Monday, January 16, 2017

The Surrendered Heart

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., I decided to offer this poem I first posted in 2011. He was a man of paradox...fighting hatred with love, standing against aggression and violence with passivity and peace, dreaming the inconceivable and being the voice of the unheard masses.

The Paradox of the Surrendered Heart
I’ve fastened these chains upon myself
forged from egoism, failure, depression,
bound forever to imperfection,
evil’s possession.
To break these crippling shackles
I must relinquish freedom’s claim
and embrace the Servant’s name.

Hope for the future teeters on the edge
quivering between today and tomorrow.
Hope for things I want and need,
for the me I want to be,
for a world of peace and harmony.
Yet to gain its promise and security
I must abandon every ounce of hope I hold
to receive God’s assurance within my soul.

Oh, to be wise in a world of confusion – 
a worthy quest and commendable quality.
Knowledge of the ages available to me:
Science, History, Math, Philosophy
Economics, Psychology.
Resources all, in every decision
and yet, to gain the ultimate wisdom,
I must claim the title of fool – 
a student in the Master’s school.

Wealth and security are valid concerns
that compel me to greed and yet
all that I have I must give to gain more.
If I am to be rich, I may have to be poor,
give all that I have,
all that I am,
and live in the promise of blessings ensured.
To claim no possession, I’ll hold a great store.

How beautifully agonizing 
and yet 
agonizingly beautiful is the surrendered heart.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Paradox of Grace

God’s love for us is incomprehensible and even for a talented writer, indescribable. Not one of us is even close to being worthy of such a love which makes his sacrifice and companionship even more unfathomable. He created us to be in relationship with him, and he with us, but we walked out on that relationship in our arrogance and brought upon ourselves the disease of sin that eats away at us like a cancer. And still he fought for us and gave himself up to death in our place, took the cancer from our souls into his on the cross, dying in our place to rise again conquering death forever.

God is perfect and powerful and needs nothing from us. But still he saved us, not because he needed us but because he loves and wants us. He includes us in his work to bring all people to him, not because he needs us, but because he wants to include us—the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive human beings that we are.

Everything I have and I am is from him and because of him. What can I give him as a token of my love and admiration? The only thing he really wants—me. Not in spite of the messy, sinful, weak, and unimpressive person that I am but just as I am. For sure, I’m not good enough—I’m a $5 piece of shiny costume jewelry and God deserves the most precious diamond. But here’s the amazing news—God doesn’t want the diamond. He wants me just as I am—the best I can be and not more. And when in my sinfulness, I dull my shine a little I can be assured of his love and forgiveness. He has already done the work of grace and lavishes his grace upon me to help me back on my feet and to shine my light of his love and presence brightly again.

Interesting paradox—I never was, am not now, nor ever could be good enough for him and yet he wants me more than anything else I could give him which makes me, by his grace, good enough for him.

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Next Stop Along the Way

When I was ten years old, my family went on a rare vacation to Disney World. We drove from Pittsburgh to Florida. It took us two and a half days to get there because my parents planned stops to see some amazing local points of interest along the way, among them—the tallest waterfall in country. We eventually made it to our destination and Disney was, as expected, a child’s heaven on earth, even way back in the 70s. In many ways, life is like that childhood journey to Disney.

My life here on earth is a journey with a much greater destination than Disney (no offense Walt). And like that childhood venture, my life is a series of stops along the way to experience amazing things. Instead of stopping at a place to see a tourist attraction though, I am hesitating in a moment of time to see the person I’ve become over a period of time. The New Year is an obvious stop on my journey.

When I look back to the start of 2016, I realize how much I’ve grown in some areas and perhaps neglected to grow in others. I’ve become a healthier person, becoming more active, exercising, eating better, losing weight, and putting behind me a toxic situation. When I started this particular part of my life journey (2016) I chose a word for the year—healthier. It was my goal, my destination if you will, my rally cry as I moved forward through the year.

So now it’s 2017 and I need to move towards a new destination. I plan to keep my goal of healthier because, while I’ve come a long way, I still have a long way to go. While my physical health has improved, my spiritual health has  suffered. That doesn’t work for me so while I continue in my efforts to become physically healthy, I plan to concentrate on becoming spiritually healthier in 2017. In one year, when I look back on where this new destination will take me, I expect to be surprised and amazed at where God has taken me on this journey to be closer to him and more actively involved in his work. That’s a journey worth taking.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Immanuel Hidden in Plain Sight

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, 
and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). 
Matthew 1:23

Hidden in Plain Sight
In that cool, crisp, quiet, starry night,
The world so still did lay
Waiting for the King of Kings
To come and save the day.

They watched for Him so anxiously
To rule in regal might.
Vanquishing all evil men,
Champion of all in sight.
Leader of great armies,
Battle plans all ready,
Sending soldiers to their death,
A resolve so firm and steady.

And yet our Lord slipped by them
In the guise of a small child.
Born that night among the hay,
Quiet, poor, meek, and mild.

They Call Him Immanuel
God is with us
not to condemn
but to save us
to teach and guide us
to protect and provide for us
to forgive and redeem us.
His grace is upon us
for he lives within us
nurturing holiness,
and righteousness
within our brokenness.
He's the light in our darkness.
His Spirit fills our emptiness
as we rejoice in his forgiveness
and faithfulness.
He is the strength in our weakness
and the heart of our witness.
He is Immanuel—
God with us!
The Lord has blessed us
freeing us from sin's oppression
even before our confession
while deep in our transgression
The Passion was his mission
to make the provision
for his boundless compassion
and intercession.
From the start this was his vision:
Immanuel—God with us!

Monday, December 19, 2016

About Love

What Can I Say about Love?
Love is a choice, 
a way of life, 
a sacrifice. 
It's a connection that can't be broken, 
a purpose, 
a light.
It's not about me and all about you.
It's your strength in my weakness.
It's a treasure 
and truth.
Love knows and accepts me 
for who I am
and inspires me to be better,
to be more, 
it's why I wake 
and what my heart beats for.
It's our greatest desire,
a need to give and receive.
It's a sharing, 
a gift, 
between you and me.
It's not just a feeling that warms our hearts
though warming it does
Love is going without that I may give
Love gives its own life that its beloved may live
Whatever you think love is
It's so much more
when our love is His
our lives redeemed,
our minds renewed, 
and our hearts restored.

Monday, December 12, 2016

About Joy - Why the Pink Candle?

Today’s blog started with a question: Why is the third Advent Candle pink?

The season of Advent was instituted toward the end of the fifth century as preparation for Christmas—a season of reflection and penance (a counterpart to Lent which was already a well-established tradition.) It’s a season of waiting and anticipation for the coming of the Christ. While Christmas colors may be traditionally red and green, purple was chosen by the early church as the liturgical color of penance thus the purple candles. The spirit of Advent is one of expectation and preparation for the coming of the Savior…as the babe in the manger 2000 years ago, in our hearts as we repent, and in his Glorious Second Coming. The pink candle signifies joy which is lit on the third Sunday of Advent or Gaudete Sunday (Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice”) when the Sunday Mass opened with these words: “Rejoice (gaudete) in the Lord always, again I say, rejoice.” The penitential nature of the season is suspended on Gaudete Sunday to symbolize that joy and gladness in the promised Redemption.

That started me thinking about the unfettered joy children possess during the weeks preceding Christmas. While we adults run around like crazy buying presents, making cookies, and preparing the home for Christmas celebrations, they are running around sharing with everyone how good they’ve been all year and what they hope a certain someone will be bringing them on Christmas Eve. They can’t contain their excitement for who and what is coming.

When do we lose that abundant joy of anticipation and expectation? And how do we get it back? I think we lose it because all of our lives, we are taught that Christmas isn’t about receiving—it’s about giving. It’s the time of year to be extra nice to our fellow man. We’re taught that Christmas isn’t about what we get but how much we can give of ourselves to our family, friends, the disadvantaged. It’s the time of year when charities make their last best pitch to solicit monetary gifts on the streets and in our mailboxes. And in recent decades, it’s about where we can display a manger scene and who is offended with two little words: Merry Christmas. It’s about the commercialism of a capitalist society and about putting “Christ” back into Christmas.

Then a thought occurred to me—the kids have it right! It’s the adults that are screwing up the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas always has been about us receiving the greatest gift of all time. We should be excited about what we are getting on Christmas Eve! We should be running around telling everyone about who is coming and what he is bringing us because the Creator of the Universe, God Almighty, stepped into our meager existence as a helpless baby to bring us an understanding of himself we could never have had otherwise and the greatest gift of love—his own life for our redemption! If that’s not something we can get excited about receiving, what is? God is with us now and always in his Holy Spirit and we have his promise that Jesus will return again. What if you knew he was coming back this Christmas Eve? Would you be filled with the joy of a child anxiously waiting? And if not, why not?

As adults, we should share the love and generosity of the Lord during this holy time of Christmas, but let’s not lose that wonderful childlike joyous expectation of the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus is coming! There will never be a better gift!

Monday, December 5, 2016

As Much as It Depends on You...Live at Peace (Again)

I wrote this blog a couple of years ago and while considering Peace, the theme of this Advent week, I was reminded of it and hoped you wouldn't mind if I shared it again. Enjoy!
My second marriage was only six months along and we were still all learning to get along and be a family at the time of my son’s death. As you might expect, my husband and my son were having a difficult time interacting with each other and I often felt stuck in the middle. One of the greatest gifts (besides redemption) God gave me was a last phone call with my son a few hours before the accident. We had all been on each other’s nerves the night before and Bryan and I reconciled in that short five minute conversation that ended with both of us saying “I love you” to each other. This memory always takes me immediately to Ephesians 4:26-27—In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. It’s so easy to let little differences get out of hand and in the way of living a life that honors the Lord. When I think about how that phone conversation could have gone, I thank the Lord. We could have continued arguing and three hours later I would have a regret in my heart I couldn’t have lived with.

Two years later, on a late summer Thursday evening, my husband came in the house after mowing the grass, sat me down on the couch and told me he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. The days and weeks that followed were unbearable. I had just given my life to the Lord the year before and now this man I vowed to share my whole life with was divorcing me. I was devastated and at times wanted him to know the pain he was causing me, but instead I prayed that God would help me show unconditional love and forgiveness to him. My husband was not a believer and I knew that how I treated him would be a reflection of the God I served. My first real courageous act of love for Jesus and my last act of love for my husband was to do my best to show him a glimpse of God’s undeserved grace and forgiveness.

It was during this time that a pastor friend of mine gave me a prescription for handling relationships—Romans 12:9-21
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

From my experience I can tell you that this isn’t easy to do. It’s impossible sometimes…for me, but not for God. To live out this kind of love, I need God to live in and change my heart. I need to keep reading this “prescription for life” and saying it until God’s definition of relationship is etched on my brain and engrained in my lifestyle. And I need to do it not because if I don’t, it might be too late tomorrow but because it is God’s command and his way. I know that I’m not always going to succeed at living in harmony with everyone. However, if I really try to live at peace with others and they refuse, I haven’t failed. I only fail when I refuse to try. God’s way is simple—Love God and love others. It’s not easy, but it is simple.