Monday, December 26, 2011

A Village Tale

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to a small mideastern villiage with some friends and the experience moved me to write about my experience in "A Villiage Tale" which I want to share with you today. I hope you enjoy taking the trip with me.


The small Middle Eastern town was strange and cramped but the townspeople were warm and friendly. A sea of humanity populated the marketplace – children running around without shoes on their feet, merchants earning their meager wages in the tiny stalls that they called shops, and armed soldiers stomping around shoving people out of their way. As rodents scurried through holes in the cardboard-thin common walls of the shops, the eager merchants, fueled by the crowd of patrons, were busy making and selling their wares.
Each shop owner greeted me with lively conversation as I wandered through the marketplace.
“Hello, Miss, would you like me to show you how I weave these wonderful baskets?” called the basketweaver.
“Ladies, where have you traveled from today? I see you noticing this fine stool I have in my shop. It’s made of the highest quality wood,” said the carpenter.
“Now those young girls are fingerweaving. In a few years they’ll be weaving cloth on the loom just like the older girl here behind me,” explained the clothweaver.
I lingered for a while at the potter’s booth as I watched his skilled hands mold a lump of wet clay into the shape of a bowl. Then a spirited young girl who was stomping grapes in a wine vat around the corner caught my eye. She hummed the tune that a small band of musicians played just a little way down the lane from her father’s wine shop.

I stopped to rest for a moment at the town well and was drawn into a conversation with two local women who were drawing the day’s water.
“Did you hear the latest? One of the outsiders – no offense – practically had her baby right in the street – just down the lane there,” the older woman said. It was the same question almost every person I talked with had asked.
“Have you heard – is it a boy or a girl?” the younger of the two women asked me.
“The basketweaver told me that she heard it was a boy,” I replied.
The young woman now in full gossip mode said, “I hear that the infant is supposed to be some kind of important person.”
The older woman shook her head and said in a matronly tone, “I doubt it. His parents are as poor as can be. He’ll never have the chance to amount to anything. Why, he’ll be lucky to make it through his first year without starving to death.”
I would have stayed to hear more of the village news, but a beggar had begun to hover around me. I grew uneasy as he relentlessly extended his empty, dirty hand pleading for the coins that might be in my pocket so I excused myself from the ongoing conversation and went on my way leaving the women and the beggar behind.
The stream of people making its way through the marketplace seemed to grab hold and pull me along. This small village was never built to hold so many people, but the foreign government in charge had announced that everyone in the country whose ancestors had ever been born there was required to be registered and pay an unfair tax that would only end up lining some politician’s pocket. People from all over the country had been pouring into this little hamlet for weeks. That’s why the military was there. Leave it to the government to cause all of this commotion.

While I was at the bakery sampling a pastry and listening to more of the town gossip, a young soldier barged in and handed something to the shop owner. Apparently, before I arrived, someone had burglarized the shop. I don’t know what had been stolen, but after looking at the soldier, I believed it was best that I not know anything about it at all.
As I came to the end of the market district, I noticed a small crowd of people heading into a dark cave-like structure. My curiosity got the better of me when I was told that the baby – the focus of all of the excitement and town gossip – was there. I just had to stop in to see him.
“He’s such a beautiful baby,” a voice in the crowd was saying.
I watched the baby intently as he reached out to grab his toes, discovering them as if for the first time, repeatedly. The young mother had dark circles under her eyes and looked very tired as she sat next to him.
A man in the crowd asked, “Does he cry much?”
The new father rolled his eyes and said in an exasperated tone, “All night.”
“What’s his name?” a woman asked.
Mary and Joseph answered almost in unison, “His name is Jesus.”

I wish to thank the members of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Highland in the North Hills of Pittsburgh who so vividly brought the Christmas story to life for me in their own specially-built town of Bethlehem that fills their entire fellowship hall. The number of volunteers was astounding and each person was dedicated to welcoming us to Bethlehem and into the Christmas story. They continue this wonderful ministry and outreach every even-numbered year. If you have the opportunity to “travel to Bethlehem” via St. John’s, I highly recommend it.

About the pictures:
The Holy Land - Taken by Dr. Larry Ruby (2005)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Love

Last week I was sure I'd have plenty to say about love. This week, I'm not so sure. It's just...what do I say about love that I haven't said already in my blog through the years. As I was thinking about what I've been writing over the years, this poem wrote itself:

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.


The truth is that songwriters, poets, theologians and relationship gurus have been writing about love since the beginning and all of that writing together can’t really explain or define God’s love. Maybe God’s love isn’t something a human being can comprehend, explain, or describe. Maybe it’s just something we recognize and accept with open arms and thankful hearts. God’s grace is the greatest love story of all time and I am so blessed and humbled that He chose me to be a part of it. I pray you find yourself a part of this great love story as we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, the fulfillment of a promise made in God's love and possible by God's grace, this Christmas.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Joy

At the beginning of the week, I had this whole blog planned out. I researched the traditions of the advent season – why three purple and one pink candle? Why some churches use all blue instead? When did the observance of Advent start and why? Why the weekly themes of peace, hope, joy, and love and which order do they really belong in because it seems to change year to year. Traditionally, this week’s theme is joy as you can see from the title. But to be honest, I don’t feel joyful. I feel completely opposite of joyful in fact.

I’ve been missing my son. My heart feels like someone has rubbed it raw with sandpaper and all I really want to do is hug Bryan. Tell him I love him and I miss him. I can’t seem to stop crying which really gets in the way of doing all the things I normally do. It’s too bad this week’s theme isn’t love….then I’d have something to write about. But how can I possibly write about joy when my heart is breaking.

Mercy Me sings a song called "Homesick" – the chorus has been running through my head a lot:  I close my eyes and I see your face. If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place. Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow. I've never been more homesick than now. That’s exactly how I’m feeling right now – homesick for Bryan. I look around at all the Christmas decorations everywhere and I turn on the radio and hear all those familiar Christmas songs and instead of feeling joyful, I want to cry.

Why do I tell you this? It’s not to entice your sympathy.  It’s because I’m not the only one missing someone this Christmas and if you’re missing someone too, I want you to know you’re not alone. And because I really felt it was necessary to share where I am right now so that you understand that I really mean what I am about to say. It’s not a greeting card sentiment, but a truth to be taken to heart.

Today I asked God what I could possible write about joy in the middle of my grief. He surprised me with a simple but wonderful statement that renewed my mind, filled the pieces of my broken heart with hope and brought me comfort. He said that joy isn’t a feeling. Joy is an attitude and it is the way he has created me to approach each moment of this life. Even through my tears, I can still joyfully praise and serve and love the Lord. I can choose to joyfully anticipate the day of his coming when He will wipe every tear from [my] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain… (Revelation 21:4) His joy is in me because the Lord Jesus came to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve. He came to bestow on [me] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. [I] will rejoice in [my] inheritance and everlasting joy will be [mine]. (Isaiah 61:1-3, 7 selected)

So this coming week, no matter how busy or sad or frustrated or whatever else I become, I choose to rejoice in the Lord as I eagerly await his arrival – both the Christmas celebration of his birth and the great and wonderful day of his glorious return.


About the pictures:
Bryan (age 10)
North Park (September 2011)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Peace

Yesterday we lit the second candle of Advent, the candle of Peace. As I contemplated the word peace, I found I had a hard time defining it. At first I could only say what peace isn’t. For instance, peace is a lack of conflict in a person’s life, or a lack of war and aggression between nations. That didn’t seem right to me – that the whole definition of peace should be a lack of non-peaceful circumstances. While my dictionary offered little better, I did find a few words tucked away in a list of things peace isn’t that seemed to adequately define it for me – a state of security or order or mutual concord. It’s a subtle difference, but important because when I say out loud that peace is a lack of war and conflict, I don’t feel peaceful. But when I say that peace is a state of security, order, and mutual accord, a feeling of peace seems to surface.

So then I turned to my Bible to see what I could find on peace and I found many references, mostly talking about peace-offerings and the lack of peace or the return of peace in the Old Testament and lots of people greeting each other with peace in the New Testament. However, several lines of Scripture in the New Testament grabbed my attention and as I put them all together on one document to meditate on, I found this seamless message which I just had to share with you as I read it:

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:14) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9) “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mt 10:34) “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” (Lk 12:51) “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27) “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:32-33) For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:19-20) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Rom 5:1-2a) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phi 4:6-7)

On the night of our Savior’s birth, the angels announced this from the heavens: “On earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Glory to God, who in his infinite love and grace, made peace possible between his own holiness and his rebellious creation. And praise the Lord for creating those he has called to bring his peace to a violent, sinful, suffering world.

At first you may think that Mt 10:34 and Lk 12:51 don’t belong, but they do.  Jesus tells us in Jn 14:27 that there are two different kinds of peace – the peace of man and the peace of God. Just as there is a difference in defining what peace isn’t as opposed to defining what peace is, there is a difference in the peace of man and the peace of God. Jesus did not come to bring man’s peace. No, Jesus brought disruption to man’s temporary security, order and mutual accord to make way for God’s everlasting, unfailing, miraculous peace.

In Jn 16:32-33, Jesus is talking to the disciples on the night of his arrest, but don’t we all have moments when we desert Jesus. Moments when we deny we know him and run away from his presence in our lives. So how wonderful is it to know that Jesus does not withhold his peace from us even when we reject him. Again, he speaks of trouble in this world – disruption, aggression, disorder, but in the same breath has assured us that he has overcome sin and the world and offers his peace to every person who will take hold of it.
Jesus was not and is not a messenger of God. Jesus is God incarnate, and as humans we will never be able to truly comprehend or explain it. But we can accept it with a childlike faith and find peace with him and in him through his selfless sacrifice on the cross and receive everlasting life with him in his resurrection. The peace we have with and in God through Jesus beckons us to cry out to him, to bring to him all our anxieties, our needs, and desires and his peace in us will stand in and against and overcome and outlast all chaos and disorder we find ourselves facing.

So this week as I look for God’s peace, I will be looking for the security that comes from knowing that Jesus is my Savior and God’s grace has redeemed me and brings me into the presence of the Lord with thanksgiving and praise, not in fear and under condemnation. I will be looking for God’s order in the chaos that is my life and the mutual accord that is between him and me and between me and his children throughout the world. No matter what I face this week, God’s peace is what I will seek and what I know I will find even amid the craziness of the Advent/Christmas season.

About the pictures:
North Park (Sept. 2011)