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!

 

Spiritual Windows . . . .

Although it is the smallest room in our home–long and narrow, with windows lining two sides–our den has always been my favorite room in our home.  It is a wonderful place to observe squirrels running and birds of all sorts swooping between the trees and feeders in our backyard.  I especially love watching the first snow of the season quietly sift down and the contrasting scarlet beauty of cardinals against the sparkling whiteness–it leaves me breathless every single time.  Best of all, our den has been a quiet place to reflect, read, write or to spend time with a friend.

Windows change everything . . . .
Windows change everything . . . .

But what if there were no windows in that room?  Would the den have the same appeal? Humanly, I tend to think not . . . especially as I peruse a small bird book left by the previous owners of our home.  In that book, the visits of unusual birds sighted through our den windows have been recorded since the 1950’s.  Over the thirty years we have lived here, our family has excitedly added to that little book, our own sightings of various rare visitors.

Yet, I am challenged by the wisdom of John Newton*, who wrote about windows and light from a spiritual perspective more than two hundred years ago:

“All houses from the king’s to the laborer’s,
however they differ to other circumstances, agree in this:
that they must have windows whereby they may receive the light.
A palace without a window would be little better than a dungeon;
and a man would almost think himself buried alive in it.
Many splendid houses are dungeons with respect to spiritual light.
A believer would not bear the thoughts of living in any situation,
unless he enjoyed the light of the Sun of Righteousness,
and with this any situation is tolerable.”
(From Letters of Newton, pg. 138)

Where we tend to think about windows and light from a purely surface perspective, Newton urges us to go deeper by thinking in spiritual realities.

Indeed, apart from the blessing of a faith that sees beyond the immediate to the eternal,we are all short-sighted as to recognizing the blessings being worked out by God in this day of uncertainty.

 The Apostle Paul knew this when he wrote his second letter to his friends in Corinth:

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”
made His light shine in our hearts
to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory
displayed in the face of Christ. . . .

Therefore we do not lose heart.
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.

Now comes what is the “to do” part of opening up those spiritual windows:

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.”

II Corinthians 4:6, 15-18

There have been seasons when I have looked out our den windows and saw nothing but a dark hopelessness because of the heaviness of my heart–perhaps you have been there too?  Indeed, in such times when Christ seems furthest away, we all experience that spiritual dungeon Newton referred to in his letter.  Yet is has been during such times of despair, when I have opened my Bible–determined to focus not on my despair but on His Face–that the spiritual light and comfort of hope have ultimately prevailed.  It has been during such seasons that our den has provided,

  • A shelter to prayerfully confront the various storms that have threatened
  • It has served as a place to receive comfort and ultimate healing as God’s light has strengthened me in my brokenness.

Best of all, our den has been a place of celebration, as God’s Divine Will has been worked out though those storms, to draw me and those I love closer to Him.

Having suffered through the perils of facing cancer among family and friends during the past year, and still suffering the loss of several of them, I was grateful for John Newton’s wisdom as it opened up the windows of my mind and heart to appreciate the spiritual realities of  God’s Sovereign Goodness.  The good news is that you do not need a special room to open the windows of your mind and heart.  The light and hope found only through faith in Jesus, will open wide those spiritual windows as you determine to trust in Him.

Romans 15:13 is one of those windows in Scripture that saved me out of a season of darkness and fear; I pray that it will do the same for you:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

All to His Glory!

*John Newton, author of the classic hymn, “Amazing Grace” wrote his letter in 1774.

Light in Dark Places to Warm the Soul~

 
“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 
II Corinthians 3:18

Having grown up in Sunny Southern California, I am always captivated by the miraculous transformation of the landscape when snow falls.  The first “real” snow in our area was a “powdered sugar” kind of snow that demanded no fanfare but caught your breath with its quiet beauty.  What was fascinating about that particular snow was how it seemed to light up the darkness as it fell.  When my daughter commented the next day that she had to close the blinds in her bedroom to sleep because it was so bright, I knew exactly what she meant.

In a sense, the light of Christ transforms the landscape of the human heart, cleansing and filling the broken places with His peace.  No matter how dark life may appear, when we draw near to Christ in faith, the darkness is dispelled as the light of hope blankets and warms the soul.  Are you looking to lighten those dark areas in your life . . . perhaps to unhinge the icy fingers of bitterness or regret?

This week I was reminded of one of the best means of transforming the landscape of the heart as I worked with a young woman I have come to enjoy and respect.   Journey Notes Praise Journaling is a wonderful means of entering into the ongoing, personal soul-work we all need to stay fresh in our faith.    The young woman’s story is one of tragedy–raped at age 12, in and out of psychiatric hospitals after attempting suicide several times– until recently she lived a life sold out to drugs, rehab and more drugs.   Today, she marvels that she is still alive and is intent on getting to know God better.  We meet weekly, but the major work being done in her heart and mind is the conversation cultivated between her and her Lord as she does her Journey Notes.  In our last Session, I asked her if she wanted to share anything from her Journey Notes?  Her response immediately got my attention: “My voice has changed.”  I responded with a puzzled look and waited for an explanation.  She went on to say, “My Praises and Responses to what God says to me have changed.”  When she read some of her most recent entries I understood what she was saying; there was a new depth and passion expressed in her writing that wasn’t there before.  Ah yes, I have seen it before– the light of His Presence had filled and warmed her soul, dispelling darkness and giving hope.

What the Bible says is true, to contemplate the Lord’s glory is to be transformed . . .

“I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.”  
John 12:46 

Are you in a dark place right now or is there someone you want to encourage?  Maybe you are absolutely fine, but are looking for a fun way to add joy to your journey?  Then I strongly encourage you to consider giving Journey Notes Praise Journaling a try.  You can do it on your own or you might ask a friend to do it also; committing to meet weekly or bi-weekly to share what God has shown you.  Truly a wonderful means of entering His light to warm your soul.

All to His Glory!

FOUND!

I hate when I wake up in the middle of a dream, feeling lost and confused, not knowing where I am or where I have been.  A few mornings ago I experienced just such an awakening.  I dreamed that I was lost for what seemed hours and then, finally, found myself driving home to visit my parents.   It was then that I felt my body heave an involuntary shudder as I remembered that Mom is gone, Dad’s days on this earth are probably short and the home I grew up in was sold three years ago.  It was at that moment that the cold shudder of feeling lost and alone gripped my heart.

Trusting in God’s Goodness has kept me steady even as:

I have fought tears back when I have seen something Mom would have liked . . .
when thinking of Dad alone and confused in a strange place . . . 
realizing that what was . . . has been lost forever.

The temptation to separate myself from the festivities of Christmas–knowing that Christmas will never be the same–has been especially difficult.   Yet it is in those moments of suffering profound loss, that God has faithfully shepherded my heart with these verses:

” . . . 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
 
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
John 1:5
 

Even as despair has threatened I have been greatly comforted in remembering that,

No matter how dark life may appear, Christ’s Light dispels darkness like nothing else can.

Daily, He has drawn me into the Light of His Love, filling my heart to overflowing . . . not with a Christmas carol, but with the comfort of God’s boundless Grace in saving the lost:

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
 
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.  
How precious did that Grace appear  
The hour I first believed.  
 
Through many dangers, toils and snares  
I have already come;’
Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far  
and Grace will lead me home.
 

As the Celebration of Christ’s Coming draws ever closer, God has faithfully spared me further heartache with the wondrous truth that God came down to seek and save the lost–you and me!  Jesus taught in parables about God’s pursuit of lost things in Luke 15.  I especially love the picture He painted as the love of a father was poured out when his son returned home:

” Bring the fatted calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.‘  So they began to celebrate.”  (verses 23-24)

If you find yourself struggling this Christmas . . . give thanks that you are not alone and lean into to the Light of His Love–He is so very worthy of our trust!

Yesterday I was able to talk to my dad on the phone for the first time since having to leave him in early November.  He is still very sick but there was Joy in his voice, so very grateful to be back in his apartment for Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have asked about and prayed for my dad.  Merry Christmas!

Rejoicing in Him Always!