Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Better Treasure

Isn’t it fun to decorate for Christmas? One of the highlights of post-Thanksgiving is bringing the Christmas boxes down from the attic. We burn our scented candles, play our holiday music, and open the boxes to rediscover our treasures.

Yesterday was box-opening day, and the candles were lit and the music was playing but things didn’t seem quite right. We had just returned the night before from a 12-hour drive, and I was tired. Laundry demanded my attention.  Homework demanded my daughter’s attention. But she was so excited to “start Christmas,” so we tried to make it work.

Before I could clear away the mantle to make room for the special decorations, Caroline was face and arms down into the boxes. It happened that the first box she came to was a box of her special Christmas things. Little girl decorations with sequins and stuffed animal faces.  It quickly became apparent that Caroline had a plan. She started putting her things on the mantle.

“No, no, no….these don’t belong here,” I stammered.

And it quickly became apparent that we were at a standoff. How could I tell her that her decorations were not mantle-worthy?

My husband and I have been married for 18 years, so I figure that means I’ve been in charge of decorating for 18 years now. This was the first time I ever encountered another point-of-view about the way things should look. 

“This is where we put our pretty candles and our greenery,” I explained.  She didn’t care.

“Mommy always decorates the mantle.” She pouted.

With guilt and frustration mounting, I pushed her things aside and set the candles in place. Caroline disappeared.  Guilt eventually gained the upper-hand, and I set off to find her, expecting that she would be sulking in her room. “I’m in here, Mommy,” she said sweetly, and I discovered her sitting at my desk. Caroline was drawing a picture of the mantle, with her decorations interspersed in the greenery and candles. “Isn’t it pretty, Mommy? When we work together?”

Ugh.

So I relented. We decorated the mantle with an assortment of angels, shepherds, Santa Claus, candles, and a lion-faced Nutcracker. I decided I would be okay with it after all. Until Caroline pointed to one of the pretty candles.

“We don’t need this … it doesn’t look right,” she asserted.

All the tiredness and unexpectedness of this encounter with a pint-sized trespasser caught up with me.  I exploded. “OKAY. YOU do it YOUR WAY. It’s ALL yours!”

Did you ever have a moment when you wished for a rewind button?

As I was listening to the radio later, I heard an interview with Lysa TerKeurst of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She was speaking of Christmas with all of its joys and (sigh) all of the “where’s rewind?” moments.

“Bad mommy moments don’t make bad moms,” she said. And for that, I am grateful.

The truest spirit of Christmas is about reconciliation.

Hark the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn King. Peace on earth and mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled!”

I have had my share of moments as a mom, wife, daughter, relative, friend, and Christ follower that wouldn’t make the yearly Christmas letter.  But I love what Charles Stanley says about Christmas:

“Jesus came to earth to find each person where he was, not where he ought to have been. And the same is true today. God reaches into the darkest, dirtiest, most fearful places to correct and restore us into who He meant for us to be.”

Can we ever fully grasp our Savior’s humble sacrifice through which He reconciled us to God? How can we wrap our minds around the truth that the King of Kings was the “infant holy, infant lowly” born in a dark, dirty cattle stall?

“Bethlehem” literally means “house of bread.”  “The living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51) was born in the house of bread.

Yesterday, our pastor spoke of Matthew 6:11 (in the Lord’s Prayer): “Give us this day our daily bread.”

According to Pastor Kennedy, the “Give” of this request is rightly expressed in an attitude of humility and dependence.  It follows worship (“Our Father who art in Heaven. Hallowed be Your Name”) and surrender (“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”).

Worship and surrender set my heart right toward God. Worship and surrender also set my heart right toward others. As Pastor Kennedy pointed out, the prayer is “Give US our daily bread.” Instead of being self-absorbed, I seek the good of others.

Instead of being controlling, I can be content.

Instead of being led by pride, I can be guided by perspective. What’s the better treasure – a beautiful mantle or a beautiful heart?

In the midst of a season when shopping lines are long and time is short, we have to be intentionally focused on worship and surrender. This preparation helps us to respond in the Spirit when otherwise we might react in the flesh.

So I confessed my irritability and selfishness to Caroline and asked for her forgiveness. I asked her today what she thinks of our mantle.

“I love it!” she said. And so do I.

The Present is the Gift

Happy Thanksgiving, friends! It’s a very different Thanksgiving for my family this year as we celebrating in south Florida instead of our North Carolina home. We’re with my husband’s siblings and their families, and our days have been filled with swimming and playing on the beach with cousins. We’ve discovered live starfish and sanddollars and even happened upon an alligator this morning! This is the first Thanksgiving we’ve ever spent away from our parents, and we’ll go to a buffet instead of cooking.

Even though it doesn’t seem like a traditional Thanksgiving, I realize that we don’t need the aroma of roasting turkey or the sounds of the Macy’s parade on TV to remember thanksgiving in our hearts. We have many, many reasons to thank God for the abundance that He has provided.

And when I think about Thanksgiving this year, I am trying to stay anchored in the present – with all the gifts that this day offers. Two things often rob me of a grateful heart. They are “ifs” – as in “what if?” and “if only…” The “what ifs?” put my focus – and worries – on the unknowns of the future. As the daughter of aging parents – one with cancer – my thoughts trend this way quite often. What if there will not be any more Thanksgivings together?

And the “if onlys” put my focus on the unchangeable realities and regrets of the past. If only I had not wasted the promising years of my young marriage and early career, bound by an eating disorder….

When these big “ifs” steal my peace and joy, I have to make a choice to stay right here in today. The past can’t be changed and the future can’t be controlled. I have to fix my mind on the one “IF” that brings my heart and mind back into the right focus:

IF God is for us, who can be against us?” ~ Romans 8:31.

God is for me, and neither the if onlys of the past or the what ifs of the future can take that away. That truth anchors my heart in gratitude for today. Gratitude that my regrets and shame are wiped away in Christ. Gratitude that He promises His sufficient grace for whatever lies in the future.

My heart is free and thankful today. I like the expression “Today is a gift – that’s why it’s called the present.” May we sincerely lift up our thanks today to the Giver all of good gifts – to the One who has redeemed our past and secured our future in Christ.

I truly hope that your heart will be free and thankful in Him too.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 8: 38 – 39

“A New Thanksgiving”

Elisabeth Elliot is one of my favorite writers, and I often turn to her beloved book A Quiet Heart for comfort and encouragement. Her writings often renew my perspective, especially when I’m tempted to place my value in “doing, being, and having.” The article on “A New Thanksgiving” is a reminder to me of what is most important in this life of faith.

In honor of this week, I’ve copied the link to “A New Thanksgiving” here, and I hope it is an encouraging reminder for you, as it is for me, to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

– Originally published in the Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter – November/December 1987.  http://www.elisabethelliot.org/newsletters2/nov.dec.1987.pdf

This is a prayer from Elisabeth Elliot , and this Thanksgiving – and all days, in fact – I want it to be the genuine prayer of my heart as well ~

Lord, we give You thanks for all that You in Your mercy have given us to be and to do and to have. Deliver us, Lord, from all greed to be and to do and to have anything not in accord with Your holy purposes. Teach us to rest quietly in Your promise to supply, recognizing that if we don’t have it we don’t need it. Teach us to desire Your will–nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

 

Glorious

I’m reflecting on autumn in a new way, thanks to one of my favorite authors. In her blog post “How to Handle Loss” (10/22/12), Ann Voskamp ponders the thought that the leafy trees in their full array of color “make dying look glorious.”

Her phrase has stuck with me throughout this season. Every time I take in the reds, oranges, and yellows around my neighborhood, I remember that the colors represent the process of death – a literal and figurative picture of letting go.

Isn’t it interesting that we celebrate Thanksgiving in the midst of a season of loss and letting go?

This year, I am especially thankful for my faith in Christ which enables me to look upon dying as beautiful. Hopeful. Glorious.

While I’ve been reflecting upon these things, I visit with Muriel. Being 94 years old, Muriel thinks and talks about death quite often. I sit and listen. Her acceptance of her eventual passing gives me great comfort. I don’t try to change the subject or pretend that her best days on this earth are ahead.

Sometimes Muriel speaks practically about her death. Just this afternoon, she was sharing with me the details of her own funeral, as she has planned it: “…and after the graveside, we’ll come back and have sandwiches…” Other times, she longs for death as if it is a cracked door just beyond her reach.

At 94 years old, Muriel has lived a full life. Her stories of being a medical missionary in the Congo are rich. She tells me about her obedience to God’s call upon her life, even when it cost her dearly. Today we talked about the fiancee she left behind in the States because he didn’t share her love for the people of Africa. Sometimes she wonders what life would have been like if she had made different choices. But she always says: “God told me to go.” And I remind her of how she served countless people suffering in the leper colony, how she saved a woman’s sight after a viper spit into her eyes, and how her compassion and courage brought many to Christ. Muriel smiles and remembers that it was worth it.

When I visit with Muriel, and she talks about her life and her anticipation of death, I remember that sometimes we experience death in ways beyond the physical. Christ calls His followers to die to self-absorption. Surely Muriel died a thousand deaths to her own comforts and dreams. Her sacrificial life reminds me of a poem by C.T. Studd:

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done.”
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all.
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

I’ve visited Muriel for 3 years.  Muriel was losing her sight due to macular degeneration, and I volunteered to visit with her. Our visits at first, in her assisted-living apartment, were task-oriented. Muriel supported and prayed for missionaries across the globe. She wanted to keep up with their prayer letters, so I read her mail and organized her correspondence in a special file.  Always fascinating, I found Muriel to also be a bit gruff. Many times, she was very focused upon her letters being filed properly, but if I was lucky, I could get a story or two out of her.

This past year, my and Muriel’s relationship has changed. I sit with her as she lies in her bed in a nursing facility. She knows that she will never walk again and, unless the Lord calls her soon, she will be completely blind. Muriel used me to refer to me as her “reader.” Now she calls me her “friend.” We talk about love, life, and loss. Mostly about loss. But I believe that Muriel knows every word of every hymn ever composed. And when I read Scripture, she remembers. She asks for prayer for patience, that even with the loss of her dignity as she has known it, she will be a honorable testimony to her Lord. And patience to stay the course faithfully while she awaits her eternal reward.

When I say goodbye, Muriel says that she is glad that I love her and don’t treat her like “some chore.” I cringe inside because I truthfully felt stressed about taking time for her today. And I leave, and the leaves in the parking lot crunch under my feet. I remember that Muriel is dying, and how could I but be blessed and honored to spend this precious time with such an extraordinary woman?

A woman who makes dying look glorious.

Muriel’s ready anticipation of death is rare, I know. Her longing for Heaven is a reflection of her satisfaction with the life that she’s lived. Most of us aren’t so ready or satisfied. And while it is easy to say that Muriel’s death will be glorious, I can’t so easily say the same when someone is taken unexpectedly or too much soon or in the context of agonizing suffering and grief. Still, I take comfort in knowing that God is the God of all mysteries and the righteousness King. Death will not rob Him or His children of glory and ultimate victory. We trust that to live is Christ and to die cannot be but gain. Glorious.

Lord of heaven and life eternal, thank You for giving us Your Son. Thank You that His shameful death has brought us into a place of glory and everlasting hope.

1 Corinthians 15: 42 & 43 – Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength.

2 Timothy 4:7 & 8 – The words of Paul – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

1 Corinthians 15: 54 – 56 So this body that can be destroyed will clothe itself with that which can never be destroyed, and this body that dies will clothe itself with that which can never die. When this happens, this Scripture will be made true:

“Death is destroyed forever in victory.” “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”

Death’s power to hurt is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But we thank God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Philippians 3:20 & 21 – But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18- …though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.