Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And what exactly are we doing here?

I awoke this morning in what still feels like someone else's house in a new city and a neighborhood of people that I don't know. What are we doing here, LORD? I mused.

We have quite literally come a long way in the past twelve months, "a momentous year," my husband remarked over morning coffee and breakfast.

As I finished my reading this morning, recording in a journal verses for today, I noticed a separate listing of verses scrawled on the back pages of my notebook for 2014.  At the top of the last page was the word "decision." Verses dated and recorded on those pages brought me almost to tears, as if in His own words, God had chronicled His faithfulness to us in the past year.

At this time last year, we knew some changes would be taking place in 2014. We did not exactly know what. We did not know where. We just knew that God was leading us through it, virtually one step at a time, sometimes with an obvious steppingstone, sometimes in a fog.

And today, as I find myself in this new place in my life, I am thankful that I recorded those verses He highlighted for me in His Word. It was not just that the LORD was so faithful, but quite obvious to me this morning, He still is.

Here is a sampling of just a few of those verses:

February 1, 2014
Tell the people of Israel to go forward.
                     Exodus 14.15
(Follow Him into it.
Keep moving in that direction.
Even through what seems impossible.)

February 6, 2014
Behold I send an angel before you,
to guard you on the way
and to bring you to the place
which I have prepared.
                      Exodus 23.20
(Follow God into the center of His purpose.)

March 15, 2014
Then the angel of the LORD went ahead,
and stood in a narrow place,
where there was no way to turn
either to the right or to the left.
                      Numbers 22.26
(THAT kind of guidance)

March 29,2014
But you shall seek the place
which the LORD your God will choose
out of all your tribes
to put His name
and make His habitation there;
thither you shall go.
                     Deuteronomy 12.5
(It may not even be on our radar yet)

And finally, a verse which sums up our year:

May 29, 2014
A man's mind plans his way,
but the LORD directs his steps.
                      Proverbs 16.9

One thing that I can know about this past year and the new year ahead, I don't know what I would have done without daily delving into His Word. The LORD used it, giving me strength beyond what I could ever do on my own, directing us in a way yet unseen, bearing fruit through that we may not ever see, and showing us repeatedly His love, grace and faithfulness.

What exactly are we doing here?  
God knows.

He is faithful.
He is faithful indeed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Spread your arms, hold your breath, and always trust your cape!

Already there are events and plans penciled on my 2015 calendar, but the new year may not look at all like what I expect.

I learned that truth in capital letters in 2014. (Exhibit 1:  see my posting on "Where have you been?")  A new year is not an empty box for us to fill, but full and vibrant with God's designs.  I have only to follow Him into it.

No. Matter. What.

The difference between being foolish and being faithful is distinguished by being focused on His highest, not our own pursuits.  For when we follow fully the Most High God, He will take us places we would dare not tread on our own -- be it scaling the heights, traversing the miry bog, fulfilling His design right where I am, or trekking through what we would assume a wilderness.  He provides the strength.  He enlarges our vision.  And He is always faithful.

Guy Clark croons in his classic tune, "Spread your arms, hold your breath, and always trust your cape.

As I experienced in our whirlwind 2014, I would change his lyrics to say "always trust your God." 

Though the fig tree do not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
   I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet like hinds' feet,
He makes me tread upon
                       my high places.

                         Habakkuk  3. 17-19

The word "tread" is commonly defined as "to walk," but it also can mean "to dance."  I like the image of that:  to dance upon our high, scary places of life.  Because with Him, I am not alone.  He releases me from fear.

"You can't just sit there," admonished the late Chuck Colson,who was himself a visionary and cultural activist.

God says, "Trust Me.
      And do not be afraid."
Those two go hand in hand.

Spread your arms,
                hold your breath,
and always trust your God.

Monday, December 29, 2014

When the music fades

From the time Ruth was a small child, her musical talent was recognized, not just by her family but by everyone around her.  She played the piano at three years old.  She started playing the violin a year later.  Everything in her life revolved around music.  And coming from a family with extremely limited resources, nothing ever came easy.  Back in that day, there was a lot of swapping around to get things done.

When Ruth was still a teenager, her father died after years of disability.  She landed a job at the local radio station to work her way through college.  She hosted a live radio program every morning from 4 to 8 am, and then went to classes for the day.

After college, she taught music at a seminary, was married and widowed all within a year, and then traveled halfway across the country to go to graduate school at the Eastman School of Music, a rare endeavor for a woman in that day.  She was invited by Ernest Tubb to join the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville, which she declined.  Her eyes were on New York where she held a regular job performing on early television.

After she was married, she landed in Chicago where she kept up with her music, balancing the rigors of practice and performance while simultaneously raising four children.  And in Chicago while music continued to be her passion, God began to use her gifts in different ways.  What became more important to her was letting her music be used by God.  Not being a celebrity at Carnegie Hall was by no means a reflection on her abilities, but in a true sense, God used it to enlarge the scope of her influence.

She encouraged young beginning violin students by teaching them almost on a daily basis, she performed at nursing homes for the people no one remembered, and in a time when it was unheard of, she assembled an orchestra at her church where members of the congregation of all levels of ability came together to perform Handel's Messiah every Christmas.

What became obvious was that her giftedness as a musician was just a vehicle to glorify God and to show kindness to others.  When the music fades, what is left behind?  Whoever knew her commented about her music and always remarked how kind she was.

Someone once said, "People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."  Her kindness touched the least and the lonely, no matter who they were.  She knew that need is not always recognized, nor does it discriminate between the poor and the wealthy. She would walk into a party or other gathering and seek out not the popular nor powerful, but the loneliest person there. She played once for the funeral of a friend.  She and her accompanist were the only attendees of the service.

I knew Ruth well.  She was my mom.  Today would have been her 95th birthday.  She has been gone now ten years, but the things that she taught me grow stronger by the years.  And today I am reminded, above all to glorify God every which way you can and seek out opportunities to be kind.

When I was going through a stack of papers after her passing, I came across a small note in her handwriting that I had never seen before.  It said:  "I always wanted to be famous, but I think better things happened because I'm not."

God leads us on paths we would never expect.
He uses us in profound ways we can never know.
We have only to be faithful.

The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me,
Your steadfast love, O LORD.
            endures forever.

                       Psalm 138.8

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Roll over

Our youngest granddaughter Luci has spent the past four months observing the world from her back.  This is just how the world looks, she must have thought.

 But quite suddenly as she wriggled around one morning, FLIP, she was on her belly.  She had a rather surprised look on her face.  Whoa.  Things look really different from here.  And she realized, as we all do at multiple junctures of our lives, we don't know everything.  Things are not just the way I see them.

Within the week, Luci learned how to get that different perspective on life. It didn't just happen. She lifted up her legs as if in an old ladies' exercise class, turned slowly to her side, and over she went.

She is on the road to discovery.  Nothing will ever be the same.

Stuck in our ruts, or stuck like a turtle on its back, we need to do the same:  roll over --a difficult situation, a stale viewpoint, a bad attitude-- and see people, places and problems from a new perspective.  God will reveal not just what to do but what lies underneath -- that which sometimes I don't want to know.  It is a whole lot easier to stay in my dormant point of view and blame others when it is my own selfish heart at fault.

As we enter the new year, a few obligatory resolutions are not what are needed, but a little exercise in learning to roll over.  Let God not just redeem our situations, but reveal new dimensions in our relationship with Him.  How can I see this person, this situation, this place from His eyes?  How can I respond differently?

A problem is only an opportunity laying on its back.

You have said,
       "Seek My face."
"Your face, LORD,
       do I seek."

          Psalm 27.8

Friday, December 26, 2014

The day after Christmas

Christmas is not a fond memory,
    but a profound reality. found in Him.
         Philippians 3.9

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

No ordinary night at work

And quite suddenly
God changes everything

And in that region
there were shepherds
         out in the field,
keeping watch over their flock
                       by night.
And an angel of the LORD
      appeared to them,
and the glory of the LORD
             shone around them,
and they were filled with fear.
And the angel said to them,
"Be not afraid,
for behold I bring you
       good news of great joy
which will come
             to all the people.
For unto you
is born this day
in the city of David a Savior
     who is Christ the Lord.

                    Luke 2. 8-11

It was the night before Christmas.
The world says,
Merry Christmas
     and to all a good night.
But the angel had another song in mind:

And suddenly there was with the angel
a multitude of the heavenly host
praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth
                   good will among men."

                          Luke 2. 13-14

God's Christmas greeting
    is not wishing a good night,
but the giving of new life
and peace with Him.

Glory to God in the Highest.

Merry Christmas, my friend.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Be that voice

A single voice started it all on a cold dark night in the midst of a battle.  It was a melody of hope and love sung in a foreign land.  It was quite literally the night before Christmas in a very dark volatile situation.

A German soldier began singing a Christmas carol.  And it triggered an impossible truce among those who were deemed enemies.  It comes close to my heart as my grandfather was one of those young men in those trenches, far from home, a century ago.

That historic day one hundred years ago on Christmas Day 1914 became known as the Christmas Truce of 1914.  One voice started it all.  It impacted everyone who heard him.  And the other soldiers in turn joined in singing.  A chorus of soldiers sang across the battlelines.  They eventually emerged from the trenches, exchanging gifts and conversation, and even playing soccer.  History shows that it impacted 100,000 soldiers from both sides of the war that day.  A deadly confrontation was transformed into a personal conversation.

This historic incident was the focus of Sainsbury's commercial for Christmas 2014.  Click here to watch a re-enactment of that day as portrayed in Sainsbury's commercial, a powerful statement of peace, as taken from the 2005 movie Joyeux Noel.

What are YOU singing?  

Bring His peace to your situation this Christmas.  See your time with friends and family-- and even those you don't particularly like -- as a conversation, not a confrontation.  See these precious moments as a rare opportunity to practice grace and bring the peace of Christ to an impossible place.  His peace is like no other.

Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give to you,
    not as the world gives
            do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled,
   neither let them be afraid.

            John 14.27

Be that voice of peace.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

And what you do lasts even longer

Two evenings ago, my husband and I attended a performance of Handel's Messiah.  For two and a half hours, members of the audience sat on the edge of their seats, speechless and amazed by the Word of God sung with great power.  The text of the oratorio was printed in the program, the scriptural references sadly excluded, but one could not deny that something different was going on here.

...and laid on Him
       the iniquity of us all.

These words were not the composed poetry of man, but Isaiah 53.6, written down more than 800 years before Christ.  One hundred and sixty voices blended into a profound whisper.  The music tapered into the silence of heaven, as His truth covered the concert hall. 

And then, when the first notes of the Hallelujah chorus drifted through the air, tradition bid the audience to stand.  But these spectators -- no matter their worldview -- could not help but literally jump to their feet in awe and reverent attention.

The efforts of vocalists and musicians transcended from a performance into worship.

On an ordinary day in 1741, Handel sat down to compose, and in twenty-four short days, he produced the masterpiece called the Messiah.  Little did he realize that two hundred and seventy three years afterward, God would still be using his work, touching and transforming a people yet unborn.  He had no idea.

Neither do we.

If there is no God, ... then everything you do at work will be forgotten, and nothing you can do in your career will earn lasting significance.  But if Christianity is true, then "every good endeavor,"... no matter how small, "can matter forever."   Those are the words of Timothy Keller in an interview in the Wall Street Journal (12/20-21/2014, page A13).

What you do impacts all eternity.  It profoundly changes you, everyone around you, and leaves a legacy for generations to come.  We have no idea what that may be -- an encouraging word that helps redirect a life, your own rendition of the "Messiah," or as in the case of Brother Lawrence three decades as a lowly dishwasher, a long abiding faithfulness in what God placed before him.  You are precious in His sight.

Take courage,
all you people of the land,
         says the LORD,
        for I am with you,
        says the LORD of hosts,
...My Spirit abides among you,
                         fear not.

                       Haggai 2. 4-5

And God will redeem the rest.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Something Big is Waiting for You"

I was greeted this morning by those same words of "advent" hacked  into twenty-five varying translations, occupying my email inbox like a besieging army.  Delete, delete, delete.  And before the day is over, they will be back again in force to remind me of impending delivery deadlines and missing out on deals of a lifetime, all for $50 or less, free shipping included.  Macy's believes in Christmas.  So does every retailer in this country, both big and small.

And yet, it is not that the commercial scrooges have taken Christmas hostage.  We have given it to them, wrapped and tied with a bow.

Christmas changes our economy.  Jesus changes life itself.

What makes Advent look visibly different in us?

Christmas trees -- great.  Christmas lights -- beautiful.  Christmas wreaths -- decorative.  All are socially acceptable, including incredibly awkward inflatable Santa's and snowmen in occasional front yards.   But when our daughter's neighbor saw our not-quite-two-year-old grandson playing with his little Fisher Price nativity set, she remarked, "Oh, how...," she hesitated, "quaint."

I stood in line yesterday at Target, running errands for both my daughter and me.  As the weary clerk handed me my receipt, she repeated her designated mantra, "Have a nice day."

I replied with rare unexpected words, "Merry Christmas."

It was as if my words hung in the air. Everything literally stood still for a moment, an audible pause at check-out lane 17.

The cashier quite suddenly looked up from the white plastic bags containing deodorant, paper clips, and a printer cartridge, surprised by my Advent words, strangely personal and loving.  She was no longer a fatigued overworked sales clerk making minimum wage, dressed like everyone else, invisible and fulfilling her job.  Those two simple words affirmed her as a person, precious in God's eyes, her name monogrammed on His heart, that which God intended when He came to earth.

She smiled and looked right into my eyes.  "Merry Christmas," she said with new energy in her voice.

I have no idea if that young woman even celebrates Christmas, but I have yet to see anyone of any worldview offended by those words.  If anything, that greeting expresses a nightlight in darkness and despair, and a reminder of joy to the world.

How shall we sing the LORD's song
     in a foreign land?

                    Psalm 137.4
Every encounter divinely appointed,
every word intentional,
        and engraved by grace,
proclaiming Christmas every opportunity we get,
    every which way we can.

Who will God place on your path today?
Who will God place on your heart?

Joy to the world!
The Lord has come.

Something big is waiting for you!

And He will change your life.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Where have you been?"

For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven.
                         Ecclesiastes 3.1

There is a time and a season for every matter, and sometimes, quite suddenly, what emerges is not what we expect at all.  There is a time and a reason for every matter, and sometimes God's path takes us to an unfamiliar place.  After five years of writing, Nightly Tea came to a screeching halt on a humid day last spring.  I had to let it go.  My world was spinning a little too fast.

On a bitterly cold afternoon last February, I answered a phone call from our oldest daughter, who was then within a month of giving birth to her third child.  It was a “911 Mom” call.  “I need you.”  Within an hour, I was on the interstate, heading to help.  Little did I realize that I was not just on the road to Cleveland, but to radical changes in my life.

Just a month after I returned home, my husband and I left for a week of hiking, to take a break from a long and literally deep Chicago winter. We knew some changes were already ahead in our lives.  We had placed our house on the market, where it had lingered for two months.  We were about to pull up the realtor’s sign and consider what else to do.  Little did we know what God had placed around the next bend.

Instead of returning from our respite in a week’s time, it was more than a month before I came home for even a few days.  Indeed, in the next four months, I would be home for just three scattered weeks.  At the beginning of May, another one of our daughters, then just 24 weeks pregnant, was confined to bed for the duration of her pregnancy. With her very curious and mobile fifteen-month-old son dashing about, well, it was time to switch into gramma mode once again. I moved into their back bedroom and put on my running shoes, not to exercise, but to keep up with a toddler. 

Running and writing faded into a memory.
We inched our daughter day by day through her pregnancy.   And then, quite suddenly, our house sold.  We sorted through our belongings, packed, gave away and lightened our load (“a time to keep and a time to cast away.” Ecclesiastes 3.6)   We learned every day to ask, “What, God?” What to do.  What path to take.  He led us quite literally one day at a time.  And we felt Him asking us daily, “Are you willing to follow Me one more step?”

He made our way evident, just one step at a time, even in what we did not understand or what made sense to us at the time.  His timing was perfect.  His provision was precise, and we found God using our situation to provide for strangers, people not even on our radar, but on His.

Three men arrived one hot August morning, stacked our possessions in a truck and took them away, first to a storage locker, and then to another house in a city new to us.  In the upheaval, evidence emerged not of chaos, but His design, no reason to fear but to trust God a little bit more.  God is here too.

From the get-go, we prayed that God would make our way clear and unambiguous.   His direction did not always arrive spectacularly like a FedEx box delivered to our porch, but we learned – once again – not to seek answers, but to seek Him, not even to see Him in it yet, but to faithfully follow Him through it.

And while His leading was not always clear and unambiguous, God was.

I lost track in how many different beds I slept in the ensuing months, spare rooms, hotel rooms, engaging the kindness of family and friends.  One night I awoke in the murky darkness of 3.20 am.  As I emerged from a deep sleep, I did not know where I was.  By the anemic green light of a clock, I could discern tall posts at the end of the bed, and for a moment, I thought, “Aahhh, I'm home.”   And then I realized that place we called “home” was no longer ours.  We don’t live there anymore.   That house has been relegated to memory and new owners. 

Almost on a daily basis, I felt like I couldn’t touch bottom.  And I realized, fear just blinds me to the reality of God.  "Trust Me," He reminded me over and over.

God’s plans are not subject to my understanding, nor my control.  I may not know fully His purpose, but there are a multitude of divinely appointed reasons.  There always are.  His design transcends our carefully-laid plans and timing.  There is still purpose to it, even if we never find out why.

And God changes each of us a little bit more.  

I do not know what is yet ahead, but God…  Always, that which God appoints, transforms us forever.  And we learn even more to wait, listen and let God reveal Himself in the story He is writing for us.

More later, my friend.

Nightly Tea is back.