Monday, December 28, 2015

A Firm Foundation

Today I finally had a quiet moment to sit down and savor all your wonderful Christmas cards and letters.  Thank you to all of you who still carry on that tradition.  I thoroughly enjoy your family news and well wishes.  However, as much as I enjoy sending out cards, this is the first time I've failed to get that task accomplished, and so this will have to do.  

Last January, God pressed upon my heart this phrase, 'prepare the way for the Lord'.  I can now look back and see God's faithfulness to carry it out.  The hard ground of our hearts has been painfully plowed, the rough clods stirred up, broken and humbled, so that the presence of the Lord can be more evident in our lives.

For once upon a 2015 there were six little sheep belonging to the Shepherd.  They looked tasty to a big bad wolf seeking whom he might devour.  That wolf huffed and puffed but he could not blow the house down, for those sheep had built upon a sure foundation, anchored in Jesus Christ their Savior. When trouble came they ran pell mell to Jesus, who is not ashamed to call them brothers.

The year started on the mountain top with our annual youth winter retreat.  There we learned about being salt and light in the world.  But at the time of green grass and budding flowers the path plunged downward into a dark valley where shadows of shame loomed large. A crisis with a children's minstry, discovered the big bad wolf creeping down the chimney, totally unexpected. But he was met by the boiling pot of truth.

Later, I was tested in the orchard's of my lush Oregon stomping grounds where I visited my family. With my daughter Heather, we went on to attend my youngest brother's wedding in Seattle. The wolf was lurking in our travels but we hopped in the butter churn, our faith in action, and rolled all the way back home, safe and sound.

Not long after, my husband took the youth to the inner city of Chicago where the wolf sought to wreak havoc, but even there he could not break through, for our hope is fixed on the Shepherd.  He remains faithful.

However, the big bad wolf was not easily deterred.  He showed up again at the kitchen where my husband tore his rotatory cuff and found out that he has no cartilage in his shoulders. Because of the missing cartilage, the rotator cuff could not be repaired.  Hence, pain medication was prescribed. And the pain medication led to an ulcer which threatened to take his life.

Yet, God has done more than we can ask or think in His great provision and healing.  In the midst of these encounters with the wolf, we have been led to green pastures and been refreshed by the presence of our Shepherd.

In June we spent a glorious day at the sweet pea patch near a creek close to home.

We had a special time with Jeff's parents at our friend's luxerious cabin.

Jeff and I celebrated 25 years of marriage in our own beautiful mountains of the San Juans.  Earlier in the year, (before the injury to his shoulder), we coached a volleyball team together.  It was such a rich experience and good for our marriage as well.  We still keep in touch with those kids.

Heather was chosen for her dream job at a children's hospital in Ohio, where she is finishing her senior year of college in nursing.

Tyler recently received a job in his field of computer science.  After taking the fall semester off to work, he will be back to college in January.

Ivy is adjusting to high school while Summer is holding her own in 8th grade.

The year has certainly weathered our house, but it still stands, for no one, not even the big bad wolf, can snatch us from our Shepherd's hands.  We are weary from all the huffing and puffing, but not dismayed, for our lives are hidden with Christ in God.  We take shelter under the protection of His wings.

Christmas brings us full circle where we are enjoying the season with family and friends.  Thank you for touching our lives, each in your own unique way.  We are truly blessed beyond measure.

From our house to yours, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Joyful and Triumphant

Every year at this time I crave meaning. The emphasis on things, the fluff, and clutter, even the indulgent foods, shout so loud that the Bread of Life, my real sustenance, can seem dimmed and hard to find. Yet, God always brings His presence to the forefront in unexpected ways.

At times God has brought sickness or injury to turn my attentions toward Him. Other times it is financial strain, a move, or even the death of someone close to me. While these life difficulties add stress to the season, at the same time, I can look back and say they were a gift, for God made Himself known to me in ways I never imagined. He showed His faithfulness in the midst of them and brought me to the other side overflowing with His fullness . . . rich meaning.

These experiences enhance worship, taking it to a deeper level. Like the boy with his five loaves and two fish, I bring before the Lord what I have. I lay it out before Him. I present my worry, my sadness, my trial, and, miraculously, He gives grace upon grace. Yet, the process of laying my concerns at the feet of Jesus never comes without a wrestling match.

This year is no different. I'm fighting hard to align my will with God's. At first I resisted being forced to simplify, but now, in that simplicity, I'm finding great treasure. The deadlines rushing up to meet me, no longer matter. I can be at rest in the fact that Christmas cards won't be sent, there is no flurry of shopping, and no frantic cooking or endless decorating of cookies. Instead, there is great creativity in using the resources I already have around the house, and much delight in doing so. God is reminding me loud and clear that this world is not my home.

Yet, while I enjoy the creativity, I fight to keep my focus on eternal values because there is a constant pull towards the tangible expectations of how Christmas is supposed to look. The temptation to be short sighted is very real. And the lie lingers in my mind that I must be a bad parent if my children are disappointed.

However, as I'm choosing to fix my mind on Jesus, my eternal home is becoming more and more clear and I'm finding a joy which cannot be explained. I don't mean that I'm happy all the time. (My family can certainly attest to that!) In fact, the opposite is often the case. I've been grieving over the serious illness of my father-in-law and over a bondage that has captured a dear friend. But I'm learning and growing. I'm not the same person I was before. It may have taken my whole lifetime, but I think God is finally getting through to my thick skull, and that is this. Where I choose to settle in my thoughts determines where I dwell in my living. 

All this time, all those years, I never fully understood who I am in Christ. Oh, I knew it positionally, but allowed lies to crowd and clutter truth so that it could not always be worked out in my everyday practice of routine life. What a difference it makes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us! This baby, the Christ child, changes everything. Because He lives, I live. Not a mere existence, nor a drudgery, or a dread of the future, but joyful and triumphant living!  My circumstances do not matter, because meaning is not found there.  It is found only in a relationship with Jesus, the anchor for my soul. This Christmas, I sink deep into His embrace.  O the wonders of His love!

O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem,
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of angels,

O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Beautiful Feet

Waves threaten to capsize the boat, and He sleeps?  The danger is real.  The circumstances urgent. Likewise, the countdown to Christmas and the pressure to deliver has already begun with its contracting expectations. The strain is real and the pressure urgent.  Ready or not, the 25th will come. But this year is different . . . because of shoes, the shoes of peace.

I love the sparkly snow clad Christmas cards, the scenes of tranquility and the nostalgia of warm family happiness, but this kind of peace seems a dream, an ideal which eludes us all.  In reality, I need a peace that can stand in the misdst of turmoil, stress, deadlines, busyness, and noise.

This year, perhaps more than others, I have reason to be unsettled.  Torents have beaten violently against my house.  Between the failing health of my in-laws, my husband's recovery, and my children's growing pains, I enter some ominous territory I've never seen before.  The forecast brings monumental waves which would seem to be anything but peaceful.

Yet, as I enter this hoilday season, I'm finding a new understanding of the word peace, that it's found only in the anchor of my relationship with God.  Rather than a perfect setting with well behaved people, perfect gifts, and warm fuzzy feelings, I look to my standing in Christ.  I am accepted before God, not on whether I meet the image of a perfect holiday, but on the basis of His righteousness and His perfection.  That never changes.  Ever.  This peace with God provides a launching pad for peace with others, the peace of God which transcends all understanding.

Last year at this time I did not fare so well when it came to peace.   I allowed my circumstances to absorb my attentions.  I was so overwhelmed that they became all consuming.  I'm sorry to say I was rather prickly and disagreeable.  I entered the season lacking shoes of peace.

Yet, I learned something from those experiences, that peace is not passive.  Instead, I have to actively pursue it by focusing on the greatness of my Creator.  Does God really reign?  Is He truly in control of my life?  Can He tangibly provide for my needs?  Of course He can!  But so often I don't live by what I say.  Peace comes as I live with the awareness that God. Is. Big.  He's got this!  Every bit of it! Therefore, I can live settled, quiet, and peaceful, because I trust the One who rules my life.

With this perspective, I enter the season having my shoes of peace laced and ready to move forward.  My heart overflows with gratefulness, for I was once the object of God's wrath, but now, because of the blood of Jesus, I am the object of His great love.  He sent the perfect gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.  No wonder the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests."  (Lk. 2:14)

Christmas baking?  A clean house?  Perfect pictures?  A beautiful tree?  Lushious meals?  Exact gift? Some of this might remain undone, but it doesn't matter.  The pressure is off.  The reason?  I have what really matters, my life in Christ, and no amount of turmoil can change that.  

Both my dad and my father-in-law have commented on my square feet.  They are not very pretty by the world's standards, but God says, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 
'Your God reigns' ".  (Isa. 52:7)  Yes!  Turns out, I have beautiful feet afterall, for they are engulfed in the shoes of peace.  

Ignorance is not bliss!  When I forget who I am in Christ and do not realize the overwhelming fullness of the gift of Christmas, I become ungrateful and unsettled.  I worry about many things. However, to know this great work of God and His involvement in my life provides a rich foundation because I "stand firm...with my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace." (Eph. 6:15)  Therefore, I can sing this song with confidence.

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing remains.

God's love never fails, never runs dry, never runs out on me,
On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul 
And I never ever have to be afraid,
For God's love remains.  
(by Kristian Stanfill)