Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Wayward Child and Prayer

"I'm staying up all night to pray for you." Ruth's words pounded my heart as I drove home, knowing my boyfriend would probably be upset that I was so late in meeting him. Once more, we fought about our different views on religion and faith. Once more, he left frustrated and confused and once more, I knew I was making a mess of my life and his. I didn't know how to communicate what was in my heart. And such frustration begged the question, "Did I really understand what I had so much trouble expressing?"

My father followed me upstairs a few minutes after I trudged up to my third floor bedroom. I tried to hide my tear stained face but I'm pretty sure he knew I was upset. He asked, "What did Ruth say?" Who knows why I told him? We were estranged because of my rebellion and talking was not our strong suit. But the words came tumbling out. "Ruth told me I need to run away." 

Close to fifty years later I wonder what my father, a man of few words, thought in that moment. Did he quickly pray, ""Lord, is this the moment we've been asking for? Give me the right words to help my daughter do what you want?" Was my mother in their bedroom, pleading with the Lord to break through my hardened heart? 

Whatever he was thinking, I can still see him standing in my doorway, quietly and calmly speaking truth about my circumstances, asking questions to help me sort through my thoughts, encouraging me to listen to my dear friend who promised to stay up all night and pray for me to do the right thing. 

I easily recall that feeling of being moved by an invisible force, knowing my future depended on the decision of that moment. With my permission, my father called my brother and I heard him say these words, "Your sister is in trouble and needs a place to stay." 

 Reunited with my praying friend, Ruth Auffarth, at a Women's Conference near Atlanta
Within forty-eight hours, with my car packed, my two little sisters stuffed into the back seat and my mother by my side, I was on my way to Bloomington, Indiana. No job, no permanent place to live. No friends. And a "Dear Chuck" letter taped to my boyfriend's door, telling him I loved him, but loved Jesus more. And, "don't try to find me."

I fell into a deep sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow of the hotel that night. But a few hours later, the sound of crying woke me. My mother, like so many mothers before her, was crying over her daughter. Were they tears of fear for my future? Or was she crying with relief that the Lord had moved in a supernatural way?

When loved ones are in trouble, making choices we are sure are harmful, and our words are met with anger, there is a way to be mysteriously connected to them. It is the way of prayer. Unbeknownst to me, my mother had marshaled together a force of faithful women (including my pastor's wife, Ruth) to cover this wayward daughter with prayer. They pled my case before the Father, that this covenant child of His was wandering and the Shepherd needed to bring her back home.

Almost fifty years later, friends  recruit me to pray for their wayward children just like my mother recruited her friends. Whenever despair fills my heart that a particular young adult's heart seems too hard, too rebellious, too determined to go their own way, rather than His, God reminds me of my own rebellious heart, the disrespect I exhibited toward my parents' faith.Whenever I am tempted to respond with disbelief when a beloved young adult child makes immoral and dangerous choices, I remember that I was that young adult.  I keep praying for the Holy Spirit to do what only He can do. And I start watching for His presence, hoping and then trusting that He is doing something better than anything I could dream.

I love how author Paul Miller captures this truth in his book, A Praying Life:  "When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worry to watching. You watch God weave his patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God’s drama. As you wait, you begin to see him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. 
You are learning to trust again.” 

God used multiple circumstance to turn my heart toward Him, to where He made my childhood faith an adult faith, my own faith rather than my parents'. My young adult choices created chaos, havoc, conflict, and excruciating pain, not just in my family but in my boyfriend's family. How I wish I could undo the hurt I caused. Yet through my sinfulness God's grace reigned and He brought beauty from ashes. We experienced reconciliation, not only with our God through Jesus' sacrifice, but also with family. 

Is your prodigal far from home if not physically then spiritually and emotionally? Has every attempt to reach him or her built more walls, created more anger, rebellion? Pray. Pray and pray some more. Ask Jesus to guide your words, or to show you small ways to demonstrate your unconditional love. Ask others to join you in praying fervently, and watch, watch for the Lord's movement. Don't be surprised if the change takes place in your own heart before the heart of your child. Listen carefully as the Lord challenges your own attitude and behavior. And then obey His Word, no matter how insignificant you think your obedience is in the context of our child's sinful decisions. Though this is an excruciatingly painful and fearful time, it can also be one of the most tender times of experiencing God's presence.

In His grip with you,

Monday, January 2, 2017

And God Wanted More

I first shared this post (Original Title: Trust and Obey and . . . Trust) on January 6, 2013 and it is one of my most read blog posts.
As I face a year of change in 2017, this message resonates with me once more, reminding me that He meets me in the darkest place, asking me to trust Him when I am confused about the next step and His plans for me. In light of recent conversations with beloved friends, I know I am not the only one struggling to understand what it means to trust and obey and trust.

Trust and Obey and .....Trust
I think the hymn writer got it wrong. The title Trust and Obey really should read, Trust and Obey AND TRUST.
Because sometimes God calls us to impossible tasks and our obedience seems ludicrous. When our sixteen-year-old son was killed in a car accident, I knew God's expectations of me were impossible. I could not survive. I would not survive. I wasn't finished being Mark's mother. This was outrageous. I concluded that if I started screaming and refused to stop, someone would realize a terrible mistake had been made and give me back my son. I think that's called denial.
In the most impossible situation, God called me to trust AND OBEY. What did obedience look like for me? What did God require of me? Chuck told me that I must embrace sorrow as a friend. I could not. God called me to worship Him. I didn't know how. He demanded surrender. I would not. I wanted, I needed my child.
I heard that His promises are precious. I concluded they did not apply to me. Trust Him? My pathway was impossible.
Yet, I had other children and though they were young adults, I knew they needed me to find a way out of the darkness. I did not want their brother's death to destroy their trust in God, even though I wasn't sure I could trust Him again. In desperation I turned to the only place that I could trust to be unchanging. God's Word. I hooked myself up to the scriptures the way doctors and nurses hook us up to intravenous medication. The only pathway for survival was to constantly wash my soul in His Word, trusting it to be truth, though my heart cried out, "Untrue." But in spite of unrelenting pain in newly used spiritual muscles, His Word drew me back every day, every morning.

And still God wanted more.

 He called me to trust.....AND OBEY.
And slowly, very, very slowly, I obeyed. The obedience was not dramatic. It was mundane but required every ounce of strength remaining in my broken heart. I obeyed when I got out of bed every morning instead of staying curled up in a ball, wrapped in Mark's robe, trusting that when He calls us, He also equips us to obey. But then what should I do now that I was up? Like the writer of Lamentations, I felt everything was vanity.  And yet....
God's Word was a light for my pathway. Jeremiah 29 called me to surrender to my captivity in the Land of Grief. Not just give in and give up, but surrender with purpose and obedience and by choosing life and hope. Through this passage, God demanded that I plant gardens and allow those gardens to nurture me and my family. He called on me to love my family and to encourage them to trust His promises, to encourage them to build families, to give them in marriage and for them to bear children. Though I would always grieve, He wanted my life to empower our children and grandchildren to embrace joy and the possibilities of living with eternal purpose. If I surrendered to His specific instructions, our children would be nurtured by this obedience, this Garden of Life in the Land of Grief.
And I obeyed, often failing in my battle to conquer every emotion that tied me tightly in the abyss of sorrow. I met with Him every morning and begged Him to heal my broken heart. First like a gentle Father, then at times like a stern parent, God whispered, then spoke, "Trust AND OBEY." But He wanted more. He wanted more than superficial obedience. He wanted my trust.  Give up your agenda (getting Mark back) and TRUST Me to perform My purposes in your obedience.Sometimes our obedience is a teeny, tiny step with tear-filled eyes coupled with little hope that anything we are doing will lead to a good result. Sometimes we think our obedience is about big things when God is really calling us to obey in the mundane, ordinary tasks of life. Get out of bed. Prepare breakfast. Do a load of wash. Meet with Me. Weep. Ask others to pray. Go out with a friend.  Let that friend love you. Tiny  steps for a normal person, monumental for one broken by life.

In mercy, God handed me a basket of mysterious seeds with instructions to plant them, not knowing what fruit they would bear. Gardening requires hard work, consistent tending, regular oversight of tender seedlings, ruthless pruning and always weeding.  I often faltered, failed, fell down again and again.  Getting up impossible at times. Yet not once did I feel condemned, judged, less loved by our God. In those failures, Jesus, my Brother, the One Who experienced total sorrow, that Jesus met me and held me tightly in His grip, soothing me with hope and a call to trust Him with this journey. Some fruit takes a very long time to appear - a very long time.
Lasting Peace

I could not have chosen sweeter, more succulent produce than God is harvesting from our Garden of Life. Where once sorrowful tears reigned, unabated tears of joy stream down my cheeks. Laughter and silliness fills our home when our kids and grandchildren gather. This day I am overwhelmed with the miracle of welcoming our little granddaughter from India as our fourteenth grandchild.
God is keeping His promises of Psalm 30, a scripture I return to again and again, "...weeping may visit in your home for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning..."
In deep grief I cried out to my God, "Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help." And He turned my wailing into dancing; He removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my heart sings to Him and I will not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give you thanks forever. As continue in this journey called life, may every woman whose heart is breaking, take hope and trust and obey and trust.

In His grip,

In His grip,

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Be With Me Now - A Pathway to Christmas, Part 4

"Be with me now," sang the young actress, fully surrendered to her World War II character, Eleanor.  It was Christmas Eve, 1944, and Eleanor had not received any word from her soldier boy Ralph for months. The news from the Front was never good and her heart took her to the darkest place of fear and grief.
Paulina Wofford, singing Breath of Heaven in
Anything Can Happen, Dramatic Musical
performed by Glasgow Church

Her interpretation of Eleanor's fear swept me back to the moments in my own life where I prayed, wept and pleaded similarly, "Help me be strong, Be Forever Near Me, Help me, Help me."

The words of this song poignantly capture what Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have cried on her journey to Bethlehem, during the birth of her son, and then as she raised him in a community far from home. I see her in private moments, expressing her fear, her desperate cries for His help.

This song not only reflects Mary's heart, but easily connects with any woman struggling to see her circumstances as her platform for glorifying God. Though my deepest grief shook my world in 1993, I still resonate with the cry, "I am frightened by the load I bear....must I walk this path alone? Be with me now, Be with me now."

This is a prayer uttered in isolation, in the secret parts of the heart by women every where who are desperately trying to hold their lives together, for their own sakes, but more for the sakes of those they love, the ones depending on them to walk strong down the middle of the battlefield.

We cry, "Hold me together. Be forever near me....Lighten my darkness.....Pour over me your holiness.... Breath of Heaven....."

Prayers for the ears of our Father only. ,No one but the Father hears the prayers of women like these friends:

A mother whose son died suddenly the week before Christmas whispers:
Breath of heaven, hold me together, Be forever near me

The Cancer Fighter who learns the current treatment isn't working and is so weary of the battle cries out: - 
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness...Be with me now.
The mother whose daughter continues to reject the faith of her childhood and makes risky choices pleads: 
Breath of heaven, pour over me your holiness....For you are holy....Be with me now.

The single mom, trying to pay the bills, not sure if she will have enough money for gas, let alone food, quietly whispers her fears:
 - I am frightened by the load I bear....be with me now....

The woman held back by chronic illness, silently living in constant discomfort, gasps in between thrusts of sharp pain:
.Breath of Heaven, Help me be strong......

The beauty of the message of this song is that it is a universal cry of the soul and emanates from the bedrock promise of God's presence, threaded throughout all of Scripture. He promises, "Fear not, I will never leave you..." When the cry of a broken woman is, "Be with me now....." she can plead for this help and know the help is coming, because His promise to us is the same as His promise to Mary:
 Fear Not, I am with you.

For my hurting friends, listen once more to this raw message of help and hope, coming to us through the gift of music. Give yourself permission to cry out to Him, to cry out  your fears, your doubts, anger, disappointments, and then slump wearily into His arms where you can rest in the confidence that if you are His daughter, you are In His Grip, He will never leave you or forsake you. Let your tears cleanse your soul, just for a moment, and help you surrender to trusting Him on this platform on which He has placed you.
One more teaching moment from Mary. Mary's response to the angel's announcement could be misleading: "I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be to me as you have said." Surely such submission results in fearless living and diminished pain. Yet immediately after Mary surrendered to God's call on her life she experienced her life turned upside down. What did she do? She ran to a woman further ahead of her in life's journey, her cousin, Elizabeth. There she found reassurance, acceptance and I imagine hours of conversation that helped turn her heart to trusting God in this mysterious journey. This one chapter of Mary's life reminds us that one of God's greatest gifts is community with other believers. Seek out a trustworthy friend, further ahead of you in life's journey, and give her permission to encourage and exhort you with God's truth. One way God keeps His promise of His presence is through others who remind us of His truths and help us find our way.

Find a quiet spot, close your eyes and let His love wash over you. If God has called you to a hard place, He has promised He is with you on that pathway.


Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant.
Listen Here

In His grip with you,

Breath of Heaven 
I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy father you have come
And chosen me now to carry your son
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now
Be with me now
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Help me
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hurting People still Seek Him

The Pathway to Christmas
Part 3

The thirty-something grocery store cashier responded quickly to my, "How is your day going?" with, "This is the best day of the week. I get to go to church tonight."

Suddenly my polite inquiry turned in to a research moment.  This man had waited on me for years and had never expressed more than a few obligatory words as he rang up my purchases.  I couldn't help asking, "Why are you so excited about going to church?"

He told me that a few months before he and his wife were struggling, they needed hope. They discovered a church where the music was high energy, they didn't have to get better before attending, and people they didn't know invited them to their homes. He said the message about Jesus gave him hope. And life is easier with hope.

Hurting people still seek Jesus.

When the Light Disappears

The wise men who followed the star to the manger were astrologers who saw something different in the sky. They weren't religious leaders, yet in the mundane they saw the sign that the King was coming and they had hope. Apparently the star disappeared for a period because once they got to Jerusalem, they asked around town, “where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  (Matthew 2:1-2).  We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

The Wise Men refused to believe the star was gone, simply because they could not see it. Such thinking encourages me, even in this Christmas season, when melancholy washes over me and I long for past Christmas joy. Where is that Light that overcomes the darkness when a blue mood wraps itself around me like a wet woolen blanket?

Why did Jesus call Himself the bright Morning Star? 

In Revelation 22:16, Jesus calls Himself the bright Morning Star. This is significant, especially for those of us who struggle to trust that the Light is still burning when all we can see are dark clouds. The Morning Star, which is actually the planet Venus appears before sunrise in the western sky, nine months out of the year.   It is like an alarm clock for the birds to begin singing, a new day is dawning.  Something better is coming. 

Even when it cannot be seen in the early morning, it is still there.  And in fact, during one of the periods when it cannot be seen in the early morning, it is the Evening Star, a point of reference for mariners in the middle of the dark night. It is their frame of reference.

Jesus calls Himself  the Morning Star, to remind us that He is the One whose brightness breaks through the darkness of midnight, with just a glimmer, and a promise of hope and help and a new day. Just as we can depend on the sun rising every day and that spring will follow winter, we can trust that the Light of Jesus is still burning even when the darkness covers our souls. 

And even when it feels as though He is not there, we can trust that He hasn’t moved.  The midnight darkness may have taken over, but His light will break through that darkness as the Evening Star.  He is the Evening Star, in the midnights of life, in the darkness. 

And in the end of life, He is the bright Morning Star who leads us into heaven.

Priceless Treasures

When we choose to follow the Bright Morning Star, God sometimes gives us priceless treasures that can only be attributed to listening to His voice, even when it’s hard.  Our niece, Elizabeth, tells a story that demonstrates following the star, even to the edge of Heaven:

My grandmother had a serious heart condition for thirteen years and often could not leave her bed.  During her last hospitalization, at God’s prompting, I asked to spend the night with Grandmother during that hospital stay  She had survived numerous medical crises, but this one was different and I desperately wanted to be with her – both to help her through the night as well as for my own sake.  Since I was only sixteen, my parents reluctantly gave me permission.  That night was very difficult and Grandmother asked me to read form Psalm 116.  As I read, she became agitated and kept saying, “That’s not it. That’s not it.”  When I got to verse six she finally relaxed and said, “Yes, that’s it.” She repeated the verse over and over again.  “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”  Grandmother entered heaven the next day. Later Grandfather found two of her bibles opened to that passage.

In the darkness, that is where we can see the star shining brightly but we must open our eyes, even if just to squint at the light. We need to be on full alert for the treasure, like the wise men. We have to respond to the call of that Bright Morning Star. 

Wendy Alsup, an author and blogger I follow shared in a post of how she had to choose to look for treasures, to be intentional about finding reasons for gratitude during an especially painful Christmas.  She said that every night she bundled up her two little boys and they drove around the city looking at the pretty Christmas lights. 
 Did that action change her circumstances?  Of course not, but she made an intentional choice, not to stay in the darkness, but to find ways to rejoice in the Bright Morning Star that is Jesus.  I think she most likely did it more for the sake of her sons than for herself.  Often, that's why we make certain choices, for the good of those around us.

Like the wise men, we have to make hard choices to follow the Star of Jesus, even when, and perhaps especially when it is the most difficult.

If you're struggling to embrace Christmas because of loss, I encourage you to do as the Wise Men did. Follow the Star to the Manger. Choose to symbolically bundle up your heart and intentionally look for the Light of Christmas. Ask Jesus to light the way for you to be a safe place for another broken person, to lean into the pain of another friend fighting depression or simply spend some quiet time with Jesus, asking Him to open your eyes and heart to His presence, His light.

The grocery cashier reminded me that Jesus doesn't want us to air brush our lives before we come to Him, He invites us to come just as we are.  Those hurting places can be the bridge to His healing and unconditional love. Without the struggles this family experienced, they would not have found the hope of Jesus. Follow the star. Follow the star to the manger, to the real Star of Christmas.

In His grip,

Help and Hope for Hurting People - FREE Resources

Friday, December 16, 2016

Whatever it Takes - A Pathway to Christmas - Part 2

Christmas Accentuates Depression

Christmas accentuates depression, grief, broken relationships, discontentment, jealousy, shattered families. Even those whose lives exude joy and peace experience unexpected sadness when a familiar song stirs up happy memories with a parallel longing for what was.

As I enjoyed a rare day focusing on our home and preparing for cookie baking with our granddaughter, I hesitated before putting on Christmas music.  I could feel tears rising so instead, mixed up another batch of cookies in a peaceful silence. Since the fatal car accident that took the lives of our son, Mark and his friend, Kelly, old Christmas songs can quickly pull me under.

Later that day, 13-year-old granddaughter Abby and I laughed and chattered about school, Christmas and life. We tried our hand at sugar cookies, using my mother's old metal cookie cutters.

Abby decorated cookies and I baked a family favorite, Lebanese bread. When I commented that we needed to have some Christmas music, Abby quickly set up Pandora on her phone. Surely baking with Abby protected my heart from digging into the archived memories of Christmases past.

The voice of Perry Como filled the kitchen with promises of coming home for Christmas and there it was: a memory of Chuck's mom, sitting in her Lazy-Boy, enjoying her Christmas tree, in a low-lit room, tears quietly trickling down her cheeks. When we asked why the tears, she shook her head and said the old Christmas songs always took her back to a happier time, when Christmas meant weeks of baking and cooking and preparing for a houseful of Christmas Eve guests, the candle lit Midnight Mass and the boys singing in the choir, when the train display took over her living room, when her husband broke the bank by shopping on Christmas Eve for the perfect gifts for the kids after she had carefully and frugally bought the socks and underwear for her boys.

Behind her longing for what was, was grave disappointment and sadness over where her life had taken her. Widowed at forty-five, raising her third son by herself, always worrying about whether she would have enough money to pay the bills. Every Christmas the same songs led her back to a place of joy but also a place that reminded her of everything she had lost.

Abby painted star cookies and hummed along as It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas! quickly followed I'll Be Home for Christmas. Karaoke seemed the best way to break the melancholy of that moment. With a wide arm flourish, I added my voice and over acted out the song, to Abby's delight, who immediately joined in. We performed our big song ending and mixed up more yellow icing for the cookie stars.

The Yellow Stars
This blog was on my mind. I couldn't let go of the idea that just as the Wise Men would not rest until they found the new born King, we each have something in our lives that can drive us to the manger as well.  Those cookie stars reminded me of the wise men who refused to stay home and just talk about the change in the universe.  I wondered how much of Christmas I lose every year because I don't allow the circumstances of my life to lead me to the manger and then to the Cross. Once the wise men saw the change in the universe, they were not content to just study the star. They knew that star would lead them to a baby who would change everything.

The star confronted them with a choice – they could continue to talk about the star, study the star and philosophize about the star. Or they could leave the comfort of their homes, their comfort zones, and choose to pay a high price of travel and time to follow that star so that they could worship this newborn king.  Whatever it took, they would follow this Star to the new King. This was a long journey. They weren't in the stable on Christmas Eve. In fact, they most likely found Jesus when he was about two years old. Even when the star disappeared, they refused to give up. Was it just their interest in prophecy and astrology or was it the broken places in their own hearts that drove them to keep on following the Star?

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed (the star reappeared).  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.  Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.  
Matthew 2:9-12

As Abby finished up her decorating, my mind stayed on those yellow stars. I remembered the moment God used a Christmas card back in 1993 to pull my eyes toward the Light of Jesus, to call me to the same journey of the Wise Men. In the middle of a dark sky, a brilliant star shone above the words: 

The light entered the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.
John 1:5

The eyes of my heart squinted, desperate to see this Light, and to believe that no matter how dark my despair, this Light would break through the midnight sorrow.  The message was clear: like the Wise Men I needed to pursue that Star, and allow nothing to deter me from finding Jesus. Whatever it takes, follow the Light that overcomes the darkness.

The great orator and preacher, Charles Spurgeon suffered from chronic depression, telling his congregation: 

I find myself frequently depressed - perhaps more so than any other person here.

  How could the "Prince of Preachers" as he was called, also experience that parallel line of sadness when his foundation was the Light of the World? Spurgeon followed this statement with:

And I find no better cure for that depression than to trust in the Lord with all my heart, and seek to realize afresh the power of the peace-speaking blood of Jesus, and His infinite love in dying upon the cross to put away all my transgressions. Charles Spurgeon
 #HelpAndHope #HopeInAQuote

How did Spurgeon battle his life-long struggle with depression? Whatever it took, like the Wise Men, he followed the Star to Bethlehem. His depression was his pathway to experiencing the "power of the peace-speaking blood ofJesus, and His infinite love in dying upon the cross to put away all my transgressions."

That "low-grade" depression or dis-ease so many of us experience can be a pathway to the manger. Our pathway might look different from past Christmases, we might choose to avoid those activities that we know will stir up a flood of emotions that we're not ready to or able to face. The Wise Men adjusted their journey when Herod threatened them. But they didn't quit when the journey was harder than expected. Whatever it took, they followed the Star. Were they broken men, hungry to find what was missing in their lives?

Like the Wise Men we have to make choices each day as we travel to the manger. Will I like the Wise Men, stay focused on following the Star, no matter how dark, even when the Star "disappears?" Will I choose to believe that the darkness cannot overcome the Light? Will my own neediness drive me to the manger? To allow Christmas to seep through the very cracks God uses to let His light shine in my darkness?

John Piper, internationally known speaker and author says this about pursuing Jesus:

 Consider Jesus. Know Jesus. Learn what kind of Person it is you say you trust and love and worship. Soak in the shadow of Jesus. Saturate your soul with the ways of Jesus. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Stand in awe of Him. Let Him overwhelm you with the way He is."
John Piper

The Wise Men would not rest until they had a personal audience with this King. They were not just curiosity seekers.  They considered Jesus and they wanted to know Him as King. Their knowledge was not enough. They wanted to meet Him. They were determined to worship this King and honor Him with gifts.  Their journey and those yellow cookie stars challenge me to recognize that those weepy moments, that longing for what was can be my pathway to the manger, where Jesus can saturate my soul with His ways. Christmas celebrations will never be what they were, but when the Light enters the darkness, I know that Light will open my eyes to new joys. Whatever it takes.

In the middle of a deep or low-grade depression, the star that is Jesus, the Light of the World, is calling us to move against our emotions in order to meet the tasks of the day, or like the Wise Men, He is  directing us to serve Him in a way that will be costly, self-sacrificing.  Those yellow cut out cookie stars challenge me to ask if I am  ready to choose the pathway that is long and hard, by faith trusting that His ways are also the pathway to joy? 

They would not rest until they had a personal audience with this new born King and no matter how hard others tried to stop them, they pursued that Star until they were bowed before the King. Oh, for my own heart to pursue Jesus with the same confidence that He is the King of Kings. Whatever it takes.

In His grip,

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Path that Leads to Christmas - Follow the Star

(In case you came here through the In His Grip Devotional - here's the link to: It's Christmas! How's Your Stress Level?

The Unreality of Social Media and Airbrushing our Lives

The beautiful young woman's strained voice revealed the deep pain she was trying to minimize. Her mother died when she was very young, her father remarried and the step-mother fit the Cinderella stereotype. She was losing her battle to stay focused on the good things in her life, longing instead to experience the same Hallmark Christmas family celebrations she saw on her friends' social media accounts. I encouraged her to remember that Facebook could also be called Fakebook at times. She agreed and said she was taking a break from all social media, believing the beautiful depictions of perfect, whole families fed her longing for her own childhood memories of Christmases with her mother and father. My dear sweet friend is not alone. 

Christmas can be challenging for imperfect people, because everything around tempts us to play that comparison game that always leads us to loneliness, self-imposed guilt and impossible expectations. 

Especially in our culture, through social media such as Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest, you’re the only teenager who doesn’t have a pimple on her nose, the only one  with dull, out of control hair, crooked teeth, teeth that aren’t as white as the driven snow, the only one not included in a get together, the only one whose BFF is now someone else’s BFF.

Or you’re the woman who doesn’t have a husband, not just a husband, but an adoring husband who brings you flowers and takes you on romantic dates and buys you the perfect gift. You're the only one whose house isn't decorated inside and out, whose father shows up drunk at the family Christmas party, the one whose children melt down at every special event. You’re the only mother with imperfect children, the only daughter whose family is broken, who is grieving,  whose shattered dreams will never be healed, whose house doesn’t look like a Martha Stewart showcase, the Grammy who isn’t doing enough with her grandkids, the  mom whose children are rebellious and have melt downs in the mall…

It’s hard to remember the pictures that don’t make it onto Facebook. If we had FB 35 years ago I would have posted a picture of my two angel toddler sons, Daniel and Mark, grinning happily in their car seats, anticipating a fun trip to the Mall with just Mommy. 

I would not post the picture of me struggling to put my two whining little boys into their double stroller, me saying through gritted teeth, “You’re ruining this special time, this is the only time I have to give you between now and Christmas" or a selfie of  me leaving the mall five minutes later because I’ve just realized that unbeknownst to me, those sweet angelic boys had consumed a whole string of candy canes on the ride to the mall, and were now having a sugar high or low or allergic reaction to red dye. Who knew which? All I knew was they were miserable!

Or rewind  a few more years and I would have posted pictures of our church family joining us for our traditional Christmas Eve open house, but not the picture of our two older children, Heidi and Chuck sitting on chairs all day because they were fighting and I had to get everything ready for a special night….No, we live in a pretend culture that whispers we’re not good enough, we’re never doing enough, we are letting people down, and maybe most of all, we’re letting down our God because we are so flawed.  The culture demands that to fit in, we must air brush our lives into perfection but the command is impossible to obey.  

We grown ups should be able to deal with all of this junk, but I guarantee you, most of us struggle. We are not alone in those feelings and we are not the first generation to experience such inadequacies.  

Speaking of Melt Downs – The Wise Men’s Journey
Speaking of melt downs, I have a feeling that the wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem had a few of those melt down moments along their hard, arduous journey, traveling by camel to find the one who had been born King of the Jews.

Their story is in Matthew 2:1 – 12

The Magi were not God-fearers, they were Gentiles, non-Jews, astronomers or astrologers, possibly made up of representatives from several countries.  They came from the East, possibly Persia, what is now modern day Iran and Iraq.  If they were astrologers than they most likely worshiped the stars.  They were known as Kingmakers. 

God Used the Stars

The Magi’s journey started because they were paying attention, they took action and they refused to allow distractions to stop them – even the threat of a murderous King.

The wise men thought that they initiated this search for the King, but God was the initiator and drew them to Jesus by using something with which they were familiar, the study of the stars.

This new star confronted them with a choice – they could continue to talk about the star, study the star and philosophize about the star or they could leave the comfort of their homes, their comfort zones, and choose to pay a high price of travel and time, and accept the invitation to follow that star so that they could worship this newborn king. 

Their journey and endurance challenges me. What is there in my life that is a invitation to journey toward the Star. How about you? A new opportunity? A financial windfall? A lost job? A difficult neighbor? Broken friendships? Fear? A disappointing diagnosis? A wayward child?Financial loss? Jealousy? Too many bills? Anger? A new life chapter? The wisemen would not rest, even when they lost sight of the star. They would not rest until they had a personal audience with this new born King. They were not just curiosity seekers, they were determined to worship this King and honor him with gifts.

They would not rest until they found Him.

Follow the Star - Who Me?

I know Jesus. I even teach others about Him. I know I will never get to the bottom of His love. But how much more can I KNOW Him and what price am I willing to pay to worship the King?  A new star entered the world of the wisemen astrologers and got their attention. What is there in my life that calls for my attention, inviting me to a new experience of His love, a new level of obedience, to forgive, or to rejoice in the day He has created for me, even though that day holds pain and disappointment.  

I think of my young friend, struggling to balance her grief over the loss of her "Hallmark Christmas" with gratitude for the "replacement" family God has given to her. She has taken on the battle in the middle of her depression, to follow the star that is Jesus, the Light of the World, who is calling her to walk by obedience, to move against her emotions in order to meet the tasks of the day. Is He  directing you and me in a similar way - to serve Him in a way that will be costly, self-sacrificing, to choose against our emotions, to follow Him. Can we see that the journey to the manger, to the Light of the World might be  long and hard, but by faith trust that His ways are also the pathway to joy?  Can we also see that every Christmas is a new opportunity to travel that pathway with renewed love and endurance?

The alternative is to be content to rest on our laurels, to be satisfied with what we know, to miss the invitation of our circumstances and interests  to "follow the Star" in a way that leads to intimacy, a deeper awareness of His presence and love, and a new, joyful recognition that the real Star of Bethlehem is the Light that enters the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

Listen, God meets us where we are.  He used the stars to draw the wise men to Jesus.   Could it be the very thing that you love, or that breaks your heart or makes you feel inadequate, will be the conduit of His grace? The very thing that draws you to the manger, to the Christ child?

Our God is unchanging and when because of His great love for His children, He sent His only Son, Jesus, as our Messiah, He proved that He will stop at nothing to extend His unconditional love to His children. It's Christmas! Our Father, because of His love for His childrnen,  will use whatever is necessary to lead us to the manger and then to the Cross, to Jesus, the Light of the World. He uses our circumstances, our fears, our interests. 

Don't miss His invitation to Follow the Star.

We see three kinds of people in the story of the Wisemen. Some of them missed Christmas. Will we? Next week's post - Missing Christmas.

In His grip,

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