a Christmas prayer

I was looking for something else this morning, and stumbled across this prayer for those who are living with the loss of loved ones this holiday season. We’ve seen so much loss this year – in our family and amongst our church – and it’s been on my heart this week as we transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas. I’ll be praying it often this year, for myself and for those around me, knowing that only Christ can give the peace, understanding and comfort that’s desired.

God of compassion, there is such a hole in my heart! Today should be a day of joy, but I feel only emptiness and loss. While the world celebrates around me, I remember Christmas celebrations of the past and I long to have my loved one with me. I bring my sorrows to you, Lord, like some odd gift of the magi and dump them at your feet. In my blind tears I wonder if anyone can possibly understand the depth of my sadness.

I know, you can. You sent your son to be with us in our deepest sorrows and I know that even though I might not feel it now, you are here with me, grieving with me, caring for me in my sadness. Dearest lord, help me to turn to the one I miss so much today and speak. Help me heal the loss of our parting and help me not to regret the things I didn’t say. Sorrow tears at my heart, but today I ask that my loss soften my heart and make me more compassionate with everyone I meet, so that my loss may become a gift to others.

~source unknown

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Sunday: hope in God

Stumbled across this and it spoke to me…

Hope in God, for God will free you from your burdens or give you the strength to bear them. When we have faith in God, we are shielded from our enemies and the terrors of the night. To say “I believe in God” is to say we do not trust in our own strength but in the strength of God. It is most certain that God exercises a tender care for us when we abandon all our anxieties and fears to Divine Providence. Yet God desires that we do all that lies in our power to accomplish our tasks. Go ahead filled with courage, but go in simplicity. God wants us to use all the ordinary means to attain hope and trust.

-St. Francis de Sales

sermon notes: an abundant life

Yesterday’s message was one of my favorites Tom has ever preached. When I woke up this morning – stressed, discouraged, anxious – the core verse came to mind.

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. ~John 10:10

So what is an abundant life?

It’s one that is so engulfed with Christ that it shines brightly in spite of the darkness around it. It is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit (joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness self-control), and also by growth and an ability to move forward. An abundant life is one that knows God’s voice and follows his promptings. It is a life of witness and continual sharing of His grace and Good News. It’s a life of contentment and joy, fullness and peace.

It’s a life that is so over-flowing with Jesus, He can’t help but splash onto those around us.

There are so many challenges to living the abundant life God has for us, and I’m feeling so many of them today. I’m worried about Hanna’s back, which has been spasming for over a week now and is only barely made better by medication. My grandfather isn’t doing well, and we don’t know what this week will bring. We’re coming to an extra-busy time of year, compounded by Tom pastoring two churches. And we’re still struggling to figure out how best to help Caleb.

Some are personal. The excuses we make and the blame we place. The circumstances we’re in at the moment (that would be my whole big list up there!). The habits and bad attitudes we allow to grow without check. Anger, hurts and, perhaps most harmful, those roots of bitterness that take hold and strangle our closeness to God.

Some are corporate, or group-held. We can get selfish as a church body and cling to our personal preferences, ignoring God’s purpose. We hold to traditions when they’ve become out-dated and no longer culturally relevant. We gossip. And we are unwilling to change to better communicate God’s message to the unchurched. We put what is comfortable and preferable over moving forward God’s mission, and we’re watching churches die daily and the numbers of those who identify themselves as part of God’s family shrink.

And sometimes, the challenges are cultural. We live in a world where those fruits of the Spirit aren’t exactly promoted anymore. As a culture, it’s become okay to be selfish and to put ourselves first. Temptations abound and are promoted – from politicians that feel it’s okay to build little lie upon little lie to television shows that celebrate the very worst we have to offer.

So, how do we fight those challenges?

Today, I’m focusing on the ones I can control the most easily and impact me most directly: I’m trying to recognize the excuses – so myriad – as they come and renounce them. I’m working hard to take every thought captive, and seek God first before I give in so easily to despair. I recognize that while I can’t control the circumstances I face this week, God does.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that when we choose to follow Jesus, our lives will be easier. It also doesn’t say that we’ll have perfect health, find worldly riches or that we’ll magically be transported to a world with no pain, no stress and no struggles. Even through the worst of that, we can live the full and abundant life God has for us.

Today, I’m choosing abundance.

until the election

I shy away from politics. I know what I believe and how I will vote, but I don’t feel the need to broadcast it publicly – and to be frank, I don’t understand those who do so with such vehemence. I’ve yet to see one person swayed in the slightest by a Facebook cartoon or a Tweet, yet I see so many angry people venting (and venting and venting and attacking) through those channels.

And, I think, probably doing irreparable harm to relationships without realizing it.

I do my best to stay out of it and away from it, but I came across this homily on Elizabeth Foss’s beautiful, wonderful blog. It speaks to my thoughts and my prayers for this election.

We are called as the family of Christ to pray for our country, the election and whichever gentleman our president-elect will be next Wednesday. I also believe that it is our duty as Jesus followers to influence in a way that is God-honoring and moves forward the Kingdom of God, not hampers it. It’s up to us as individuals to figure out what that means in our lives. I’m thrilled that our church will be hosting an Election Day communion service, choosing to come together in unity on a day that is so ruled by discord.

This is my prayer for these next 10 days.

O God, we acknowledge you today as Lord,
Not only of individuals, but of nations and governments.

We thank you for the privilege
Of being able to organize ourselves politically
And of knowing that political loyalty
Does not have to mean disloyalty to you.

We thank you for your law,
Which our Founding Fathers acknowledged
And recognized as higher than any human law.

We thank you for the opportunity that this election year puts before us,
To exercise our solemn duty not only to vote,
But to influence countless others to vote,
And to vote correctly.

Lord, we pray that your people may be awakened.
Let them realize that while politics is not their salvation,
Their response to you requires that they be politically active.

Awaken your people to know that they are not called to be a sect fleeing the world But rather a community of faith renewing the world.

Awaken them that the same hands lifted up to you in prayer
Are the hands that pull the lever in the voting booth;
That the same eyes that read your Word
Are the eyes that read the names on the ballot,
And that they do not cease to be Christians
When they enter the voting booth.

Awaken your people to a commitment to justice
To the sanctity of marriage and the family,
To the dignity of each individual human life,
And to the truth that human rights begin when human lives begin,
And not one moment later.

Lord, we rejoice today
That we are citizens of your kingdom.

May that make us all the more committed
To being faithful citizens on earth.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

hello, October

October and November are the months when my soul is happiest.

There’s something so incredible about the change of seasons, especially while living in a farming community. The cotton has blossomed, turned to bolls and burst into fluffy white balls. The corn has reached to the sky, gone golden and is being harvested. Pomegranates hang, giant red ornaments, on trees. Some fields are already plowed under, ready for Spring.

It’s easy to see God’s hand and provision living in a place like this.

It’s also when we see church life explode. Holiday bazaars, family events, more crowded services, favorite hymns. I treasure this time.

Last year was our practice year, and we set up some wonderful new traditions last year. Our Great Pumpkin Party will forever be one of my favorite church memories, and one that we’re repeating this year. We’re talking about adding a barbecue potluck or family homecoming in November to coincide with the end of a sermon series. And at our second church, they celebrate a Hanging of the Greens service – one of my favorite traditions we enjoyed in Florida.

What I’m looking most forward to is Christmas Eve service. The candlelight, the sacred songs, the families together to worship. But mostly, I look forward to our children’s Nativity.

It’s not planned.

It’s not practiced.

Last year, we were furiously pulling together costumes as kids came in. This year, we’re hoping to be a bit more organized…but just as welcoming.

There is always room in our Nativity for another angel, another shepherd and, if we get desperate, a sheep or two. Not sure about ninja shepherds, though. That might be a one year only sort of thing.

Isn’t that we should be about as a church?

Welcoming all, making room for all, giving each and every person the space for Grace to act.

5 Minute Muse: trying to get back in the habit of writing for joy. Setting the timer and writing, no editing.

I’m praying that for this new season – the space for Grace in all we do and all we say.

turn north

I was having a little devotional time this morning – something that has been lacking lately – and had to stop and share this passage immediately. It’s from Made to Crave by Lysa TerKeurst, but this passage was written by Ruth Graham and the emphasis is mine. And it helped give me a big old kick in the pants in regards to some new roles and decisions I’ve been fretting over.

Either we can be victimized and become victims, or we can be victimized and rise above it. Often it is easier to play the victim than take off our masks and ask for help. We get comfortable with our victim status. It becomes our identity and is hard to give up. The Israelites often played the victim card, and I love what God finally tells them,“You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north!” (Deuteronomy 2:3 [NASB]).
Turn north! It’s time to move on! Self-pity, fear, pride and negativity paralyze us. Taking off our masks takes courage, but if we don’t do it, we will remain in our victim status and end up stunted.

What mountain do you need to stop circling today? What north is God calling you to?

Thankful Thursday: 04.17.12

I’ve been struggling for the last month or so. Big changes in our daily schedules, big decisions I didn’t want to have to make, big stresses everywhere I turned.

Saturday, I spent all day on the couch, watching a SyFy series on the iPad.

Sunday, I cried in the kitchen, and Tom took the kids to dinner and had a little come to Jesus talk with them about some things that needed to change.

Monday, the sun came up.

I woke up at 6:15 and realized it was light enough for me to get in a run before school.

I ate full paleo – no sugar, no grains, no dairy.

I tore through my massive to do list.

Just like that.

The sun came up.

I’ve been returning over and over this week to these words from Tom’s message Sunday about Caleb in the Old Testament (Numbers 13 and 14):

I’m so thankful for these reminders, and the big changes that come with such seemingly small ones.

Want to join in me in creating a life of gratitude? Leave a comment or a link to your own blog post about what you’re thankful for today.

thankful thursday: 04.05.12

I was reminded last week of what happens when I try to get through things on my own.

It’s not pretty.

And I’m so thankful for those gentle – and sometimes not-so-gentle – reminders the Lord sends us…to help us refocus…to bring ourselves back into obedience…to turn to Him first in all things.

For the ways he speaks to us…through Scripture…through music…through words from others…directly to our heart in quiet times.

It’s easy, when the road is more difficult, to live those verses in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

But I am trying.

I’m still figuring out a good schedule for me, and Thankful Thursdays are going to be part of it. I’m going to give myself a lot of latitude with this – I might have a list…I might have a thought…or maybe just some photos.

We’ll see.

Want to join me?

Leave a comment or a link to your own blog post about what you’re thankful for today.

And we’ll make it a weekly habit.

five for friday: lenten lessons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. I need structure and schedule. That’s not a new lesson for me, but it’s one I don’t think I’ve quite grasped. One of my goals for this weekend is to sketch out a better daily schedule for myself – something that takes into account devotional and prayer time, daily exercise, homeschooling, kitchen time and homekeeping time.
  2. I turn to food to deal with stress. It’s a habit I’ve been struggling to break for as long as I can remember, and is truly an area of bondage for me.
  3. The more stressed I get, the more I crave sweets. And grains. And all the other stuff that my body just doesn’t run well on. And the more I give into those cravings, the worse they get.
    It’s a vicious, ugly circle.

And when we can’t take another step
The father will pick us up and carry us in his arms
And even on the best days He says to remember we’re not home yet
So don’t get too comfortable
Cause what you really are is just pilgrims passing through

These past six weeks have shown me some changes I need to make moving forward. That schedule is a necessity, as is getting sugar back out of my diet. I’m starting the 21 Day Sugar Detox with the group starting Monday. I need to focus on the blessings and the positive God is bringing into my life on a daily basis.

This hasn’t been the Lenten season I envisions, but maybe that’s not a bad thing.

the message

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

My favorite 94 year old quoted these verses to me the other night at our church’s St. Patrick’s Day Pancake Supper and Family Night.

I think everyone should have a favorite 94 year old. Mine lives on her own, still drives a giant Cadillac everywhere, wears gloves and is completely adorable. She knows her Scriptures inside and out, and recently asked for prayer to help her be a better servant. Seriously, the woman is phenomenal and wise and has a better memory than I do…at half a century younger.

But we were chatting and she said those verses, and they just stuck with me.

And then – wouldn’t you know it – Tom based this week’s message around them, and they sunk in a little bit deeper.

rejoice always – do I find joy in all things?

pray continually – is prayer as integral to my life as breathing?

give thanks in all circumstances – do I truly see all God has given me, even in times of struggle or strife?

I’ve been so weary lately…that sort of weary that puts you in bed early and leaves you groaning when it’s time to get out. It’s been week after week – and weekend after weekend – of busy-ness. I feel like I’ve hardly been able to catch my breath.

And I’m realizing – in all of the craziness and life and running – that I’m over-looking some incredible blessings. I’m homeschooling again, something I really didn’t want to do…but I need to rejoice in the opportunity that I have to spend time with my child and to make the best decisions for her. I have two more kids at home with me each day…and I should be thanking God for this beautiful parsonage He’s provided for us that has space for everyone, and then some. Weekends are busier, with Sunday school now and potluck’s and longer days on Sundays…and I’m not giving thanks for all of the new faces at church that God is bringing.

More importantly, I’m not praying. As my day has become more hectic, the one part that shouldn’t be allowed to slip – my prayer and devotional time – has. Instead of bathing each day in prayer and abiding in Christ, I’m trying to get through each day under my own power.

It isn’t working.

I think my favorite 94 year old is on to something.

This week, I’m plugging into the right Power Source.

I think it’s going to be better.