"Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain."
~Psalm 127:1

December 31, 2013

One Word For My New Year

It's that time of the year.  The end.  When everyone gets out their forgotten lists from last year and determines that this will be the year they succeed in making those things happen.

I used to write down all the things that I accomplished in the ending year, and make plans for what I wanted to do in the year ahead.  But in the last few years, life has been so much up-in-the-air that I haven't done any of that.  How could I make plans when I didn't know what the next day would hold?

I still don't know what tomorrow will hold, and I'm probably not going to make any New Year's Resolutions.  They are just too easy to break anyway.

Instead, this year I am going to choose just one word.
"One word that sums up who you want to be or how you want to live. One word that you can focus on every day, all year long."  -One Word 365
I saw this on someone's blog and thought it was a great idea.  And I like words, so it felt like a good fit for me.  I'm still struggling with what my word should be, but I have it narrowed down to just a few.  So by tomorrow, I hope to start writing about and around and into my word.

If I had done this for 2013, I think my word would have been "Waiting."  It seemed to be a theme for this past year.  But of course, that's hindsight.  I wouldn't have chosen that word for 2013, that just seems to be what it turned out to be.

So happy New Year (a little early, at least in this time zone)!  May you feel the love of God warming your heart in this coming year and every day!

What I learned in December

I can't believe how long this month has felt!  Normally, December speeds by so fast that I can't believe it's over so soon, but not this year.

Some of the random things that I learned this month.

1.  I now remember why I didn't like playing my flute in front of people.  I get so nervous and my face gets bright red and super warm.  I don't know what makes the guitar different, but I don't get as nervous with the guitar... at least I haven't yet.

2.  Advent means coming.

3.  The squiggly part on the back of my dustpan is used to clean the brush off.  Josiah told me to wipe off the broom, so I started wiping it off with my little brush and then he showed me how to wipe it off with the dustpan!  Josiah is better at housekeeping than I am!

4.  I saw my first breach birth.  I didn't know calves could be born that way.  I'm still learning about this farming thing.

5.  According to a soon(ish)-to-be doctor, 100% of Vietnamese people are lactose intolerant.  That is so hard for me to believe!

6.  You can get a paper cut on your tongue.

7.  I do not have the gift of being able to communicate well with people who do not speak English very well (English is not their first language).  Josiah has gotten very good at it though.

8.  Apparently (again, according to an almost-doctor and almost-nurse), when you are outside on a cold day, your body uses up your energy to try to stay warm so it can't fight off sickness as well.  Therefore I got a cold.

9.  I saw my first sun pillar.  At least I saw it for the first time, and I actually realized what I was seeing/what it was called.

10.  Leg wrestling, like arm-wrestling.  It exists.  It looks a little bit like this, but I couldn't get a good shot because Kristen didn't even last 1 second when the battle began!

I'm sure there were so many other things that I learned this month, but at the moment, I can't remember!  If I don't write them down right away I tend to forget them.

Linking up with Emily Freeman at Chatting At The Sky.

December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

   "The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
   Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
   When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
   They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often." -Luke 2: 11-19

Christmas has come finally!  

But now that it's almost over, wait, don't rush to the next thing.  Life isn't in the rush and the commotion.  Life is in the small, life-giving things, like the Baby we celebrate on this day.  In the bustle and fast forward speed of life, it is easy to forget the truly important, small and beautiful gifts that God gives us every day.

I feel like I'm back at the beginning of this Advent.  Taking slow breaths.  Taking time, waiting.  Maybe every day should be like this Advent.  A reminder that God is with us.  God is for us.  And God always comes for us.  In our lowest moments, He comes to us and offers us the greatest gift.  Himself.

Every day He is coming.  Every day is advent.

Sunset from this beautiful Christmas evening

December 24, 2013

Expectations: Advent Dec. 24

"At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census.  And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home.  He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee.  He took with him Mary, his fiancĂ©e, who was now obviously pregnant.
And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son.  She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them."  -Luke 2: 1-7

There was no room for them in the inn.  That wasn't what you would have wanted or expected.

In a tight spot.  Your wife is about to give birth and you can't find any decent place to stay.  The town is packed with fellow travelers, all weary from the distance.  Finally, one innkeeper feels a little sorry for your situation and gives you the only place he has left.

A small stable.  Probably mostly clean, but still in use, if you know what I mean.  Not ideal.  Not what you had in mind.

In the first place, it wasn't really ideal for Mary to be pregnant.  There were so many questions and remarks behind-the-back.  I'm sure being pregnant before marriage (even if it was the Messiah) was not the situation Mary expected to find herself in.

The shepherds weren't expecting to be visited by a blinding host of angels to be told about a baby, one that was wrapped in rags and laying in a feed trough.

The wise-men, they were expecting a well-known king.  Maybe they thought that others had seen the same signs they saw.  But what they found, a small boy, living a regular life with his father and mother looking on, was probably not what they expected.

Jesus, although His coming was prophesied, did not meet the expectations of many.  His teachings were too radical.  He wasn't radical enough.  He hung out with the wrong people.  He clashed with the religious leaders of the day.

So many times when I have expectations, I get let down.  And that is such a bad feeling.  But maybe the expectations that I had weren't really the best.  Maybe God had something much better planned, and instead of holding on to my measly measurement, if I would have surrendered my dreams, my plans, my heart, to Him, I would have seen the fullness of the Awesomely Unexpected God.

The Baby, born into a smelly shelter of animals, born in a confused and disappointed world: the fulfillment of all our expectations.

December 23, 2013

Emmanuel: Advent Dec. 23

"This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, her fiancĂ©, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:
'Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
    She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
    which means ‘God is with us'.”       -Matthew 1: 18-23

Immanuel.  Emmanuel.  God with us.

I've been wondering, what did the angels think?  When they heard that God was sending His Son to earth in the form of a baby.  A bare, breathing human.  The most vulnerable thing in the world.

How many times did they hold their breath as He scraped a knee or had a cold.  Wanting to comfort Him in their arms, but watching as His earthly parents cared for Him in the best way that they humanly could.

Knowing what would ultimately come.  The pain, the blood, the death that would provide The Way to deeper intimacy with the Father.

The victory.  Over death and the devil.

All because our God, so huge, came so small, as a vulnerable infant.  To be with us.  To live the lives we live, to have the emotions we have, to be vulnerable like we are.  So that we could have hope.

"O come O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

"O come Thou Dayspring come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

"O come Desire of nations bind
All peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy strife and quarrels cease
Fill the whole world with heaven's peace
Rejoice rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel"  ~O Come O Come Emmanuel

Ps.  The video above is by The Piano Guys, they are so good!  They have a bunch of other fun videos on YouTube.

December 20, 2013

Come On Ring Those Bells: Advent Dec. 20

I don't have much time to write today.  I know I have over 2 hours left in the official day, but somethings have come up and I only have a few minutes right now to write.

"He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”  -Luke 1: 17

Four hundred years passed between the last writings of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New Testament.  Can you imagine that four hundred years of longing, waiting for the Lord to speak again, to fulfill all His promises.

Then he speaks again, finally after all those years, to an old priest named Zechariah.

Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had longed for a child, and finally, well along in their years, they are told they will have one.  And not just any child, but one who will prepare the way for the Messiah!

John the Baptist is coming to prepare the way for the One.  Emmanuel.  God with us, even after four hundred years of seemingly God without us.

God is on the move, miracles are starting to happen.  God shows up and shows us that nothing is impossible with Him.

On an unrelated, but still related note, I remembered this song today and listened to it for the first time in years!  It brings back good memories of Christmas' past, record players and Christmas tree lit nights.  And a sigh of peace...

December 19, 2013

Take Hold Of Joy: Advent Dec. 19

"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord!    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
    able to tread upon the heights."  -Habakkuk 3: 17-19

Even though...

God is always extending joy out to us.  But whether we take hold of it is our choice.

Even though times are hard.  Even though money is short.  Even though Christmas is less than a week away.  Even though bills keep piling up.  Even though the sickness is debilitating.  Even though all whom I've loved are gone.  Even though...

I get stuck there sometimes.  Submerged in that first part of "even though," incoherent to the part that contains the hope and joy.  There are days when I can see all that I have been blessed with, but if I sit down and be still for a few minutes, the panic starts to creep over me.  And then my perspective gets all out of whack.

And other times, I stand obstinate in the face of uncertainty, shouting "YOU WILL NOT STEAL MY JOY!"  It sounds more like "Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o'er the plains.  And the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains.  Glo-o-o-o-o-oria in excelsis deo.  Glo-o-o-o-o-oria in excelsis deo."  At the top of my lungs when no one is around.  At least that's how it sounded today.

Ann Voskamp says it wonderfully:
"The secret of joy is always a matter of focus: a resolute focusing on the Father, not on the fears.  All fear is but the notion that God's love ends.  When does He ever end?" -from The Greatest Gift (p.189)

December 18, 2013

For Such A Time As This: Advent Dec. 18

“Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I must die, I must die.”  Esther 4: 16 (NLT)

Esther.  Another story told about the life of a Hebrew woman.  This time a beautiful young woman, crowned to be queen.

I had to let this one sit for a while today.  It made me think about my perspective.  How I see myself, my situation in life.

Esther maybe thought she would be safe because she was in. She was on the inside looking out at the injustices of the world. No one in the palace knew her true identity.  She was the queen, she had some power.

 She was scared to die.  She was scared that the king would sentence her to death if she approached him.  When her people had already been sentenced to die.  But Mordecai tells her, 
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.  For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  -Esther 4: 13-14 (NIV)
I get scared to do things sometimes.  Let it be anyone else but me.  I'm fine here in my quiet, neat, little world.  Besides, what do I have to give?  Someone else surely is better at using their gifts than me.

Sometimes, I grudgingly admit I have some gifts, a few talents, a small amount of abilities inside this mediocre being of me.  But what can these gifts really bring to other people?  

To their full extent, I'm not sure, because I've never extended myself that far.  I've never had to go to the point of "if I must die, I must die."
"When you unwrap your worth in the Gift of Christ, you release your grip on all the other gifts.  You are loved and carried and secure, and what else do you need when you have Him?  You are free, free, to lavishly give away your gifts when all your value, worth, joy, and riches are in the greatest of gifts."  -Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift (p.181)
For such a time as this...

You have been given great gifts.  How will you use them to love and care for those in need?  To rescue those on the outside looking in?

December 17, 2013

O Little Town: Advent Dec. 17

"But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you,
    one whose origins are from the distant past."  -Micah 5: 2

I took some time off from writing, mostly because of snow and work busy-ness, and the weekend, and then there was a special someone who celebrated his birthday yesterday.  So life has been full of activity.

And I'm feeling this battle.  Between Christmas and chaos.  Christmas has gotten so big and loud, what lays silent and small in the background is forgotten.  

It is a hard balance for me.  I have things that I really want to give people for Christmas, but most of them I have to make.  So I've been sitting down and working on these projects when I have time.  But sometimes, I feel stressed by this time deadline.  Christmas is coming.

And then there's Advent.  Coming.  The King coming.  The star-filled night, full of peace, brimming with the hopes of all the earth for their Savior.  Quiet anticipation.  Joyful waiting.

"O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight."  ~O Little Town Of Bethlehem

O little town.  Out of this seemingly small and unimportant place comes a small and seemingly unimportant child.

This Child is Jesus.  The Lamb of God.  The Lamb who was silent as He was falsely accused and condemned to die.  Rising to life again after defeating the power of death.  He is coming back.  Advent again.  And He will not be silent.

"As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands."  -Isaiah 55: 10-12

December 12, 2013

Extraordinary Ordinary: Advent Dec. 12

"But Ruth replied, 'Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God'."  -Ruth 1: 16

I don't know why, but I think the story of Ruth is one of my favorites from the Bible.  It might be because I have this memory that always runs through my head of the version performed by the cast of Focus On The Family's Adventures In Odyssey.  

Because really, if you just read the story of Ruth, there aren't any battles, and there aren't any amazing miracles.  It just looks like a plain-Jane story.

There's a famine, so a man and wife and their two sons move to a different country.  The sons marry, the father dies, then the sons die, leaving mom and two daughter-in-laws.  Mom (Naomi) decides there is nothing left for her in Moab and it's time to go back to Israel.

So Naomi and the two girls start their journey.  But something like bitterness is eating away at Naomi.  I can feel that feeling.  When nothing seems to be going your way and you kind of just want to wallow in your pain, and if there is more pain to be had you want it to happen right now, because if you're going to be hurt you might as well get it all over with at once.

So Orpah goes back to start over, probably find a new husband.  Big. Deal.

But Ruth refuses to leave Naomi.  She chooses a life of uncertainty and poverty.  And God.

I long to say something that desperately loving to someone.  "Wherever you go, I will go."

What a gift that was to Naomi.  She loses everyone else, but gains a faithful-to-the-end daughter-in-law.  Up to this point, there is nothing special about this woman.  She has been living in the mundane, she is mundane.  But with that declaration, she begins to shine out as extraordinary.

The story of Ruth doesn't need any big battle scenes or extravagant miracles.  Much of life isn't that way either.  Our every day is filled with the everyday.  We might not think that we are fighting battles or seeing miracles, but they are there.

Ruth fought a battle, one in her mind.  She probably had doubts of either path she could have taken, but she saw hope in Naomi and her God.  She didn't perform any extravagant miracles, like healing a person's limbs or bringing a person back from the dead.  But she did bring healing to Naomi's bitter soul over time with her faithfulness and love.

And this average woman, Ruth, she gets grafted in to the family history of Jesus because of her extraordinary gift of faithfulness to Naomi.

I don't usually see the battles or miracles that happen every day.  But that is something that I was trying to be more aware of today.

We think that Christmas is a celebration of this big event, the Savior coming as a baby.  It is, but it is also a celebration of the simple miracles and little victories that happen in our lives every day.  The ones that God uses to lead to the bigger miracles and victories.  And they all lead back to Him.

And that is what I notice when I s.l.o.w. d.o.w.n. in this season of chaos.

December 11, 2013

Grace-full: Advent Dec. 11

"When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house."  -Joshua 2:18

Why was the rope scarlet?  Was this a prophecy of things to come?  When scarlet would run down from heaven to cover us and make us as white as snow?

Jesus' family line is full of less than stellar people.  Rahab the prostitue.  Jacob the liar, cheater, and thief.  Ruth the foreigner who had worshipped other gods.  Judah, who lied to his daughter-in-law and then got her pregnant because he thought she was a prostitute.  David, the adulterer.  Just to name a few.

Of course, aren't we all less than stellar?

I love this quote from Ann Voskamp, she quoted it in an Advent video that she recorded with Liz Curtis Higgs.  And I loved it so much then that I wrote it down, and now I find that it has already been written down in The Greatest Gift!
"No personal choice that muddied your life can ever trump the divine choice to wash your life clean. No situation is more hopeless than your Savior is graceful."

God uses imperfect people to further His story.  To fulfill His plan.

He uses you and me, with our imperfections, our doubt, to make Himself known to the world.  

He knows my doubts and fears.  He knows where I need to cling to the thread of hope (the scarlet rope?), before I ever slip.

The Hebrew word tikvah means 'cord,' but it also means 'hope.'  And that is pretty awesome!  The hope that God extends down to us like a scarlet cord.

Question: "Rahab was remembered for her faith.  What would you want to be remembered for?"
Grace.  I would want to be remembered for God's grace shining through the frailty of my human form.  Grace for others and grace for myself.  Letting people live and be loved in my life for who God created them to be.  Exuding restfulness.  Unhurried and unstressed by the world's chaos.  Calm.  Anchored.  Grace-full.

December 10, 2013

Relationship: Advent Dec. 10

"Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!"  Deuteronomy 5: 29

God calls for our hearts.  He yearns for our love to be turned toward Him.  He longs for relationship.

When God gave the Israelites the Law, He was calling them, He was naming them as His own.  As His bride.

Jesus came.  He died to remind us of that covenant of love.
"Jesus, the Love who doesn't just die the death we deserved to die;  He lives the love we've desired to live" (The Greatest Gift pg.92)
Today, I saw His love in this:

December 9, 2013

Set apart: Advent Dec. 9

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people."  -Genesis 50: 20

Love these words from pg. 79:
"What was intended to tear you apart, God intends it to set you apart.  What has torn you, God makes a thin place to see glory." (Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift)
There may be pain in the past.  Places where you wore thin from stress or worry, pain or sorrow.

Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers and want to hurt them, bitterness could have been his just response.  But in the pain, he found a Dwelling Place.

He didn't know the reason for the pain until years down the road when he said to his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good."  He looked back, saw all the hurtful things done to him, and saw that God had called him apart.  He was meant to save lives, even when his life seemed lost.

Joseph may not have known what the future held, but he knew Who held his future.  And Who holds all our futures, and our pasts, and our presents.  There is a reason for the struggle, we may not see that reason for a long time, but God is still with us, no matter what.

December 8, 2013

First snow of the season

The first snow is always so mesmerizing.

I could sit here for hours and just stare out the window.

And I really want to go outside and take pictures, but it's so nice and cozy inside that I can't quite make myself do it.

In other fun news... I just fixed my flute with a paper clip.  Those paper clips sure come in handy!  Recently I fixed my camera's card reader with a paper clip.

December 7, 2013

Jehovah-Jireh: Advent Dec. 7

I said I wouldn't be writing today, but as I was reading from The Greatest Gift (Ann Voskamp) this evening, I felt the need.  As much as it gives me joy to take a break sometimes, it also brings me joy to write.

"So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided'."  -Genesis 22: 14

This is where I'm at.  Somewhere in the middle of "I thought it would be easier" and "I thought it would be different."

I knew in my head that this change would be a slow crawl, or more like a grinding battle.  But when it actually happened after all these months and years of waiting, my head says to me, "this should be easier, things should be different."  And really they aren't easier, they are different though, but not in the way that I was expecting.

In moments of cold and dark, I question.

We aren't told what thoughts passed through Abraham's mind as he was taking Isaac up the mountain to make a sacrifice.  Did he have questions?  Was doubt creeping into the edges of his mind?  I guess regardless of what his mind was telling him, his steps never faltered.  He was going to follow through with whatever the Lord told him to do.

And this is faith.  Keeping your feet moving toward the glory of The One Who Will Provide, leaving the shadows of doubt far behind.

"Every mountain that every Christian ever faces, the Lord levels with sufficient grace: The Lord Will Provide" (p.59).

December 6, 2013

Joy and a break

"And Sarah declared, 'God has brought me laughter.  All who hear about this will laugh with me'."  -Genesis 21: 6

This is going to be short.  I'm feeling tired right now.

I kind of had a revelation today (one that I've probably had before, but I forgot).  Joy is a gift.  It is a grace.  It is something that I cannot manufacture on my own.

Sarah, in her old age, and Abraham are blessed with a child.  It would be kind of funny to see this.  To rejoice with the absurdity of this situation.  The impossible that God made possible.

And so God gives joy and laughter.

I try to make my own joy a lot.  I always end up feeling tired and frustrated.

So this weekend, may you receive the lightness of joy.  Receive it, this free, unhurried gift from God.

I'm planning to take the weekend off from writing, just because it brings me joy.  And I feel the need to take a breath away from this place, and be in my own space for a little.

December 5, 2013

Blessing: Advent Dec. 5

"I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others."  -Genesis 12: 2

God tells Abram to leave all that is familiar, family, friends, land.  And right after this command/request/whatever you want to call it, God says, "I will bless you."

I don't know about you, but if God was asking me to pick up and move everything I own, everything I've ever known, I would have a few questions.  Like, "when are You going to bless me, God?  When I get to where I'm going?  On the way?  Before I die?  And where exactly am I supposed to go?  If I don't go to the right place, will You still bless me?"

Notice those questions all involve me.  What happens to me?  (It's called selfishness)  Not focusing on the second part of God's statement at all.  "You will be a blessing to others."

The blessing comes in, but it isn't supposed to just stay with us.  It needs to go out, be poured out for others.  I struggle with this.  It is so much easier for me to get than to give.  I know it, I recognize it, and yet it is so hard to unclench my fists around those blessings.  To let spill what I have received and been nourished with so that others can receive and be refreshed too.

Like the rich young man in Mark 10: 17-31.  I wonder what unimaginable blessing awaited him on the other side of letting go of all his possessions?  I'm not saying that everyone needs to give up all their possessions, it can be other things standing in the way.

For me it's control.  What would it look like if I gave up control of all these things that I grasp in my hands?  My dreams, my desires, my worship, my fear in relationships.  As long as I hold on to them in my closed hands, I cannot receive, with wide open hands, the much greater blessings that God has for me.

I love love love the quote from D. L. Moody that Ann writes for us in her book:
"Faith is the gift of God.  So is the air, but you have to breathe it;  so is bread, but you have to eat it;  so is water, but you have to drink it" (p.41, The Greatest Gift)

December 4, 2013

Broken Hearts: Advent Dec. 4

"But Noah found favor with the Lord."  -Genesis 6:8

Honestly, I'm not sure where my head is today.  I read the chapter for today (from The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp) this evening, and normally I like to do this sort of thing in the morning.  But I had to work late last night/early this morning, unexpectedly, so then I slept from 5am-12pm.  It seems to take me quite a while to recover after a night like that.  So my mind feels a little groggy right now.

So as I read this small chapter, my mind was not very clear.  I don't know that I understood much from it.  So I may not have a lot to write.  I will make an attempt.

The first thing that struck me, that always strikes me, when I read the story of Noah and the flood (in New Living Translation, at least) is what it says in Genesis 6: 6.
"The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.  So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth.  It broke his heart."  -Genesis 6: 5-6
 It broke His heart.  

I can just see the breaking.  The beings that He created, who chose to believe a whispered lie, choose to turn their back on a holy and loving God.  Despising where they have come from, who they have come from.  Choosing to indulge their selfish desires.

His heart breaks.  "The Flood was the flood of God's grief" (p.31).

"Every flood of trouble remakes the topography of our souls --making us better or bitter.  Every trouble is a flood, and we can either rise up or sink down" (p.32)

And His heart broke literally, on the cross.  And continues to break with every hurt and tear and cry.
"Yet Jerusalem says, 'The Lord has deserted us;
the Lord has forgotten us.'
'Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible,
I would not forget you! 
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins'." 
    -Isaiah 49: 14-16
He sees all our hurts, all that breaks our hearts.  And it breaks His heart too.  We are never forgotten by God.  We are not alone.  All we need to do is look at the palms of Jesus' hands.  There, in the scars, there in the broken heart, our names are written.

December 3, 2013

Seeking: Advent Dec. 3

"When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees."  -Genesis 3:8

I have never thought about it before.  One of the first questions asked in the OT is "Where are you?" (Genesis 3:9)  God searching for the man and his wife.  Hiding in shame for what they had done.  Hiding in shame of their flesh.

This shame has spiraled all the way down to you and me.  Always hungering for more.  Thinking God is holding back on us.  Thinking we can do it better, but failing and feeling that shame.

Matthew 2:2- “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Wise men, searching for Jesus ask the first question recorded in the NT, "where is He?"  They were wise.  They were searching out the only One who can truly fulfill that need, fill the hungry places.

I love this line from today's chapter in The Greatest Gift:

"We lost ourselves at one tree.  And only find ourselves at another" (p.22).

How heart-piercing is that!?!

Question(s): "What would you say if God called out to you now, 'Where are you'?"  "What does it mean to you that God seeks you out and finds you when you are far from Him?"
    -I think my most frequent answer would be, "I don't know!"  I feel like I get confused way too often, turned around over the smallest, stupidest things.  I'm not enough like the wise men, seeking out the One until I've found Him.

   -It's kind of disappointing, you know?  That I have to be searched out because I wander and get turned around.  Don't get me wrong, it's a very wonderful thing that God actually pursues us.  But honestly, I find it frustrating that I'm not good enough, that I get lost, that I'm not perfect, that I fall down so many times and have to be picked up by grace.  And then that thought process leads me further away from Him.  Showing off my imperfection and my humanness.  Showing me that I need to be found even more, that I need the grace and I need that second tree even more than I can imagine.

December 2, 2013

Ravished With Love: Advent 2

"So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." -Genesis 1: 27

Christmas begins at the beginning.  Where God created us.  Where He became our breath of life.  He formed our human bodies out of the stuff of earth and He breathed us into being.  Where He gave us hearts and hands, emotions and brains.

Why would He create us?  Why would He form us with His own hands and breathe into us His very breath?  And in His own image!?  It shows a deep tenderness.  Love for who He created us to be.  It's quite amazing really.

"Ravished with wonder." (from a quote by John Calvin)  To be honest, I had to look up the word "ravished."  Like I "know" what it means, but what does it really mean? tells me that it means:
1. to fill with strong emotion, especially joy.
2. to seize and carry off by force.
Synonyms: enrapture, transport, enthrall, delight, captivate.

Filled with wonder.  Carried away with wonder.  Gripped with wonder.  Captivated, enthralled, delighted with the wonder of how I was created, Who created me, and who I was created to be.  Filled with awe at the creation around me, the creativity around me and in me.

Question: "What does it mean to you that you were made out of the overflow of God's love?"

It means that God must have an infinite amount of love.  For the amount of times that I mess up, He already knew the number of those times, but He has enough love to forgive me and shower me with grace every time.  More than enough.  His love will not run dry.  It is constantly overflowing.  He still shows me the beauty in the sunset or sunrise, that is Love.  He still hears the needy cries of my heart, that is Love.  He still gives me words to write or sing, that is Love.

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

That is Love.

So this advent season, may we be ravished with the wonder of God's love for us!

The Greatest Gift: December 1

I had a feeling I would be back in December.  Just a simple suggestion from a loved one, "you should do a devotional for Christmas."  What do I know?  What wisdom and insight can I give anyone?  There is so much that I don't know, that I am unsure of.

I was hoping to get this book (The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp) for Christmas, but by then it would be "too late" to read.  It is an advent book that you are supposed to start on December 1, and goes up until December 25.  Yesterday, I was lamenting the fact that I would probably have to wait until next year to read this book at the appropriate time.  Just an hour after this, I was surprised to find this book in my hands, my own copy!  God, You were definitely at work in this!

I can't make any promises of how spectacular this may be.  It very well may fall flat.  Or I may have to stop short again, but I am hoping to write about what I learn each day from reading this book, what God shows me.  And of course just like my 31 day series in October, I am getting a late start.

I think I will share the Scripture from each day and any thoughts I may have had from the reading or good quotes, and then try to answer the questions posed.


"Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—
    yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.
And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

In that day the heir to David’s throne
    will be a banner of salvation to all the world.
The nations will rally to him,
    and the land where he lives will be a glorious place."  -Isaiah 11: 1-2, 10

Advent means coming.  The Advent of Jesus' birth, the coming of Jesus.  It was so long awaited.  Prophesied by many prophets in the Old Testament times.  Why was there so much time in between the prophesies and the coming?

Waiting.  It seems to be a common theme recently.  And when that happens, I should pay attention, because it usually means God is trying to point something out to me.

I didn't understand the extent of this joyful waiting thing when I started the 31 days of writing on my blog in October.  I still don't understand it, really.  I think I am in a perpetual state of waiting.  But what does it mean?

What am I waiting for this time?  After the impossible has become reality.  After the longed for thing is held in my hands.  What am I waiting for now?  I still feel it, will I always be waiting for something?

One of the questions from the book:

"What are you waiting for, yearning for this season?"

I almost laughed or maybe dropped the book when I saw this question.  I've been asking myself this question recently.  What am I waiting for?  My answer has, so far, always been "I don't know."  But if I think about the question in terms of this advent season, then I may have an answer.

I am longing to not feel rushed this Christmas season.  Which is so difficult, because I always feel rushed.  I feel rushed trying to leave the house for any planned or unplanned activity.  I feel rushed trying to come up with and make (because that's how it's going to be this year) Christmas gift for family and friends, because every year it comes to the week before Christmas and I don't have any ideas, time, or money to be able to give a gift that I think someone will really like.  I feel rushed even thinking about putting up Christmas decorations.  I mean December is only so long, so I only have a limited time to have these decorations up (although, I don't because our tree stayed up year round because I just didn't care to take it down).  And Christmas music is only played for about 30 days out of the year (or longer these days).  And then there is Thanksgiving, and I'm still trying to drag that holiday out a little longer because I don't want to skip over it like it seems the world is trying to do.

Just writing that last paragraph makes me feel stressed out and tired.  And I really do not want to feel that way this year.  I don't want to buy into madness or commercialism, that my Christmas has to look a certain way to be Christmas.

I am waiting for hope and joy.  Those feelings I get at night with the tree lights sparkling and not a care in the world to bother me.  But I am yearning for those feelings to last through the year, not just one night, or one month.

That is my hope for reading The Greatest Gift.  I want to be able to slow down and breathe in this season.  I want to really focus in on what really matters, what is, what I have, what I've been given.

November 29, 2013

What I Learned In November

Linking up to share some things I learned in November.  This month went super fast!!

1.  I love learning to use my "new" dslr camera.  I've had a little more time these past 2 months to play around with it and take pictures outside.  I love to take photos!  A lot of my subjects are animals, not many of people.

2.  God is faithful to supply for our needs... and sometimes I don't know that something was a need until it was fulfilled.

3.  It is refreshing for me to just write in my journal.  I can really be myself and I don't have to worry about saying the right things or saying things in the right way.

4.  I need to keep pouring myself out, but I also need to learn how to refuel from God, in a timely manner.

5.  It is easier for me to open up around strangers, to be brave around people I don't know and who don't know me, than it is for me to be open and vulnerable with people I am around frequently.

6.  When other women are real and vulnerable and open, it makes me want to be the same.

7.  New things, even when they are longed for, expected, they make me very nervous.  If it is something that I have never experienced, I feel pretty terrified about it.

8.  I am easily overwhelmed by noise and activity and I need quiet and space to relax after a lot of chaos.  But I can't live entirely in silence and solitude.  I long for deep, relational interactions.

9.  Being a farmer means that 9 times out of 10, when you are trying to get somewhere you are running late.  No matter how early you may get up, and plan ahead, something unexpected on the farm seems to pop up when we try to leave the house.  And everywhere we go, my hair is usually wet because I just showered 10 minutes before we ran out the door.  Frowny face.