Grit And Glory

I hopped out of my van as I ran some errands a few days ago.  Well, hopped may be a stretch.  More like I stepped out of my van, in all honesty.

I had noticed this beautiful sky and being as I love taking sky pictures, I paused to snap a quick shot. 

I knew, though, that it probably wouldn’t be the best view because of the surroundings. 

“Nah,” I thought as I looked at the picture on my phone.  “It’s too cluttered with ugliness.”

I almost deleted it then and there but decided to look at it later and decide.

As I thought about that picture, and as I looked at it on my computer, the view reminded me of some things.

Those “not-so-pretty” poles and buildings and store sign are a lot like our lives.  I can say “our” because we all know that every person on the planet has a life that gets cluttered with “stuff.”

We wish our view could be like this picture that I took this week as well.

How gorgeous!  How impressive! 

But life isn’t picture perfect for any of us.  Life is full of grit.

Some of the hardships we handle are private.  We don’t want anyone to know about them, either because of pride or because we don’t want to bother others with our “stuff.”

Other areas of life are there for all to see.  We might try to hide our issues, or not talk about them, or hope that they’re not obvious.  But at times the junk is out there and noticeable and we are humiliated.

Whatever is going on in our lives, though, that messes up the beauty doesn’t need to consume our vision.

It is up to me to choose my focus.

And so it is with our lives.  On what am I focusing?

Better yet, on WHOM am I focusing?

            “For my eyes are toward You, O God, the Lord;

            In You I take refuge…”   (Psalm 141:8)

Oh, may we all learn to shift our eyes from our problems, our pain, our hurts, our struggles…and instead focus toward God, our refuge.

God’s character never changes even as our situations do.  His beauty is still there.

Turn from our grit to His glory.

            “My eyes are continually toward the Lord…”   (Psalm 25:15)

We Need a Little Christmas?

My spirit was heavy yesterday as I went about my getting-ready-for-the-day routine.  Fresh on my mind was the night before.  Most of the day before, actually. 

Aaron.  Anger because we said no to a game.  His hovering presence as he told me not to write his name on our Christmas cards.  Escalation from him and then finally from us. 

Guilt.  Regret.  Failure.

There, in the heaviness, one of my very favorite Christmas songs came on Pandora. 

Haul out

The holly

Put up the tree

Before my spirit

Falls again

Fill up

The stocking

I may be

Rushing things

But

Deck the halls

Again now.

I’ve loved that song since I was a child.  Back then, life was simpler.  Now, putting up a tree does not really keep my spirit from falling.

The day before, Aaron and I found out that one of our dear Meals on Wheels clients had suddenly died.  His dog, Buster, was Aaron’s favorite.  As we sat in the van, talking to the man’s daughter on the phone, Aaron was as shocked as I.  He bent over and put the two dog bones he was going to give Buster back in the box.  The look on his face broke my heart.

But Santa, dear

We’re in a hurry

So climb

Down the chimney

Turn on

The brightest

String of light

I’ve ever seen

Slice up

The fruitcake

It’s time

We hung

Some tinsel

On that

Evergreen bough.

The trappings of Christmas just aren’t cutting it right now. 

Santa…lights…tinsel…definitely not fruitcake!

Not for me…not for my friend just diagnosed with breast cancer…not for our friends just home with their Speedy from yet another hospital stay…

For we need

A little music

Need

A little laughter

Need

A little singing

Ringing through

The rafter

And we need

A little snappy

“Happy ever after”

Need a little

Christmas now.

A little snappy “happy every after” is not what our friends at the funeral home needed to hear from us the other evening as they deeply grieve their son who took his life. 

The next song began playing.

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in they dark streets shineth

The everlasting light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight

Oh holy child of Bethlehem

Descend to us we pray

Cast out our sins and enter in

Be born to us today.

Certainly not a peppy, fun song.

But there is the real light that we need!  Our hopes and our fears…our pain and sadness…our disappointments…

All are met in Him! 

Jesus came to be our Savior, not to be the afterthought of all our Christmas decorations and gifts and food.

O morning stars together

Proclaim thy holy birth

And praises sing to God the King

And peace to men on earth

O hear thy sacred angels

As faith holds wide the door

Then darkness wakes, the glory breaks

As Christmas comes once more.

Jesus was born to be the answer to all of life’s hurts…hurts that can’t be ignored even at this special time of year. 

No amount of fevered activity can relieve our sorrows.

We can’t manufacture a festive answer that truly lasts.  What are we left with when the lights are taken down…the food is eaten…the gifts are opened?

We’re left either with a hollow void waiting to be filled again with our feeble attempts at happiness.

Or we’re left with Jesus.

HE is the light of the world.  He wants to be your Savior. 

Jesus has the answers that truly last amid life’s struggles.

Thank God for His unspeakable gift, the only gift we really need. 

The Sudden Dark Clouds

The other morning, I looked out my favorite upstairs window and saw this very pretty sky.  The puffy clouds and the sunshine reminded me of summer.

Not long after, however, I noticed from another room that it seemed darker outside.  I went back to the window and was shocked at what I saw.

Whoa!  In such a short time the scene had totally changed.  We went from bright and happy to dark and foreboding very quickly as a cold front began blowing in.

I have had those sudden dark times in my life. 

That Sunday years ago when our normal day turned into terror as Aaron lay on our kitchen floor, seizing violently.  The blur of a frantic call to the medical clinic…the ambulance…the German children’s hospital.  The stabs of deep fear mixed with the frustration of the language barrier and the culture that was in many ways unfamiliar. 

We went from worshipping God at church that morning to being blind-sided by a situation that we were totally unprepared for.

But let me tell you that Psalm 18:28 is true!

            “The Lord my God illumines my darkness.”

He was there with us in that foreign hospital room, during all the tests, and the diagnosis…and He has not stopped walking with us on this road of special needs.

My prayer list keeps getting longer with names of so many who are hurting and struggling through various sudden changes.

Gary’s cousin, now a much-too-young widower whose precious wife collapsed and was gone.

A friend’s daughter…a young wife and mother…fighting cancer.

A cousin and a friend recently widowed.

Jobs ended.

Marriages over.

Cancer returning.

Listen to what else David says in Psalm 27:1:

            “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”

God brightens the unknown!

His light shines brightest in the dark.

His character positively glows in our deepest hurts and with our tear-stained cheeks.

And we have no reason to fear because He is fighting for us.  Psalm 27:1 continues:

            “The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?”

I love the song, Blessings, by Laura Story.  Read the lyrics:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace

Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

We pray for healing, for prosperity

We pray for Your mighty hand

To ease our suffering

And all the while, You hear each spoken need

Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?

What if Your healing comes through tears?

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear

And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near

We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love

As if every promise from Your word is not enough

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea

And long that we’d have faith to believe.

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops?

What if Your healing comes through tears?

And what if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life

Are Your mercies in disguise?

I saw this beautiful scene a short time later, after the scary dark clouds had gone away, and I was reminded that God is still our light and our salvation.

Don’t fear, dear ones.  God is still there in the clouds, and He WILL illumine your darkness with His sweet presence.

I Can’t Wait!

Waiting patiently for anything is not a strong suit of Aaron’s.  Whether he is waiting for me to get off the phone or waiting on a huge surprise, it doesn’t matter.  Patient waiting is a foreign concept to him.

This is why we often don’t tell Aaron of an upcoming event until shortly before it actually occurs.  Too bad he knows when his birthday is because he is in planning mode for months before the big day. 

Earlier this year, a big dinosaur exhibit was coming to town.  Gary and I decided to take Aaron and to make it a surprise, more for our sake than anything.  The big day came…tickets were bought…plans were in place…and finally I told Aaron that we were taking him on a surprise adventure. 

It wasn’t THAT long before we were leaving that I broke the exciting news to him, but oh my goodness!  I quickly realized that I should have waited until we were in the van and on our way before uttering a word about our surprise trip.

Aaron can hover better than any hummingbird or helicopter.  He hovered outside my door as I got ready.  He knocked and knocked on the door, asking if it was time to go yet.  He lingered outside the bathroom door as I dried my hair.  He stood right beside me as I brushed my teeth, asking questions and wanting me to answer even with a mouthful of toothpaste. 

“Aaron!!” I finally said, “quit being so impatient!!  Leave me alone and let me get ready.”

I enjoyed a few moments of blissful quiet…until he once again knocked loudly on my door.

“But MOM!!”  he exclaimed, “I don’t have anything to DO while I’m being impatient!!”

Let me say, I am so much like Aaron when God has me wait for something, especially something that I have prayed about for a long time.

Look at Isaac and Rebekah.  Isaac married Rebekah when he was 40 years old.  No children came, however, because Rebekah was barren.  In Genesis 25 we read that Isaac prayed on behalf of Rebekah and she conceived.

But guess how long it was before that happened?

20 years!

YEARS!!

Can you imagine the disappointment, over and over and over?

The sadness?

The comparing themselves to others who had HOW many children during the time that they waited…and waited…and waited on God to keep His promise.

As Dale Davis points out in God’s Rascal, The Jacob Narrative, Isaac’s non-chosen brother Ishmael had 12 sons.  What’s up with that?!

But Isaac didn’t just idly or impatiently wait.  We’re told that he prayed on behalf of his wife. 

The Hebrew term used there means that Isaac didn’t just pray FOR his wife.  It indicated that he prayed in front of her…in her presence.

I found Isaac’s action in prayer to not only be very encouraging but also very precious.  He led Rebekah and he joined her in her pain…in their pain…as they waited for God’s answer.

Sometimes things seem so hopeless.  We don’t see answers coming.  It’s so easy to lose heart, especially when we have prayed and prayed and prayed.

I love this verse.

Right now, Aaron is laying on our couch downstairs.  He had three seizures this morning.  He is almost 38 years old and has had seizures since he was 7 years old.

I look at him as he ages, and I see the effect of all these years of seizures…of the toll they have taken on his body and on his mental abilities. 

But I know that as much as I love Aaron, God loves him even more.  And God loves me. 

He loves us and He has a reason that I will probably never know on this earth for all that Aaron has suffered.

So, I cry out to God.

And I know that God’s inclination is to lean down and hear my cry. 

Isn’t that a precious picture?

He joins me in my pain and in my waiting.

Am I always patient as I wait on God?

No!

But unlike Aaron, there IS something I can do while I’m being impatient and that is to pray.

And to praise, as David continues in Psalm 40.  Sing a new song of praise, which will be a testimony to others.

After all, “How blessed is the man (or woman) who has made the Lord his trust.”  (Psalm 40:4)

Gotta run.  Aaron is awake now and is planning our evening already.  😊 

Under the Quilt

I heard Aaron’s first seizure at 12:38 this morning.  The second was at 2:37.  As I often say, Aaron would appreciate that I am using the precise time. 

Not long after 4:00 I heard him rustling.  It wasn’t a seizure.  I listened and knew that he was out of bed.  He went to the bathroom and then back to his room.  I heard his door close. 

I got up and went to his room, fairly sure of what I would find.  He had changed his pajamas and was getting ready to climb back into bed.

His sheets were wet.  Bed wetting seizures are common to Aaron. 

I had him sit in his desk chair as I changed his sheets.  He watched my every move, as he is not only bent on using precision with his time keeping but is also particular about his bedding being just right. 

I was thankful for waterproof mattress pads, and that we keep an extra one on hand.  Thankful for extra sheets and blankets, and for our washing machine and dryer.

There sat Aaron.  He was flicking his fingers together as he so often does now, more and more.  There was some dried blood on the corner of his mouth where he had bitten his tongue during his first seizure. 

He kept telling me that his head hurt.  He wondered if he would have to go to his day group. 

It always breaks my heart to see him like this.  Broke my heart, too, as I asked him if he would have slept on wet sheets if I hadn’t come in there.  He said yes because he didn’t want to wake us up. 

I told him he never ever had to sleep on wet sheets.

I was finally done with his bed.  It’s a stretch for Aaron to lay down under different covers than his usual ones.

“I want my Mario blanket,” he said as he looked at his bed all covered in a blanket not his own.

“But it’s wet,” I told him.  “Here, I’ll get you another blanket to use.”

I walked out into the hall and opened the linen cabinet.  I saw the quilt that we have had for many years and knew that the weight of it would be a comfort to Aaron.

As I carried it to his room and arranged it on his bed, I was thinking about the sweet memories of this quilt.  It was a wedding gift to me and Gary, made 44 years ago by the dear ladies at Needham’s Grove Baptist Church in Needham’s Grove, North Carolina.  My brother pastored there. The women in the church had gotten to know me while I was in Bible college not far away and would often visit on weekends.  

Finally, I was finished with Aaron’s bed.  He surveyed it as he stood up from his chair.  I smiled as he immediately pulled out some wrinkles in the quilt before he walked around to get back in bed.  He snuggled under the covers, and I pulled them up around his face, a soft smile of contentment visible on his lips. 

It wasn’t even 30 minutes later that I heard another seizure.  As I stood beside his bed, I looked at that special quilt again.  Each stitch was sewn by hand…hands of women who loved the Lord and loved to give. 

All those years ago, I had no idea what our life would hold.  We were dreamy-eyed newlyweds with our whole life before us. 

And now, under the quilt that we used to lay under, lay our special Aaron.  Never would I have imagined that we would still be caring for our 37-year-old son…that the quilt that covered us now covered Aaron.

I don’t know or understand the reason for any of it. 

But I do know my heavenly Father.

And I do know that He has stitched every little piece of my life and of Gary’s life and of Aaron’s life. 

God has stitched it in order to create a beautiful work.

Not an easy work.  And not the one I would have chosen if He had let me. 

But do I trust Him?

And if I do, at what point do I stop trusting?

I either fully trust God, or I don’t.

That means, that even through tears and disappointments and frustrations and exhaustion, I trust the God Who has promised to direct my steps.

Who has promised that “underneath are His everlasting arms.”

I am never lower than His arms that are always under me to hold me up.

And neither are you, my friend, if you know and trust this God Who loves you so much.

Who gave His own Son, Jesus, to die for you.

And Who is meticulously stitching the fabric of your life…of my life…of Aaron’s…into a work of art.

I want to rest under that quilt, handmade by God.

Impossibilities

We had some very pretty clouds one recent morning that I enjoyed as I looked out my favorite upstairs window.  I sat at my desk having my quiet time as my eyes kept glancing out at the ever-changing sky.  Suddenly there was brightness as the sun began to shine.  I quickly snapped this picture before the moment passed.

One fact that I have observed over my years of sky watching is that when the sun shines on storm clouds, the clouds become more beautiful.  The sun sharpens the contrasts between the clouds and the rest of the sky, and between the clouds and the ground.  The true beauty of those storm clouds is fully shown when the sun shines.

I have just finished studying the book of Ruth.  This familiar story is one that we love to tell.  It’s a favorite for children’s Sunday school classes.  It’s so familiar to us and so easily compressed into a 30 minute lesson that we often don’t stop to really consider what God did with Naomi and Ruth.

What especially spoke to me this morning was how Naomi found herself in an impossibly difficult and hopeless situation in a foreign land.  She was an Israelite in Moab.  Her husband and two sons had died.  She was left destitute with no means of support.

We all know the story.  Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, stayed with her and together they traveled back to the land of Israel.  Ruth asked permission to go gather grain and by God’s providence she ended up in the field of Boaz.  He was the kinsman-redeemer, unknown to Ruth, and they ended up getting married.  To that union God gave them baby Obed, grandfather of King David and ancestor of Jesus Himself.

OK.  It’s a wrap.  We’ll have a new story next week, children.

But wait!  Stop!

Just think of how the providence of God is all over this story.

When we let God’s light shine on this story then we can see the deep storms surrounding Naomi and Ruth.  Their situation was truly hopeless.

But God’s light also reveals the beauty of those storms because it was in those hopeless moments that God’s plan was so amazingly revealed. 

Do you find yourself in a scary and desperate place? 

Do your walls seem impossible to climb?

Do your clouds look dark and foreboding?

Do you think of your future needs…or your needs today…and wonder how on earth things will work out?

All I know is that God wants to shine.  He wants to show me how He works in the darkness of the storm.

But it’s how HE works that I need to stop and see.

And God doesn’t need my help.

He needs me to trust.

The God of Naomi and Ruth is my God, too.  He has a plan for me that He will accomplish every bit as much as He did for them. 

Hopelessness is the best venue in which we can see God shine. 

And as God shines, that storm will prove to be a place of beauty…the beauty of knowing my heavenly Father better and seeing that His plan in this place is truly full of His providence and purpose. 

The Next Step

Aaron loves walking in nearby Swanson Park.  The weather finally cooled down enough a few days ago for us to enjoy a nice stroll on the paved trails.

Aaron is familiar enough with the park to know when we are nearing the small bridge that goes over Cowskin Creek.  There it is, barely visible ahead of us as we walk the winding trail. 

I know as we get nearer to the bridge that Aaron will tell me he doesn’t like that bridge.  On this particular day, I offered for us to turn around and walk back the way we had come and not go over the bridge.  But he did not want to do that, so we kept walking.

Each step brought us nearer to the scary bridge.  Yet Aaron knew, through prior experience, that I would stay with him and that the walk across the bridge would end up just fine.

Sometimes I’m very much like Aaron as I walk with the Lord.  I’ve walked with Him a long time, in many places and many varied experiences.  God has proven Himself faithful over and over.

Yet still, when I know that up ahead is a situation that I may not like, I get unnerved. 

It’s easy to focus on the scary bridge and not on the One Who is walking beside me.

Easy as well to want to plan and strategize.

If I do this, then maybe that will happen. 

But I don’t see how it’s even possible to do this.  So maybe I could try this other thing to make it all work out.

Hmmmmm.

Well, maybe this…..

No.  I know!  I could do……

Finally…I just don’t know how ANY of this can work out!!

All my planning falls in a heap of frustration.

You know what God really wants?

He really wants me to walk one step at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time.

He wants me to take the next step.  Period.

And to quit stewing over what might be or could be or will it be?!

That’s what Ruth did when she and Naomi left Moab.  There they were, two destitute widows with no plan and no certain future.

But Ruth just did the next thing…took the next step by asking Naomi if she could go glean the grain that the reapers left behind.  She and Naomi needed food, and Ruth had learned that God had told His people to leave grain in the fields for those like her and Naomi.

Ruth couldn’t see what would happen tomorrow or the next day or the following week or next month or next year.

But she knew that today she could go and glean grain.

You and I know the rest of the story, but she certainly didn’t.

And more importantly, God knew all the twists and turns of Ruth’s life and of her future.  He wanted her to each day take the next step of obedience, and to do so without knowing her future.

This is exactly what God wants of me…to walk one step at a time today without trying to leap ahead into tomorrow with all my plans.

All of us have a bridge up ahead in our lives.  We have good things and scary things and hard things up ahead.

But we don’t have to walk across that bridge alone.  If we know God, then He will be right there beside us, guiding us to take that next step.

“Trust the providence of God for tomorrow, and do the next thing in quiet faith today.”  (David Strain)

I Don’t Hold My Breath

It started last week with some strange pains in my chest.  The pains didn’t seem to be heart related but they were disconcerting regardless.  I talked to my doctor’s nurse, who spoke with my doctor, and I got some advice along with an appointment to see her.

Yesterday, after conversation and an exam, I found myself being ushered to various rooms.  Labs…chest X-Ray…EKG…a CT Angiogram…and all the waiting that is an inevitable part of the whole process.

After my CT scan, I was led to another waiting area.  For a long time, I sat there by myself.  There was a small, tall table beside me.  I hadn’t paid it much attention.  I was looking at the other table across the room and for some reason wondered if the one beside me matched it.  So I leaned forward to look at the table next to me.  Then I saw it…the Bible laying on the little table. 

I felt compelled to pick it up and to open it.  I have opened my Bible often in my life at times like this…times of stress and concern.  I have never been disappointed in what God has to say to me when I look down and start reading. 

I opened the Bible.  I looked down to find myself in the book of Job.

I was a little let down.  I mean, why couldn’t it have been the Psalms?  Not that Job doesn’t have words of God’s encouragement, but the Psalms are stuffed full of really great verses that are meant for these moments of uncertainty such as I was feeling. 

 I started reading chapter 12.  Just look at these verses!  Job was speaking:

“But ask the beasts, and they will teach you;

    the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you;

 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you;

    and the fish of the sea will declare to you.

 Who among all these does not know

    that the hand of the Lord has done this?

 In his hand is the life of every living thing

    and the breath of all mankind.”

Job looked at his terrible suffering and could still say that the Lord’s hand had done that.  He knew, and said that even animals and nature know, that all of life is in God’s hand.

But I was blown away by that last line.  The breath of all mankind is in God’s hand. 

I had been given breathing instructions in every exam and test that morning.

 Take a deep breath.  Now let it out. 

Take a deep breath and hold it. 

You may breathe normally now.

Hold your breath.

Now breathe.

And as I sat there waiting on test results, wondering if something serious was wrong, God so gently reminded me that He was holding my very breath in HIS hand.

If something was wrong with me, could I say like Job did that God’s hand had done that?  The same hand that held my breath could do with me what He wanted, but whatever it was that He did would be good. 

Did I really believe that?

It turned out that the radiologist that we were waiting on to read the CT results was gone.  I sat there for an hour only to be told to go home and results would come in later. 

It would have been easy to be frustrated by that…to feel like I had just wasted an hour, hungry and tired and with no results.

But I look at it as a sweet gift from God, that time of opening a random Bible and listening to what God had to say to me in that dismal waiting room. 

Right now it seems like I am fine, and I’m thankful for that.

But most of all I’m thankful for God sitting with me in that waiting room.

 Thankful for the very timely reminder that every breath I take is in His hand.

And on the day I take my last breath, I’ll be holding His hand. 

Glamorless Glory

“Mom,” Aaron quietly said as he was getting ready for bed, “my toilet is stopped up.”

Aaron dreaded telling me this.  It was the third time in a few days that he had managed to stop up one of our toilets.

And this third time was NOT a charm, but instead was a huge mess.  I could have gotten Gary to do the dirty clean-up. 

“No,” I thought, “I can do this…yet again.”

I did think a few times that I really should have called Gary.  UGH!!

This was an opportunity for me to practice the patience that God is trying to teach me.  And to…once again…school Aaron on the proper treatment of our toilets. 

Why do these things happen so often at night when I am most tired?!

You know, being a caregiver of any sort can be exhausting.  Being a mom…a homemaker…the one responsible for the needs of whomever is under our care…has its many moments of humbling work.

Special needs or other health issues certainly add to the mix a new level of care.

And a new level of seemingly lowly service. 

Because face it, cleaning stopped-up toilets or throw up or wet bedding is not exactly something to write home about.

Even as Christ followers, we envision that the far-away mission field is more glorious and honoring than the dirty work we often do within the walls of our own home.

Not long after this third toilet episode, as I lay in bed reading, I felt compelled to check the FB page of my favorite author, Dale Davis.

His son had posted this piece.  I hope you will read it slowly and fully.

“When Mary was not nursing her son, she placed Him in an unused feeding trough (of wood or stone) right next to her…But a feeding trough! Let us never be surprised at the humility of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks (Question 27) Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist? Its answer begins: ‘Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition…’ Its scriptural proof text for that ‘low condition’ is Luke 2:7. In a feeding trough, needing a mother’s breast and a change of diaper. How very incarnate the incarnation is! And yet what encouragement is here. For if Christ stoops so low, to such a ‘common’ level, does this not sanctify all that seems common and ordinary and unimpressive in the lives of His people? To be quaint and go back a few years–the weaver laboring at his loom, the farmer putting up hay, the mother cleaning her oven, or the teacher tutoring her ‘slower’ student in reading, the accountant preparing tax returns, the pastor reading in his study, the doctor diagnosing a perplexed patient. Jesus’ feeding trough suffuses all the glamorlessness of our callings with a touch of His humble glory.” (Dale Ralph Davis, “Luke 1-13: The Year of the Lord’s Favor”, pp. 46-47)

Tears slid down my cheeks.  For Christ, who stooped so low to be born in a dirty animal cave, and laid in a feeding trough, does sanctify and will honor the grimy and the mundane work that I do…even if I do not see the results of it.

God has always chosen to use the less than exciting places and people and moments in order to draw attention to His glory.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a very young teenager in a town that was looked down upon by everyone.  She and Joseph were poor and unknown.  They were no doubt the subject of malicious gossip because of Mary’s pregnancy.  Then Jesus was born in the humblest of places with no great fanfare.  Mary and Joseph had to escape to Egypt in order to survive Herod’s wrath. 

And all through Jesus’ ministry we see Him using the most common people in the simplest of places in order to proclaim His message.

How can I wonder if He is doing the same with and through me? 

I have no doubt that many of you are feeling like me so many times – like I am in a rut of caregiving and for WHAT?

But may we not allow the allure of the world’s values concerning glamor to be ours.

May the touch of God’s humble glory turn our glamorless callings into moments of praise and joy.

And may we be grateful for every stopped-up toilet as we see it through God’s eyes…an opportunity to share in His humility and to give Him glory. 

Draw Near

I have a very simple olive wood nativity set that I put out every year for Christmas.  I bought this set in Israel many years ago.  I love its simplicity and the memories it brings to me of my times spent in Israel.   

This year, as I was decorating, I asked Aaron if he would like to place the nativity scene on top of the cabinet where I always display it.  He agreed, and so I left him to it as I continued putting out other decorations. 

Later, as I walked by, I saw what Aaron had done and I had to smile.  You see, he placed the shepherds, wise men, Mary and Joseph, and the animals in a tight group around baby Jesus in the manger. 

I usually have them spread apart, like this.

My first instinct was to rearrange the pieces in the way I always have them.  But I stopped myself.  First, I didn’t want to hurt Aaron’s feelings – making him think that he had not done the job correctly.

But looking at this little scene, with every person and animal huddled close around baby Jesus, has made my thoughts go to the significance it portrays.

The whole depth of God’s love for us is demonstrated in that humble manger scene.   To think that He planned the way of our salvation through the gift of His only Son is astounding. 

Jesus, God Himself, drew near to us as he was born in a filthy animal stable and placed in a dirty feeding trough.  He endured the difficult life of a human during a very hard time in history.  Israel was ruled by brutal Romans.  Jesus was not welcomed in that world and was eventually crucified.  His death went far beyond politics, though.  He lived and died to make the way for us to know God…to come to God through His sacrifice for us…to bear our sin so that we could be sinless in God’s eyes.

Jesus grieved over Israel’s refusal to believe that He was the Messiah.  His heart broke as He looked over the city of Jerusalem and said that He would have gathered them near as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. 

And how He wants us to draw near to Him in that same way!

James said, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…”  (James 4:8)

He has said that if we seek Him, we will find Him.

Draw near to Him for salvation.

Draw near to Him in every upheaval of this life. 

Cancer.  COVID.  Divorce.  Prodigals.  Danger.  Tornadoes.  Finances.  Termination.  Caregiving.  Death.

Just add your situation to the list and then purposely draw near to Jesus.

Satan wants to distract us and defeat us by making us look at the impossible and the hopeless.

But Jesus wants us to know Him and to see that with God all things are possible.  With Him, we have hope both here and now, and for eternity.

And to be able to say with the Psalmist, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”  (Psalm 73:28)