Saturday, December 22, 2012

Living the Peace of the Prince

"And He shall be called counselor, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace". When I hear this common scripture reading from Isaiah, I picture the calm serenity and given peace of a candle light service in a small country church on the eve of Christmas day. Not a sound is present except for the soft, soothing voice of a soloist singing "O Holy Night", filling the church with an invisible beauty. The candles flickering, representing the hope and peace that is flickering in the hearts of the of the people sitting in the padded wooden pews.

Christmas holds so many memories for people, and for me one of those memories is the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Although my experience is not identical to the description I wrote above, it still holds a very precious place in my heart. I can remember one very, very challenging year of my life, in which all I wanted for Christmas was the candlelight service. All I wanted was that one and a half hours of traditional Christmas hymns, the reading from Isaiah and the glow of those candles in a dark church. I could care less about the giving and receiving of gifts, food, family gatherings, and any other secular "holly jolliness".  Why? Because so much of my life was lacking peace. I had Jesus, but I didn't have much peace. I know that I wasn't alone at that time, and I also know that many people who are reading this know exactly what I mean. 

How many of us have heard the phrase "Prince of Peace"? We hear, see and say it multiple times through the Christmas season, but how many of us actually take the time to understand what the phrase means? Instead, we just think it is another nice name for Jesus; more eloquent than "shepherd" and more  English sounding than "Adonai".  Friends, there is a reason why this phrase was given to describe that precious baby in the manager. There is a reason why "beautiful baby" and "precious" was not used in description of such a strange way to save a world.  In a world of pain, sadness, deception and confusion, Christians are to cling to and claim the peace that comes from the salvation of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus was completely calm with his disciples in the midst of a hurricane of a storm and spoke to the elements, taking authority over the chaos and destruction,  so must we take hold of the peace that is ours this Christmas and throughout the rest of our lives on this earth.

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."-John 14:27

In the World of Dementia......A Short, Humorous and Factual Post

In the world of dementia.........

  • It takes 5 seconds to brew 4 cups of coffee, approximately 10 seconds after you've asked someone to make the coffee.
  • It is time for your morning breakfast and coffee after taking a nap after waking up at 4 p.m. in the afternoon.
  • It is necessary to sweep the porch of any water or snow, even if it is still snowing or raining.
  • It makes perfect sense for a 90 year old woman to roll a heavy trash can over a bumpy, uneven yard for the trash man to pick up.
  • It doesn't make sense to get your hair washed, because it is too cold outside. Even though it is too cold, that you won't even go outside.
  • Keeping plastic Venetian blinds closed will keep out heat or cold.
  • You can remember that there are clothes in the wash, but you can't remember the name of the person who lives with you and takes care of you.
  • You order your care giver to take something to her room, and 2 minutes later you tell that care taker that she doesn't live here.
  • A fragile, 5 foot woman  of 90 pounds has the ability to "kick" people out of her house.
  • It doesn't make any sense as to why you are "burnin' up", even though you have on 3 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, slipper socks and tennis shoes.
  • It makes sense to put on your Christmas lights during the day, verses having them on at night when you can actually see them.
  • It is necessary to lock and re-lock your doors, at least 3 times before going to bed.
  • You have no idea why your coffee is so cold after it has been sitting for over 20 minutes in a plastic cup.

Monday, December 17, 2012

He Was There: A Response to a Tragedy

Just as every other American is doing right now, I have been processing and responding to the Sandy Hook school tragedy that took place last Friday on December 14th, 2012. As you all know, the media has been obsessed with this tragedy, and rightfully so; but as a result, it is getting delivered to us again and again, whether it be through Facebook, the news or conversations with friends and family. The more it gets delivered, the more it gives us opportunities to think and process about this unthinkable event, which in turn gives us time to think and process about our response to this horrific tragedy. 

I think my greatest personal struggle in being exposed to this tragedy is to experience what this means as a Christian. My relationship with Jesus Christ is the foundation of my life. Without Him, I would most definitely be dead or be living a life in which would represent death with a pulse. Just like any believer, I have wrestled with the classic atheist question/challenge "If there really is a loving God, why does He allow so many horrible things to happen to such good people?". If there really is a loving God, than how could He possibly allow a mentally ill and demonically tormented gunman come to in and shoot down His precious babies and their heroic teachers? Why?

I don't know the answer, and I have been pressing into Jesus in faith that it is enough that He is the one who does know the answer. However, one thing that I do know is that despite the ignorant comments of Christians and non-Christians alike, God was there. As followers of Christ who have made a commitment and have given our lives to serve and follow Jesus, it is critical that we do not abandon the truth that God is God, and and we are not.  It gives me great comfort to know that I am unable to foresee the future, and why things happen the way that they do. I know that it would be too much for my tiny, limited brain to be able to wrap around the purpose of tragedy and pain. However, I also know that if I chose not to follow Christ and to rely on my own intellect/ experience and the intellect/experience of others, these things would still happen. I can't imagine experiencing a tragedy like this without the hope of knowing that God is in control, and that without Him and apart from Him, we can do no good thing and truthfully, we mine as well not be living at all.

As a child of God, I am ashamed to hear believers make ignorant and false statements that this school shooting happened because we are "kicking God out of schools, government and our country". To give satan and the reality of evil that much credit makes me sick to my stomach, and makes me want to gather all of those brothers and sisters in Christ who have adapted that form of thinking and shake them all simultaneously until the truth that they know to be true finds its way back to their brain cells. For those of us who were not directly affected by this tragedy, it is critical that we stand firm in our faith and who we know God to be, as the families, friends, churches and general community of this small town in Connecticut need us on our knees as they walk through this grief and unshakable pain. To put it very bluntly, there should be no time to assert political opinions about gun control and the resentment of our government/country removing God from our schools, as all of that time and energy should be spent in fervent prayer. Your selfishness and desire to express your angry opinion has it's place, but to put that ahead of prayer and support is sickening. Period.

My God defeated hell and the power of the devil. My God actually descended into the fiery pits of hell and died a physical, torturous death on the cross to save me and all of mankind from the grips of evil. My God has brought incredible beauty, peace, truth and insight through tragedies of genocides all through the generations of this world. Thousands (if not millions of people) have come to Christ, have resisted taking their own lives and have been inspired to stand against what satan meant for evil, by dedicating their lives for what God meant for good. 

He was there. He had His hands on those little babes as they ran in terror from that shooter, and fell to their physical death, but into the mighty hands of the God who formed their very being. At the exact same time He placed His hands on the shoulders of the teachers as they pulled all of those children with all of their might into those class rooms. And especially now, He is there with those families who are mourning the death of their baby, rather than celebrating the joy of the Christmas season. He is there for those children who are experiencing survivor guilt, wondering why they are still alive, and not their class mate. He is there with those parents who do not know how to comfort their terrified children at night, and are experiencing stress that they never imagined they would have to experience as a parent. Yes ladies and gentleman, my God is THERE.

He was there in the barracks of the concentration camps, as satan moved through Hitler to murder thousands of innocent people. He was there as the children and thousands of family generations were wiped out by the hand of satan moving through Pol Pot during the genocide of the killing fields in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. He was there during 911, as the thousands of people in the Twin Towers began to suffocate from the fire that engulfed them. Yes my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I believe with all of my heart that HE WAS THERE.

Underestimating the power and reality of satan and evil in this world is stupid, but underestimating my Jesus? That is just plain horribly blasphemous. Never underestimate the power of my Jesus, especially at a time where so many people need us on our knees, believing for them that God is in control,because my guess is that they cannot do it on their own right now. 

"That people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things."-Isaiah 45:6-7

"For kingship belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations."- Psalm 22:28

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."-Joshua 1:9

Monday, December 3, 2012

Make Time for Them

Merry Christmas! Before you read this next post, please watch this youtube video. My prayer is that this video/song will "set the stage" for something so very near and dear to my heart...making room in your Christmas plans for the elderly.

The first time I heard this song was when I was a little girl, probably between the ages of 11-13. How I love Christmas songs that tell a story and bring tears to your eyes. During the Christmas season we are faced with many "charity" opportunities to help those who have needs greater than our own. There is the Salvation Army bucket in front of nearly every department store, the Christmas boxes for children overseas, and a variety of other organizations/ministries that are all asking for your time and money. I don't know about you, but I tend to get overwhelmed with all of the needs that there are during this season. The truth is, those needs are always there, but when joy, blessings and happiness are magnified, it seems that pain, suffering, financial hardship, sickness and loneliness are magnified as well.

God has placed a calling on all of our lives, and if you know me even the smallest, tiniest bit, you know that He has placed a calling and an anointing on my life for the senior population. When God places such a calling and an anointing on a person, they are then in turn called to speak truth and inspire others, so here is my attempt at just that.

There will always be "special" people that are "more gifted" to do certain things, like feel comfortable around people who are wrinkly, "old", struggle to walk, hear and remember things. However, I don't care who you are, these people need you this Christmas season. It is sad for me to think about how many people avoid going to a nursing home because they can't get past that initial "smell" when they come inside a facility, or they aren't sure "what to say or do". I am not trying to discount any body's fears or anxieties, but I am going to challenge you to step outside of yourself and ask God to help you overcome them. Why? Because they need you. 

Right at this moment, I want you to close your eyes and imagine the following. Imagine that all if not most of your family and friends have died and passed away. Imagine if you had to share half of an already small room with another person who you don't even really like. Imagine if that room wasn't even big enough to put a Christmas tree inside of it, and now imagine that you don't even have the physical ability to make Christmas cookies for your family, wrap presents, or be able to write Christmas cards, because you can barely hold the pen in your hand and can hardly see the paper you are writing on. I want you to think about sitting in a wheelchair or laying in a bed, thinking about all of the Christmases that you've experienced and wondering if this will be the last one that you see, or how many more you actually will see. 

Friends, the elderly are nearly everywhere. They are in your churches, maybe your next door neighbor, they are your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, and that sweet little lady that you see sitting at McDonald's every Wednesday morning when you grab your cup of coffee and egg McMuffin. The challenges that they are facing at this age are immense, but the things that you can do to help alleviate these challenges and bring love and joy into their lives this Christmas season and all year long, are so small. Not only would you be a blessing to them, but don't be surprised if you walk away from them feeling even more blessed than when before you gave them your time.

Here are some simple ideas to show the love of Christ to the elderly in your life this season. Have no elderly in your life? Find them! They aren't too far away from you, I promise.

  • Call a local nursing home and ask to speak to the activity director or volunteer coordinator. Ask them if you can help with a Christmas craft, or with "1-1 visits" with residents who are unable to get out of their room. If they are good at their jobs, they will find something meaningful for you to do!
  • Take the time to send a Christmas card, or deliver a plate of goodies. It's amazing how far a plate of sugar cookies and a smile can go!
  • If you have precious babies and/or little kids, dress them up cute for the holidays and go door to door in the nursing home! It is a special kind of joy for a senior to hold and/or see a precious baby or small child.
  • Take your grandma or grandpa to look at Christmas lights, complete with a thermos of hot chocolate.
  • Think about a skill, hobby or interest that you have personally that you could bless the elderly with. Do you like to do hair? Offer to wash, dry and curl a seniors hair before she goes to her 500 card club or Christmas party. Do you like to wood carve? Carve a simple little ornament and give it as a gift. Many seniors have little plastic Christmas trees, and would appreciate a special decoration to add to their other ornaments.
Friends, Jesus coming to this world as a tiny babe in the manger is the heart of Christmas. And within that heart, is the truth that God is for us and within us. Instead of focusing on what to get for others and what is in your budget, I pray that your focus will shift a bit to focusing on how you can give of your heart and your time. Cherish these people this Christmas season with the same love of cherishing the Christ child. Emmanuel, God with us.

A Christmas Kind of Trust

As we prepare for the Christmas season, I find myself thinking a lot more about Mary, the mother of Jesus. Being born and raised into the Missouri Synod Lutheran church, this precious girl was never really discussed all that often. Throughout the years I have spent time studying and learning about her, as I feel like there are so many beautiful truths that God desires us to glean from this humble maiden.   

Yesterday in a conversation with a friend, I found myself identifying a truth in a way that I had never seen or thought of it before. In our humanity, we often default to assumption as to why God is doing the things He is doing, why He has blessed us with something and/or why He has chosen to take something away or delay a prayer request. The moment we see a possible reason, we latch on to that reason while in turn trusting more in what we can see, rather than having that ultimate trust in God.

This morning after a good nights sleep, I woke up with that truth on my heart and than started to connect that truth with Mary. Mary didn't need to make any assumptions, because an angel of the Lord personally told her what God's plan was for her life. "The angel  went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus."-Luke 1:28-31.

In some ways, I look at Mary and I wonder how it would feel to know what Gods plan is. The angel very specifically laid out what was going to happen and what she could expect. However, in her youth of a girl between 12-14, I wonder if she struggled to trust the unfolding of these events. I would venture that the greatest moment of trusting God in His plan was when she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit and expected Joseph to believe that that is indeed what took place. "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly."-Matthew 1: 18-19

Let's face it. It would be so much easier to follow God's plan when He specifically lays out what is going to happen and how it's going to happen. The truth at hand is that we are called to trust our Savior to communicate this plan without the verbalization of angels and literally hearing God's voice give a "play by play" as to what is going to happen in our lives. The older I get, the more I realize how God choosing to unveil His plan for His children enables us to participate in our relationship with Him. If we knew the answers, we wouldn't have as big of a need or as large of an urgency to press into Christ and seek His face.

In closing, I am reminded of the "Candy Cane Prayer" that was enclosed in a Christmas card from my boyfriend's sweet mother. 

Candy Cane Prayer

Look at the Candy Cane
What do you see?
Stripes that are red
Like the blood shed for you and me
White is for my Savior
Who's sinless and pure!
"J" is for Jesus my Lord, that's for sure!
Turn it around
and a staff you will see
Jesus my Shepherd was born for me!

During this Christmas season, may you be inspired to trust God in the unveiling of His plan for your life. May God enable you to adapt the ability to trust God as Mary and Joseph did, with the same peace and passion as if God sent Gabriel himself to verbally reveal God's plan for your life. And when you see a candy cane, may you see a Shepherd's staff more than a holiday confectionery, for He is leading you through this Christmas season and into the new year.