THE WORD THAT IS GUARANTEED TO MAKE US UNHAPPY

There is a common word that all of us use multiple times a day that is guaranteed to make us unhappy. It’s a word we need to drop, or at least question when we hear ourselves using it. The word is should, and we need to quit using it as well as its cousins, shouldn’t, must,and mustn’t. There is even a little psychology joke I tell my clients: “Quit shoulding all over yourself!”

 

Here’s the thing…much of the time we are justified in our shoulds.  The world shouldbe a fair and peaceful place.  Children shouldbe safe and loved.  We shouldall be able to reach for our dreams.  And the fact that these shoulds aren’t reality might ignite a righteous anger in us that serves as fuel to do what we can to change the world.

 

However I am thinking about the shoulds that are much closer to home.  My son should quit using drugs.  My wife should be faithful.  My boyfriend shouldn’t lie to me.  My best friend shouldn’t have betrayed me.  I should get a promotion.   My ex should pay his child support.  My spouse should get a job.  I should find my soul mate.  Other people should “like” my posts.

 

Those are some of the big shoulds.  Except for that last one.  But there are others that occur on a daily basis that frustrate and anger us.  My husband should pick up his socks.  My teenager should study more.  My grade schooler should brush his teeth without being told.  My daughter should get up on time.  My spouse shouldn’t spend so much money. And the list goes on and on.  I can think of dozens of them, and you probably can also.

 

If you recognize any of these should in your own life, let me give you some good news.  You are right!  Your child should brush his teeth, your wife should be faithful, and your daughter should get up on time.  But clinging to these shoulds is only serving to hurt and frustrate you. And the shoulds keep you stuck.  Shoulds are expectations, and expectations are often premeditated resentments.  Even if our expectations are realistic, holding on to them too tightly keeps us keeps us bound to an ideal that might not ever materialize.

 

What do we do when we keep banging our heads against the wall of shoulds?  I have found that one of the most helpful things I can do is to pray the Serenity Prayer that recovery groups use.

 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

 

This prayer helps me tease out the things I have the power to change from the change I can’t control.  I remind myself that I can’t change other people, I can only change myself.  When we let go of our own expectations and move into acceptance, often the world opens up for us.  We learn to accept whatisinstead of being upset about what isn’t.  We can’t move forward when we are still clinging to our idea of what we must have.  When we let go of our should and musts, God moves.  We get a reality even better than the one we thought we shouldhave.

 

Letting go of our shoulds also makes room in our heads for positive thoughts.  That space that was full of negative, angry, and hostile thoughts opens up and allows us to think more creatively.  We see solutions and possibilities we were blind to before.  We learn to experience the moment and enjoy the journey instead of wishing we were already at our destination.

 

I know this is easier said than done, but you can get there.  It takes practice.  I still have to ask myself what I have the power to change in a given situation. And I have to remind myself that I am not in control.  But there is a God who is in control and I can trust his plans to be much better than my shoulds.

 

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THE STORMS OF LIFE

 

 

                     Storm Coming

 

In Oklahoma spring usually brings a rash of storms.  Rain is a delicate balancing act here.  We either get too much or too little.  For the last several years we have been in a drought, so we could use some moisture.  But when it comes all at once it creates problems.

Our part of the country is known as tornado alley.  In the spring it is not unusual to hear the warning sirens sound.  We take those seriously around here, because Oklahomans know how much damage can be done in just a few seconds.  While you can never totally tornado proof your home, there are certainly precautions you can take to save your life.  Some people have storm cellars or safe rooms, while others of us have a designated interior room.

I have a little “Nervous Nellie” dog.  She lets me know when a storm is coming way in advance of the thunder. Sometimes her internal radar goes off a day in advance.  Wouldn’t it be great if something would trigger an alarm when a life storm was approaching?  If we just had a little notice, maybe we could get out of the storm’s path or at least take some precautions.  Sometimes there are some warning signs that we just don’t notice.  At other times we are blindsided, and we foolishly tell ourselves if we had seen it coming it wouldn’t hurt so badly.

Are you experiencing one of life’s storms right now?  Take courage and know that storms don’t last, but you will. You will get through this!  And the good news is, God promises to walk through the storm with you!  Instead of asking the futile question, “Why me,” ask yourself what this situation has for you that you would not get any other way.  Begin to look for the hidden gifts in your adversity.  When you get on the other side of this you may look back and think, “I didn’t like it, I didn’t ask for it, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else.  But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything because it made me the person I am today.  It got me to the place I need to be.”   And hopefully you will use this storm experience to encourage others in their storms.

Maybe God is using this stormy time to develop your trust muscles. After my knee surgery I had to go through physical therapy. I didn’t like it!  It hurt!  But that physical therapy made me stronger. And the therapist wasn’t deliberately trying to harm me, he was trying to help me.

It is the same thing when we go through a hard time.  We may think that we have walked with God long enough to have a mature faith.  Then something happens that rocks our world and we find that God has put us in the path of a storm to develop our faith.  Maybe He is using the storm to reveal a new path we are to take.  One of my favorite quotes is, “Sometimes in the winds of change we find our true direction.”  Storms provide an opportunity to cling to the promises of God and allow Him to demonstrate His power in your life.

 

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you.  When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  Isaiah 43:2-3a (NLT).

 

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  James 1:2-4 (NLT).

Revised and updated from the book, Seasons: Devotionals for the Seasons of Life.

 

 

 

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THE ROYAL WEDDING, PART 2

 

I’m still not over the royal wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle. Remember, I’m a hopeless romantic. I keep thinking about the bride, and that veil!  There are still nuggets to be mined from her story and I have to give my friend Catherine for the nudge to write these words.

 

I have always been an Anglophile and an English history buff. Jerry and I subscribe to two British television-streaming networks.  And I’m especially interested in the monarchy.  This interest began in high school when I took an English history course under a very gifted teacher, Leon Wilensky.  His teaching method was different from other history teachers I had in that he wasn’t very concerned with dates, but instead emphasized the essence and meaning of history.  However, there was one date you absolutely HAD to memorize in order to pass the class. I may not be able to remember your name or why I walked into the kitchen, but I can tell you that William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings in 1066.  That battle changed the course of history, and William became the first Norman king, crowned in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day.  I became fascinated with the succession of kings after that, and even while writing these words I’m thinking I would like to go back and brush up on my history.

 

When Meghan Markle married Prince Harry she became a member of the royal family.  And she herself is now royal.  Her title is now Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Sussex.  The fact that Harry chose her as his bride is really remarkable. Not only is she a divorced American, she is bi-racial.  And she is a commoner!  Edward VIII must be turning over in his grave.  On paper, she is entirely unsuitable, and would never have married into the royal family in the not too distant past.  In fact, if you go way back in history, some of those things might have gotten her beheaded.

 

I became curious about the process of becoming a royal so I did a little research.  A royal title can only be granted by the reigning monarch, in this case Queen Elizabeth, by means of conferring something called letters patent under the Great Seal. The patent is a parchment, which bears the seal.  A royal’s name must be recorded in the Roll of Peerage.  If your name is not on the roll, you aren’t royal.

 

Royalty demands respect.  There are rules for meeting the Queen, how she should be addressed, how to stand and when to sit.  And take note Michelle Obama, the Queen is NOT to be touched.  Because of her service to the nation, because of her unique place in history, and because she represents all that the British cherish about their country, the Queen demands respect.  At the close of the royal wedding when everyone sang God Save the Queen, I didn’t notice anyone taking a knee.  They stood out of respect for Queen and country.

 

Although Meghan is not a queen, or even a princess, she has attained a new level of status.  What will the new Duchess have to do besides wear gorgeous clothes and look fabulous? The royals have privileges and responsibilities, and the responsibilities far outweigh the privileges. The primary duty of all royals is procreation.  They are to produce heirs.  Since Meghan is 36 years old she better get right on it.

 

But besides producing heirs they have numerous official, ceremonial, and diplomatic duties.  I read somewhere that the Queen makes over 350 public appearances a year, and she is 92 years old!  One doesn’t get to sit back and lounge on the throne.  It’s a job.  And so it will be a new job for Meghan.  Becoming a royal means she must give up her former life because she now represents the Queen.  She has a new home (or homes) and I doubt that she will ever have to worry about having enough money.  Because he is incredibly wealthy, Prince Harry will no doubt provide royally.  That aquamarine ring!

 

You have probably already guessed where I am going with all of this. I will never wear a diamond tiara, but much of Meghan’s story parallel’s mine.  I too was chosen by a Prince, although I brought nothing of value on my own. I was a commoner, unworthy, but He conferred royalty on me (I Peter 2:9), and my name was recorded in The Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27).  I am a joint-heir with Christ!  I will never wear a fabulous designer one-of-a-kind gown, but my Prince has “clothed me with the garments of salvation and covered me with the robe of righteousness,” (Isaiah 61:10).  I too have a new home in Heaven just waiting for me.  But while I am still on this earth Christ has bestowed on me countless blessings.  Because He has all the riches of Heaven at His disposal, He provides everything I need (Phil. 4:19).  I also have new responsibilities.  I am now an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) and as such I am called to a new life. And I am given the commission to procreate, to produce more heirs to the Kingdom (Matt. 28:19).

 

As I was thinking about William the Conqueror being crowned on Christmas Day, I was reminded of the first Christmas when a new King arrived on the scene.  Crowned with thorns and hung on a cross, He changed history!  Nothing has been the same since Christ.  As King of King, he is worthy of our respect.  One day, every knee will bow.

 

Worthy is the Lamb
Seated on the throne
Crown You now with many crowns
You reign victorious

 

High and lifted up

Jesus, Son of God

The darling of Heaven crucified

Worthy is the Lamb

Worthy is the Lamb

 

Read more:  Hillsong – Worthy Is The Lamb Lyrics | MetroLyrics

 

 

 

 

STARTING THE DAY OUT RIGHT

 

One of my areas of interest in psychology is called positive psychology.  Founded by Martin Seligman and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania, positive psychologists study what makes people happy, what makes life worth living, instead of what makes people dysfunctional.  What a concept!  One of the basic principles is that of perspective.  We can’t always change what is happening in our lives, but we can change the way we look at it.  It seems so simple but it took us a long time to start studying it.  So I am always on the lookout for writers and speakers who embrace this philosophy.

 

The other day the television just happened to be on when Megyn Kelly’s (not a fan) show was airing. I wasn’t watching, but just passing through the room when my antenna honed in on her guests, a couple called Marc and Angel.  I only caught the end of the interview, but a little internet research led me to their blog pageand their new book, Getting Back to Happy.  I subscribed to their daily emails and find them to be inspiring.

 

I’m guessing Marc and Angel’s worldview is humanist or possibly Buddhist, while mine is decidedly Christian, but truth lines up with truth. I say that to explain why yesterday’s email resonated with me.  They shared a morning ritual, meditation, affirmation they use to begin their day. Their belief is that you can determine the kind of day you will have by the way you spend your morning.  I’d like to share the meditation here, however I’ve not only changed some of the wording, I’ve changed it from an affirmation to a prayer.  Why speak to the universe when you can speak to the God who created the universe?   So here is my revised version in italics, with credit to Marc and Angel for the original.

 

Begin each day with the following meditation (prayer):

 

May I be happy (holy. I think God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness.  I Peter 1:16). 

May I be healthy.  (Psalm 103: 2-3).

May I be safe.  (Psalm 91).

May I be at ease (be at peace with YouIsaiah 26:3).

May I be loved (May I be aware of your love, and may I know the love of others.  May I also be loving.  Romans 8: 35-39).

 

Then you repeat the prayer with someone you love as the subject.  For example a spouse, child or parent:

 

May Jerry be holy.

May Jerry be healthy.

May Jerry be safe.

May Jerry feel be at peace with You.

May Jerry know Your love and the love of others, and may he also be loving.

 

Now comes the hard part.  Use someone you have a difficult relationship with as the subject.  Let’s say her name is Jane.

 

May Jane be holy.

May Jane be healthy.

May Jane be safe.

May Jane be at peace with You.

May Jane know your love and the love of others, and may she also be loving.

 

How we spend our mornings has a direct impact on the rest of the day.  When you start with this prayer, asking for God’s blessing on your life and the lives of others, you are beginning the day with loving-kindness. We cannot always change the situation we are in, but we can decide how we will respond.  You are choosing to begin your day with positive thoughts instead of focusing on the challenges the day might bring.

 

 

WALKING THE AISLE

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I confess.  I’m a royal watcher.  I can’t really explain why, except to say that I love the pomp and pageantry.  I’m a sucker for beautiful gowns and ancient castles.  And I guess I have never really gotten over fairy tales, although as a grandmother to seven granddaughters I have changed the heroines from damsels in distress to strong women.  Cinderella finds a sharp attorney to contest her father’s will and ends up inheriting everything.  She then goes to law school.  Snow White awakens with a passion to go to medical school to study dwarfism.  And Sleeping Beauty informs Prince Charming that she is grateful to be awakened, but this kingdom belongs to her, and she will be the one doing the reigning, thank you!  Think Elizabeth and Phillip.

 

So while I loved the fairy tale quality of last Saturday’s royal wedding, I was struck by the iconic image of Meghan Markle standing alone at the top of the steps waiting to walk into that magnificent chapel by herself.  She was a confident woman, not a helpless damsel.  And even though Prince Charles met her half way to escort her to the altar, he didn’t give her away.  She gave herself to her prince.

 

I had some time to think about these things Saturday afternoon as we were dressing to go to a “real” wedding here in Tulsa.  Why do women need to be given away?  We are not property or chattel.  Now before you decide that I have jumped off the feminist deep end, bear with me.  I still consider myself to be a fairly traditional woman.  While I still love the picture of the bride on her father’s arm, I think the wording needs to be changed a bit.  “Who gives this woman to this man,” seems as outmoded as “ And thereto I plight thee my trough.”  Maybe the parents presentthe bride instead of giving her.  I haven’t got it precisely worked out yet, but I was thinking about it on Saturday afternoon.  So as the bride and her father walked the aisle at the Tulsa wedding I attended, I thought to myself, “Oh no, don’t give her away!”  To my surprise he didn’t.  “No one gives Katie away.  She gives herself.”  Katie is a modern woman.

 

As a counselor who is also a Christian, I frequently talk about marriage being a picture of Christ and the Church.  (Although as a wife I can tell you I haven’t always painted a pretty picture.)  This conversation usually comes up when one or both parties tell me they are not happy.  That is when I tell them marriage is not about our happiness; it is about our holiness.

 

Christ’s purpose toward me is always redemptive.  He is always calling me to Himself, calling me to come aside to holiness, to belong to Him. But no one can do that for me.  I must make the decision for myself, to give myself to Him, to take those steps toward Him myself.

 

As I write these words, I must also say that I believe in the concept of household salvation.  In the 16thchapter of Acts, Paul and Silas tell the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Does that mean when the head of the household comes to Christ the rest of the family is automatically saved?  No.  The offer is extended to all, but each must come alone.  However I think it is easier for the household to be saved when the head is a Believer.

 

Jerry and I have a relative we spoke with years ago about the Lord.  He wasn’t ready to repent at that time and he jokingly told us he was counting on Jerry’s dad to get him into Heaven.  It just doesn’t work that way.   However, I believe that when the parents are Christians, and when they teach their children the things of God, and bring them up in the admonition of the Lord, it is more likely that the whole household will be saved.  By the way, this family member later came to trust Christ for himself.  Prayers were answered!

 

When I look at this beautiful picture of Meghan Markle waiting to walk to her prince, I think that is the way it is with each Believer.  We must each give ourselves to our Prince.  Oh as parents we can dedicate our children in sweet ceremonies. But that does not obtain salvation for them.  We actually are dedicating ourselves to train them in the things of God.  Each of my daughters individually made their own decision to trust Jesus.  I could lead them but I couldn’t do it for them.  As a mother, I have “given” my children to God many times as I have prayed over different situations in their lives.  I guess I must keep taking them back!  And God has told me many times that He loves them even more than I do, and He has reminded me that they have already given themselves to Him.  They belong to Him.

 

You might be wondering how do I do this?  How do I give myself to the Lord?  How do I come into a personal relationship with Him?  By believing Jesus and trusting Him for salvation.  You could then say a prayer something like this. “Lord I recognize and confess that I am a sinner, and I have tried to do things my own way.  I am lost and I need to be saved.  I deserve hell.  Please forgive me.  I believe that you died as payment for my sin.  I believe you were buried and rose from the dead.  Thank you.  I invite you into my heart to be my Savior and Lord.  From now on I want to follow you and do your will.”  The words don’t matter as much as the intent of your heart. The words don’t save you.  It is faith, the belief that Jesus is Lord and His words are true, it is trusting in Him alone for salvation that saves you.

 

As much as we may want this for those we love, we cannot do this for them.  They must believe and give themselves to God.  But when Jesus calls us, when we give ourselves to Him, we can walk boldly into His presence, just as Meghan Markle walked confidently into the presence of her prince.  Just think, we can walk to the throne of the King of Kings.  As magnificent as the sights of Windsor were on Saturday, they are nothing compared to what awaits us in Heaven!

 

 

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Saying Goodbye to America’s Evangelist

 

For the last week or so America and the world have been saying goodbye to Billy Graham. And I have been praising and thanking God for the life of this remarkable man. What a faithful servant of the Lord he was. I’ve watched a couple of television specials on his life and also wept through his beautiful memorial ceremony. I have been impressed again by his boldness and humility. And the legacy of his children! What powerful tributes to the man they called “Daddy,” and how faithful they are to take on his mantle. However, I do not believe I will ever see another man like Billy Graham in my lifetime.

He was America’s prophet and preacher. Our Isaiah, our Elijah. His message was simple and consistent. We are all sinners; God loves us and made a way for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. We must accept Him as our Savior, and turn from our sins, and we must allow Him to be Lord of our lives. I think that was basically it. He never bowed to the culture or political correctness. He addressed wrongs in our society, such as racism, and called it what it is. Sin. He preached this message all over the world, reaching millions. I watched the documentaries on his life and was awed at the enormous crowds he drew everywhere he went. I remember going to see him in 1971 at Texas Stadium. When Billy Graham came to Dallas, it was a huge event even by Texas standards.

As I watched Billy Graham age, I knew that one day we would lose him. For a long time I have had the thought (and fear) that after Billy Graham left this earth, God would remove His hand of blessing and protection from America. We have been slowly watching it happened as we have moved from a society of faith and religion to a secular state.

This morning in my quiet time, I was reminded of just how blessed I have been to be born in an age and place where Jesus is known. It was relatively easy for me to come to the Lord. It didn’t cost me much. Actually, I think I paid a bigger price as a child and teenager who was NOT a believer. I went to school with Christians and Jews, we had daily Bible readings, we prayed, and we memorized the Ten Commandments. In Dallas public schools. My friends were Christians, and when they invited me to their church, I went. I heard the Gospel, and asked Jesus into my heart. That decision changed my life for all eternity. I often wonder what roads I would have taken had I not said yes to Jesus. T was culturally acceptable for me to become a follower of Christ. What a different America my grandchildren are experiencing.

Struck by watching Billy Graham bravely preach in communist countries, and thinking about the words in my morning devotional, I can’t help but think about those people who are living in dark places. North Korea, Syria, and China come to mind. How can they come to the Lord if they never hear the Gospel? And what a high price they pay to become believers. When I went to Kenya I saw how eager the people are to hear the Gospel, how desperate to have a Bible of their own. And I don’t even know how many different Bibles there are in my house!

As I write these words, I fear that America is becoming one of those dark places. Christian faith has become fair game for the mockers and haters. Being a Christian now carries a higher price tag than it did in earlier days. Even though we are still allowed to have our churches, and still allowed to worship, we are becoming more and more secularized. There are many competing activities for our time and attention on Sundays.

Although we don’t deserve it, I pray God would send us another Billy Graham. I pray for another Great Awakening. I pray it is not too late for America.

THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

 

Recently the people of Hawaii got the following terrifying emergency alert: ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. When I heard this on the news I had to wonder. How in the world do you protect yourself from a missile attack, especially if you are living on a small island? Where do you go? Do people in Hawaii have a plan? What about tourists? And what do you do if it’s a nuclear missile? Wouldn’t you have to live in an underground bomb shelter for something like 10,000 years? Please excuse my ignorance about nuclear missiles, but I’m thinking nuclear is synonomous with utter destruction.

I remember seeing a movie years ago called “On the Beach.” It starred Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner (It was a LONG time ago!). In the movie, the world had managed to blow itself up, leaving only Australia as a refuge for the remaining survivors. But there was a cloud of radiation taking aim on Australia, threatening the fate of humanity. I remember there was a sliver of hope, but what I can’t remember is if anyone actually survived. But my plan has always been to get to Australia as quickly as possible. That makes about as much sense as those atomic bomb drills we used to have in school. Right. Getting under my desk and covering my ears was going to save me. But at least those in power could say we had a plan. With a crazy dictator in North Korea and a president who is tweeting “My nuke is bigger than yours,” we are living in scary times. Yet we should not be surprised. We have been warned.

Last December I finished reading through the Bible again. This is something I’ve done multiple times. My thinking is that if God took the time to write this important letter to me, I should read it. It might be important. With current events in mind, the book of Revelation has taken on a new urgency. Actually the entire Bible is full of warnings for us, given to protect and save us. The book of Revelation is the culmination of the history of mankind. It is a warning to believers of the return of our Lord Jesus. We must be ready. It is also a warning that a time of suffering is coming that is greater than any suffering man has ever experienced. Revelation is a final warning to come to Christ before God pours out His wrath in judgment over the earth. It is a picture of Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts, longing to come in and save us. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

No one knows when the end will be, but the Bible tells us to look at the signs, and there are signs all around. The stage is set. But even if Jesus tarries, we are still warned. Scripture tells us, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,” Heb. 9:27 (NIV). THIS IS NOT A DRILL. These are two realities, death and judgment. We each have an appointment with death. There is no “if” to this warning, only a “when.” We each have a death date. One day we will die. And the second reality is judgment. We will each be called to make a personal appearance before God. If we have not accepted Jesus as our Savior, the only One who could possibly save us, then we will stand before a righteous God without an attorney, without our Advocate, and without a defense. We will stand in our own puny righteousness that is like a pile of filthy rags in the sight of God. We will be doomed, condemned to full and eternal punishment. Our verdict will be “guilty” and our sentence will be just.

So the warning is “Come!” Come while there is still time. Come while you still may. Come before it is too late. Jesus is not willing for any of us to perish but longs for all of us to repent and turn to Him (2 Peter 3:9). The end is coming. THIS IS NOT A DRILL!

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. REV. 3:20 NIV

THE OPPORTUNITY OF LIFE

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Well it’s another beginning of another year. I’ve been blessed to have experienced quite a few of these new beginnings. As 2017 was winding down I began thinking about 2018. What do I want it to be? What things do I need to accomplish, to finish? My bucket list is getting shorter because I have been fortunate enough to experience most of my dreams. I always try to bring God into these New Year’s thoughts. What is His plan for me this year? What does He have for me? What areas of growth do I need?

I quit making resolutions a few years ago because I’m only so-so at keeping them. So instead I have asked for a word for 2018. And I believe that word for me is health. I need to focus on my health and to take better care of me. It’s not too surprising that health would be on center stage in my life. I’ve been having orthopedic problems since early fall. And since receiving that word, health, new problems have been discovered. God knew before I did that I need to take time for health.

I’m not sure exactly what getting healthy is going to look like. We all know the basics: eat healthier, move more, de-stress. I don’t see myself joining a gym. I did that in another season and it doesn’t particularly interest me know. Maybe some sort of group class? Or maybe just more and longer walks (when I get my legs working).

I sat down to my quiet time this morning wondering where God would direct me. I just finished reading through the Bible again and I’m thinking I should do something else. So I picked up a devotional book my friend Wanda gave me titled A Diary of Private Prayer, by John Baille.  It didn’t take long to get smacked in the face as I began reading the first prayer. The author thanked God for “the great and mysterious opportunity of my life.”

Those words spoke loudly to me. He spoke of life as an opportunity and I guess I never thought of it that way. I have just thought of it as life, being alive. But my life is more than merely being alive; it is an opportunity. And it is a mystery that God would grant me such an opportunity. I wanted to remind myself about the definition of opportunity, even though we all know what it means, so I looked it up. This is what I found: opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. So life is the gift of mysterious possibilities.

We had a tragedy in our church family a few days ago. Our Youth Pastor’s pregnant wife died suddenly and unexpectedly. The doctors took the baby and tried over several days to save him, but baby Asa never really had the opportunity of life. A baby should have an almost endless array of possibilities ahead of him, but baby Asa did not. How remiss am I if I do not thank God for life.

So at this beginning of 2018, I thank God for the opportunity of life, for the possibilities that lie ahead. Lord, please don’t let me go through this year mindlessly. Open my eyes to see the possibilities you have for me.

You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:15-16 NLT

 

 

WHITE CHRISTMAS

 

A few years ago I wrote this piece for my book, Seasons. When it snowed yesterday, I started thinking about it. This is an updated version I hope you will enjoy.

Jerry and I have been binge-watching Hallmark Christmas movies since Thanksgiving. Even though they are cheesy and predictable, we love them. They are so formulaic, we could write a screenplay ourselves. Especially the ending: It snows and they kiss. I love the settings for these movies. Small towns with picturesque Main Streets, and a snow-covered mountain in the background. But my favorite Christmas movie, bar none, is White Christmas. Jerry groans every year when I suggest watching it, so in recent years I have watched it by myself or with my girls. The girls and I can recite most of the lines and sing the songs by heart. In recent years we have all had trouble staying awake past the train scene (“Vermont should be beautiful this time of year!”) This year I stayed awake through the whole thing!

What is it about that movie that speaks to us? I think for me it is a combination of nostalgia and hope. When the movie first came out, I was only a little girl. I was remembering my early childhood Christmases this morning. The one that particularly stands out in my memory was when I was six. It had been a good year financially for my parents (most were not), and I got a Western Flyer bicycle and a Toni doll. My younger sister received a Tiny Tears doll. For some reason fruitcake is tied to this memory, although I’m sure I would not have eaten any at that age.

White Christmas follows the career of two soldiers (played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) in the years after World War II. It dawned on that the Christmas in my memory was not too far removed from that war. Since it ended before I was born, the war always seemed like ancient history to me. But to my parents, it had only been a few years. I wonder what it felt like to celebrate Christmas in peace and prosperity after going through such a dangerous and rationed period. They never spoke much about the war, and now I wish I had asked more questions.

I remind myself that we are still fighting wars. All over the world we have troops that are dreaming of a Christmas “just like the ones (they) used to know.” But they are doing their duty, trying to keep peace in a world filled with conflict, trying to keep us safe. And the ones who have returned home may still be battling their own traumatic memories.

Peace on earth. The prophets spoke of it, the angels sang of it. And yet we still have wars and struggles, families are still torn apart. We even have battles within ourselves. This past week I have heard some particularly devastating stories in my office. “Jesus, you were born into such a dark world! Oh, Prince of Peace, where are You,” I cry.

“Where is the Christmas we long for,” I wonder. Then Jesus reminds me that the war is not over. His kingdom on earth has not yet been established. One day soon, He will return and conquer evil for good. Until then, we will still face battles. The words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow say it best:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
From Christmas Bells1.

White Christmas. What is it about snow? It makes everything beautiful, pristine. It covers even the most blighted landscape, turning it into something pure and new. That’s what Jesus promises to do for us. He takes our ugly, sinful hearts and covers them with the pure snow of His love, transforming them and turning them into something new. He offers us peace with God. May we all experience a truly white Christmas this year.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18 (ESV).

WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS

 

Today I am revisiting a devotion from My book, Seasons. I’ve changed it up a bit to reflect where I am today. And I’m asking myself if I have grown any since I wrote this. I don’t think I have gotten any better at waiting. But God in his mercy and patience is still working on me.

WAITING FOR CHRISTMAS

I’m terrible at waiting. I hate waiting in lines, waiting for a human to speak on the phone, waiting in doctor’s offices, waiting my turn. I get impatient and irritable. Why doesn’t everyone move at my pace? I’ve been doing some Advent readings in preparation, and being reminded once again that Advent is all about waiting. Of course it is waiting for Christmas, for the birth of the Christ Child, but there is more.

Every year I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, God is in the Mannger (great title). This book is a collection of letters Bonhoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison. When he wrote about Advent, abut waiting, he was writing from the deepest desires of his heart. Waiting was a fact of war and a fact of his life. He waited to be released from prison, waited to be reunited with his family and fiancé, and waited for the war to end. When he learned about all the suffering that was being inflicted on the world, his family and friends, he could do nothing but pray. And in those prayer times he recognized how our soul is in waiting for redemption. “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent. One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other—things that are really of no consequence—the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.”

We do a lot of “this, that and the other.” Things that we imagine are important, but really have no lasting significance. Christmas can be an exhausting time of year, especially for the mom of the household. Let’s face it ladies, most of the responsibility for making Christmas happen falls on us. Even for those of us who love Christmas, and who wouldn’t want to miss any of it, it is still a lot of work! This year I am purposely trying to reign Christmas in a bit. However, that old instinct is still there. Do I have all the gifts for children and grandchildren even? I can’t find my Christmas ramekins (Because I really need those!). I tell myself that when I finish the shopping, the decorating, and the endless lists, I will then have time to sit and wait for Jesus. To wait to hear the voice of God. To hear the knock at the door.  Am I more concerned about my door decorations than the One who is standing at the door and knocking?

I’ve been thinking a good deal about Mary during this Advent season, about how she spent that first Christmas. We are not told much about how she prepared for her baby. All we really know is that she had swaddling clothes. And Joseph. How did he prepare to become the earthly father of God? I don’t think Mary and Joseph “did” Christmas; Christmas was done to them. They received it. And what a glorious Christmas it was. A birth announcement like none other, sung by a heavenly choir from a sky that was radiant with the glory of God.

What if God wants to give Christmas to us this year? Instead of all our frantic activity, what would it be like if we waited for His gift of Christmas? Waiting. That is what Advent is all about. Waiting for Jesus. What would it look like if we really received Christ, in all of His fullness, into our hearts this year? Instead of packing Jesus away until Easter, what if we kept Him alive every day of the year? What if, like Mary, we said, “yes” to his will for our lives? What if we like Joseph were willing to put aside all our plans for our lives, our preconceived ideas about how things should be, and obey the voice of God?

What if we become truly willing to carry and deliver Christ to a lost and hurting world? Jesus is standing at the door and knocking (Rev. 3:20). What if we become truly willing to carry and deliver Christ to a lost and hurting world? Jesus is standing at the door and knocking.  Am I willing to put aside my ideas of how Christmas should be, willing to sit and wait? Bonhoeffer reminds me that if I want the greatest, most profound and most precious things, I must wait. I will not find those things in all the hustle and bustle, the business of Christmas. They are not at the mall, not in the boxes of decorations stored in the attic, and not in any electronic “cart” at an Amazon checkout. I will find them in waiting.  God forbid that I should keep Jesus waiting!  Waiting and knocking at the door of my heart!

Oh, Father, we ask You, the Giver of all good gifts, to create Christmas in our hearts this year. We wait expectantly and like Mary, we say, “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants.”  Forgive me for keeping you, the King of kings, waiting!