Immanuel: God With Us

image courtesy david bowman davidbowmanart.com

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:22-23, quoting Isaiah 7:14

He comes.
And He stays with us.
Not as a visitor some cold Christmas Eve in a feed-trough of hay.
But as a Friend near to our arms and hearts,
Sitting beside us by the fire,
A fire of homeless night finger-warming,
Or a fire of granite-hearth living space,
He comes and stays,
Sharing our joys and our pains,
Our homelessness and our nestled-ness.
He comes and delights in us,
He comes to share with us,
He comes to listen,
He comes to impart.

He loves,
He encourages,
He welcomes,
He comforts.
And He stays,
Near,
Arm-around-our-shoulders close.

He is here.

In our fear,
In our hope;
In our desperation,
In our delight;
In our despair,
In our overcoming;
In our suffering,
In our exultation;
In our so-near-we-can-feel-His-heartbeat,
In our so-cold-our-fingertips-and-hearts-are-numb.

In our bitter memories,
In our best imaginations.

In our days of chemo,
In our days of promotion;
In our days of foreclosure,
In our days of dreams-come-true;
In our days of dark almost-dying,
In our days of magical wonder.

In our nights of longing,
In our nights of dreaming;
In our nights of babes in pain,
In our nights of overjoy.

He comes.
He stays.
He calls.
He heals.
He holds.
He understands.
He strengthens.
He redeems.
He celebrates.

Above all,
He comes and does not leave.
Ever.
Forever.

Immanuel,
God with us.
Finally.
Forever.

Blessed Christmas-tide-and-forever friend,
Welcome, Jesus.
And thank You.

Merry Christmas!
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When I Consider Your Heavens

courtesy of Fine Arts Media

courtesy of Fine Arts Media

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory
in the heavens… Ps 8:1 (NIV)

Defeated, my head slumped onto the nearest pile as scraps of ideas and budget receipts cascaded to the floor.  Papers jeered, “See ME? I’m the proposal that was due last WEEK!”

Never mind the mess, I was too tired to deal with screaming middle-of-the-night reminders. Extricating myself from the buried desk, I shuffled upstairs toward the bedroom.

With no moonlight, I was relieved that my feet knew the way.  I glanced up to the hallway picture window, for no reason, and gasped as a gleaming star show pulled my eyes from the dark steps. Like a vacuum suddenly filled with air, my heart drew in the radiance and wouldn’t let it go. I stopped mid-step and eased myself onto the window seat, entranced. There, there were the dazzling spots of light balanced in a dance called a constellation

On this first crisp fall night, the brilliant sparkle flooded my eyes and my spirit with wonder.  Orion’s belt blazed, diamonds dangling, tempting me to reach and touch a crystal mobile.  The stars burst through the darkness with glow so bright leafless trees created silhouette borders.  When did constellations get this large, I wondered?

No one demanded I put down the briefcase of anxieties, but who would want to carry it when faced with a celestial display of Christmas lights?  Thoughts of unfinished lists, overflowing folders, and demanding commitments melted down to size; even the warm bed just steps away lost its appeal.  Gradually, my weariness lifted as I marveled at God’s fancy in spilling diamonds so artfully.

‘When I consider thy heavens… What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” I pondered with the psalmist.

At peace, I waited. Silent. Still. Aware that the God of the Universe was pointing beyond the stars to His stunning Son.  “Look,” He was saying, “He’s coming. Just as the seasons tell you each year that His advent is near, so I’m saying again, watch and wait.  He’s dazzling. His promise is near.  Just as the stars surprise you each fall, He will amaze you again with His beauty and His coming.  Look, look at My display!”

And so, this Advent, I wait. The papers and to-do-lists may overflow, but God visits His people, and the heavens tell of His glory – dazzling like the stars, the Son is coming!

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Pink Purple Ice and Shepherds’ Joy

image courtesy Marion Owen Photography

image courtesy Marion Owen Photography

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15

Pink-purple ice glints in the sunlight on the smooth slate patio stones.  My head knows it must be the sunlight from the east, refracting a bit of the spectrum perfectly on these small ice crystals from yesterday’s snow, but my heart still wonders at the out-of-place colors.

My mind free-associates to the pink and purple advent candles which usually grace our kitchen table this time of year.  Pink and purple, often-forgotten advent colors in the Christian church liturgical year.

Pink (or rose), the color of Joy.  I’m used to white, but pink startles me and forces me to remember its meaning.  The “shepherd’s candle,” the rose candle in the advent wreath, marks the third Sunday of Advent.  The shepherds — poor, despised, wandering, and dirty — faithfully tended their sheep and responded with pure joy and amazement when they saw the angel and gradually awoke to the coming of their prophesied redeemer-king.

Purple, the color of repentance and fasting most often associated with Lent, is equally appropriate at Advent when we await the coming of Jesus. Traditionally, we prepare our hearts for that humble Arrival; more commonly I “try” to focus on the coming of Jesus, but I’m quickly immersed in cookie-baking, card-mailing, present-finding and house-decorating. Jesus takes a back seat to the mad dash of preparations.

How appropriate, to find pink and purple glistening snow on my patio.  The colors remind me again to stop and think:  How often have I welcomed Jesus with the gritty joy of the homeless itinerant shepherds?  The shepherds had so little and rejoiced so much.  Ironically, I have so much and rejoice so little.  How can I reflect this pink and purple light?  Can I open my eyes and humbly (and unabashedly) celebrate?

If “repent” means “to change,” this is one change I can make! The cards will be late (though the cookies are being made).  The presents may not be very creative this year.  But celebrate Jesus….

I move further away from the window.  Gradually, the sun moves south-westward and the ice returns to white and shiny grey, normal colors for the frigid winter landscape.

As I sit down to write, pink and purple ice crystal reflections color my mind and my heart takes notice. It listens, waits,  turns a little bit more toward Jesus, the coming King, and I smile.

Blessed Advent!

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God’s Trump Card

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image courtesy Diana Symons

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:15 (NIV)

It was not a good night.  Whether hormonal, emotional, or distracted by ADD, my racing brain sent too many thoughts whirling through my inner space; the distance between me and Jesus seemed to grow by the minute.

“Appreciation story,” the book said, and I groaned. Not another gimmick.  Our friends sat across from us, scribbling notes quickly, engrossed in finding just the right descriptions, just the right stories.  As a group leader, I had to participate whether I liked it or not, but anxiety ate at my composure .  I knew all about “appreciation stories,” short descriptions of someone or something that had brightened the day.  I did not, however, like to cover over my feelings with behavior that a friend once termed “relentlessly positive.”

Sighing loudly, I scratched out some thoughts.  They were not lies, I assured myself.  I really did appreciate my friends.  Their smiles were lively and their eyes were warm and reassuring.  Their prayers and hugs pointed me to Jesus and away from distress.  Now if I could just tell the story and mean it.

Another deep breath.  Before I knew the words to say,  I started talking  It wasn’t hard, really, to tell these people I loved…. that, well, I loved them.  It wasn’t hard to tell them that I always looked forward to seeing them, to sharing, to praying; that I was truly grateful and I appreciated the part they played in my life. I described how tense I was coming in and how calm I’d feel leaving.  We laughed, they empathized, they agreed.

And, just like that, my anxiety left.  The distance between me and Jesus?  Gone.  The nagging doubts and self-judgments?  Not a trace.  Whaaaa?

I should have known.  Well, I DID know.  I’d read it, but I hadn’t believed.  In the brain, anxiety and gratefulness occupy the same space, experts say, and you can only process one at a time.  So all anxiety had to leave when gratefulness showed up.

Gratefulness opens the gates of Heaven.  I can’t be anxious at the same time I am expressing appreciation. Intimacy with God follows close behind.

It’s not a gimmick, it is a key.  I don’t have to manufacture appreciation – it’s there all around me every day.  I genuinely do appreciate the amazing gifts of God, the wonders of nature, the amazing skill of my doctor/surgeon, the kindness of my neighbor, and the dear servant heart of my husband (who makes the dinner and washes the dishes without me asking!)

This is just one step further.  I need to tell, with my mouth, TELL the stories.  I have to describe my emotions, how grateful I feel, what I love about Jesus, what I appreciate about these dear people.  And the very telling and reliving of the story realigns neural pathways and replaces anxiety with gratefulness and joy. Amazingly, I am as grateful as my story says I am!

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Road to Emmaus

Life alternately sputters and races, drags and dances.  I tussle with the calendar and the to-do list, trying to wrench them into some semblance of symmetry.  I endure the mundane, press through the necessary, wait for the extraordinary.  Conditioned to cycles of high and low, I yearn for the mountaintops:  trips, vacations, conferences, speakers, events, set-apart times.

“The mountaintops change me,” I say to myself as I pack too much into my schedule and race blindly from to-do-list to task. “If I could only..” I long for breakthrough, fantasizing about it the way a desert traveler fixates on an oasis, only to find a mirage.  The analogy works – the mountaintop breakthrough never materializes.

Instead, like the two followers of Jesus who encounter a Jesus they don’t recognize on the road to Emmaus, I most often find breakthroughs in the daily mundane doings of life, while working, walking, talking, driving, cooking, cleaning, checking mail or chatting.

Jesus transforms my worldview, one bit at a time, but I rarely see Him in the moment…

Until, suddenly, I know He is there.  I can see His handprint all over my day, my conversations, my opportunities.  My worldview changes as I suddenly understand:  I am not alone.  My life moves from realization to revelation, and then…  then I can live above the lists and the obligations, in the moment of the day-to-day.

There are stories here, in these mundane moments.  Grace stories – oh, how I need those grace stories!  Learning stories.  Laughing stories.  Studying stories.

These are the stories…   from along the road, my rbyoad to Emmaus.

Will you walk with me?  We will learn together….