"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent Noise

I feel it creeping it's way into my mind and my soul.  A cacophony.

Pushing in and crowding out, the noises of the Christmas season, circle and engulf.  Do you feel this way?

The "to-do" list is long and the activities are in full swing.  Advent noises...

And actually most of the Christmas noise is truly joyful.

They are noises I have chosen.  And, noises I invite...

...The extra reading times, playing times, fun times with my kids off school...
...Friends over and Christmas carols pulsating around my home.
...The wrapping of carefully chosen gifts.
...The making of ornaments for dear friends.
...The "baking day" my kids look forward to each year and opening our home to any who might come join us to decorate that special ginger bread man!
And, the plans to cook, to clean, to give this and give that---  sweet joys of Christmas, really, sweet noise.

But, piled up and stacked high these joys can feel heavy and overly loud.  Creeping, pressuring, pulsing noise can fill my soul.

I have been asking Father God to help me slow down each day enough to hear Him, to see Him, to worship Him.  And, as I sit... I find it hard.  I feel the noises running around my mind crowding out His voice.

So, I had a thought last night as I discussed this with my Father in Heaven.

I don't feel He is asking me to stop the activities of Christmas--- the joys of giving, serving, singing, playing --- the people and the parties.  I feel He is inviting me to stop the "extra" noises I can control and choose.  I can turn off any excess noise I don't really need this week.  I can "turn down" the knobs that I don't need this week.

And, so, I am choosing Advent Silence this week.  ---no media, no computer, and nothing extra to add to the beautiful noises of advent.  That means no television.  No movies.  No internet.  No blog.  No email.(only one daily uick scan of email to keep in contact with my widely spread overseas family!)

I am shutting down all and any extra noise.  And, I will go looking for quiet and silence.

When I wrap those presents,  I will do it in silence and quiet.
When I write the Christmas cards, I will do it with no extra noise around me (minus the beautiful noises of my children, the ringing phone and the wizzing of the washing machine).

I don't really need to watch "another" Christmas movie? Do I?  Or, read that blog right now?  Or, just check facebook one more time.  I can turn off those noises.

So, this will be my last post until after Christmas.  I am shutting down.  ...in search of a bit of silence to balance the beautiful noises of the Season.
"Silence means rest, rest of body and mind, in which we become available for God."  ~Henri Nouwen, "Training"
 "Silence is the discipline that helps us to go beyond the entertainment quality of our lives." ~Henri Nouwen, "Can you drink the cup"
"What finally matters is that our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell, wherever we go and whatever we do.  The more we train ourselves to spend time with God and God alone, the more we will discover that God is with us at all times and in all places.  Then we will be able to recognize God even in midst of a busy and active life."  ~Henri Nouwen, "Making All Things New"
May you find God's sweet voice and know His tender Presence in the midst of the lovely noises of the Advent Season.  May you have a Merry and Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Comfort for the Crooked

Each year we have a wonderful Christmas tradition:  we listen to Handel's Messiah.

Written in 1741, and taken from directly from Scripture, this piece of music is a masterpiece and profoundly moving.  This year one line seemed to jump out at me and sing itself deep into my soul.  One line repeated, and repeated-- filled my insides with hope and longing.   For days now it has been playing and replaying in my mind.  Would you take a minute to listen---this is only a small snip-it...

The crooked straight and the rough places plain.

Broken.  This world, our world,  is crooked and misshapen.  His People are dirty and messed up.  We are broken and twisted.   Sometimes we think very wrongly and we act very badly.  Our world.  You.

...and me.

God certainly knows this!

But, gentle words of comfort filled my soul this morning as I opened Scripture.  "Comfort!  Be comforted, my people", says God (Isaiah 40)  Tender, gentle words pour forth from the Living Word, "Speak to my people and tell her that her sins have been paid for!"  

Her sins have been paid for...  

"And every valley shall be raised up.  Every crooked place shall be made straight.  Every rough place shall be made smooth".

The crooked straight and the rough places plain.

Planned from the beginning, this babe---my sweet Jesus---was born into our crooked world.  He came on purpose, prophesied in Isaiah.  He took on our flesh and made His dwelling among us.  He walked our paths and felt our pain.

And, He will make all things new!  He is making all things new.  He is straightening our world.  He is straightening you.

He is making me straight.  Crooked-me is being straightened.  Low valley-Stephanie has been and is being raised up!  Rough-me is being smoothed.  ...by His hand.

In this I find deep comfort and hope--- just as He said I would in Isaiah 40.

Welcome to our world, Jesus!  Welcome to our broken and crooked world!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Grief

One of the difficulties of living and working overseas is that bad news comes in the form of black-typed letters on a computer screen.

The email.  That dreaded, infamous email.

...news of a terminal illness, or a cancer found.  In "the inbox" these emails slide in quietly and sit, hidden like a landmine under the earth, ...just one click and bam! bad news on the screen.

But, yesterday the news felt even heavier to my soul than a disease, or even the terminal illness.  I heard news of sin.  From two separate corners of the globe came news of sin.

Sin in the camp.

This was not news of bad choices being made by unbelievers or the unredeemed,... no.  This is sin--- heavy and dark sin---found and revealed inside the fold.  Habitual sin that lingers and destroys...

Does it matter what the sin is?  Scripture tells us to "put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry".  He tell us to, "get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice".

The sins that destroy... anger, greed, lust, slander, impurity...

My heart sank at the news found in these emails.

Where do I go when I feel this way?  When I feel angry and frustrated with Your people, Lord?
My natural-Stephanie response to sin in myself  and in others is usually one of anger or frustration.  But, I need Your heart, Lord.

I lifted my hands and asked...  What is it that you feel, Father?  What say You?  
When You look on, when You draw near, how do You feel, Jesus?  What is Your heart on the matter, Spirit of God?  These questioning words flowed from my gut as I held my hands out and up to the Lord.

In that moment, that quiet moment in my bedroom, I felt deep, heart-wrenching sadness.  A wash of profound sadness flooded my soul.   Is this what You feel God Almighty? 

I can't presume to know God's feelings.  But, in that moment, did He share just a piece of His heart with me?  Waves of grief filled my soul at the thought of His children walking in sin---so unnecessarily bound and caught in the cycle of habitual sin.  It doesn't have to be this way.

Oh, Jesus!! my heart cried out as my eyes welled with tears.
Oh dear Jesus!  It is not as it should be.  Oh, my God, I am so sorry.  I grieve with you, you the Son of Man, the Man of sorrows---well acquainted with grief.  

Brothers, these things ought not be so!  He has freed us from sin by His blood and has made us a Kingdom of Priests, holy to Him!  
For days now I have been meditating on the anticipation and hope of advent.  Waiting with expectation, I have turned my heart up and out and I have worshiped.  I have tasted just a small bit of the joy and the hope that Simeon and Anna may have felt waiting for the consolation of Israel.

But, just like the first Christmas, there is still significant pain around the corner.  The thoughts of many hearts will be revealed and a sword will pierce you very own soul!  

For, the story does not end at the manger or the temple with Simeon's prophecy.   Nor does it end at the cross or tomb!  No, no...
This epic journey ends when Jesus comes the second time with King of Kings written on His thigh.  The end comes when all sadness is wiped away!  My Man of Sorrow will weep no more...

He will make all things new!  He will eat with His clean, white, pure Bride.  He will heal the nations and we will see His face.The story ends with the brilliant Second Advent!  I can wait patiently and hope in You alone, my God.  

Feeling the lingering sadness left by the coming news of sin... this is where I turn my heart and my face today!

And I say with John, "Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!"  (Revelation 22)

Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stand Up and Lift Your hands...

We are told that she remained in the temple, worshiping Almighty God day and night.  He was her everything, her all in all---her husband, her family, her God.

Painting by Gwen Meharg
 Photo Source
This beautiful Anna, the prophetess of the Lord.  (Luke 2:36-38)

Day and night she worshiped, prayed and fasted.

While worshiping, with Simeon and others devoted to God, she watched for the redemption of Israel, the advent of God's Holy One. 

The waited together.

Keep awake.  Stay alert, Stephanie.  God speaks to me, over and over again, through His word this week. (Mark 13)

Be dressed and ready and keep your lamps burning.  (Luke 12:35)

Keep your eyes looking up and out!  His Spirit whispers into my heart.

...when these things happen stand up, lift up your hands, because your redemption is near! (Luke 21:25)

Lift your eyes! Stand up and lift your hands, Stephanie.

These words are a sweet, tender invitation to relationship and to worship.  My head can drop sometimes.  Do your eyes drop down sometimes?

My eyes can be downcast--- looking at me, my little world, my friends, my circumstances, or even that other load of laundry.  But, NO!, He says with excitement in His voice...  look up and out!  Your redemption is near!  Very near.  

Stand up and lift up your hands!  

I, too, can worship while I wait.  This thought makes my heart excited with anticipation.

I can wait and worship, just like old-Anna.

"when he began his tasks and his daily duties, he said to God, with trust, 'O my God since You are with me and I must now in obedience to Your commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I ask You to grant me the grace to continue in Your Presence;  receive all my works [as worship] and possess all my affections." ~Brother Lawrence

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

How many days 'til...

photo source

They count each and every day 'till Christmas.

My children love Christmas!!  They wake up waiting, counting, and anticipating the "arrival" of December 25th.

We are told of another person who was waiting for Christmas... counting the days, expecting, and hoping with excitement. 

Scripture tells us of Simeon, a devout and righteous man.  (Luke 2: 25)

He watched with anticipation.  He knew that he would see... and so he waited.

This man walked and talked with God.  He knew the Holy Spirit and His Presence.  He heard whispers and he felt nudges.  What must it have been for him to wait?  ...the Word tells us he was waiting for Israel's comfort and exhortation:  the consolation of Israel.   Isn't this the beauty of what Christ brought to earth--- both comfort and exhortation--- our consolation?

I imagine this is what Simeon woke up in the morning thinking about and what he walked around each day wondering upon.  He knew it would come--- of that he was very sure; but, when? ...When will it come, Almighty God?  When will You send the Messiah?   

Scripture tells us that Simeon was devout.  Devotion speaks to me of faithfulness and steadfast hope.  Waiting.  Watching.  Expecting.  (My children are devout in their Advent Calendar counting, too!!)

Scripture speaks of him being led by the Spirit to the temple that day.  What must it felt like to be led to the temple that day?  Can you just imagine him and his enthusiasm in making his way to the temple that morning?  Did he rush as he was getting dressed?  Did his feet move a bit faster on his walk to the temple that morning?

 How long had he waited?

And, then, when he saw Jesus!  What joy!  What relief!

...the one waited for...

...the anticipated one...

This is what advent is--  from the Latin word adventus, it means "the arrival, the approach".

We celebrate advent by waiting and anticipating "the arrival and approach of God", like Simeon.  We know He will come--- of that we are very sure!  But, when?  When will it come, Almighty God?  When will You send the Messiah?  

If we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.  (Romans 8: 25)

We wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2)

This same Jesus will come back in the same way He has been taken into heaven.  (Acts 1)

This waiting... our advent waiting, is not only in anticipating the beauty and majesty of His Second Coming, but also in the day-to-day waiting of His today-coming.

"Every prayer-filled day sees a meeting with the God who comes; every night which we faithfully put at his disposal is full of his presence.  And his coming and his presence are not only a result of our waiting or a prize for our efforts; they are his decision, based on his love freely poured out.  His coming is bound to his promise, not our works or our virtue.  We have not earned the meeting with God because we have served him faithfully, or because we have heaped up such a pile of virtue as to shine before Heaven.  God is thrust onward by his love, not attracted by our beauty.  He comes in moment when we have done everything wrong, when we have done nothing...He comes."  ~Carlo Carretto

We wait for You, Lord Jesus!  I wait and watch for Your coming, your arrival, your approach... today.  Open my eyes to see You.  Make me Your today-Simeon.  

Come Thou Long-expected Jesus!  

Monday, December 5, 2011

Will it run out?

Will it run out?  my heart wondered, in the quietness of the morning.

Today I came to my Heavenly Father with a burden of sin.  Conviction of my sin weighed heavy on my soul.
Will your mercy and your forgiveness have a limit?  Will it run out?  

I know the Biblical, Theological, head-truth answer to my heart's question:  Of course not!!  Never!

When it says His love as unfailing in Scripture, does it mean anything less than un-failing?  When it says eternal, can it mean less than eternal?  When it speaks of His faithfulness being as high or long as the heavens?  Or, His love being as deep as the oceans?

When the Word of God tells me that God's mercies are new every morning, could He possibly be out of fresh mercy for today?  Could it be that He might finally say, 'Nope, not this morning, I am afraid.

Of course not! ...No!  Never!

His love.

His grace.

His mercy.

Each unfailing.  All boundless, unconditional, faithful and steadfast.  Always enduring and eternal.  Always new and freshly offered.  This, this!, is the truth of the matter...

And yet my heart wondered this morning, When will your grace to me run out?  When will you be fed-up with my wandering heart?  When will it be the "last straw"?

In the very moment of wondering, my Father answered this morning with a in-my-face real life example.

Here, let me show you...  He whispered.

As I was praying and seeking and wondering, right then!, my son disobeyed me.  Again.  Same disobedience.  How many times have we talked about this?  How many times have I reprimanded him and corrected his behavior.  He was doing it again... I could hear him in the other room.  Again.

Does your love and grace run out for your son?  my kind Father whispered into my aching, sinful heart.
Are you done with him, your sweet boy?  Is this the last straw?  You done loving him, Stephanie?  
No, Lord!  May it never be!!  my heart welled up with deep truth and emotion...  Of course not!! Never!!  
And He reminds me of this beautiful, theological, Biblical truth ...right in my today-home.

"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask." (Matthew 7:11)
photo source

Oh! How He surprises me with His eternal, everlasting, ever reaching love!!  Oh how He loves us!!  Oh how gracious our gentle, kind and loving Father is!!  I am struck a new today...  Fresh grace.  Fresh mercy.  Fresh love. ....that will never run out.  
"I know not a word which can express the surprise and wonder our souls ought to feel at God's goodness to us. Our hearts playing the harlot; our lives far from perfect; our faith, almost blown out; our unbelief often prevailing; our pride lifting up its accursed head; our patience a poor sickly plant, almost nipped by one night's frost; our courage little better than cowardice; our love lukewarmness; are ardor but as ice -- oh, my dear brethren!... we should indeed be surprised that the sun of divine grace should continue so perpetually to shine upon us, and that the abundance of heaven's mercy should be revealed in us." - Charles Spurgeon

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Eyes to See

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Sometimes I just don't see very well.

My eyes work just fine, but my mind and heart occupy another world... and I don't see those around me.  Rushed.  Hurried.  Busy.  I can miss life around me.  Distracted.  Focused.  Task oriented--Or, me oriented?  My world.  Me and those I love.

The outerworld and others can pass me by at rapid speed and I just don't see.
Sometimes I just don't see.

Often, maybe, I don't see very well.

Yesterday we visited the massive city of London.  I had come to enjoy the brilliant lights of Christmas.  We had ventured to this big city to relish the Christmas markets- busy and full of sellers and German sausages.  And I did.  I saw them, savored the moments, and loved every bit!  What a joy!  

While walking down the busy streets of London, though, I stopped looking.  Hundreds and hundreds of people on the street walking, hurrying, as we skillfully avoided collision with each other.  With masterful movements we darted and weaved and bobbed... so as not to touch.  So very separate. And if we did happen to touch, we ignored the fact that we did.  We pretended it didn't happen.

I don't see or feel you, you don't see or feel me.  Fascinating, really, this dance of strangers.

At one point, my husband leaned in while we walked.  He asked for some change from my pocket.  He saw.  He was asking for a bit of help to give the man sitting on the side of the street.  In that moment, I realized.   I was not seeing.

I had missed him---this deeply sad man.  Entirely!  I hadn't even seen him there.  ...my feet only inches away and I didn't see.

We then headed to the underground subway and I just walked on.  Eyes forward, I moved carefully but with speed.  Very little thought really, I just walked forward.  Bustling and busy... the noises of this underground city were jarring to my senses.  I am not used to these crowds any more.

What used to be a normal, almost every day, way of transport has now become a bit overwhelming. The noises, the smells, the movement--- something that had been so normal before is now strange to me again.

The metro, the tube, the bus, the American mall, the Walmarts, whatever you call it, I shut down quite a bit in that context.  I guess I always have---even when I lived in LA, or Almaty, or Istanbul.  Always vigilantly aware of issues of safety and direction, yes; but, the rest of me dives deep within and takes a hide away---a internal retreat of sorts.

I am not the only one who shuts down.  We all seem to be awake and asleep at the same time.  Together and yet separate in the same dream.

Hundreds of people moved to get on these subways.  Hundreds.  We walked together, almost in one choreographed dance:  all moving together toward the same destination.  We entered together.  Then we moved together in this small machine underground... together.  And, yet very separate 

I don't look at you.  You don't look at me.  We are alone here--- just lots of us alone together.

And I begin to wonder.    I wonder, of course, as I carefully and surreptitiously steal a glance at the man sitting across from me. ...what are you thinking about, sir?

Certainly, I can't be so bold as to actually look at you in the face.  I have to pretend to not care.  ...not to see.

We all sit or stand and stare off into...  we are about our own business.  ...our own worlds.

What are we all looking at?  All in unity "not caring", not seeing and utterly unconcerned about each other.

But, strangely, I do care.  In one moment of time, one brief moment, I care.  I become aware of the fact that I am inhabiting the space together with other human souls.  Each one in this subway is loved by Almighty God and offered grace from his hand.  And I wonder.   I wonder what you, young man, might feel or think?  I wonder if you, old Asian woman, know you are loved?  You, beautiful tired African woman, what is your story?  

Strangers.  All strangers together and so very separate.

Not a big city problem, to be sure--- I do it in my small town, too.  Sometimes I just don't see very well.

Help me to see with Your eyes, Lord.  What do you see?  What do you know and hear?  Open my eyes and keep me aware and awake...  Give me eyes to see You and Your world.  
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