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2020 in the Rearview Mirror

I cannot say that I am sorry to see this year go. It has been a very different year. A friend asked the question, “What 2 things most shaped the trajectory of 2020?” The obvious first answer is COVID. But, what is the second thing that radically reshaped 2020? And additionally, what changes swept in by the pandemic are here to stay?

I am not sure of how to answer the questions and I my answer would be fluid anyway. I do know, however, that some things never change. Every year has hard times, tragedies, happy memories, births, weddings and deaths, in spite of Covid, politics and natural disasters. Every person has things they can “control” and events and choices that are out of their control. While people can individually change the trajectory of their own lives, history is shaped by great currents such as economic and social changes rather than by individuals, although sometimes an individual and the times they live in do meet to produce dramatic change. It can be argued that the religious changes would have taken a different course without Martin Luther or that the Russian Revolution might not have led to Soviet communism without Lenin and Stalin. Even though Hitler impacted history, the trajectory of the world stage with regard to prejudice and genocide were already there and they still are!

The one and only exception to an individual person changing and shaping the trajectory over every event and person is Jesus. Only God has changed history. Only He can effectively alter one’s eternal course. He is the same yesterday, today and forever and at the same time He alone changes EVERYTHING!

So may the One who changes everything continue to shape my life in 2021 for eternity. And may He get all the credit.

Longing for the Light

This was an instagram challenge offered by Beth Walker but I chose to do it on my blog.

In the Christian tradition, Advent is a season of waiting, a season of looking for the light, a season of hope for a brighter tomorrow. At the end of 2020, we have never needed Advent more.To mindfully walk through Advent this year, some of my writing friends and I are going to use these prompts. If this sounds like a meaningful practice, we would love for you to join us!!

Each day of advent sit with each word for a few moments and see what you notice. What image comes to mind? No rules, just post a photo that represents that word for you.

29. DARK I am not a fan of the dark, unless it is chocolate or the night sky with the stars, the moon and feeling the quiet sounds.  This picture is one example of hopefulness that shines out in the darkness. The sound of joyful song from this Christmas Caroler; it was actually better in the dark!

While there are benefits to darkness, I still prefer daytime! As I reflect upon the dark I think about how important Jesus’ arrival means for the world.  

DARK

2 Cor. 4:6  For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Psalm 18:28 For You light my lamp; The Lord my God illumines my darkness.

30. COMFORT For many the Christmas season is not comfortable or comforting. I love the comfort of my bed and blankets. They are like hugs!

Thankfully the Lord offered comfort through the promise made long ago. The joy of  God’s embrace through the coming of Christ the Savior is the most comforting reality.

COMFORT

Ps. 94:19 And when I was burdened with worries, you comforted me and made me feel secure.

1. ANTICIPATE – I know that most people tend to think that anticipation is related to looking forward to something, but not always. Sometimes, when I am looking forward to my Amazon order or a specific letter to come, I can hardly wait! But anticipating bills or jury summons is not a happy thing to anticipate. We tend to expect the worst so sometimes it is hard to imagine or anticipate the positive side of things! But as we anticipate the Lord’s return we practice looking forward with smaller celebrations like Christmas.

ANTICIPATE

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

2. MEMORY Remembering one’s past life is important to appreciate the grace of God extended in Christ. After all, how could we celebrate the Lord for His grace and mercy shown to us if we can’t remember what we were forgiven for? On the other hand, the scriptures also indicate that the mistakes of our life of earth will not diminish our joy once we reach heaven. These photo books remind me of the joyful memories I have already known.

MEMORY

Prov. 10:7 The memory of the righteous will be a blessing.

3. GRIEF Rather than moving on, overcoming and leaving it behind, grief is actually a new way of living. Change is the constant of the universe.  Life is shaped by loss and everything changes, even when we want it to stand still.  We lose possessions, games, physical capabilities, relationships, people we love and the key is to remember that eventually we will all lose everything in this life. Grief is part of the landscape of life. It made itself at home long ago and yet I realized its presence in a profound way when my life partner left earth. It is always there and I ignore it in the same way that I function with a low grade headache or keep eating popcorn when I am already full.  Yet sometimes it still startles me.

All my longings for what might have been, for what has been lost and for a happy ending are actually echoes of hope. This is a picture of me at Jim’s memorial service, when my greatest grief journey began.

GRIEF

1 Thess 4:13  Now we do not want you to be uninformed, believers, about those who are asleep [in death], so that you will not grieve as the others do who have no hope.

4. PROMISE Over 40 years ago I made promises to Jim when we were married. These rings are a reminder of those promises. Similarly, There are many promises of God. He keeps them all!, and all of them find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, “the radiance of God’s glory. No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.

PROMISE

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

5. LONGING Our longings are not ends in and of themselves. Instead, they are indicators of where we have placed our affections and security. Longings reveal our inherent need for something outside ourselves. God uses our longings to urge our hearts to search for that which will satisfy us like nothing else!

We all want for things. We long for the good old days. We miss people. We count the days until we can go places and do things again (like Disneyland). We even look forward dreamily to the distant future of life yet to come. We long for normalcy, for connection, for corporate worship, for a vaccine and recovery. Yet in the long seasons of waiting, we can find peace and joy. We can know the hope because God is there. I never want to forget what longing feels like and never again take for granted what I have had. Since all our longings are an opportunity to direct our focus to the One who fills all our desires completely, may I learn to long most for Christ and His glory and my real home!

LONGING

Ps 107:9 For he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness

6. WAIT Getting ready and staying ready while waiting are a challenge. It is even harder because the date of the second coming is a random date out in the future and that almost makes it easy to put off getting ready. The sense of urgency and excitement are difficult to maintain during the in-between times of life. I think about the in-between times of my life and the feelings I have while I have waited and prepared. This picture of an hourglass reminds me that we cannot hurry time. We wait.

  • I have been excited and nervous waiting for the birth of my children.
  • I have been anxious and afraid waiting to get the results of Jim’s biopsy.
  • I have been impatient waiting in long lines or for a package to come in the snail mail.
  • I have been defeated, discouraged and tired waiting for things to change like weight loss or enough money saved to pay off a bill.
WAIT

Ps 33:20 We wait on the LORD; he is our help and our shield.

7. WONDER Signs and wonders is a common phrase in the Bible. It conveys the idea of surprise and awe, mingled with beauty and a sense of the inexplicable. Kids own wonder. It’s part of their sensory awareness as they walk through the world seeing it with a different gaze, with focus and seemingly at the ground level. .  What would it take for me to walk out this Advent season of preparation in a state of unencumbered wonder? I have to retrain myself to experience the world anew, to open my eyes and see, taste and touch for the first time.

The beauty of the night sky tends to draw me back into the wonder of His vast glory and his intimate thought of me.

WONDER

“Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? Ex. 15:11

8. WANDER The idea of wandering at advent time is connected to the wisemen who made a journey, not sure of where they were going until they got there! Tolkien says that, “not all who wander are lost.”  These nomads journeyed with purpose to find the true King, to worship him.  May I search for the One whose birth makes all the difference, the God who crawled into human skin and died so that I might live. I am meant to wander and to follow wherever He leads so others will also kneel before my King.

WANDER

Psalm 119:10 With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments.

9. EMBRACE I want to hold on tight and never let go. I miss hugs in this new reality where they are scarce but when I close my eyes I can feel them all over again and I find warm joy. Embracing implies comforting, consoling, celebrating, cuddling and acceptance. God embraces us and holds us close and His embrace was first and willingly and transformative. My brother’s embrace of his own son, Jonni, on his wedding day reminds me that while we are slowing “let go” of our own kids physically we hold them close forever.  It’s a reflection of a God who never lets go of us! He gathers us in His arms and carries us close to His heart.

EMBRACE

Phil. 3:12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. 

10. LOVE It is hard to capture love in a single picture. In the end, I chose this one of Jim with our kids because it reminds me of the love of our heavenly Father.  Jim’s love is a small example of the deeper love that came unconditionally, sacrificially, complete, affirming and gentle. Perfect and amazing love that chose to come from the glory of heaven to live and die so that I might be loved forever! Love is. Always.

LOVE

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

11 CHILDLIKE I love this picture of Em and Alex, but then one of my friends posted this cute pic of her 2 youngest playing on the trampoline yesterday. Both are great examples of what defines childlike! Kids are happy and curious. They ask a lot of questions! They are full of trust and hope. They persist and don’t give up easily. Kids have a short memory, forgive quickly and live in the moment with wonder, enthusiasm and hope. Though we cannot recapture our youth we are called to have faith like a child along with passion for living. Creativity and playfulness actually grows knowledge, wisdom and discernment.

Experiencing the life of God in this life requires humility like a little child. In what way? Not by remaining ignorant, for God gave us Scripture so that we might learn, grow, mature, reason and become students, disciples, and followers of Jesus Christ. So, like a child, may I always have fun. Laugh. Play. Imagine. Sing. Dance. Hope. Dream. Forgive. Create. Trust. Live life to the full. Be excited. Be adventuresome. Be tender of heart. And most of all, love. Living this way will see the kingdom of heaven rise  in my life.

CHILDLIKE

Mark 10:15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it

12 FAMILY This is a picture of my family. I am so proud. We were made for relationships. We know who we are in relationship to other people We define ourselves by relational terminology. I am a child, sister, wife. mom, aunt, cousin, and more. We use these terms to explain relations to those around us. Isn’t it great to be a part of a family? It provides an assurance of being a part of something bigger than oneself.  God has emphasized throughout the Scriptures that He created mankind to be in relationship with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. But more importantly, God’s Word emphasizes the need to be in a relationship with Him, to be a part of His family. We were created to be in relationship with God, and therefore He established the family and adopts all believers into His family as sons and daughters. God wants us to gain our identity from a relationship that’ll never end: our relationship with His family.

FAMILY

PS. 133:1 Look at how good and pleasing it is when families live together as one

Joshua 24:15b But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

13. MYSTERY “How did he do that?” is often said when people watch a magic trick. Jim’s magic was just tricks but the real mystery is “How and why did Jesus do that?” Wow! A miraculous child who would be a Wonderful Counselor and a Prince of Peace came. This child would lead his kingdom with justice and righteousness.  The infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Son of God took on a human nature: finite, limited in power, limited in knowledge, limited in space and time. It’s one thing to claim God would ever do such a thing. It’s yet another to suppose God could ever do such a thing—that he could clothe himself with frail humanity, veiling his divine glory without relinquishing for one moment any aspect of his divine nature. 

It’s a further mystery that this God-man would live a life of obscurity, poverty, and suffering. Who would have predicted that? Surely if the Creator-King of the universe were to visit us in human form, his coming would be trumpeted from the highest heavens, heralded on every street corner, and accompanied with all pomp and ceremony. And the crowning mystery: the Son of God lived to die. The ultimate reason he was born as a man was to die as a man

And can it be that
I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?

Can it be? Yes—he died. Yes—he died for me. Hallelujah! This is mystery upon mystery upon mystery.

MYSTERY

Col. 2:2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself,

14. SILENCE Last fall I was in Oberndorf, Austria, and had the opportunity to go visit the chapel on the site where the famous Christmas Carol Silent Night was first sung. In the early 1800’s  Salzburg went from a wealthy church state, due to gold and salt,  to a poor, war ravaged and demoralized place. Joseph Mohr , a struggling priest who shared in the despair and poverty of his townspeople, wrote a poem about a different time and place, a quiet and hopeful story of the Savior, also born into trouble and poverty, that transcended his own city. 2 years later he was a priest in neighboring Oberndorf. On Christmas Eve the church organ was broken so Mohr gave his poem to the organist, Franz Gruber, who set it to music on the guitar.

For me, my favorite carol, Silent Night captures the notion that we all long for in a world that still seems dark and difficult.  Because of the dawn of redeeming grace through the Lord Jesus, we can have peace and calm every night!.  

Zephaniah 1:7 Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near, For the Lord has prepared a sacrifice, He has consecrated His guests.

15. GIVE Gift giving is a practice that reminds me of the best gifts I have ever received, most of which are intangible and from the hand of God! These are gifts that our church is giving this year as a reminder that we can imitate the great Gift-giver, but we can never outgive Him! Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

GIVE
GIFT

James 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

16. SPARKLE By definition sparkle means to shine brightly with flashes of light. The Bible makes it clear that the way we sparkle is to look to Him. It’s that simple! When we are in the middle of a pandemic, look to Him! When we have no strength to face the situations of the day, look to Him. When we are sad and lonely, look to Him. When we are happy, look to Him. When everything is going well, look to Him. Look to Him and sparkle!

Ps. 34:4, 5  I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant [translated sparkle], and their faces shall never be ashamed.

17. CELEBRATE The most recent celebration I enjoyed was the World Series Dodgers win. God loves a celebration. He actually commanded several and Jesus spoke of the celebrations of the kingdom to come. During Advent, the church looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people. There is one thing we can always celebrate: Jesus died and rose again for us. Jesus said, ‘For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it’ (12:47). The story of Christ – his advent, his suffering, his death and his rebirth is a story of resilience worth celebrating. Death is not the end and grief does not have the last word. Eternal and abundant life, because of God’s incomprehensible grace, WINS!

Deut. 26:11 a You will celebrate all the good things that the Lord your God has given you and your family,

18. ACKNOWLEDGE So far this is the most difficult word to find a picture for, but in the end I chose a picture of the front of the Worship Center at church, where we regularly gather to acknowledge Jesus in worship.  Not everyone acknowledges that the Messiah came the night of that first Christmas, but the only and best response is to worship as the shepherds and Wisemen did. Advent acknowledges our need for a Savior and all the brokenness that brought Him here in the first place. One day every knee will bow and every tongue confess (acknowledge) that Jesus is Lord, but the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose (acknowledge) Him now.

ACKNOWLEDGE

Prov. 3:5,6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

19. CONTENTMENT This picture of Gene and Louise (my grandkitties) is a great picture of contentment. The idea of being settled and finding hopeful rest because we have a God who loves and saves. Being content has a lot to do with desires – subtracting desires for things that we can’t get our hands on or that wouldn’t satisfy us even if we did, and increasing our desire for that which truly satisfies and is offered freely, an offer inaugurated with the birth of Jesus, which is what Christmas was originally all about. Learning to be grateful turns what we have into enough.

CONTENTMENT

Phil. 4:12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing.

1 Tim. 6:6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.

20. TREASURE I have many “treasures”, which includes lots of “stuff”, amazing relationships, sweet memories, and spiritual riches. The treasure of Christmas is the greatest treasure of all – a babe in the manger. Emmanuel. God with us. (This is a Venetian glass nativity I bought in Italy last year!)

2 Cor. 4:7But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

Matt. 5:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

21. PEACE This is a picture of the Sea of Galilee at peace. Jesus calmed the storms of Galilee much like he brings peace to my soul. “Peace on earth” is often said at Christmas time and sometimes I wonder where that peace is? Is it even a possibility? Jesus offers a solution for peace when He teaches people to love one another, even their enemies. Imagine if every single person, group, culture, and country in this world learned to love each other and their enemies; there truly would be world peace. Even more, the Prince of Peace served to make peace between people and God. Just as when He said, “Peace. Be Still.” to the storm, Jesus came to restore our broken relationship with God so that we could first experience wholeness and peace with ourselves, and then extend it to others around us. “Shalom” is a Hebrew word that signifies “peace” or “more than well.” Jesus was the perfect example of “shalom” lived out; the ancient meaning of “shalom” as a greeting signifies, “May you live in anticipation of the day when God makes things whole again.” Shalom!

Is. 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Col. 3:15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

22. JOY What brings joy to the heart of God? What makes Him happy? Kindness. Justice. Righteousness. Knowing Him and being known by Him. Yes! But, perhaps it is enough to know that He is the most joyful being in the universe and that He is not committed to my personal happiness; rather, He is committed to my holiness, which has the added bonus of bringing both of us abundant joy! This little girl (Me, Christmas 1960) looks very happy opening that present! But I was even more joyful when I opened the gift of eternal life!

John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 15:11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

23. LIGHT This little light of mine- I’m gonna let it shine…Thank you Jesus for leading me out of darkness and into your light and life! (I took this picture in an upper room in Israel)

John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

24. STAR Finding Jesus = Exceeding great joy! The Bethlehem Star (Jupiter & Saturn) shone on winter solstice this year!

STAR

Dan. 12:3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.

Matt. 2:10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

Christmas 2020

Merry Christmas!

One of my practices every November is to take time to list some of the blessings for which I am thankful. This year is no different! Every blessing God pours out I want to turn back to praise.

Nov. 1 My kids bless me and I thank God for them every day! Emily OsbornConnor OsbornClayton Mohler make me a better person and I am stunned by the privilege of being able to call them “Mine”.

Nov. 2 Every Blessing Turned to Praise – I am blessed with the rare privilege to be raised in a great family. I am who I am because of the people who faithfully and lovingly hold me up and hold me accountable everyday for my whole life. Thank you Lord for my family

Nov. 3 Every Blessing Turned to Praise – The blessing of freedom is a privilege and a responsibility. Thank you Lord for the beautiful gift of freedom: The air I breathe. The travels I can take. The land I love. The rights I appreciate as an American citizen. The peace I experience. The joy of speech, art, music, and their daily expressions. And for the grace, love, hope, mercy, and forgiveness that is mine to enjoy—freely. It is a freedom to do good to all around me and bring glory to Your Name.Be free and do good – “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.”—1 Peter 2:16

Nov. 4 Every blessing turned to praise! The blessing of choice is amazing! God loves me enough to allow me to choose. He doesn’t require me to check off a list of directions. Rather, God lets—no, expects- me to use my good brain to make wise plans. He made me smart, and by choosing I get smarter, even when I make a poor choice. The fact that I have choices is one of God’s loving blessings for which I am grateful. I can choose to be grateful. I can choose to see the glass as half full. I can choose joy. I can choose to be kind. I am given a fresh start every day entirely new and full of opportunity. “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,” Deut. 30:19

Nov. 5 Every Blessing turned to Praise. I have never needed to convince anyone that good things are blessings, but I am reluctantly grateful for the blessing of sorrow which has connected me to the comfort of God’s presence, given me hope and a more eternal perspective, and allowed me the privilege of loving others who are brokenhearted. God is brilliant at using all of my life, including pain and loss, to create a perfect work. 10 years without Jim is not long compared to the many happy memories with him and the many blessings I have enjoyed since opening the gift of sorrow.

Nov. 6 Every Blessing turned to Praise. Humans were made for community and I am going gush as I state that true friends are a blessing. I am so grateful for the people in my life today (and over the last 60 years) that have allowed me to be vulnerable, honest, silly, and creative. More than that, they have trusted me with their secrets, their time and their hearts.  We have made memories, shared adventures, laughed and cried together. We have encouraged, listened, hugged, held each other accountable, inspired and without them I would certainly have lost my way. Friends are a joyful way of knowing the Lord even better. With much love always!

Nov. 7 Every blessing turned to praise. Today I am glad for the blessing of home. Home is the place where one belongs, where there is respect and safety and love. Home is somewhere you can always go for it is not only a place, it is a state of mind. One day I will go to my real home that God is preparing for me! Sometimes home is a person; I long for Christ to be at home in my heart (Eph. 3:14-21).

Nov. 8 – Every blessing turned to praise. Now I could thank the Lord for the best blessing I have ever known in this life – my husband Jim, who would have been 65 today, and I do often. But, in part because of Jim, I am even more mindful of the value of and blessing of laughter. Laughter lets people understand each other even if they don’t say what’s in their hearts. Just as there is a saying that goes, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, but we’re happy because we laugh,” I am convinced that perspective is changed by the way we choose to respond. I work to remember that laughter shines more brightly when I am exhausted and in despair. Many of you know about Jest in Time, the humor business that Tibby Cornelius and I started many years ago. We know laughter strengthens the immune system as much as a vaccination does, lowers the blood pressure as it relaxes blood vessels, and increases oxygen availability and breath. It also helps regulate diabetes and is effective like an exercise. Like this, laughter is the easiest way to take care of the family’s health from little children to elderly people. Thank the Lord for the gift of happy laughter. A day without laughter is a day wasted. So laugh the unquenchable laugh of grace!

Nov. 9 – Every Blessing turned to Praise – I love that I have enough, actually more than my fair share. I deserve none of it. The fact is that God chooses to bless me, even when I arrogantly take credit or somehow think I deserve it. Everything is a gift – a blessing – and it begs the posture of praise because it is only God’s great mercy that allows me to be in this moment of time. The other reality is that everything I have is from God and not to be hoarded; rather it is a privilege to be generous and bless others with “enough”. I am thankful for the overwhelming love, provision and grace of God, which cannot be overestimated and is more than enough, nor my own brokenness, which I often underestimate.

Nov. 10 – Every blessing turned to praise – The words we say have power to bless or to curse. I am grateful for the former and, unfortunately in the current cultural climate, I am convicted by the latter. The spoken blessing is a powerful thing; it is a choice that honors God when we use our words as a moment of God’s grace in the lives of others. The opportunity to speak the truth IN LOVE, seasoned with grace, is no small thing. I am grateful that God blesses me through the words of others. May I use mine to do the same. May I never become a “spiritual cannibal”, biting and devouring others instead of encouraging and building them up, (Gal. 5:15, Eph. 4:29). I praise the Lord for words of peace and hope that build bridges, heal and restore. May we all hear more of them today.

Nov. 11 Every Blessing turned to Praise – Today I am compelled to remember those who serve and have served our country. But more than, that I want to be reminded about the blessing it is to serve. This is a foundational principle for everyone who calls himself a Christ follower. Jesus said He came to serve, not be served (Mk. 10:45). Serving creates a perspective of gratitude. I am not sure why, but as I give I am better reminded of all that I have; it really is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). I am thankful for being allowed to partner with something bigger than myself and the opportunity to bless others.

Nov. 12 Every Blessing turned to Praise – I confess that I need perspective. All the time. About everything. This perpetual need of perspective is one of the countless blessings I’ve found when keeping my eyes on Jesus. I’m constantly presented with two options: looking at situations eternally, reflecting on life from God’s vantage point and experiencing joy of knowing I am loved perfectly, OR looking at things through my own skewed viewpoint, which leads to self absorption and misunderstanding. I am thankful that there are opportunities to have more than one perspective; .I can reflect on those who are less fortunate and I can see more than one side to a challenge and learn to respond accordingly with a grateful heart.

Nov. 13 Every blessing turned to praise – Intelligence and the ability to reason and create is a gift from God, God created humans with all different types of intelligence (musical, mathematical, artistic, etc.). Additionally, we also have the blessing of making choices. It is good to thank God for intelligence, as it allows us to better understand God and participate in is plan for redemption, trust Him more and thank Him for all things in all circumstances.

Nov. 14 Every Blessing turned to praise – The faithfulness of the sunrise every morning is a blessing. No matter what the weather, no matter what the day brings, every morning the mercies of the Lord are new. I am thankful that I can count on the Son/sun 24/7.

Nov. 15 Every blessing turned to praise. I am blessed by the health God has given me. I hope to always be able to thank the Lord, not matter what my health looks like.

Nov. 16 Every blessing turned to Praise. I have not suffered many trials or suffering in my life and the majority of my blessings are easy to count. They parade themselves rather boldly. Blessings in disguise are much trickier to spot and count. Then the pandemic hit; people I know and love have been impacted with unemployment, illness, disease, depression, death, and even weddings that had to be greatly modified. It has been a very hard year and no end is in sight. It has been a chance for God to show up and faithfully shower blessings in every trial, which are still minimal compared to many traumas around the world. Blessings I have depended on and counted regularly have become more scarce and I have felt their loss in the past 9 months. This makes the blessings I still have more precious and the hunt for vivid reminders of love and joy, hope and peace even more important as well as learning to embrace the Giver of all good gifts with gratitude. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…” Phil. 3:8

11/17 Every Blessing turned to praise. The gift of story is one of my favorite blessings. Books, movies, television programs, plays and other creative media have provided me with hope, laughter, escape, information, insight and untold ideas of my own. They all collectively remind me of the Author of my own story and of the greatest Story ever told, both of which are riveting and meaningful. Thankful for the Word.

11/18 Every Blessing turned to praise. Not everyone likes surprises, but one can learn to appreciate them as a great reminder that we don’t have ultimate control. There are unknown, unexpected and unsung blessings every day. God is the giver of every good gift, both temporal and eternal. God’s faithfulness and grace often surprise me and his plan is ALWAYS better (There are over 5000 references to surprises in the Bible). God often does His best work when we least expect it because we don’t mess it up and we can’t take credit for it! For example, it is surprising that obedience leads to freedom and yielding leads to hope. I am thankful that God surprises me with blessings everyday. May I learn to see them and count them all joy!

11/19 Every Blessing turned to Praise. One of my greatest needs and blessings is to know love and to love others. It is a life changing gift that makes all the difference. I am humbled by those that love me and the privilege it is to love my neighbor as myself. We know what love is because of an amazing God who loves – generously, unconditionally, sacrificially, eternally.

11/20 Every Blessing turned to Praise. Forgiveness is a blessing. Can you imagine a world without forgiveness? I think it is one of the hardest concepts to grasp in reality – it is something we all need but it is so hard to pardon offenses and move forward. Peter asked Jesus how much he needed to forgive and Jesus responded with such a crazy math problem to emphasize the point that we are to live a life of grace and forgiveness, seeking reconciliation instead of revenge. One of the reasons I like baseball is that it is a game of second chances; what if you were only allowed one strike? Baseball only works because there is more than one chance to learn from our mistakes and try to get it right. Similarly, in the “big inning” I am glad that God forgave me. The one who has been forgiven much, loves much (Luke 7:47).

11/21 Every Blessing turned to Praise. I am blessed with TODAY. Not tomorrow which is not guaranteed. Yet, how I live today influences tomorrow. And while living with a future view is important, living today with joy and gratitude is the way to live in praise to God.

11/22 Every Blessing turned to Praise. I cannot imagine life without music. In fact, without it, I would never have met my husband. Music is a gift from heaven, meant for everyone. Music moves us, inspires us, gives us courage, comforts us, connects us to God and to others. It makes life better. It is the way we say thank you, express love, heartache and a million other feelings. Through music we can express our deepest longings; we have access to what we might not be able to say otherwise. It is the easiest way to spread blessings and cheer. Imagine what it sounds like to God when we praise him in the international language of music!

11/23 Every Blessing turned to Praise. One of the understated benefits (which I miss about IL) of living in a place with seasons is the “forced” rest that comes every fall and winter. A balanced life has rhythms of work and REST. This year, while it feels like we have too much rest and isolation, it is easy to take for granted that perhaps it actually a gift rather than continuing to feel restless. Since life is laborious and creation is at war with rest, God has been working to bring us back to finding rest in Him. God blessed Israel with Sabbath rest; He set the example Himself. I am grateful that God has slowed many things down so that I can learn lay it all down and to rest. (Mt. 11:28-30).

11/24 Every Blessing turned to Praise. I am grateful for a job. There are many blessings with work. Work is something we give as a gift to our families, ourselves and even the Lord (Col. 3:23) Working hard is godlike. May I continue to find joy in being and doing what the Creator intended by joining Him in work and then walking with Him in the cool of the day. Praying for my family and friends who need work too.

11/25 Every Blessing turned to Praise. Shared gifts. I am blessed by the wisdom and inventions of others. Inventions like the wheel and the compass, the printing press, concrete and steel, modern plumbing & toilets, tools, antibiotics, x-ray machines, refrigerators & microwaves, phones, electric lights, the internet and computers, planes, trains and automobiles. People like Edison, Ford, Franklin, Bell, Wrights, Pasteur, Curie, Babbage and Gutenberg. All of these amazing things are gifts that have been shared with the world and I cannot imagine life without them. With them I can live better to the praise of His glory. May I do so gratefully.

11/26 Every Blessing turned to Praise. I am blessed, as is every human, with expressions of God’s goodness, or common grace. I am stunned by how many favors I enjoy at the hand of God; though sinful and deserving of God’s wrath, He mercifully blesses all of us with his patience, rain, sun, laughter and happiness, talents, gifts and more blessings than one can count and fully enjoy.  At His hand, we are given more than we deserve. May I use everything to gratefully praise the giver of good gifts.

11/27 Every Blessing turned to Praise. Water is more than a blessing. It is essential and yet, because of plumbing and living in America, we often take it for granted. I am grateful for water. It reminds me to praise the Lord for the Living Water who is Jesus.

11/28 Every Blessing turned to Praise. Art is universal; all societies and cultures produce it. It is an integral part of human nature and is part of the way we reflect the image of the Creator. We have been given a beautiful place to live and the power to share in the enjoyment of beauty. Psalm 19:1-6 describes nature as a language without words that has “gone out to all the earth.” May all the aesthetic expressions I create and see bring glory to God.

11/29 Every Blessing turned to Praise. Marriage is a blessing; perhaps the greatest gift in perfecting love. No other relationship allows us the privilege of learning oneness and the demands of self-sacrifice and surrender. It is the clearest example of the community of the Triune God. My marriage lasted 30 years until Jim was called to heaven. Today my parents celebrate 63 years together and Jonni & Kelly (my nephew & niece) celebrate their 1st anniversary. May those who have a spouse continue to live in praise to God through their marriage.

11/30 Every Blessing turned to Praise. Biblical hope desires something good in the future BUT it expects it to happen!  And even more, it is confident that it will be a reality! Everyday, in the midst of chaos, new routines, upheaval and uncertainty, I cling to hope. It is a blessing to do so. One of my favorite lines in one of my favorite movies, Shawshank Redemption, is: “Never Forget. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies”. So I wait hopefully for the second advent where my faith will be sight and everything will be turned to praise. Maranatha!

Rereading my favorite book

I regularly reread the allegory Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I first encountered it when I was a teen through the mom one of my besties (Thank you Marianne Freilich and Elaine Wood!).

It is the story of little Much-Afraid and her journey to join the Great Shepherd in the High Places of the Kingdom of Love. Each time I read it I am reminded of some truth or surrender. This time I was struck by a conversation by the Shepherd where He explains that He loves doing impossible things! He delights in turning weakness to strength, fear into faith, despair into hope. God once again used this allegory to enable me to trust that God knows what He is doing in my life.

My entire life with God has been a journey of learning that God’s way is better than mine.  May I continue to believe that God alone redeems and restores. Like Much-Afraid, I want to be “Acceptance with Joy”, cheerfully accepting whatever comes my way; I want to be “Bearing with Love” living out Agape no matter what happens. My companions continue to be sorrow and suffering as they help change me and bring good from evil. I watch for impossible thing to happen as I journey home.

So once again I bow my head and my heart before Him, and I open my hands to Him, and I say,  “I trust You.  I know You love me.  You are committed to transforming me into the likeness of Jesus—a very challenging task.  Even as Your work in me is uncomfortable, You comfort me.  You have a perfect plan.  So I give you my way.  Take it.  Replace it with Your way for me.  Thank You, Lord, that You never give up on me.  You will accomplish Your plans for me.” Amen.

Seeing in the Dark

I will admit that I used to be afraid of the dark. I wasn’t afraid in my room under the covers with the lights out but I was often spooked in a dark hall or walking home from a babysitting job late; it was really a combination of the eerie quiet, reading too many Nancy Drew mysteries and shadows.

Eyes need light to see and yet, there is an ability to see in almost complete darkness. This is because our eyes are an amazing gift of God. The pupils work like a camera in letting in more light or blocking light as an aperture opening. We also have rods and cones in our eyes. The cones show fine details and color, while the rods see black and white and are sensitive even in low light. Rods are the reason we can see better at night as they adapt to the darkness and help the eyes adjust to night vision. It takes longer to see in the dark and only seconds to disturb its preservation but it is an amazing feature of human sight. Once we are accustomed to the dark we can see pretty good, but certainly not as well as in broad daylight!

1 Cor. 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known.” Similarly, to see “through a glass” — a mirror — “darkly” is to have an obscure or imperfect vision of reality. The expression comes from Paul where he explains that though we do not now see clearly, at the end of time we will.

Often we think we see the whole picture but we really don’t – we are “in the dark”! We see things imperfectly, a blurred reflection of reality. In other words, life is a mystery! Who is to say how a thing will ultimately turn out, and what effect, through the grace of God, even terrible events can have upon the future? We don’t know how things will turn out and yet we are to take life as it comes and we won’t understand everything about it. It is a waste of time and energy to try to find answers to every question or problem life throws at us.

So, today is Jim’s 65th birthday. I don’t see the reasons that God called him home when he did. There is no way I will ever understand why he got cancer or why my kids have to live everyday without their dad. Sometimes I wish I had answers, explanations, reasons. I want to know ‘why”. And one day I will see it all clearly.

Imagine what would have happened if Joseph had been pulled from the pit or from prison? Or, what if Esther had not been made queen? I probably would have questioned God’s hand in these issues if I had been alive then. And yet, God’s plan is so much bigger than my perspective. I see it all through the fog darkly. I know I’m unable to explain with any degree of certainty why things happen when they happen or why they happen at all.

The jobs lost. The life cut short by cancer. The brilliant mind reduced to dementia. The friends who were fair weather. Life takes a different set of turns from what we plan or expect. But who is to say that the life I did not live would have been better than the life I am living? What I am learning is that God is at work in my life providentially for my good and His glory. This means I can relax and enjoy the journey. I can let go of those things over which I have no control (which is pretty much everything). God is not the author of evil, illness, or misfortune; rather, out of bad things good can come. Even the darkness of death is part of God’s grace and redemption. Just look at the death and resurrection of Jesus!

Instead of short sighted decisions that I would choose… I will trust that God’s decision to move Jim to the light of His glory is the best one. And as I sit trying to see through a glass darkly I will trust . I will keep hoping. I will let God lead me and I will let my eyes grow accustomed to the dark until I see Him clearly face to face.

Read the words that were found on a piece of paper in the pocket of a Confederate soldier at the end of the Civil War:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve; I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey. I asked for health, that I might do greater things; I was given infirmity, that I might do better things. I asked for riches, that I might be happy; I was given poverty, that I might be wise. I asked for power, that I might have praise; I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God. I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life; I was given life that I might enjoy all things. I got nothing that I asked for — but everything that I had hoped for.”

What an amazing thing: the things I do not know.

And Happy Birthday to my “old man”. Can you say medicare?!

10 years ago (3,653 days)

It was early in the morning and I had gotten up off the sofa next to the hospital bed to get ready for work. Steve Shepherd was coming over to be with Jim and the kids were getting ready for school. Jim’s breathing was labored, waking me up several times that night. At the time, I didn’t know it was the death rattle, and that it was to be his last day on earth. Steve showed up and when I tried to rouse Jim, he refused to open his eyes. Instead he winced. So, I called out at work and called my mom. Steve stayed for awhile and prayed over Jim. From there the day is a bit fuzzy and foggy.

As the day rolled on in semi slow motion, we let family know that if they wanted to see Jim they should come by – and they did. My parents. Jim’s dad and Linda. John and Mary Ellen. Laurie and Ron. The Lundes. John Coulombe. Barry Corey. The kids got home from school and several of their leaders and friends came by. We prayed. We sang songs of praise. We talked to him. Kissed him. Patted and held him.

At about 7 in the evening he opened his eyes and looked around. He had tears in his eyes as he looked at his kids. He probably would have been irritated to have so many people there making such a fuss, but at that point it was too late. It was about 30 minutes later when Steve and Janis, our best friends, showed up. It was as though Jim was waiting for them. Steve leaned over him, touched his chest and told him that he was there and would keep his promise to watch out for our family. I whispered in his ear that I loved him. I whispered that he should go the minute he saw Jesus and that we would miss him but we would be okay. I whispered over again and again promises as I tried to make our last minutes together on earth private .and ours alone.

“Stay with us” we all collectively pleaded. I held my best friend. He was getting ready to go where I could not follow. It was a holy moment. Jesus came into the room with us and held us each before picking Jim up and carrying Him home! It was collectively the hardest day of my life and the holiest moment I have ever experienced.

Since then, I hate how far away Jim feels. I hate how much I miss him. I hate cancer. I hate death. But I am content to know that our story is not over. It is one of joy and happily ever after. I have only had 3,653 days without Jim but when we’ve been there 10,000 years, we have no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun!

Identifying with the Lamb

Election 2020. As with most everyone I am over 2020. Putting it mildly, It has been a weird year. I am so glad that the social media rants and angry political emails will soon “end”. I voted. I have been praying that God’s Will will be done and that our nation will not be torn further apart. I admit that I am anxious that every American will “lose” no matter who is declared the winner and that we may find ourselves in a nightmare worse than the current “twilight zone” in which we find ourselves. I stocked up on “supplies” and plan to distance physically and emotionally today. I hope my candidate wins!

I know that some of my friends voted for Trump. Some voted for Biden. Some didn’t vote. At the end of the day, most will hopefully still be my friends, no matter for whom they cast their ballot. No matter who is voted in as President, it all boils down to how one honors the King!

Since 2016, have decided that I no longer align with a political party. I do not want my views to be shaped by the elephant or the donkey; I simply do not want to be defined by any political event. Instead, I want all my thoughts and actions to be a reflection of the Lamb, to follow Kingdom values, to live respectfully as a citizen of both America and of Heaven. There are views in both US political parties that align with scripture and positions that do not. That is not meant to sound pious but I just want to to be clear (to myself mostly) that only ONE person is qualified to rule my life. He is not running on either ticket.

People can argue, and do, that their candidate is the “biblical” choice. People can defend their position based on their political bias as the way that Jesus would vote and some of them make a strong case. Perhaps some can even justify their vote for president on issues and values they hold dear while ignoring or downplaying the impact that other policies or personal character play in determining the overall perspective and outcome. May we as Christ followers never force our views and morality on others. May we never persuade others to think just like we do, or else be condemned for the choices they make. May we learn to get along with everyone for the sake of the gospel. May we never find ourselves compromising our values to gain access to influence and power. May we only ever find ourselves at the mercy of God’s grace and favor for ourselves as well as everyone else.

It all comes down to loving God and loving others in all that I do and say. My hope is built on Jesus’ blood and righteousness. My vote should make the best difference for others, especially the poor, the marginalized, the common good and even for my “enemies”. My desire is to love well. Pray often. Keep the faith. Live with hope. Follow faithfully.

DODGERS WIN!

I have been a baseball fan and a Dodger fan as long as I can remember! I know there are people who think it is too slow to watch, which is probably because they are all ADD. Like many other people I have tons of memories. I won’t bore anyone with them all now. I love that they finally won the World Series 2020. Is it the same as a full season without Covid? No, of course not. Is is still amazing? Absolutely.

Celebrating the boys in blue! Go dodgers!

Jack

This is a silly thought I had – why are carved pumpkins called “jack-o-lanterns”? So, I looked it up with the magic of the internet. It seems that it comes from the 1500s when all those stories, fairy tales, nursery rhymes and fables were being told and nearly every little boy was named Jack! Jack and the beanstalk. Jack and Jill. Jack be Nimble. Jack of all trades. Little Jack Horner. Jack-in-the-Box. The House that Jack built. Jack Sprat. Jack Frost. et al. It turns out that Jack is a general term for a boy.

Even earlier, the name Jack was originally used as a generic name for peasants. Over time, Jack worked his way into words such as lumberjack and jackass, the commonly used term for a donkey. Of course, John was once used as a generic name for English commoners and peasants, (John Doe) which could be why Jack came became his nickname. But additionally the Normans added -kin when they wanted to make a diminutive. And Jen was their way of saying John. So little John became Jenkin and time turned that into ultimately Jack.

Young boys used these hollowed-out and lit-up root vegetables to spook people. Irish legend has it that this use of jack-o’-lantern was named after a fellow named Stingy Jack. Jack, thinking he could trick Satan, made a faustian bargain with him; the devil had the last laugh, condemning Jack to an eternity of wandering the planet, unable to enter either heaven or hell, with only an ember of hellfire for light. 

There is something about names that matter. In the beginning of time God named everything. It gave meaning and identity to all the things He created. God Himself is known by His name(s) and we know about who He is from His names! And, there is power in the Lord’s Name – “His name is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and they are saved” (Prov. 18:10).

People of all time, throughout history, have learned the Name of the Great I AM. It is whispered in prayer. It is weighty enough to be called on the battlefields and in prison cells. It is held onto by those who are persecuted and it is the hope of those who grieve. It is the Name that refuses to be minimized by our agendas. It is the Name that saves. It is the Name uttered daily around the world, with or without regard for its value and potency. It is the Name above all Names.

I am awestruck that God wants to be known and wants to know and love me! Even more, He knows my name! He wrote it on His heart and carried it to the cross! In Ex. 28, we learn that Aaron and his sons used to have to carry the names of the Israelites on their hearts in memory and for judgment before the Lord.  The weight of such a responsibility would have been unimaginable at times and God knew that man could not atone for their own sins. When Jesus died upon the cross He took on this responsibility, so no man is required to carry this weight any longer. Through Jesus’ death we are offered the gift of salvation and God also removed the weight of our sins and placed them upon His Son, Jesus Christ! He now carries our names and our sins upon Himself!

Additionally, God has put His name on my heart. (Jer. 31:33)! As a Christ follower, I am further struck by the fact that everyone matters and there are NO “Jacks” in God’s eyes. He sees me. He knows me. He calls me by name. I am not generic or invisible. I am loved. I am His, like Woody belongs to Andy.

So, back to the original question that led to this post, I am NOT a jack-o-lantern. I am a lightraider who carries the Light of the World, shining like a star in the universe. Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify the Name of Jesus! (Matt. 5:16).

Side note: Perhaps we could start a trend with OMJ (Oh My Jack).If Jack is a generic name for any male person, it makes more sense!

RBG

Today is Rosh Hashanah – Jewish New Year. It is said in the Jewish community that when a person dies on this Holy Day, they are considered to be a person of great righteousness Ruth Bader Ginsburg died today. A brave champion of equal rights, RGB paved the way for women everywhere, including me. I am grateful that my daughter and those that follow will have a better future because this petite giant spoke truth, loved justice and lived humbly.

I am struck by her passing the ways others are over a movie star or an athlete. I didn’t even know her, but because of her pioneering voice and her persistence, I enjoy a more equitable existence. Because RBG stood strong and forged the path she did all the way to the Supreme Court, she made a way for the next generation to speak up for marginalized people and advocate for those without a voice. She empowered women, reminding men of our dignity and worth, just as Christ Jesus offers each human without regard to gender, ethnicity, age, race, et al. She was resilient, smart, funny, kind.

I also reflect on other strong female heroes. There is another Ruth. She was a poor widow from Moab who was determined to walk into a new life and build a relationship with God. She kept moving forward, caring for her new family, gleaning in the fields and risking it all by approaching Boaz. She was brave and godly and became King David’s great grandmother.

There was Esther. She started off as an orphan immigrant who created a strategy to save an entire nation at the risk of her own life. She used every resource to thrive in a world gone sideways.

The creativity, the courage and the competence of Miriam, as a child, who approached the princess and delivered the future deliverer of God’s people, securing God’s promise and affirming the role of women in leadership. I learn persistence and intelligence from this defender of the faith.

Even Eve, who often gets a bad rap, led the way through grief, shame and estrangement without support of a mother, sister, girlfriend. She never knew the treasure of God’s Word, or the wisdom and joy of the Holy Spirit. She didn’t know the power of salvation, grace and forgiveness; yet she had strength and hope enough to carry on and pass onto many who came after her.

These are just a few of my heroes who spent their lives making life better for others. They used their gifts, talents and energy for something bigger than themselves. Like RGB they were faithful, courageous and strong and chose to participate without knowing what was ahead. We all face fear and loneliness, grief and confusion, and yet we can look to those around us and those who have gone ahead of us to learn how to live better, stronger and meaningful lives in spite of our situation or circumstances.

I pray that my kids will see me as a feminist too. I want to be a person who does not see liabilities in my gender, age, race, nationality, etc. Rather, I want to be remembered as one who stood up to injustice, one who used her gifts and life for something (and someone) bigger than herself, one who was notoriously grateful to be the Lord’s image bearer and ambassador, and one who loved others fiercely and with kindness.

Thank you Ruth. You are Notorious!

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