New Blog: Hey, Neighbor

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Is anyone else tired of the noise? Because it’s noisy out there. The social media polarization machine is running on all cylinders, churning out controversy at break-neck speed. The posted pleas from peace-makers, while sweet amidst the cacophony, most often get lost in the frenzy of loud “my way is the right way” voices. Loved ones are once again tossing out grenades and then protesting in indignant denial at the “unexpected” wounds caused by the shrapnel. Media is eating it up. When you throw gas on a fire, there is no shortage flames to keep things hot (have we had a fire plague yet?).

But maybe hot is where we need to be. There are obvious problems in our culture.

We are in a pandemic and we can’t agree on the proper course of action. If I wear a mask, I am surrendering my freedoms to the big-brother culture trying to control me. If I don’t, I am an inconsiderate slob who doesn’t care about others.

How about politics? If I pray for our current administration, I am an idiot. If I criticize it, I am unpatriotic.

And what about racism? If I see and speak out against racism, I am caving to pressure. If I ignore it, I cannot live with myself.

If I fear the murder hornets…. Well, maybe we can all agree on that one.

We see the same sorts of dichotomies everywhere we look. We are a nation of pros and cons and as a result we struggle to have civil conversation in which friends can respectfully disagree and part ways with the friendship intact. So we just keep lobbing grenades from the cover of our laptop foxholes, never really making impact (when was the last time you changed your opinion because of a snappy meme or an insulting comeback?), never coming close to making peace, much less solving anything.

Here in the middle of “enlightened and evolved” 2020, accusations and self-justifications, barbs, taunts and criticisms are flying around like a swarm of devouring locusts (also actually in our local news forecast). And they are just as ugly. It makes me want to retreat to my home office, close my windows and enjoy a good quarantine… know what I mean?

We can all do better. We can.

And to the Christian reader: we who follow Jesus are to be a people set apart. We are to be peace-makers (note: not peace-keepers… there is a difference). We are to love when it’s hard to love, with our voices and our actions.

We are to use the power of our words to build others up and to bring reconciliation.

We must listen, even to our enemies, not to form a pithy retort, but to understand.

The Jesus we follow is gentle and humble of heart, and we are to be like Him. Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness, not just for “us and ours” but for all those who need our defense? Do we mourn with those who mourn?

Jesus calls us the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”. Do our social media posts cause people to “see our good deeds and glorify God”?

God, let it be so.

The followers of Jesus are supposed to look different to the world. How is that going for you?

Maybe ask a non-Christian friend if you make them want to know Jesus more or push them further from Him. Scary question, I know. Don’t have a non-Christian friend? Well, that’s a problem, too.

We don’t have space here to tackle all that 2020 has brought us, but let’s use one of the above issues to illustrate a principle. How about, you know, for “fun”… racism?

So, you are not a racist. Well, good for you. I mean it. Super! And thank you. Asking God to examine your heart or searching your soul and finding it free of prejudice is great start. If that’s you. But if you are a Christian, it’s not enough. To follow Jesus requires more of us.

Do you remember the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)? Jesus told it in answer to this paraphrased question: “If the two greatest commandments are to love God and love my neighbor, just who is my neighbor?” In other words, “Exactly how far are you asking me to go, Jesus?”

In the story, a man is beaten up by robbers, wounded and lying naked and half dead on the side of the road. A priest walked by, crossing to the other side of the road so as not to become unclean. A Levite (a temple worker – church guy) passed, in pretty much the same way. A Samaritan (insert your favorite underclass or outcast here) came upon the man and took pity. He picks the man up, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an inn where he bandages and cares for the man, and when he has to leave, pays the innkeeper to continue caring for the man until his return, promising repayment for any additional cost. What a guy!

The passage doesn’t tell us the motivations of the priest or the Levite, but here’s what we know: They saw the problem. There was a guy, stripped, beaten, bloodied and bruised, and lying on the side of the road. We know they saw because they crossed to avoid him.

You see, we can see an injustice and not be directly guilty of it. Neither the priest nor the Levite had beaten the man. It wasn’t their fault that this guy was in this predicament. For all they knew, he may have done something to deserve it. But there he was, lying there in their path. I imagine there was a head shake of sympathy or a “tsk, tsk” uttered as they crossed the road to avoid him. “Sad, that man. How unfortunate. What a shame. Not my fault, not my responsibility.”

In the same way, we can see racism without being directly guilty of it. We can feel bad about the injustice, yet cross to the other side of the road to avoid it. We can shake our heads in disapproval of said injustice, but just keep walking. We can. But as followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t.

We are to be people who love God and love our neighbors. And love does more.

Love both sees the injustice and accepts the inconvenience (and sometimes disapproval) of addressing it.

Love is not content to just feel sorry.

Love acts to bring aid.

Love works to alleviate suffering and is moved with compassion to care for the wounded.

And there are plenty of wounded here in 2020.

Political foes, minorities, law enforcement; the poor, the wealthy, the brokenhearted; your ex, your parent, your relative or spouse; Christians and Muslims and Jews, believers or non-believers… look around you. There. Are. Plenty. Of. Wounded. And they are our neighbors.

For the actual love of God, let’s love them.

 

 

 

 

New Blog Post: Listen

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Listen.

God knows everything about you. He knows when you sit down or stand up. He knows your thoughts even when you are far away. He sees you when you travel and when you rest at home. He knows everything you do. He knows what you’re are going to say even before you say it. He goes before you and he follows you. And He places His hand of blessing on your head. [Psalm 139:1-5]

Sit with that for a minute.

God knows you.

He knows your physical body.

He knows your thoughts, even when you think you are far away from Him.

He knows your actions, your words, and the space you inhabit.

He surrounds you with His presence.

And, can you picture this?

He places His hand on your head and blesses you. Is there a sweeter, more reassuring image than that of your good Father resting his hand on your head to bless you? I don’t know one.

God is not surprised by the Corona virus.

God is not MIA.

He is present. He is good. He cares for you and wants good for you.

Invite Him. Notice Him. Talk to Him.

Listen.  

He loves you and is with you, and He’s on your side.

I pray you can rest in that today.

With Us (from Dec. 2012)

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Christmas is upon us and it really is the most wonderful time of the year. But I think you’ll agree, that in the midst of all the wonder, there’s a whole bunch of extra work and stress and a much longer to-do list. And I’m behind. I’ve taken to counting the hours I have between commitments to see if I can actually squeeze everything in.

We have a full household, with three sons living here, a few who come and go, and an assortment of their friends coming in and out at all hours.  We have a couple of bands that practice in the basement, two constantly shedding dogs, and you know… just a lot of traffic in and out of here, which creates a lot of mess. And did I say that we’re busy? We are not a “lay around the house” kind of family. We do stuff. And in our hurrying, we leave things everywhere, to be picked up at some unspecified later time.

I occasionally run into someone who claims to “love” to clean, to live to organize… whatever… I can’t relate. But, you know the type- those people who are obsessive compulsive about household cleanliness… The ones who wipe up messes immediately and disinfect the bathrooms every day? Well let’s just say there are none of those living at our house.

So I was almost literally flying around my house today picking up the piles of stuff, mostly to move them to other more organized piles. As I watched the dust and dog fur through the mid-morning sun streaming in the window, I secretly fumed. Everybody had stuff everywhere. There was laundry on the kitchen table, a Star Wars Death Star (still in the box) lying on the kitchen counter- our youngest is 19 and swears it’s not his. There was crinkled used wrapping paper and glitter on the coffee table, and assorted shoes, socks, and jackets on almost every level surface.

My manger scene was on its back, under the Christmas tree with a pitiful few presents, as I hadn’t gotten around to wrapping yet. The “stable” structure acted as mere receptacle for the inexpensive Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus figurines, who lay in a jumble with a couple of farm animals and regal wise men, waiting patiently to be put in their places (and silently mocking me.) That hadn’t been taken care of because of the piles of jackets that were on the table that was their usual display spot. It was 3 days before Christmas, and I didn’t even have the holy family in residence yet- so much for Jesus being the reason for the season and all.

My brain went rogue and did a mental inventory. Did my Christmas decorating reflect my faith? Were there signs anywhere in my whole house that our family celebrated Christmas because of Jesus? I could think of one thing… a banner depicting the nativity in my dining room. Fail. *sigh*

I moved away from the tree to the kitchen and started sorting another pile. I needed to clean off the surface of my kitchen hutch to make room for what was supposed to be stored there. I brought the trash can over and started pitching. As I leafed through an inch high stack of old mail, long forgotten “official” paperwork from a school that my boys hadn’t attended in years, user manuals and warrantee information, I saw some photos that had been stashed there during some other long-ago clean up. There was a studio picture from the school photographer of my son and his then-best friend. It was so sweet. I didn’t know school photographers did that, and I didn’t remember ever seeing this one. I set it aside.  Here was a snapshot of another son working with babies in the nursery at our old church. The baby smiled broadly as he was being rocked in a large rocking chair by my 8 or 9 year old boy, who gazed tenderly at this anonymous little one. Another showed a birthday get together, my son, the birthday boy gleefully holding up his present for the camera. I finished the pile, restashing anything valuable, and moved to the dining room.

As I begrudgingly evaluated the situation there, a thought came into my head and I banished it quickly. Why was it that everyone else’s stuff bothered my so greatly, but I forgave my own messes without hesitation? After all, I was busy. I worked hard and put in a lot of hours. I was entitled to leave my stuff wherever I wanted in my house. Right? But they… they were being irresponsible, lazy and… well… messy. Yes, that was it.

Whew. This was big. The large dining room table (seating for 8, but we’d often sat as many as 12 around it) was almost completely covered. There were college text books and an antique trumpet in a rectangular case that Jake had brought home from his first grown-up road trip. A tangle of evergreen garland reminded me again of my failure to get the house “ready for Christmas.” I’d get to that today, I promised myself. Or I’d dump it back in a rubbermaid bin and get it out of sight until next year. Here was a tray of jewelry making supplies, for one of my creative outlets, which now had a fine covering of dust on it, seeing as it hadn’t been touched in several weeks. There was more laundry, a pair of shoes on a chair and a variety of jackets slung across the backs of chairs. This is the room where Jake gives music lessons. Two chairs reflected his teaching arrangement, set facing each other, apart from the table, though it had been a week since the last lesson. I sighed and pushed them back to proper placement, calling it a day. Really, it had only been an hour, but I needed to get ready to go. I was taking one of our young friends out to practice driving and to test for his driver’s license.

I’d made some progress, but not enough. There was still the living room, the family room, and miles to go before I slept. I glanced at the snow men arranged by the front door, crowded and disheveled because of a few more pair of size “Large” shoes that had been shed and left, and my heart softened. This was life at the Stergos home. We have boys. And dogs. We have schedules and lessons and classes and jobs. We have meals together, around the table or in front of a movie. We laugh a lot. We hug. We invite people into our family and love them. We make cookies and eat gobs of dough. We make fun of our dogs, quote favorite movies, have late night popcorn, are addicted to more than one TV drama together, and we make messes.  And we have God- right in the middle of all of it, because He chose to come into our mess. He came here, to us and to you, because He wanted to be with us.

I had failed miserably to put “signs of Jesus” into my Christmas decorating, but there were signs of Him everywhere in the middle of my failure. I just had to notice and remember. We are a family that celebrates Him all year long. We know of His presence. We celelbrate Him in sunsets, in laughter, in daily chatter or late-night conversations.  We see Him in each other. We see Him in you.  And there is evidence of Him, even in our piles. God is with us, because in His boundless love for us He chose to be with us. He is Immanuel, literally the “with us God.”  He is with us in our crumpled wrapping paper, glitter on the coffee table, jumbled on the floor nativity moments. He is with us in our everyday laughing, crying, mourning, celebrating, mundane and wondrous lives- becauseHe loves us.

 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14  

Thank you God, for the reminder. Merry Christmas.

New Blog Post: The Way to Joy

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My 92 year-old father has been sick. He has beaten cancer twice and is tougher than anyone I know, but he is only human, and his body is failing him these days. I visited a few days ago and spent a few hours doing some of the things that he loves. We took a long drive in the countryside to see some of his favorite places – meadows full of summer wildflowers in wild abundance, streams flowing swiftly with sun glinting like diamonds off the surface and vistas of rolling Missouri hills topped by white cotton-ball clouds. At 92, you’re allowed to have dessert first, so we went for ice cream cones and then came home and had his favorite soup and a red ripe sliced and salted tomato. I settled him into his big Lazy-Boy recliner to rest and reluctantly said my “goodbye” and “I love you.” He thanked me for my time, apologizing for “putting me through all of this” which made me cry as soon as I shut myself into the privacy of my car.

I drove home weary and sad, still tearful and grieving. As my husband and I prepared dinner, I tried to express the slow loss I was feeling and the sadness that had settled over me. He prayed over our meal and then added a prayer for my dad, “God, restore joy to him.” Then he added, “And bring joy to Chrissy, too.” I cringed and thought, “No! Don’t spend anything on me! Don’t divert any of our prayer for me. Save that for dad!” … as if God had a pie chart from which He measures His blessings, and any joy to me would result in a smaller chunk for my dad. I heard God’s whisper. “That’s not the way it works with Me. I am the author of all good things. ‘All the world is mine and everything in it.’” (Ps. 50:12)

God’s economy is vastly different than ours. God is not finite, nor are His blessings. When God wants to give joy, he doesn’t have to take it from someone or someplace, diminishing some heavenly storehouse – He just speaks it into existence – as much as we need. And the thing that seems to open wide the faucet for us is our gratitude. Our recognition of God as our Source and our humble thanksgiving to Him seem to be key to experiencing joy. In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts she beautifully states this truth: “The practice of giving thanks … is always a practice of the eyes. We don’t have to change what we see. Only the way we see (emphasis mine).”

What is the “way I see”? Do I see lack? Do I see deficit? Am I enviously comparing my life with other people’s lives, my stuff with their stuff, my work with their work or my fun with their fun? Or do I see God’s goodness to me? Can I see and be thankful for His faithfulness, His steadfast love, His presence with me – even in my pain and regardless of how I feel? Because the way I choose to see Him will change my perspective and when I choose well, gratitude supplies me with abundant joy, even in the midst of sorrow.

To see and thank God for the good He has given is only the first step in choosing joy. When we choose to thank God for even the hard things, trusting He is for us, joy prevails. As we give thanks in all things, choosing to trust that even in our pain and bewilderment, God is working toward our good, joy takes up residence and abides in us – without limit, abundant and overflowing, not parceled out stingily, but with lavish generosity!

Scripture tells us that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights… (James. 1:17).” My father is one of many “good and perfect gifts” that the Father has showered upon me. The grief I am feeling for him in the present, while heavy, is dwarfed by the awareness of God’s great goodness in the giving. It is up to me though, to choose the way I see. Would I choose no sorrow at the sacrifice of the gift? By no means! I would 100 times choose the gift of my time with my dad even knowing that there would be great pain in the letting go. When I, even in my sadness, choose to thank this Giver of gifts, my joy is restored – not replacing my sadness, but far outweighing it.

And at the end of the day, I find myself grateful even for the sadness – for it reminds me of the goodness of the gift and the infinite love of the Giver.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recapturing Peace

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What causes bath bombs to fizz? © ShutterstockI have been learning lately about mindfulness meditation, and one thing that has become clear is that I’m not very good at this practice. Mindfulness meditation is about quieting yourself, paying attention to the details of your present experience without analyzing or fretting. I try to gather my racing thoughts into a meditative state with deep focused breathing and sheer force of will, but golly, it is hard. I’ve just come off of a long season of frenetic activity, constant intake of information and a deficit of stillness. My formerly peaceful brain has been on overdrive for so long that to merely be feels wasteful or unproductive. I need to recapture peace, and so, I must retrain my over-worked, over-stimulated brain to relax, to enjoy, to appreciate and rejuvenate.

Recently, I joined a young friend moving out of his apartment. There was much to do, with a few big pieces of furniture to be moved, and plenty of little stuff, too. We’d have our work cut out for us to get the place emptied and cleaned by the 3:30pm deadline, when the key was due to the rental office. Cleaning seemed the best shot for me to contribute something significant, so while a few others worked on the big stuff, I retreated into the bathroom to scrub, alone with my silent and surprisingly surly thoughts:

Gosh, I hate cleaning. I know some people say they get great satisfaction from the before and after, but not me. Personally, I’m wishing for woodland animals to come and assist, but this is clearly not Disneyland and I am no Snow White. It’s just me and the toilet brush and a few sponges today. And it’s so hot in here. There go my glasses again, fogging up and sliding down my nose for the 100th time. Why can’t I have Lasik surgery???? I hate inhaling bathroom cleaner… this can’t be good for me. I don’t even clean my own house this well. My tub could sure use a good scrub. Gosh, I hate cleaning. And so on… for hours.

It was hard physical work and I came home to an empty house late in the afternoon – tired, dirty, salty and very fragrant. I’m not usually a bath-taker, but inspired by my earlier tub-scrubbing adventures, I thought, “A good soak in a hot tub may be just the thing to relax my aching muscles. A thoughtful friend had recently gifted me a bath-bomb with a prize at the center, and since I had never used one, and since I am sometimes impulsive and highly suggestable, I decided today would be a good day to try it. I had some time. I had opportunity. Inhaling, I caught a whiff of myself. I certainly had motive.

First giving the tub a quick necessary scrub, I ran water and placed my fluffy white terri-cloth robe just within reach. I called up the Zen music station on Pandora, strategically placing my phone where I could adjust volume as needed without fumbling it into the bathwater. With the softly waning late afternoon sunlight filtering through the glass block window, I settled into the tub and dropped the bomb.

The ball of mystery-material effervesced with such energy that it zoomed around the tub as if motorized. Soon it began to turn scarlet, transforming my bath water to sparkling rose’. Still it fizzed on, like a spherical miracle. The pink water, now silky to the touch emitted a lovely floral scent. I remembered the hidden prize inside just in time to chase down the disappearing bomb, holding it in my hands as it fulfilled its ultimate purpose in life. At its center was  a small silver cross charm, which I shined up with a towel and set to the side. How lovely.

With the excitement now over, I was ready for my soak. I leaned back and closed my eyes, inhaling deeply the scent of rosemary and lavender. Distracted by the delicate strains of a sitar, I reached over and pressed pause on Pandora, rendering the room finally still. Deep breath in. Slow breath out. A cardinal sang to me from outside the window. Breathe in goodness. Breathe out yuck. A clock ticked rhythmically, steady and dependable. Breathe in. Breathe out. I felt my spirit beginning to quiet. God reminded me of the scripture verse He’s had me parked on for the past 9 months: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)” Breathe in deeply God’s perfect love. Breathe out fear… slowly… intentionally… mindfully.

Eventually, I heard the front door of the house open. My husband announced his homecoming with bustling footsteps and the rustle of plastic grocery bags as he moved toward the kitchen to prep for dinner. I dried and dressed and silently blessed my friend for the gift of a bath bomb with a prize inside. I thanked God for my husband and for the few minutes of solitary respite. My mind was clearer. My attitude was better. My heart was grateful, and I thought to myself, “Hey, this stuff really works!”

Retraining our brains really is possible, if we are intentional. You see, as we marinate in complaints, chaos, conflict or calculations, those are the poverties that pigment our experience of the world. But when we become meditative, mindful to experience the present fully and intentionally, and appreciating the gifts and presence of God, our experience of the world is transformed. The colors of gratitude and contentment permeate our very souls and remind us of the many riches with which we are blessed and that were ours all along.

The scent or rosemary and lavender followed me through the rest of my day. So did peace. I took notice and was grateful – for a body and muscles that work… for glasses to help me see… for air-conditioned shelter, fresh hot water and a bath tub… grateful for soft sunlight, the song of a bird, for my loved ones, and for the steady and dependable presence of God.

Soaking my muscles in warm water and softly scented minerals had been good for me. Soaking my mind and soul in silence and solitude was golden. This practice of mindfulness will change you. It is already changing me, and I’m no good at it yet. But first, you must find quiet – to breath, to listen, to notice, to thank. Find your space. Find your rhythm. You don’t need any equipment to get started. But if by chance a friend gives you a bath bomb, mindfully appreciate the heck out of that thing.

Who’s got the bread?

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Out of My Mind...

26993957_10155455234303458_7108299348357264900_nMy husband and I have had the privilege of helping to parent a few extra kids who for various reasons needed new environments in which to continue to grow. When we mention that to people, we get some raised eyebrows, and usually some kind words having to do with our bravery or self-sacrifice. We smile, say “thank you” and then tell the truth: We have gained more than we ever gave in those relationships. Our own biological children have only ever benefited. All of our lives have been far richer because of the presence of those sons God brought through other means than having given birth.

At the beginning, we wondered how we could possibly do it. Our home was already pretty full. There would be added expense to our already strained budget. How could we emotionally keep up with more than our four? But we took a chance or…

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Who’s got the bread?

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26993957_10155455234303458_7108299348357264900_nMy husband and I have had the privilege of helping to parent a few extra kids who for various reasons needed new environments in which to continue to grow. When we mention that to people, we get some raised eyebrows, and usually some kind words having to do with our bravery or self-sacrifice. We smile, say “thank you” and then tell the truth: We have gained more than we ever gave in those relationships. Our own biological children have only ever benefited. All of our lives have been far richer because of the presence of those sons God brought through other means than having given birth.

At the beginning, we wondered how we could possibly do it. Our home was already pretty full. There would be added expense to our already strained budget. How could we emotionally keep up with more than our four? But we took a chance or two and found that our needs and those of our kids were more than met – every time.

Fast forward a few years, and God has enlarged the vision of caring for those who needed extra support from added “family”. God has been wooing us into a bigger story, one which invites others into the purpose, the joy and reward of what we have experienced. God started whispering, “What if…?” to us. What if other parents could feel the same call we had? What if we could help with resources? What if we were able to provide housing by purchasing small apartment building in which a host couple could “parent” a few youngsters (18-25) and help them into adulthood?

And A Seat at the Table was born. But, here’s the thing. We can’t do it all. And we really can’t do it all by ourselves. It’s a pretty big vision and it will require a lot – willing house parents, qualifying mentees, partnering agencies and of course, financial support. We sometimes fret about how in the world we can accomplish all of this! It’s far too much. It’s hard to know where to begin, much less how to proceed. It can be a little overwhelming.

A week or two ago I was reading the gospel of Mark in chapter 8, and God showed me something that I want to share with you. In this chapter, Jesus has for the 2nd time fed a multitude of people from just a few loaves and a few small fish. Again, there are thousands of hungry people. Again, there were baskets full of leftovers. Remember, this is at least the second time the disciples have taken part in a miracle like this. Between the two events, they have seen Jesus walk on water, His mere presence in their boat calming the wind and waves. They’ve seen multitudes healed by him, including the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman and a deaf and dumb man who could immediately hear and speak. They have also witnessed challenges by the religious scholars – the Pharisees and those who would cling to their religious traditions at the expense of true worship.

And now, in chapter 8, Jesus is teaching his disciples. He warns them to “beware the yeast of the Pharisees.” And I don’t know if they were hungry or what, but they realize they forgot to bring any provisions. As Jesus is teaching, a few side conversations are taking place. “How could we have forgotten to buy provisions?  Whose job was that? Why is Jesus talking about yeast? It must be because we forgot to bring any bread.” (my paraphrase, of course)

And Jesus overhears them, and you can almost read the astonishment in his voice. He seems incredulous. “Why are you talking about the bread? How can you still not see?” Jesus reminds them of how he fed first the 5000 and then the 4000, quizzing them each time, asking, “Do you remember?” and, “How many baskets were left?” And finally, “Do you still not understand?”

And that’s when God’s voice broke in for me, saying, “You see? I’ve got the bread! You don’t need to worry about the bread. I’ve got it. You guard the vision. You go and use the gifts I’ve given you and do what I’ve asked you to do. Enter into that to which you’ve been invited and don’t worry about the bread. I’ve got the bread.”

So what is your “bread”? What are you worrying over that God has already taken care of? What are the things He’s done in your past that have shown you that He’s got it? For us at A Seat at the Table, it feels like we need a lot of bread. But He has shown us again and again that we need not worry about the bread. He’s moved mountains for us as we’ve sought His wisdom and way. There really is no way we can do this on our own, with just our few loaves and fishes. But we serve the almighty God of the Universe – and He’s got the bread.

Shine

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When I was a kid, my family owned a ramshackle cabin in rural Missouri. Using the term “ramshackle” might be dressing it up a bit – the center room was over a hundred years old; rooms had been added randomly; there was no plumbing; you get the picture – but it was forty-five acres of pure bliss for us.

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We spent most weekends there. There were plenty of projects for us to work on. We planted a garden, built a split rail fence, painted and weeded and watered and scrubbed in the mornings and then headed to the river for some fun in the afternoons. At night we’d sit outside around a campfire singing our own songs and listening for the whippoorwills to sing to each other. The awkward and sizable birds would occasionally swoop in low to get a look at who was making all the ruckus in the middle of their romantic serenades.

We had a neighbor, almost as old as the cabin, who’d been a real-live cowboy. Old Joe had no family, but had an abundance of stories from his years as a cowboy. He had worked cattle, communed with real “Indians” and traveled with a carnival where he became known as Merry-Go-Round Joe. He had a million stories and would entertain us for hours in the telling of them. He would often come over on Saturday mornings and visit, joining us for “panny-cakes” and occasionally as he ate, he would slip his dentures out for a more comfortable chew. His eyes would grow misty as he reminisced about giving free rides to the kids from a local orphanage or recollected friends of his youth that he’d never see again.

Those younger days of struggle and  adventure were long over now, and his formerly strapping frame was now shrunken and crippled with arthritis so that he relied on a hand carved cane and hobbled when he walked. One day my dad asked him if his feet hurt. They did. He explained that he could no longer bend down to trim his toenails, and they’d grown long and painful.

The next day, my dad and I visited Joe at his cabin. Dad brought a wash basin, toenail clippers and wire cutters. Dad heated water on the old gas stove, poured that and some soap into the basin and sat the resistant old cowboy down. Then my father bent down and oh-so-gently removed old Joe’s shoes, peeled off his ragged socks and placed both feet in the basin to soak. After a brief soak, and now kneeling, my dad placed a towel in his lap and carefully trimmed Joe’s long, thick yellow nails.

Genesis 1:27 tells us God made humanity to “bear His image” into the world. I will never forget the image of my dad serving this man in such a humble and loving way. He had been given an opportunity -and a choice. He could walk away or he could love the old cowboy as Jesus would. He chose to love –  and the old cowboy soon came to know Jesus. He chose to love, and gave his children an image, etched forever in our memories, of what selfless love looks like.

In John 1 we read that “The true Light, who shines upon the heart of everyone, was coming into the cosmos …” and that God “… took on flesh … became human and chose to live alongside us… enveloped in undeniable splendor—the one true Son of the Father—evidenced in the perfect balance of grace and truth.”

God didn’t just ask us to love. He modeled it for us, giving sacrificially of Himself, laying down His own majesty, and shaping Himself into the humble person of Jesus in order to serve mankind. It’s almost unimaginable, but try with me, won’t you?… Imagine the “undeniable splendor” and “the brilliant light” embodied in this God/Man, Jesus as He humbly touches lepers, bringing healing. Can you even begin to fathom the Infinite Eternal God pouring Himself into human form – a weak vessel of flesh barely able to contain the light of the life inside, kneeling to wash His disciple’s feet?

Now, look at the words of Jesus from Matt. 5: “And you, beloved, are the light of the world… You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.”

Did you see it? The Light is calling us light. He’s asking us to bear His image – His light in us – into our worlds, so that “men and women everywhere” may see Him in us and turn to Him. He’s inviting us to join Him, loving as He loves. And we have a choice to make. We may walk away… or we may love like Jesus. My dad chose to love like Jesus, and I want to do that too.

God, help us to recognize that Jesus has bestowed upon us the mission and privilege of light bearing and loving. Help us to pay attention to the opportunities everywhere – the choices that are before us constantly. Jesus, help us to take up your mission, shine your light and love like You. Amen.

 

 

Bountiful

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I’ve been counting my blessing this week.

I was in my car driving the other day, with the radio on the classical station playing Bach in the background. I was multi-tasking as usual, squeezing in some prayer time while driving. I started into my list… you know the one… all of the things that I’m concerned about. I feel like I know the best way to proceed, so I begin to instruct God as to what the path forward should look like in each situation. I have great ideas.

As I moved down my to-do list,  I was struck by a thought. A wave of gratefulness washed over me and I heard God’s whisper in my ear. “Those people you’re so concerned with? I gave them to you. They were mine first. I choose to share them with you.”

Here I was, presuming to instruct the God of the Universe about the care of my loved ones. The audacity!

I think of my sons, all of them… our sons, really – God’s and mine –  a few of His masterpieces, extravagantly shared with me. He designed and knew each of them before they were conceived, had planned for them before one of their days came to be, and even knowing that the task would be too big for me without Him, He decided to risk them to my care. What was He thinking???!!! I’m so thankful that He entrusted them to me.

I think of my husband. I’m pretty sure he was formed precisely for me, but he’s not really mine. He makes me a better person and God has used him to change and grow me in ways that would have been impossible without him. Our boys are better men and will be better husbands and fathers because of his example. He and I have shared such joy, but living out a lifelong covenant with someone is also sometimes hard, and he’s had to endure while some of my rough edges get knocked off (and there are more to go). Yet he endures with a smile. For that and for him I’m grateful.

My family – parents, siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, etc… I have an abundance and they are ridiculously good. They are perfectly quirky in all the best ways. They’ve taught me that everyone brings a unique and necessary voice to the table, whether we are just alike or gloriously different. I want such good for them – but the God with whom I share them wants more for them than I can begin to imagine. He cares for them more deeply than I ever could, and He shows it all the time. I’m so thankful that He chose to season my life with them.

I think of you, my friends. What grace, that God would shower me with so many of you, who seem made for me. He’s lavishly cared for me through you – throughout my life, wherever I’ve lived and in every season of life. You are precious to me, but He loved you first and loves you more. I’m so grateful that He has providentially arranged our journeys to meld along the way for a time. You are not mine but He shares you with me, and I don’t know why He’s graced me with such goodness, but your presence is just more proof of His extravagant love for me.

My list went on and on that day, and as I arrived at my destination, i sat in the parking lot for quite some time. In the quiet of my car, with soothing strains of a cello miraculously overcoming the chaos of the traffic all around me, God reminded me that my greatest blessings… all that I am most thankful for… are my people.

And so, while I’ll continue to pray for you, I believe that He knows exactly what you need. And I believe that in His great love for you, He’ll provide it. In my prayers for you, I will trust Him more and me less. His plan is better than anything my puny imagination can drum up.

So, Happy Thanksgiving. You are the texture and richness and soul of this life. You are the bounty that makes life worth living and I’m so thankful – for you, to you, and to Him.

 “Whenever you cross my mind, I thank my God for you and for the gift of knowing you.” (Phil. 1:3)