Tag Archives: Hope

Entering the New Year With Hope

Someone once stated, “Men plan, God laughs” and looking back at your previous year, perhaps you can relate!  My wife and I sure have had our share of trials at times these past few years; a couple of those trials even followed us into the following New Year.  And while some folks are busily jotting down their New Year’s resolutions and planning every week for the next year, others are facing the upcoming new year AND new decade with the “same stuff, different year” philosophy.  But just for an instant, a brief moment in time, if you look at your new calendar just right, you’ll see it; a blank slate, an empty page, a blossoming hope for better days ahead.

Sure, I’ve been one of those resolution driven individuals who would charge into the New Year touting remarks like, “I will strive to eat better” or “I will endeavor to exercise more consistently and get in better shape” or even “I will attempt to be the best version of myself”…whatever that means? Without some thought, planning and preparation, many jump into these resolutions and burn themselves out after only a couple of weeks.  I’ve touted the first two “resolutions” and reflected below is a sampling of my personal experiences.

A few years (or so) ago, my wife and I joined Weight Watchers to shed some weight and generally feel better.  I was doing pretty well, getting into the groove of eating certain foods that was considered healthy and, being a creature of habit, ate these same foods on a regular basis.  On one occasion at our WW group meeting, I had a particularly good weight loss week, and so I was encouraged to share what I had been doing.  Being rather proud of myself and that week’s accomplishments, I proceeded to share with the group what I routinely ate for breakfast.  There were audible gasps throughout the group and I thought the one lady in the third row was going to pass out right there; it seems what I thought was normal and healthy for me had exceeded 98% of the group member’s point total for half the day!  “You must have great metabolism” they said…whatever…

The other activity I would dabble in at times was exercise.  As those of you who know me can attest, I’m not exactly the poster child for Mr. Olympia.  However, exercise is the catalyst that helps me lose weight and keeps my health in check.  I remember one particular early morning, dragging my carcass into the local YMCA to work out before work.  I always began my morning routine warming up, most of the time on the Elliptical machine.  As luck would have it that morning, the only machine open was beside the most perfect specimen of a human being.  I’m pretty sure that he turned his machine on the “MEGA MACHO” setting for his sixty minutes of pure bliss, complete with a dumb bell in one hand, a power drink in the other, while pouring over a book in front of him.  If he did sweat, I’m sure the one drop that dribbled down the side of his head smelled like Irish Spring.  I, on the other hand, turned my machine on the desired setting of “NINJA TURTLE”.  After five minutes on the machine, I appeared to have just completed an ice bucket challenge, for sweat was pouring from every pore.  I swear I was getting stares like, “you ARE going to clean that area up, aren’t you?”…yeah, whatever…

Many times in our lives, we are railroaded into believing a misplaced opinion or criticism and it, well, gets us off track from meeting our goals, resolutions and/or dreams until they are never realized; they never come to fruition.  We have to be determined to focus on the prize before us, to block out all outside negative influences if we want to see our hopes and dreams become a certainty.  But here’s another train of thought; what if your goal/dream/hope was only a selfish want that should never have been realized anyway?  What if that goal you’re spending so much time and energy attempting to birth is out of line with your needs or the needs of your family; more importantly, what if it’s directly out of line with God’s will for your life?

The hymnist, William Mote, penned the first few lines of his beloved hymn, The Solid Rock, which reflects how we must align our hopes, dreams and goals. “My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”  Once our hopes are based on God’s will and not our own, the future becomes so much brighter and a lot less scary.  For if we truly believe everything we see, hear and read in the media, social media and print, from impeachment proceedings to rampant crime statistics, hope would scarcely be found.  It’s only when we completely rely on God’s will for our lives, does our future shine with the brilliant hope of tomorrow and eternity; for even death itself doesn’t have the fatal sting when we are one of His own.  Romans 8:23-25 states, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  Yep, we can hold on to the hope of something greater one day; but for now, we have to be patient AND obedient to the will of our loving Heavenly Father.

Just one more thing to consider; we all go through different seasons in our lives.  Just as storms come and go, even though the storm may be severe at the time, they eventually blow over and the sun shines once more.  So it is with the situation you currently face; God may not remove the storm clouds from your life, but he’s definitely there beside you to walk with you through the storm.  What a comforting thought that reinforces our hope for tomorrow as we step into a new year AND a new decade!So, what does your new year look like?  Are you already frazzled from all the upcoming self-proclaimed goals, resolutions and deadlines you have laid out for yourself or are you going to listen and act based on God’s will for your life?  My goal for this next year is to strive to nestle closer to the One who knows me best and loves me most.  And perhaps my hope is to dismantle this annex I’ve built over time on to God’s temple; I know that is my physician’s hope as well…

All I Want For Christmas Is Some Peace and Quiet

I was rummaging through some old papers and documents the other day when I ran across this little gem from an English Composition class.  This was an argumentative paper that reflected just the opposite of a topic that the writer strongly believed in; I chose Christmas.  Now here comes the disclaimer; I love everything about Christmas!  As you read through this narrative, you may notice that there are distinctive undertones of cynicism, yet between the recesses of the lines and words, there are significant truth bombs more relevant now than ever.  I hope you enjoy reading, “All I Want For Christmas is Some Peace and Quiet”!

Here it comes again.  I can see it in the stress-etched faces of passers-by, eyes fixated in terror.  Soon there will be no turning back for anyone; no credit card will be left untouched.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one has a sense of urgency and uneasiness, of unjustified dread.  Unjustified that is, until you are stretched out on your favorite sofa, channel surging one evening and you come across a commercial just bursting with holiday cheer.  It is only then that panic permeates your entire body, leaving you numb and listless.  Santa Claus is coming to town again, corrupting your children and robbing you blind in the process.

Not that there is anything wrong with the holiday season.  Peace, good will toward men is a very noble reason to celebrate Christmas, not to mention the Christ child’s birthday.  But given today’s emphasis on sensationalism and commercialism, the three wise men would do well to present gifts of Prozac, Valium, and Ritalin.  The distorted, commercialized ritual of Christmas begins with shopping for the unappreciative, followed by the search for the elusive perfect tree, and finally climaxes with the distribution of gifts to family members, immediately followed by the requests for the receipts of such sought after gifts.  So why DO we do this to ourselves?

Shopping has always been a fun, leisurely sport, enjoyed typically by those who actually have money to spend.  But when the Christmas season hits, it is every man, woman and shoplifter for him or her self.  Mothers and wives exchange their aprons and pot holders for pepper spray and baseball bats, anything that will give them an advantage over the other toy hoarding citizens that no doubt have already given one of their kidneys for the newest gizmo on the market.  One week before Christmas, everyone is so dazed and confused, they continue to buy that something special for individuals not even on their Christmas list.  All that matters now is that we have sufficient gifts for whomever may drop by; the mailman, the minister, the local orphanage—it is of no consequence; just be prepared.  As the shopping comes to an end, there is a slight pain in the pit of the stomach as you realize, “Man, I have to wrap up all of this crap!”  After all the gifts are beautifully wrapped, we try to stuff the mini mall of merchandise under a tree that only has a floor to tree clearance capable of accommodating a comic book.

Finding that special tree has always been an exercise in tolerance and ambition.  Some folks like to travel the hillsides, scanning the horizon for anything that still looks green, spruce like and big enough to withstand the weight of five tinsel laden boxes of holiday cheer.  Others prefer to wander through the fire retardant forests of Walmart, torn between the permanently snow laden pine or the ever famous, one piece, sit and trim.  Finding the right tree is the easy part; trimming the tree can be suicidal.  There is an unwritten rule that a string of Christmas lights will work as long as they are not attached to the tree.  Once applied, the Christmas tree lights have a mind of their own.  Rule number two deals with the application of decorative bulbs and garland.  No matter how many boxes of tinsel you have, it is just not quite enough.  The last rule applies to the tree itself.  There are always five times as many gifts as there is room under the tree to place them.  But why worry; the gifts will soon be given to family and friends anyway, right?

Family gatherings have always been the mainstay of the holidays.  One can almost feel the anxiety and irritation rising from the depths in anticipation of another “encounter”.  The location may vary, even the time frame may hover within two weeks of Christmas but the “encounter” remains a constant.  The gathering begins with the initial greeting at the door.  While still clinging to a favorite relative, you begin to scan the interior of the house for a “safe place”, a little bit of territory to call your own.  Next comes a little chitchat, a review of deaths from the previous year and a little catch up on the families’ aches and pains.  Any potential discussions relating to recent surgeries are reserved for the holiday meal.  While the adults are wasting away the hours bemusing themselves with nonsense, the children are circling around the gifts, perfecting their scotch tap removing skills, and preparing for the impending gift opening frenzy.  When the time arrives to open the gifts, the kids are oblivious to anything around them except for the shiny new toys unwrapped by other kids.  Their sense of greed overwhelms their sense of excitement and a squabble is sure to ensue.

The parents, on the other hand, have a more succinct sense of dread as everyone sits around in the circle of judgment and waits their turn.  One by one, the adults open their gifts as everyone else waits for the recipient’s reaction.  It is wise at this time to “psych out” the spectators with a broad smile and approving nod; sharing your real impressions of the gift can wait until the interesting drive home.

Again, that nagging thought crosses the mind, why DO we do this to ourselves.  It is time to start shopping for compliments for one another, not for the material trash we bestow upon our friends and family.  Wouldn’t it be better to embellish someone’s self-esteem than to spend hundreds of dollars prettying up a dead tree?  When it comes to family gatherings, I think that all of us would enjoy the Christmas holiday just a little more if we could just drop the dramatics and be ourselves.  Christmas is all about the Christ child, childlike fun and tradition, not unwarranted guilt and obligation.  So go ahead and deck the halls with boughs of holly; I’ll be the contented one in the corner, having a very merry Christmas of my very own.

Loyalty Binds Me

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This past fall and winter, an unfortunate series of circumstances occurred which resulted in a couple of necessary surgeries.  Without going into gruesome details, let’s just say the whole experience didn’t sit very well with me.

While recuperating in the weeks that followed, I started reading the Kingfountain series, which is a set of nine books written by Jeff Wheeler and which came highly recommended by a friend of mine.  The fictional series reflected a medieval time, complete with lords and ladies, good and evil, heroes and villains, and of course, kings and queens.  Well written and full of twists and turns, it was an easy task to devour one book after another.  But there was one common thread that bound the series; one united mindset that set the hero aside from all the others.  It was a profound thought, a vow turned lifestyle, an utterance and motto in which the hero and others like him wholeheartedly lived and yes, ultimately died declaring…”Loyalty Binds Me”.

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines the word “loyalty” as: implying a faithfulness that is steadfast in the face of any temptation to renounce, desert, or betray.  One definition of the dictionary also describes the word “binds” as: to make a firm commitment for.  Together, these two words combine to form an impenetrable covenant.  Owen, the consummate hero in the series, takes this oath so seriously that he risks his own life to overthrow the evil king he serves under in order to ensure the rightful heir is secured as king of Ceredigion.

Back in the present day, the here and now, commonly called reality, we don’t hear so much about loyalty any more.  In fact, we seem to see a lot of just the opposite; a mindset of disloyalty or unfaithfulness has unfortunately become commonplace.  Whether one is disloyal to one’s job, spouse, church, friends, country or even God,  the attitude of being disloyal or unfaithful can turn a life, marriage, business and/or community completely up…side…down.  You could argue that your workplace does not support you, that your spouse doesn’t attempt to communicate or understand you, that if God really loved us, He wouldn’t allow bad things to happen to good people or any of the other situations just mentioned.  Once the seed of unfaithfulness and doubt is planted, it can and often times does yield a harvest full of heartache and regret.  For once you are familiar with unfaithfulness in one area of your life, it becomes easier to allow it to seep into ALL areas of your life.

We all, at times, question the validity of the difficult situations we face.  It is in those times, we want to rush forward and take matters into our own hands, making rash decisions as opposed to just hunkering down to pray and wait; wait for the solution to present itself, for the door of opportunity to open, for the green light to proceed to the next season in our life, to hear His still small voice inside saying, “trust in Me, believe in Me, I have this…let go, trust and obey”.

The poem reflected below describes the cement that loyalty creates, binding together the areas of your life that show the cracks and wear of the everyday life.  Simply stated, regardless of the challenging areas of your life—never give up!

 

 

Loyalty Binds Me

Always working behind the eight ball, wading through this day of stress

The stack of work never seems to lessen, my calendar’s a mess,

But I have to pause and thank the Lord that He gave this job to me

So I can use my God given abilities, to provide for my family.

You see loyalty binds me to the place I work with all its’ ups and downs

They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, I must be muscle bound,

But I’ll be faithful to my place of work until the time to move on has come

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, tempting as it is for some.

∞∞

Harsh words were used, doors were slammed, hurt feelings lying on the floor

Our relationship’s in shambles, I don’t know if I can take it anymore,

What has happened, where was the breakdown, how did we end up in such a mess?

My love for you has been waning but it’s both our faults I guess.

But loyalty binds me, my hope realigns me to know our love is true

Though difficulties come, I’m pressing on to faithfully see us through,

So let’s keep striving, not just surviving to build a solid marital core

I can’t wait, till we again embrace and say those words, I love you more.

∞∞

Here I am Lord, once again Lord, pleading deep inside

I haven’t heard your voice for so long it seems and my doubts begin to rise,

I know you are the great I AM, and I am one of the least of these

So forgive me for my impatience but please listen to my pleas.

I know I’ve caused a lot of pain in life by my own cursed hands

By not trusting in You and not waiting on you, building on sinking sands,

But I believe in You still and always will, I’m asking for a second chance

Please don’t give up on me, love and forgive me please, restore our great romance.

For loyalty binds me, your Love realigns me to the place where you want me to be

By faith I know, You are there even though at times I cannot hear you or see,

My hope is in you, my very salvation too, you are my provider of comfort and peace

Yeshua I pray, be my champion always, my Redeemer, my Savior, my Priest.

Yes, Your grace is what binds me, your mercy positions me to a place of perfect peace

Only Your love alone will lead me on until one day my last breath will cease,

Until that day comes, I must tarry on and be obedient to do my Father’s will

To push towards that prize, until I open my eyes and see your radiant face, oh what a thrill!

The God of Second Chances

Have you ever had the opportunity for a second chance in life?  The old saying goes, “you never have a second chance to give a good first impression”; but we are also taught to go that extra mile and give others an opportunity to prove themselves.  Many times in a young child’s life, perception IS reality; and part of that perception involves a type of judgment.  Isn’t it interesting how we judge people at times?  Instantly, perhaps harshly, and without merit, we analyze someone’s physical attributes, mannerisms, and verbal signatures; after which we mentally determine whether we want another encounter with the subject of observation.  I guess we grandkids were no different in that respect…for we all agreed that our grandpa was mean!

Grandpa Phillips was an intimidating looking old man with skeletal like facial features and a shock of snow white hair on top of that skeleton head.  Earlier in life, perhaps at a low point, our grandpa attempted to take his own life.  Some would call it a twist of fate and others, a brush of an angel’s wing, but our grandpa missed his mark and blew his left arm off instead.  That absence of an arm in an empty sleeve, tucked into his trousers completed the total ”evil scarecrow” appearance.

Grandma and Grandpa Phillips lived in a small hamlet called Doanville, just outside of our hometown of Nelsonville in Ohio.  Driving up to their house, I always got butterflies in my stomach and a sense of dread enveloped me.  Their small, white house was nestled behind two gigantic pines, standing tall and majestic like two forest green soldiers standing at attention.  The walkway led beyond the gate and between the two towering trees.  The wind, whistling through the massive evergreens, gave an even more ominous feeling as we approached the dark, dank abode.

Grandpa Phillips was the “watcher” of their front porch when family came to visit.  He seemed to delight in brandishing his belt or razor strap, threatening the visiting little yard apes from climbing the expansive banisters, which made the temptation to mount the white, wooden steed just a little more appealing.

Mom would tell us from time to time that grandpa wasn’t always like that.  She had fond memories of her dad reading her bedtime stories at night.  The only stories I could envision were grotesque fairy tales where wart laden witches devoured innocent little children, lost in the wood…

However, somewhere along the line in grandpa’s life, something had definitely changed.  I didn’t know the details, only that grandpa had accepted Jesus into his life.  He asked my dad if he could pick up grandma and him for church sometimes at the Church of the Nazarene on Adams St.  They both sat toward the front of the sanctuary and I remember a bright smile on grandpa’s face during the service.  My perception of grandpa certainly changed as he himself was changing from week to week.  John Edward Phillips had been given a second chance at life after his botched attempt at taking his own and now, his entire life had eternally changed as he fully embraced his new life in Christ.  I remember going Christmas caroling with our church in 1970 at their house.  Both of my grandparent’s faces were just beaming as they listened to our less than perfect voices belting out carol after carol.  Grandpa passed away on the same day we celebrate Christ’s birth each year, December 25th of 1970.

There are many examples of God giving second chances in the bible.  Jonah’s disobedience to God resulted in Jonah being swallowed by a huge fish where he literally spent three days and nights in the stench of his own poor decision.  But God gave him an out, being thrown up by the fish so he could be submissive to God and preach to the people of Nineveh, giving them a chance to turn from their evil ways.  God agreed with Abraham to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from total destruction if only ten righteous men could be found in the cities.  Saul, the great persecutor of the Christians in the New Testament was literally stopped in his tracks by God using a bright light that temporarily blinded him and got his attention to the point of conversion.  Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul, the great evangelist.

We’ve all been given second chances in life, regardless of circumstance.  I guess we could say we’ve been given many chances in our lifetime!   They may not have been as dramatic as a near fatal accident and it could have been something as simple as the act of forgiving someone or perhaps the restoration of trust.  Regardless of the situation in life, God does not give up on us.  He went as far as sending His son to the cross for our sins, so we could indeed be reconciled back to Him and not have to face eternal separation from God.  Talk about going the extra mile!  That’s the ultimate love in action, pure and simple…

I have always heard that somewhere buried along the fence line of the Greenlawn cemetery, lays my grandpa’s left arm.  But I am very confident that his soul is rejoicing right this moment as he worships our God of second chances.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)

The Grateful Dead

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When I was growing up, our family would sometimes take a Sunday drive in the afternoon, either to visit relatives or just for fun.  The two older siblings would share the back seat and I, being the youngest, would sit on the floor board on either side of “the hump”.  While driving around, we would pass several familiar sites including cemeteries.  Invariably, one of us would smugly state, “people are just dying to get in there!” followed by an instant head turn from mom, a disapproving glare followed by a chiding comment of how we shouldn’t disrespect the dead.  All the while, we siblings would respond with satisfied smiles and quiet giggles.

As I look back, that comment seemed so funny at the time but certainly less so as I get older.  For in youth, a day seems like an eternity but as the stark reality of midlife adulthood creeps in, you begin to experience the sting of death as you lose loved ones and soon acknowledge that your own life is but a mere vapor in the wind.   Sounds pretty morbid, huh?  Well, it depends on your perspective.

You see, there are many differing views about death and if there is “life on the other side”.  Some believe there is simply nothing after death, the light switch is merely set to the “off” position and you become a buffet for all sorts of creepy crawlers.  If that was the case, I guess I would have an epitaph that reads, “I was serious about life but now I’m just a fungi”…Others believe that you are reincarnated as another creature or human depending on how good or bad you were in your previous life.  I guess if you came back as a dung beetle, you could easily figure out why…Still others believe they will be rewarded in paradise by what they did on earth; their reward being measured by the number of virgins they receive in paradise based on how much they pleased their God.  I wonder if their hell was also based on something similar but they quickly ran out of virgins and would have to support all of them for eternity…

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to make light of death as much as bring a different perspective to light.  Death is part of life; “From ashes to ashes, dust to dust; we came from the earth and to return we must”.  We mourn those we have lost because we miss them terribly; there is a huge gaping hole left in our heart that only God can heal.  But for the followers of Christ, there is a hope that extends beyond the grave.  John 3:16 (NIV) states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John 14:2-3 (NIV) reflects, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  If I truly trust God’s word in its’ entirety, then there really is a concrete hope that we can hold on to, not only that we will see our loved ones again that trusted in Jesus, but we will live eternally with Christ!

And so we hold on to that very hope and truth as we go about our day to day lives; knowing that it is not about when or how we die but actually how we live and Who we live for in this life that makes an eternal difference in the next.  That’s why it is so vitally important that we know the One who created us, who loves us more than we could ever imagine; being a living testimony of Christ in us until the day comes when we take our last breath.  I will then be in peace and at peace, one of the grateful dead.  For having lived and being loved in life, I must then await my final judgment but knowing I have an advocate with my Father.

My only hesitancy in death is leaving my loved ones in pain and grief.  For as I know from pain filled experience, there is a peace to know your loved one is with the Lord but we humans have to deal with the emotional fall out of their passing and the huge void left in their place.  But be comforted in the fact that we can be united once again.  I Thessalonians 4:16-17 reads, For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.   After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”  When Christ returns, I can’t wait to be caught up with everyone else for that great reunion.  I bet I won’t even have that fear of heights anymore.  I’ll just be eternally grateful for the grace given to a wretch like me.

Frozen

frozenA few weeks ago, the beautiful rolling hills of the North Carolina foothills were blessed with snow.  Not the two to four inches predicted by our spot on Meteorologists, but eight wonderfully fluffy fun filled inches of the white stuff.  And while some folks probably spit from utter frustration, the fact that it was a Saturday and we hadn’t seen the frozen crystals in a while made for some authentic excitement.

So what did we do in response to our icy gift?  I had always been taught work before play so we got out the snow shovels and went about carving paths through the driveway until we had the pavement cleared enough for the sun to take over.  Next was fun time!

Our daughter and son-in-law had taken our granddaughter to “reintroduce” her to the frozen fun. None of us had sleds so I pulled out a boogie board from the garage as a makeshift sled.  We proceeded to pull little Crystal up and down their driveway.  Meanwhile, Grandma got momentarily blessed with a spark of childhood and fell backwards into the snow, making inanimate snow angels in the yard.  During this flurry of activity, the cell phones were out in number, recording these events.  I had my phone camera at the ready as well and was capturing different snow scenes when I snapped the one reflected above.

The snow laden statue in its’ current state seemed too familiar.  Of course this WAS our statue, named after our daughter, Alison, in our own yard, but there was something else.  I’ve seen people throughout the years look exactly like this and I have experienced it myself.  But it wasn’t snow weighing heavy upon their shoulders; it was layers of burdens.  For just like that statue, sometimes we get so “snowed under” with the very burdens of life, we are frozen in place from fear, grief, pain, worry, doubt, addictions, sin and/or despair.  And just like that statue, sometimes we allow the burdens to become so great and we get buried under to the point of not being about to see clearly or hear distinctly.

Of course our mouth is still unhindered and we find ourselves uttering all kinds of cursing and exclamations as we furiously shake our fists at the sky and declare, “I didn’t deserve this!”  “Why me Lord?” “Why am I being tested like this?” “Why did God allow this to happen to such a nice person?”  I’m afraid I am short on answers but here’s a question for you…why not?  If you are human (and I bet every one of you reading this actually is), you WILL have a mixed nut variety of good times and bad times that stirred together, add up to…well…life.

God didn’t promise anyone an easy life or even another hour; He only promised that He would be there with us in the midst of the good times AND the bad times.  I think the following may sound familiar to most of you:  The 23rd Psalm (NIV) says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Somewhere along the lines, I think we may have forgotten that God truly is our heavenly Father and we need to lean on Him totally, giving all of our burdens to Him and trusting that He is ALWAYS looking out for our good, not for our wants necessarily but our needs.  Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT) reflects, “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

When we truly give our burdens to God, you can practically feel the weight lifted from your shoulders.  Relief melts away the fear and dread of our burdens as we allow Him winter-sunto put life back into its’ proper perspective.  There’s an old hymn chorus that reads, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” (Trust and Obey by John H. Sammis, 1887) One of the verses says, “Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, but His smile quickly drives it away; not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear, can abide while we trust and obey.  Such truth in this refrain!  For even when the storm clouds of life seem to linger, we know the sun is still shining and burns away the doubt clouds of our hearts.

So the next time you get hit alongside of your head with a snowstorm of worries and you find your joints beginning to cease up from fear, just remember that God is as close as your next heartbeat and the whispered plea from a sincere soul.  He can melt your doubts and give you direction as long as you trust…and obey…

alison-no-snow

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:16-18 (NLT)

“Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 20:20 (NLT)

A Little Bummed in Bethlehem

nativity-retro

As Christmas once again approaches, you can almost feel the anticipation in the air along with perhaps panic, dread and impending doom on the part of those last minute procrastinators.  It is the time of year when the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the holiday beckon you once again to experience Christmases past.  For lying dormant in the souls of adults is their inner child anxious to burst forth and once more relive the Christmas magic of their childhood, even if some of the memories were less than memorable.

When I was very young, my family lived in an old clapboard house, the back of which faced the massive black railroad trestle that spanned the Hocking River which we lovingly called the “Black Bridge”.  The house was small for a family of seven and had no running water.  One coal stove sat in the middle of the living room and served as the heating source for the entire structure, even though it more than fell short to heat the “boy’s room”.  Every year a few weeks before Christmas, our mom would ask her kids to write a letter to Santa and list what we would like for Christmas.  Being the youngest of six children, I would need assistance in drafting this “special” letter.  After our letters were complete, we would put the “messages of hope” into the coal stove so that the smoke and sparks would lift the special delivery upwards and straight to the North Pole…at least that’s what our Mom and older siblings would tell us.  We knew the true meaning of Christmas was the birth of the Christ child but Santa had to be real too…right?

One year, my sister Jennifer and I had finished making our lists and had just tossed them in our version of Santa’s mailbox when Jennifer exclaimed, “They’re just burning up!!  They aren’t going to Santa!  There’s no such thing as Santa Claus!!”  I sheepishly looked around the room as the others tried to assure my bratty bigger sister that there really WAS a Santa Claus; meanwhile, a sinking feeling hit the pit of my stomach as the possible realization set in…bummer.  I found out later that Santa indeed had a distribution center in town at Maurer’s Five and Dime; Mom would go there every week to give them a little money to secure our gifts and make sure Santa still brought our toys…sounded like extortion but I played along…

Fast forward just a few years and we had really moved up in the world.  When I was around eight, my parents bought a house that actually had running water and flushable toilets!  There were three of us kids left at home and our Christmas traditions continued.  Glitter dusted pine cones suspended by red satin ribbons adorned the front door.  The pungent aroma of pine filled the air as pine sprigs decorated the mantle of our oversized fireplace.  The Christmas tree was decked out in fine garland, multicolored lights and ornaments before being embellished with thin strands of silvery icicles which clung to everything but the tree.

It was during this time that I got a little savvier about the gifts under the tree.  I knew surprises would eventually show up on Christmas Eve but I just KNEW what some of those presents already nestled under the tree were.  The dreaded socks and underwear…bummer!  Our family had Christmas on Christmas Eve each year and we would gather in the living room and turn the overhead lights on which were only to be used for special occasions.  When it came my turn to open gifts, I would try my best to find and open the lowliest of gifts; socks, underwear and a fresh pair of flannel pajamas first to get them out of the way.  The pajamas would last until early spring when there would be holes worn in the knees and the legs would then be cut off to make “spring” pajamas.  Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate my parents’ efforts but I wanted the FUN stuff and besides, I could pull the end of my socks out and tuck them under my feet to avoid the toe holes and to make them last a little longer, right?

Let’s go back a couple thousand years to a little town called Bethlehem where the Christ child was born.  Sure, there were shepherds wowed by angels and later, wise men mesmerized by a star, and of course Mary experiencing not only the miracle of birth but bringing forth the savior of the world?!  That would surely be something to celebrate but yet there were others milling around that just didn’t have the same mind set and enthusiasm.  You see the Jews were awaiting their promised Messiah, the one that would bring an army of angels and completely annihilate their enemies.  They wanted a super action figure that would raise his mighty sword and smite their opponents but instead, what they received was a tiny little swaddler that couldn’t raise his own head, let alone an impressive rapier.  They wanted the latest and greatest toy and ended up with their version of…well…socks and underwear…bummer.  And so they systematically tossed their hope and salvation aside like some unwanted gift and walked away.  They rejected the perfect gift of God, what they really needed and had prayed for; instead of embracing this priceless gift of Love, they nailed it to a rough hewn wooden cross…

As I have gotten older, hopefully I’ve gotten a little wiser.  Sure, I’m still like a kid at Christmas time.  And we all want something cool, exciting, different and stimulating in life as well.  We want to ignore the mundane and go straight for the latest and greatest, the flashiest and finest.  But life isn’t as much about the flash as it is about the gift of the everyday and ordinary moments, the trials and the learning times that God puts in our lives to make us stronger and better for Him.  Here’s an example of what I am talking about.  Earlier in the year, I somehow injured my lower back which really compromised my day to day activities.  I finally sought out and found a good chiropractor who began my treatments back to eventual health.  I had been deaf in my right ear for approximately fifteen years prior to this treatment from Meniere’s disease.  Through the neck manipulations as part of his treatment protocols, the nerves going to my ears were stimulated to the point of causing a sixty-seven percent restoration of my hearing in my right ear.  With the use of a hearing aid, I now have complete use of my “deaf” ear once again.  Some may call this a “happy accident” but I call it God working in our everyday to bring good from a bad situation; my “socks and underwear” moment became a gift of restoration and thanksgiving.

Just something to think about as we head into Christmas week.  So what do you say?  Isn’t it time we appreciate the gift of life, love, family and memories this Christmas?  How about giving the gift of time to spend with a loved one, you know the gift of your presence?  Oh, and by the way…I’m sure we have kept the tradition alive and well in our family for I know for a fact that our granddaughter has some pretty pairs of Paw Patrol panties and sport socks in her stocking…

James 1:17–Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.