Monday, December 20, 2010

On Leading

I've been thinking a lot lately about the finding and the leading that's part of the Christmas story. How instead of lifting high this new king baby for the whole world to see, the Father hid Him away in near obscurity and called an unlikely yet perfect audience to witness and proclaim His arrival: shepherds. He called shepherds to find the One who would be the Shepherd to His people.
And how those who tried to find Him for all the wrong reasons couldn't, and those who were just minding their own business were blindsided by angels and a colossal star so that the finding was unmistakable.
I am growing to love God's upside-down and inside-out ways more and more because He orchestrates with such tender mystery and with such an unlikely cast of characters. More than ever before, the Christmas story has gripped my anxious heart and I feel a connectedness to everyone from Mary to the shepherds, probably because I've felt a little upside-down and inside-out myself.
In need of some divine leading and overwhelmed by decisions and anxiety, I simply sputtered through the tears last week, God help me. Show me the way. To be honest, I would love some heavenly hosts and that big ol' star to make things more clear.
And while He may not lead me through the same means, He always leads me to the same the One who saves me both in the cosmic sense and in the everyday sense.
I don't know about you but I have needed a lot of everyday saving lately...mostly from myself. The condemnation that starts out as a whisper can steadily grow until it is so all-consuming, even the inability to keep up with laundry or not yell at my kids turns into some existential crisis and I wonder what purpose I'm serving on this planet.
I'm so thankful that God doesn't leave me in my condemned and shameful state, thankful that He faithfully leads me to the Savior with tender mercy and warm mystery. Thankful that He leads me to the One who imparts wisdom and reassures me that He's in control. Thankful that He speaks truth through His word and through His Spirit: I came to give you freedom. There is no more accusation, no more condemnation. Don't re-enslave yourself to that which I came to to save you from.
He leads me once again to Truth incarnate who came as a baby to set me free.
May Grace and Truth and Glorious Freedom be yours this Christmas.
Words of freedom to ponder during this fourth week of Advent:
{Isaiah 9:2}
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
{Romans 8:1}
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...

{Colossians 1:19-22}
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[a] your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Good Company

I don't know why we know so little about Mary. She is, after all, the one who birthed the Savior of the world. Last night I was at a Christmas gathering and we were all asked this question: "If you could have coffee with any person in history, who would it be?" For me it was a tie between Bono, C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. But after I thought more about it this morning, I decided on Mary.

How long was she in labor and how badly did it hurt? Did Jesus cry that robust, red-faced cry when He was born? Who tended to her after the labor and delivery? There was no mention of a mid-wife and I'm guessing that Joseph didn't have a clue. Did she doubt whether she'd really seen and heard that angel of the Lord? Did she maybe wonder if she was crazy, wonder that it had all been a dream? What were all of those thoughts that she "treasured up" and "pondered in her heart?"

This side of Heaven, I won't know. But today with new eyes and a needy heart, I gazed upon the few words we do have in Luke 1. Commentators call it "Mary's Song."
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

{emphasis mine}
That Mary's words find resonance with a 21st-century mama just struggling through the everyday with her own baggage...well, God's word is so faithful. Today I have been especially mindful of my own humble, servant-like state. I cried when my husband left for work this morning, overwhelmed by the mess and the children but mostly overwhelmed by my own inadequate self.

The inadequacy. It waxes and wanes depending on the day but oh, there are times when I am simply swallowed up by it and it seems there's no way out, no glimpse of grace. The tears have flowed freely and the frustration has shot my nerves to pieces and it is in my swallowed-up state that I long to be rescued.

Still in pajamas, still recovering from tantrum-throwing toddler, still staring at heaped-up clothes in every room of the house, the older two and I, we finally sit at the oak table to gather ourselves in so many ways. And we sit 'round our first-ever Jesse Tree, our very own family's "shoot" pointing to the Savior, despite days of feeling stunted and broken and stump-like.

More than a few days behind, I read and I read, story after story, as tears burned and heart ached and children stared at me...crazy, crying mama. We read of destitute Naomi and desperate Ruth and Rahab the prostitute {my favorite,} all broken-down women who only God could make great and who humbly took their places in the line that would eventually bring Jesus into the world.

Is it any wonder that He felt so at home among the lowly and the beaten-down? He came out of them and He also came unto them. Only God would do such a crazy, wonderful, upside-down and inside-out thing!

Sometimes I simply need to know that I am in good company and maybe you need to know it too. I need to know that the Savior of the world is also the Savior of this girl and the Redeemer of rotten days. I need to know, like Mary and her inadequate sisters, that He is mindful of my humble state, that his mercy extends to me and that the only greatness that matters is that which the Lord raises up out of nothing.

Mary's song is for all of us.

I pray that grace and strength and fresh hope will be yours and mine during this third week of Advent.

Monday, December 6, 2010

On Belief

I believed in Santa until an embarrassingly old age because Lee Kinard, the Channel 2 weatherman, said he was real. With each passing year, my shaky belief swinging like a pendulum between the magical and the rational, I'd watch Mr. Kinard show a radar picture of Santa's sleigh and tell all of us children to hurry off to bed. And every Christmas Eve until I was 10 years old, I'd fall fast asleep knowing that Santa was real and tangible even though none of it made sense and all of the other kids said Santa was actually your parents.

I've often wondered why my belief in Santa persisted beyond that of all my peers while I questioned the existence of God at such an early age.

I went to church twice on Sundays. I memorized Bible verses on Wednesday nights and got award pins. My mom directed the church children's choir and my dad delivered sermons week in and week out. There was persuasion aplenty swirling about during those impressionable childhood days and I tried hard to believe....most of the time.

But as I got older, belief became more difficult. And while I was able to keep the serious and scary doubt at bay for years at a time, by mid-20's I was a mess. None of it made sense and I demanded proof. Church-going and sermons and choir didn't cut it anymore.

Stories of God and the motions of religious rituals, much like the myth of Santa Claus and the practice of Christmas traditions, seemed contrived and meaningless. I wanted someone to point out God and Truth on a radar screen so that I could fall asleep with the assurance that He was real.

My own story would probably be a more powerful one if I could tell you that Belief showed up in some magical, supernatural way with glitter and snow-dust and angels or in the midst of drugs and jail-time and a biker gang.

But the story unfolded without much fanfare or drama at all...

An over-thinking girl with a still-seeking heart buried beneath all of that cynicism, just me and the book of Romans on a winter's day, stumbling into a church that taught Truth with equal parts Word and conviction and grace, the gentle, powerful persuasion of the Spirit that whispered to my searching self, This is true and real and no amount of evidence can make you believe.

There wasn't some convincing apologetics book or a 12-steps-to-belief program. After years of struggling to understand, the nonsensical slowly began to make sense and with each shaky step toward belief, my feet found surer ground.

I know now that all the evidence in the world is no match for a heart that is simply not ready to receive faith. It's a gift. Faith, that is. And for natural-born skeptics like me, it's one we have to keep receiving daily.

Christmas becomes increasingly special to me each year because for the Believer, it's so much about the receiving. The rituals and practices and songs force me to reckon with my daily state of faith...or lack thereof. The motions are no longer empty or superficial. They point, like a radar, to the One who is real and who came and still comes, every day, with fresh faith to be opened as a gift for skeptical strugglers like me.

And maybe like you too.

May hope and faith be your gifts to receive during this second week of Advent.


Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

{Hebrews 11:1)

{Linking up with Ann once again on this crazy and messy Monday to count the gifts}

44. Our Jesse Tree, a helpful "pointer" to Truth

45. A full pantry

46. Three {still pajama-clad children} playing robber-catching-police on the sofa

47. Books

48. Coffee {I know, it's on every list...but it's such a worthy gift}

49. The loveliest event, A Charles Dickens Christmas, that Blondie and Brownie and I attended over the weekend {complete with feasting and crafts and Ebeneezer Scrooge}

50. Cupcake's first Christmas craft {made at church}, a manger scene with Baby Jesus on top of the stable

51. My own healing head...after a mishap involving a wayward board propped up in the garage, followed by a trip to the E.R., and a couple of staples to keep it all together. {Also thankful for anesthetic.}

52. My mom, who happened to be here when the board fell and who tenderly took care of me just like she used to {Thanks Mom!}

52. Wooden train and a toy guitar, delightful presents for Cupcake in honor of his 3rd birthday


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