonder.  Plus, our daughters will enjoy the bright illumination at night.  Watching our daughters amazement can help ignite my faith and restore my luster for this time of year.  Sadly, with sickness and fatigue I haven’t felt the “Christmas spirit”.  Perhaps stringing lights and watching our children’s delight will help rectify this problem.  *In other words, this is not an excuse I will accept to refuse helping put up lights on the house.  *wink, wink* I love you, even your anti-festive tendencies.  I will win you over one day.  *smirk*  (Hey, at least I refrained from emoticons.  I am trying to demonstrate true love to you.)

Will You Lay With Me?

Big pools of brown blink,

Pouting lips,

and clasped hands.

Untangling your fingers you pat the pillow.

“I’ll lay here and you there, okay?”

Hearing the distant chatter, I glance towards the door.

“I can’t darling, I really can’t.  There are guests to entertain.”

So I retreat and you recoil,

bereft and broken.

As my steps fade I hear the peels of your screams,

you’re calling me back, pleading for me to stay a little while longer.

I chose ease, I chose comfort.

Rather than be inconvenienced,

I took leave and left you there in the dark.

Your fists pounded the floor in response.

You questioned.

Honestly my dear, I did too.

They exited and I took reprieve in my sheets.

As I rest my head, turn to the one who willingly offers his presence, I shed sobs.

When you asked, I denied.

Know this, I chose wrong.  I should have chosen you.

 

Other than God and your father, you and my other kin are always the choice I want to and should invest in.

Choosing Silence

An extroverted people appeaser will, without fail, become discouraged.  The person will often feel unwanted, undervalued, and purposeless.  You see, as an extrovert, people fuel your excitement.  However, attempts to please folks is feeble.  You will wind up making someone angry, frustrated, or annoyed.  Trying to please everyone is wrought with failure.

I know this because I am an extrovert who struggles with people pleasing addiction.  I also struggle with depression.  I think them more intertwined than I care to admit.

When you express feelings of feeling devalued, unwanted, or ignored, you are often told that you are exaggerating, to deal with it, or to just ignore it.  This simply perpetuates the problem.  At the same time, you begin to wonder if you are just exasperating a non-issue.  Shouldn’t I be the quiet, demure woman so praised in Scripture?  Am I really just inflating the problem in my mind?  I do tend to read into things more than I should.

I’ve been told I’m nosy simply for taking interest in people and their life.  I’ve been told I’m controlling, judgmental, and dramatic.  I will confess that at times I struggle with these attributes, but are they my character?  Oh God, I hope not. Can I be known beyond my sin or am I so steeped in it that is all I am really identified as by outsiders?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”-Col. 4:6

Lately I am beginning to wonder if I should even speak at all.  Sometimes silence is more pleasant, more accepting, more kind, no?  If we are silent though, will we be found in agreement with what we are against?  Is it important for everyone to know our opinions and views?  How do I make it so my actions are louder than my words; or that there be no need for words at all?

We live in a society addicted to social media.  I guess we are consumed with self, with independence.  Any inkling to community and sharing vulnerability is frowned upon.  I guess this is why I get hurt so often.  I’m an extrovert who strives to please people.  Am I throwing myself a pity party?  I guess in a way I am.  Forgive me.  *The people pleasing prowler is on the hunt again.  I’ll be damned.  God, please release me!*

The fact is, you can’t please everyone.  I’m trying to break this cycle.  I know it will only be broken by the Spirit’s power.  How do I manage though?  How can I surrender this desire and will to God?  This is not a question of ability but more the tangible application of such surrender.  I know I need to do it and I want to; just exactly does someone go about doing this?  What would this look like?

Do I speak? Do I remain silent?  It took years to admit that I’m an extrovert.  I fought so long and hard to resist the desire to want to be around people rather than holed up by myself and entertaining my own interests.  Since accepting I’m an extrovert, I try so hard to be silent because I am constantly “eating my feet”.  Would God want me to be consistently quiet in a group?

I often wonder if he made me this way or if it was years of criticism, belittlement, etc. that made me full of self-doubt, a desire to appease people, and the need to feel “validated” by a group.

It is ever more pressing we find our identity in Christ, not in the flexible opinions of individuals or society.  (I say this more to myself than you, my reader, of course.)

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”-2Cor. 5:17

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”-Eph. 2:10 (Is it a good work for me to be silent?  Would I be serving myself or Christ? I want to choose silence because I have been feeling “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Prov. 17:28)  Am I really just a fool?  Or am I only wanting to operate in silence to preserve my self-image and reputation?  Is that glorifying to God?)

Dear God, how? I need discernment.  Some days I feel like I’m choking on the very air (the extroverted composition) that gives me life, the breath that fills my lungs and passions.  Lord, I need you, every hour I need you.  My heart knows the truth for you said, “ I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”-John 15:5  Help me to see the fruit of my life devoted to you, be it in silence or audible speech.

Foreigners Find Fellowship: Christian Charity

Cease complaining,

Promote praise,

Usher unity.

Divisions deceased

as aggrandizement’s assuaged,

exaggerations extinguished,

humility honored,

and appeasement appalled.

Christ cherished,

boundaries bereft.

Love labored

releasing redemption,

saving souls,

permitting peace.

Not neglecting neighbors,

sharing stories,

especially encouraging

gospel’s grace.

 

 

 

 

Wise Words: Cease Crassness, Prevent Perverseness

This morning I shared a thought of Thanksgiving, it being the month of November and American Thanksgiving, of course.

My daughter had peed on the floor.  It meant the floor needed to be cleaned.  A friend commented that they still held that it was Frank.  I, in the past, would have laughed and said, “Yeah, he needs to shoot better” or something along those lines, joining in the jest.  This past weekend’s retreat reminded me that sarcasm is scarcasm.  Culture operates differently than Christian worldview.

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.”-Eph. 4:29

From this verse, we see that we aren’t supposed to joke at a person’s expense.  It isn’t humorous to make fun of someone.  Generalities and poking fun at stereotypes is different than humor directed towards a particular individual.

I had taught my eldest to say “bleh, Army”.  I found this amusing.  My husband, however, found this hurtful.  It is something he is passionate about.  While I might not be fond of the military and how it often separates family (contrary to it touting that it tries to bond family), it is an organization that my husband is a part of.  Even if I don’t agree with the organization, I need to offer respect because I value and treasure my husband.  I don’t offer encouragement to the institution, I do it for my husband, my best friend, my treasure from God.  My words need to reflect this.

In the manner that I need to start being his cheerleader with the military, I need to do this in other areas too.  While friends might say I am being too serious and need to lighten up, I will not, under any circumstances, make jokes or join in jest about my husband.  When I laugh because a friend was trying to be amusing about my husband’s bathroom abilities, what I imply is that my husband is inadequate, unable to perform the basic functions of human decorum.  I never want to imply that!

Perhaps if we stopped poking fun at our spouses we might witness radical change in our marriage.  If we cheered on our partner and encouraged them, we might start to have the attitude of thanksgiving and gratitude we are commanded to have as Christians.

“Everything you do or say should be done to obey [or as a representative of; in the name of] the Lord Jesus. And in all you do, give thanks to God the Father through Jesus.”- Col. 3:17

I want to stop demeaning my husband.  He is a gift from God.  It is time I start treating him this way.  If I start speaking encouragement to him, perhaps this will become my normal operative. I’ll speak blessing even to those who berate me, who antagonize, and perhaps those who persecute me.  This practice has to start somewhere, may it be with the man to whom I covenanted (is that a word, gee I hope so) my heart.

I love and respect you Frank.  My words and actions always need to reflect that.  Though I’ll be called stiff, lacking humor, and perhaps even prude, I will not sacrifice your integrity for a laugh.  You are too valuable for me to do this anymore.

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Rom. 12:14-21 

Living at peace starts at home, with family.  How I operate in the privacy of closed doors will translate to my actions in the public sphere.  If I desire to see transformation in how I behave in public, I need to start at home.  Sometimes when we get too comfortable, which happens frequently with those we love the most, we take out our depraved emotions and hurt those whom are dearest to us.  Let’s be intentional in how we act, starting with the blessings and gifts God has given to us to show where our real treasure lies (in materialism or investing in authentic relationships).  Hubby, please keep me accountable.  How I act with you and our children will overflow into societal performance.  May I be transformed for God’s glory and be the vessel he has called me to be.

I love you now and always.  I want to do better at expressing it.  I need to do better.  It has to start today!