A Season To Remember . . . .

What comes to your mind when you think of Thanksgiving? My thoughts go immediately to familyfood and giving thanks to God–not just for the “stuff” in my life but for His Divine Presence.

 I remember one Thanksgiving traveling to Grandma and Grandpa Hutcherson’s house from our home in the Los Angeles area. The three-and-a-half hour journey, North from LA to Bakersfield and beyond to Pixley (a small farming community where my dad grew up) was never boring.  As we (Mom, Dad, my brother Norm, and I) made our way out of the busyness of the suburbs, we watched the sunrise in the east. We followed the old Highway 99 Grapevine–tmountainous yet devoid of trees (except for the occasional cluster of black oaks scattered across the dry, grassy landscape– it offered a unique beauty. As we followed 99 down to the wide expanse of the Central Valley, where oil fields and farmland commingled, our excitement grew–we were more than halfway to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!

When we finally reached Pixley we were grateful to stretch our legs as we got out of our car and exchanged hugs all around. Throughout the day, as more family arrived, there were always more hugs and lots of conversation, often spiced with gentle teasing and an abundance of laughter. Grandma Grace, a farmer’s wife and the mother of 6 children, always had things well in hand by the time everyone arrived.The fragrance of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy wafting out of her kitchen had us all salivating as we eagerly listened for the magic words, “Time to eat! Once everything was laid out and the call made, we filled our plates high with Grandma’s fixings and the numerous side-dishes other family brought for our Thanksgiving Feast. Reflecting back, with my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and several cousins now gone, it remains a little slice of heaven in my bank of memories . . .💝💝💝

This year . . . the year of COVID–Thanksgiving (and Christmas) will be very different from years past. The warm exchange of hugs will largely be missing and the sharing of food will likely be different too. In fact this holiday season will be one of mourning the loss of loved ones and facing uncertainty.  I don’t know about you, but with so much loss and the “restrictions” placed on many, the idea of any sort of traditional “celebration” seems almost impossible,

So how can we bring good (and perhaps discover blessing) during this tough, unexpected circumstance we find ourselves in? The wisdom of the Apostle Paul provides a timeless framework when it comes to living out God’s will in every season::

“Rejoice always, pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

  • Rejoice that when life seems out of control, God is still in control.
  • Pray for your concerns with the confidence that you are heard!.
  • Give thanks to God for watching over you, especially in the tough times.
  • Remember that God sees a larger picture than we do, as He works out His good and perfect will, for our good and His Glory.

How can we work this out practically? How can we bring more light (and with it hope) into this holiday season as we celebrate God’s Sovereign Goodness? Here are some thoughts  to help make this years celebration, is a season to remember:

  1. To be more intentional in “unwrapping” God’s gift of each new day–confessing fears/sin while asking Him to help us see His blessing throughout each day.
  2. Use whatever means available to stay connected with people–especially people you can laugh with to keep your spirits up. (I participate in three different Zoom groups each week that help me take my focus off myself as I connect with others.)
  3. Start a special Thanksgiving Journal –covering the holiday season through Epiphany. Fill it with a log of daily praises (add to it a list of the blessings you have received or witnessed during the past year.) Also include concerns and insights gained that day through people as well as in Scripture,.
  4. Watch for ways to help the needy. (It’s a fact that when we help others we are also encouraged.)
  5. I still plan on decorating my home this Season–focused on the Birth of Jesus–in the hope of encouraging hurting neighbors and friends. (No schlock this year!)

This morning I found comfort in Lamentations that lend a helpful perspective on why thanksgiving to God is so very important this year:

“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for Him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him,
to the one who seeks Him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.”
Lamentations 3:19-26

Yes, because of the Lord’s great love we have much to give thanks for. Please join me in giving thanks to Him for the hope that is ours in His Son.

What are some of your thoughts about celebrating the coming Season? Please share with the rest of us in the comments below!

All to His Glory!

The Bitter With The Sweet . . . .

BITTERSWEET is a word is we grow into over time.  It speaks to the disappointments and heartache that are part of life, yet refuses to let go of the vestiges of sweetness remembered.  The dictionary defines bittersweet as:

  • Arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain
  • Being at once bitter and sweet; pleasant but including or marked by elements of suffering or regret

Such is the definition of a life lived out fully.
Bittersweetness acknowledges the harshness of things broken or lost,
as it retains the memory of sweeter images past.

 Christmas is one of those seasons where bittersweetness abounds:

The Light of Hope shines through.
The Light of Hope shines through the darkness . . . .
  • Childhood memories of hope and excitement as the Big Day approached and family gathered together.
  • The shadows of candlelight playing against the walls during Christmas Eve Services as “O Come All Ye Faithful” was sung.
  • The joy of giving sacrificially out of love for the Savior.

Christmas is also is a season of reflection and remembrance of things lost or broken: relationships . . . people . . . health . . . hopes . . . and, yes, dreams never realized.

This past year was especially hard for my family and friends . . . tears still come easy as we remember those who are no longer with us.  Many dread the approach of Christmas, unsure of how to get through the bitter pain of loss:

  1. Some may choose to ignore Christmas–with hearts bitter toward God..
  2. Others will go through the motions of Christmas–not wanting to disappoint others, but find themselves numb within.
  3. Still others will choose to lean into the Hope of the Christmas Story-realizing that it was written especially for them.

Is there a way to navigate the pain of loss at Christmas?

Through personal experience I know that the third option is by far the best.  To ignore Christmas altogether, or to numb ones-self to the Celebration, too often leads to an ever-spiraling, dark despair that tends to rub-off on those closest to us.

The wisest choice is that of entering into the Light of Christ’s coming,
while embracing the Hope of His return.

After ministering to people struggling with brokenness and loss of every sort and in every season, it is always those who entrust their brokenness to the One who saves, who realize the blessing of a deepened faith that moves them forward:

“The people living in darkness
have seen a great Light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a Light has dawned.”
Matthew 4:16

This past week my burden was lightened by the sweetness of a video put out by Southland Christian Church in Kentucky.  I offer it to you as we navigate this Season of Celebration, in the hope that leaning into this retelling of the Christmas Story will sweeten your perspective as it has mine:

 

All to His Glory!

 

Hearts + Chocolate = Love . . . REALLY?

It was fun perusing Facebook last weekend to see what others had received on Valentine’s Day–flowers, chocolates and other gifts.  However, it was the comments written by single friends that touched me.  For many, our cultural emphasis so strongly bent on romantic love, makes the occasion a painful irritant to get through.  While there is nothing sacred about the day, I do believe that to remember the history behind the occasion provides a wonderful opportunity for Christians to love neighbors, friends and family “more deeply from the heart.” (I Peter 1:22)

I was grateful on that same day to find three posts (also on Facebook) that offered a healthier, more thoughtful way to rethink our approach to Valentines Day as a means of blessing others:

  • The first post was a blatant reminder of the gap between how our culture celebrates loving through romanticism, and the actual basis of Valentine’s Day–sacrificial love.  While our culture has largely reduced our understanding in commemorating the occasion with formula of Hearts + Chocolate = Love–Really?–we can richly benefit from the treasury of sacrificial love demonstrated by a man who truly loved God and his neighbors. 

“Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his
friends.”

John 15:13 (ESV)

  • The second post was a cartoon, taken from the cover of New Yorker magazine.  I totally related to the worry and doubt on the man’s face as he stared at the series of deadbolts and locks lining the inside of his door. Yet, when I saw the Valentine that someone had slipped in despite all off his precautions, I found it to be a healthy reminder that, while we may be tempted to hide in uncertain times, Christians are called to reach out t0 others in the love, hope and mercy of Christ.  Years ago I was challenged by a question someone asked, “If you were accused of being a Christian in a court of law, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”  Rather than allowing fear to rule us, we are called to love and serve others as we live out the gospel of hope.

    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."  I Corinthians 13:7-8
    It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
    Love never fails.” I Corinthians 13:7-8

“And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is LOVE.”
I Corinthians 13:13

  • The last post was very personal.  My second daughter, Amy, put up pictures of her family observing  Valentine’s Day in the tradition that developed as our family grew. When my children were small and we were living in England, I helped my daughters (then, ages seven and almost five) make heart-shaped baskets “woven” out of contrasting colored construction paper. We loaded the baskets with handmade valentine cards and small, heart-shaped candies imprinted with such messages as, “love” and “be mine.” Early the next morning, the girls and I left those baskets hanging on the door knobs of our landlord and several neighbors who had become friends. We snuck off quickly, leaving no trace of our identities . . . or so we thought! Later that morning I received several telephone calls, thanking us for the baskets. Puzzled, I asked how they knew it was us? One friend laughingly put it this way, “I saw it hanging on the door and thought, ‘It was the Americans!’. . . we don’t celebrate Valentines Day in this country!”  (It never occurred to me that Valentine’s Day was not universal!)  My children still have fond memories of the parties we threw to love neighbors and friends on Valentine’s Day.
Brother loving brother . . .
Brother loving brother . . .

It was after returning to the States and our children entered their teens that I proactively morphed our family tradition to a more personal level.  The change was prompted when picking up my oldest daughter as a freshman in high school.  It was Valentine’s Day and I was shocked to see so many girls walking out of the school carrying bouquets of flowers, balloons, stuffed animals and other “gifts” that had been delivered to them in school from their boy friends. (In a culture that is so focused on building self-esteem, I find it astounding that such a practice was (or is) even allowed!)  Desiring to override the confusion of equating self-worth and being loved by trivial gifts, we shifted gears within our family.  From that time until our children finally left home we made Valentines Day a special day we all looked forward to:

  1. Special cards were made for one another that were affirming to that sibling or parent that was especially esteemed–“I appreciate how you . . . . “
  2. We dressed up to share our meal in the dining room, where the table was set with our best dishes and candles we burning.
  3. Dinner was kept simple but special since it usually was a week-day.
  4. After finishing our meal came the best part: when we opened the cards stacked at the top of each place-setting we had made earlier.  Every card was read aloud and enjoyed as we took time to love each other.

It was interesting this week when I asked my children (long out of the family nest with families of their own) about their memories of those times.  They all said they enjoyed and looked forward to our family celebration.  The memory we all still laugh about was a card Luke (our youngest) made for Amy (at the time Luke was probably eleven and Amy almost 15) that said, “Dear Amy, I appreciate it when you leave me alone!”  (That one kind of slipped under the radar of what we hoped to accomplish, but it definitely reflected the tension between siblings and their parents so it was allowed.)  Another comment I heard, was how reading positive comments from their family at a time when the tensions of daily life seemed to prevail, was an especially sweet gift.

No matter what your circumstance may be, whether you are young, old, married or single, if you are a Christian I write to encourage you to consider looking beyond yourself for opportunities to love others.  We live in a hurting and increasingly dangerous world that tempts us to run, but if we will live our lives intentionally and sacrificially as a reflection of our love for God and others, the rewards will truly be out of this world!  Hearts + Chocolate = Love?  No way!

All to His Glory!

The Danger of Boredom . . . .

 

This week I enjoyed the positive slant of blogger Bunmi Laditan in her post, “Dear Kids: It’s OK to Be Bored,”  

“Boredom is not a problem to be solved. It is an itch to scratch. Boredom is the dawn of ideas. Boredom is curiosity knocking gently at your mind, asking to play.  Being bored is like sitting in front of a blank canvas. Boredom is infinite possibility. You are the captain of your own ship and before you lies an expanse of dark blue ocean and clear skies.”

I have never been able to figure out what people are trying to express when they say, “I’m bored.”  When our children were still at home and they made such a complaint, I took it to mean that they were inviting me to entertain them.  My response curtailed such complaints–“Bored people are boring people. We have plenty of radiators to wipe down . . . let me know and I will be happy to set you up!”  Funny thing, our radiators never did get wiped down (my children found better things to do) and they grew into amazing adults!

But as much as I might want to wallow in the positive perspective of Laditan, I remain convicted that there is a darker side of boredom . . . a dangerous aspect that warns us not to think of boredom as merely a phase people go through.  Webster’s 1913 dictionary affirms my conviction with this definition:

BORED: adj. 1. tired of the world; bored with life.
2. uninterested because of frequent exposure or indulgence. Opposite of interested.

Is it sinful to be bored?  Going by Webster’s definition . . . YES . . . ABSOLUTELY!

Certainly, God did not put us on this earth to be bored.  In fact, God’s plan was simple and rooted in blessing.  From the beginning of Creation, God deemed all that He had made to be “good”; we can infer from Genesis 3:8, 9 that God fellowshipped with Adam and Eve in the Garden until sin entered and spoiled everything.  I wonder if, at the root of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, was boredom to blame?  Had they forgotten the blessing of fellowshipping with God as they entertained doubts about God’s goodness?

What about when boredom morphs into depression as described in Jeremiah 17:5 & 6?

“This is what the Lord says:
 ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.'”  

(Verses 5, 6)

I must clarify here that not all depression is sin; much that happens in this world is depressing!  However, when we embrace boredom as “cool”; when we become disinterested or we disengage ourselves from relating to others . . . that is a definite indication of sin.  As I watch the news, I wonder if a souless-boredom is at the root of much of the senseless brutality being reported?  I ache for the victims of such evil as well as for their families. Yet I also mourn for the perpetrators living in the hell of dark hatred. Many times, when I see pictures of those who have committed such horrific crimes, the words of Jesus on the Cross flood my mind, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Hope-filled steps into the New Year . . . .
Hope-filled steps into the New Year . . . .

We live in a world where “bored” is “cool”, where the concept of God as a loving Redeemer is increasingly unknown, and where love and simple kindness are thought to be archaic.  So what are Christians to do?  As we press into the New Year, I offer the wisdom of the Apostle Paul who, while living in horrific, uncertain times, encouraged his friends to follow his example,

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:13, 14

Powerful stuff, right?  So get going!

All to His Glory!

“The Quiet of Now . . . . “

“The quiet of now . . . .” It is a simple phrase that tumbled into my mind one morning as I was writing praises to God in my Journey Notebook.  I remember being struck by how it expressed the delight in my soul as I was aware of His Presence.  “The quiet of now . . .” is not so much about silence (although there may be a “hush” that accompanies it) but has more to do with the cessation of physical or mental busyness.  It can be experienced in times of blessing as well as in the midst of trial and heartache.  “The quiet of now . . .” refers to those rare moments when the world becomes distant as God awaits our stepping through the doorway to Him.  It is in such moments that Hope reigns supreme to both delight and comfort the soul.

Yesterday morning was one of those times when “the quiet of now” entered the forefront of my praises to God.  Our home had rocked for a week as our family of eight adults and seven children enjoyed the rare treat of spending time together.  Laughter, good food, messiness of varying degrees, old friends dropping in and a beautiful snow were the hallmarks of our week.  Several times, I found myself thinking about Mary who, after all the events that occurred around Jesus’ birth, “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)  In like fashion, I tried to store away odd moments in my mind to be savored later:

  • The way our kids and their spouses enjoyed each other.
  • Watching how the three oldest cousins sensitively played with their younger cousins.
  • The laughter shared by the five bigger boys while sharing stories about sledding one afternoon afternoon.
  • The two youngest leaving gooey fingerprints on our den windows as they excitedly watched the squirrels and birds romp around the bird feeder in the snow.

Yesterday, with everyone gone it was quiet–almost too quiet,  It was then that I pulled out those freshly stored memories and laughed “in the quiet of now.”  (I laughed even harder last night, when I noticed those gooey fingerprints still gracing our den windows!)  It was truly lovely to share those memories with the One who ordained them from the beginning of time.

Are you yearning to experience such a moment?  Perhaps you are feeling harried by the craziness in your life or are discouraged by the seemingly quirky unfairness of how things are right now?  Psalm 46 lays out a helpful formula to lead us to “the quiet of now . . .” when life is falling apart.  It concludes with this direction:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Consider this breakdown–

Step One:

~ BE STILL ~

Step away from what you are doing when you can; ask Him to help you see a window in time to be with Him,  (I guarantee He will help you to do this!)

Step Two:

~ KNOW ~

 Stop focusing on your problems and discouragement.  Focus instead on the One who loves you.  Ask Him to help you to know Him more intimately than you do— He will help with this one too!

Step Three:

~ I AM GOD ~

Bow before Him as you give thanks that HE IS GOD, AND THAT YOU ARE NOT!  (It is always such a relief to set that one straight!)

Step Four:

~ I WILL BE EXALTED! ~

If you got steps one through three in order, then enter His Gates (“the quiet of now. . .”) with thanksgiving and praise!

One final thought on entering “the quiet of now . . . .”  Since the fall of man we have sought and failed to create our own heaven/peace on earth apart from God.  The Bible makes clear, we cannot enjoy such quiet/peace apart from the Peacemaker–Christ Jesus–who unabashedly pointed to Himself as the path that leads to quiet we crave:

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  
John 14:6

All to His Glory

The Blessing of “Hiccup Moments”~

To chose to laugh when things don’t go exactly the way we plan is a valuable skill to learn–especially when it involves what I like to refer to as, “hiccup moments.”* I experienced such a moment last week, and every time I think of it I still find myself with a cheesy grin on my face!  Here’s what happened:

I was attending my Bible study’s special Christmas Luncheon with about ninety women and 40+ children.  Prior to coming together for lunch the children sang several Christmas songs for the adult class, concluding the program with a rousing rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain” (one of my personal favorites.)  Their performance was loud and heartfelt, putting us all in an especially festive mood as we went into the multipurpose room for lunch.

One of the contributions I offer to the yearly Christmas Luncheon is a Birthday Cake for Jesus.  It takes a bit of planning and preparation but it serves as a beautiful reminder of the true meaning of Christmas:

Birthday Cake for Jesus

One cake iced with white icing.
Washable plastic holly or other greenery to go around the cake
21 red birthday candles (hard to find but worth the effort)
Any other relevant addition you have that tells part of the Christmas Story–I have a plastic star and a small baby in a manger I place in the middle.

This was the second year that the children were part of the luncheon (in previous years they had their own party) so they eagerly gathered around as I started lighting the candles.  I had planned to have some of the older kids light the candles as I talked about what each part of the cake symbolized.  However, I only had one of those lighter wands so I decided to light the candles myself, as quickly as I could, while talking about:

The white icing ~ Represents the Purity of Christ
The greenery ~ Represents Life Everlasting for all who trust in Jesus
The 21 red birthday candles ~ Remind us of the Royalty of Christ and the Twenty-One Centuries that have passed since Jesus walked on the earth 

Well, the candle lighting went more slowly than I planned and when I had about 12 of them lit I realized the lighter wand was running out of gas.  I grabbed one of the lit candles and asked a couple of the older kids to do the same on the other side of the cake to finish lighting them all.  I was down to the last candle when I noticed the littlest children in front of the cake were looking at me with slightly worried expressions on their faces.  I glanced down to see that one of the silk pieces of holly decorating the front of the cake had caught fire (hence the requirement for plastic that isn’t so flammable!)  I quickly tried to blow out the growing flames of the holly (as did several of the children) and suddenly it got very quiet in the room . . . the candles were all blown out and the cake was, quite dramatically splattered with the red candle wax across the top!

The children looked at me wide-eyed and stunned as I surveyed the damaged cake with lopsided candles that were too melted down to re-light.  I swallowed hard, and in the next moment found myself laughing as I heard these words come out of my mouth:  “Normally the candles would stay lit as we sang, ‘Silent Night’ and then ‘Happy Birthday to Jesus.’  Today we are going to use our imaginations as we think about Jesus as the Light of the world and sing our songs to Him.”  And that is exactly what we did!

Reflecting back, the memory of what Christ did was not lost, if anything, I think the messiness made it all the more precious.  The Christ Child was born in a barn filled with hay and smelly animals to parents who were tired and doing the best they could. There were no red candles, no greenery surrounding the feeding trough that held the baby.  Even so, it was an evening of divine mystery that caused the heavens to open up as angels sang and shepherds left their flocks to see the newborn King.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright
   round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
   sleep in heavenly peace,
   sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight;
   glories stream from heaven afar,
   heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

I have probably made forty or fifty Birthday Cakes for Jesus and have enjoyed the wonder of family, friends and strangers gathered to sing and savor those wondrous moments.  Yet for me, seeing the worried looks of those little children turn to wonder as we sang, was the best reminder of God’s Perfect Plan of Redemption.   Sometimes we have good intentions and get upset when our ideas do not pan out.  What I am learning is that there are times when we take ourselves too seriously . . . that blessing abounds in those “hiccup moments” as we learn to trust God more.

All to His Glory!

*A “hiccup moment” can be determined by answering the following question: “In the light of eternity, how big is this?”  If the answer is, that it is truly not all that important, then that can be referred to as a “hiccup moment.”