On a Cold Snowy Day

How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose if there were no winter in our year.       

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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The world is white today. Beautiful, really. The same brush strokes that painted the world white also hit the pause button on the repetitive tapes of routine daily life and created a thousand still shots: mixtures of laughter, fun, relaxation, warm cups, warmer hearts, cozy mittens, scarves, and snowballs. Through filtered computer light I’ve seen pictures of snowsuits, snow boots, snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, sleds, and at least a hundred cold, smiling faces.

My home is quiet. No one trekking in and out of the snow. No nudges or pleas to go outside and play. No sledding or snow forts. It’s a quiet sanctuary with no schedule apart from hot coffee, warm soup, and wide eyes watching the snow fall. The backyard bird feeders are frozen, the birdbath a mound of snow; yet, ever hopeful, birds and squirrels still scamper around looking for hidden morsels. So much to see and think about when the world is on pause…or at least moving in slow motion.

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Measuring up. What a strange thought to entertain on a snowy day. Was it the varied predictions of how much snow, how low the temperatures, various cancellations, and other life disruptions that prompted the thought? Maybe it was images and thoughts far less tangible than measured inches of snow or falling levels of mercury: laughter outside, pictures on phones and computer screens: rounded red faces flushed by winter wind, puffy balls of children swaddled in warm coats and hats, brave snowmen standing proudly in the midst of their cold, humble beginnings. They all seemed to project carefree laughter and unbridled joy from a three inch still shot photo on the computer screen. What did any of those images have to do with measuring up? It didn’t take long for a barrage of questions to assault my thoughts and accuse my mind. Was I a bad mom for basking in the warmth of  fuzzy blankets, inviting books, and warm, soothing coffee? Should I bundle up the kids and rush outside to make cold noses and warm memories? But wait…the kids are grown and making snowballs or enjoying quiet moments on their own. Why did I even go there? Then more questions…had I done it well, did they have good memories, why didn’t we get this much snow when they were younger and eager to play in the snow? What would they remember? Such simple, seemingly unimportant questions. How insidiously the comparison trap begins…

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But it isn’t really about the snow. It’s about the questions, the feelings, and the accusations. I see it everyday in a hundred different ways: comparison, competition, struggling, striving, never quite feeling good enough. I see it in people who have worked themselves into exhaustion, sickness, and depression. I see it in the tired eyes of the lonely woman, the defeated man, the bullied teenager, the insecure child, the dropout, the addict, the weary. I see how it tries to sneak in, unseen, into simple everyday thoughts, plans, and observations. I should have… I could have… Why didn’t I… I wish… Like cold hard snowballs thrown mercilessly by the enemy, they always seem to find a weak spot or an unguarded target.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. -Romans 8:1

Where do the thoughts, the lies, the accusations, and the comparisons come from? When did they start? Why are the voices so familiar? Could it be that the struggle isn’t new at all? Could it all be a picture of the ancient struggle that began in  Genesis 3 with two simple yet opposing questions?

“Did God really say..?” And, “Who told you that…?”

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 Who told you that you weren’t good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not a good mom, not a good wife, not a good friend, not loved…just not enough?

What did God really say?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  I Peter 2:9

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39

The Lord your God in your midst; the Mighty One, will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will quiet you with His love. He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zeph 3:17  

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

No longer do I call you slaves…but I have called you friends. John 15:15

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 2 Tim 1:7

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..  Psalm 139:14

Why snowflakes and snowmen made me think of measuring up…I’m not quite sure. Snowmen are created in various shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Often forged during difficult times and always cold seasons. Their lives are intentional but fleeting. They are masterfully crafted and shaped and each is unique.

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And us? Masterfully crafted and unique? Fearfully and wonderfully made? What will it take to believe that? How can we be intentional? What would it look like to find others willing to step into the cold, messy storm with us to lend a hand, to support, to strengthen, or just stand by us in the coldest moments? Are two really better than one? Does the right presence bring warmth even in our hardest, coldest. or most vulnerable moments? What does it really mean to take every thought captive and walk in truth and peace?

Suggestion: Frequently set aside time for a thought check and belief inventory: What do you believe? To whom or what do you give the power to define you and affect your beliefs and feelings?  And a support inventory: Who do you love, trust, and believe? Who will walk with you and give honest reflection of your strengths, your weaknesses, and your worth? All the voices, images, memories, and ideas we are exposed to have power to create beliefs and self-imposed definitions. Some realistic and accurate, others false, unrealistic, or even unattainable. So we compare. Or we condemn. We measure. Others and ourselves. How will you measure your worth today?

 Those were my thoughts on this cold snowy day.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:8

Exodus 2020-21: A Walk in the Wilderness

I recently met with a group of women to give them words of hope and encouragement in this strange season of 2020-2021. My original thought was to share scripture from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, since it was one I had been frequently revisiting:

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)

And even though I strive to see glimpses of good in every situation, sometimes I still feel the heaviness and frustration of all the change and challenge of new ways of doing life in this season. The unknown and the unmet can certainly be challenging…and exhausting.

But as I prepared to share, and hopefully encourage…the word that came to me wasn’t about weariness or perseverance at all. Instead, it was the words of remembrance that were spoken to the travel-weary Israelites near the end of their wilderness journey:

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. -Deut 29:5

And as I thought about the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness, it felt familiar and timely. But let me first say, I’m not really comparing our season of Covid, shutdowns, changes, confusion, and political and social unrest to the harshness of being in slavery in Egypt or to the long, hungry wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

But when the people fled out of Egypt, they really didn’t know what to expect. How long would they be in transit? What would it look like? How long would their lives and routines be put on hold? What would happen on the other side? What would be the “new normal?” It was really only about an 11 day journey. Shouldn’t be that hard at all, right? I mean…what could go wrong?

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

Well…you know what did happen in that forty years? Fear, isolation, disappointment, changes to routine, grumbling and complaining, rebellion, lying, challenges to faith and family, disease, death. And if we could brainstorm and compare notes and thoughts, the list would keep growing. But you know what else was forged during that time? Faith, boundaries, relationships, leadership, tribal unity, new ways of worship, hope, greater realization of God’s presence. And more.

And then I thought about us during this time. Any of it sound familiar in 2020? Stay home, isolate, social distance, flatten the curve, wear a mask, quarantine, unclean, take the pressure off hospitals, make a plan, figure it all out. I’m not being cynical. It was a new route in the wilderness of 2020 and I think most leaders were trying their best to forge their way along an uncharted path…with no cloud by day or fire by night.

Then I thought, maybe it’s not such a different picture after all. Maybe we had been slaves unaware prior to the pandemic. Slaves to time, tradition, comfort, the expected usual ways, routine in worship, community, education, and gathering. Are we looking back now, like they did, wishing for the good ol days back in Egypt with meat by the fire? Or have we developed a taste for something new? Will we ever again complain about having to go to bible study on Friday where we would have coffee and laughter with our friends? Or getting up to go to church and worship freely on Sunday mornings? Uninhibited hugs and kisses on the cheek? Do we understand the concept of just enough whatever for the day? It felt a little scary when you couldn’t find toilet paper, right?

When we get to the other side of this…what will be different? What awaits us?

We need a Red Sea to the Jordan River moment in our lives…a “Red Sea parting” to provide a way and a “Jordan River crossing” to help us look back and remember. But also look forward with hope. But first we have to be dressed for the journey.

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17

Can we say…for 40 days, or 40 weeks, or 40 months…He led (and we followed) through this time, this wilderness, this season of pulling away and becoming different? In 40 weeks or 40 years…the whole armor of God won’t wear out or rust. But we do have to choose to put it on or to walk around in the wilderness naked… exposed and vulnerable.

Can we say, on the other side of the mountain: daily I collected my portion of bread. Daily I put on my clothes and my sandals?

My belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness. Check. Not worn out. Belt fits securely. I have been consistently seeking truth. Got a whole robe of righteousness.

My shoes of peace wrap around my feet like the peace of God that passes understanding and are as strong and supportive as ever. I walk securely. Lots of traction out of these shoes of peace.

This shield of faith has taken some heavy hits and fiery darts but it keeps on deflecting. Not worn out or even splintered.

This helmet of salvation is secure. He hasn’t given me a spirit of fear but of peace and love and a sound mind.

And the wilderness-wanderers may have had the tabernacle, the cloud, and the fire but we have the sword of the Spirit… the Word of God.

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

I ask you to think about that verse this week. Very tangibly as it relates, not only to 2020 and beyond, but to how He has led you through…whatever. And remember this encouraging truth found in Lamentations 3:21-23

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places

Because He has led, and is leading, you a figurative forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

New Year’s Revolution

It’s 2021! Happy New Year! At the start of every new year, millions of people make plans to change something during the upcoming year. Read more, exercise more, lose weight, eat better, travel, save money, and on and on. They call them resolutions. But read that title again. We’re talking about creating a New Year’s revolution! Resolutions plan…but revolutions do.

2020 was a year unlike any other that most of us have ever experienced. We found ourselves confronted with a global pandemic, massive shutdowns, social and political upheaval, media frenzy and bias, isolation, mental health crisis, uncertainty, and for many, a year of great loss: jobs, financial security, social interaction, death of friends and loved ones. If it taught us anything, I would say that it showed us that we are not really in control of our lives and circumstances as much as we had once thought.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us we were all going direct to heaven we were all going the other way-in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Think back for a moment on 2020, but not with the typical eye roll and fatalist semi-humor of it being the worst year ever. Instead…find one good thing. One positive outcome or lesson. One new discovery. One very good memory. I promise it’s there. It may be obvious and come to mind right away. Or it may be so subtle and so slowly learned and still evolving that it may take some time to quietly reflect and realize. You may not even know its full impact in this season, but you will someday. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

The quotation above is the opening paragraph of a literary classic about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. I’m not trying to make a political statement, nor am I suggesting that we try to overthrow the government and create a 2021 American Revolution. But I do propose that we rise up and demand change. We create change. We become the change.

According to Merriam Webster:

revolution , noun

–a sudden, radical, or complete change

-a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something

Sudden, radical, and complete aren’t always easy, but a basic, fundamental change sounds a little more do-able. But it requires an active choice to consider the ways we think about and visualize the beliefs, patterns, activities, and interactions in our lives. Last year I suggested we look ahead and discover 10 things to leave behind and 10 things to embrace in the upcoming year of 2020. We could probably revisit and redo, but for now, looking back…

Think about and visualize: What made 2020 so hard for you?

Lack of control? Isolation or loneliness? All the unknowns? Fear? Loss? Then let’s evaluate: What are our expectations and how do we create them? Where do we get our information and answers? In what do we place our trust? Do we expect the government to do what’s right and best for us? Friends and family? Do we trust in nature, fate, karma, or whatever? Do we hope and trust at all? No shame, no judgment, no condemnation. But pause to consider: Does life just happen? Is there really a God in heaven who knows us and sees us and has a bigger plan and purpose? Even if in doubt, I encourage you to pause, look back, and find evidence of God’s involvement in your circumstances. Look for his goodness and faithfulness to you this year. Last year, twenty years ago… Like the cliché says: hind sight is 2020. Choose to see.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. -Psalm20:7

Then start a revolution! A fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something in your life and situation. Rise up and actively seek faith, answers, encouragement, and options. Engage others in person or virtually. Ask hard questions and seek real solutions. Throw off chains of doubt, fear, suspicion, apathy, and discouragement. Look back with mercy and compassion. Look forward with optimism and expectation. Want the change, seek the change, be the change.

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day

C.S. Lewis

My daughter bought me a beautiful, personalized planner for 2020. I pulled it out this morning and flipped through it. It is sparsely written in. Most of my plans in 2020 centered around going to work and coming home. No need to write that down. No exciting vacations or worldwide travel plans. But as I flipped through it today, I was encouraged by page after page of motivational words, thoughts, and stickers. And seeing more blank pages ahead actually motivated me. Blank pages are open spaces and opportunities. Maybe this has been a season of a different type of quiet stillness, sheltering, and preparing. For what? Maybe realization and revolution.

Have enough COURAGE to start and enough HEART to finish.

I’m going to suggest 3 tools, or weapons, in our arsenal that may enable us to rise up and start a healthy, life-changing revolution:

1. Perspectivehow and what we choose to see. 2020 was a great year for my dog, Maggie. She struggles with a canine anxiety disorder and I spent much more time at home this year, not taking a vacation and not taking her away from the comforts of home and family. We had fewer visitors to disrupt her ideas of the security and comfort of home. Her perspective is that 2020 was the best year ever! Can you name at least one gain or strength you acquired through all the changes and slowing down of 2020? Have you read more? Been outside more? Spent more time with your immediate family? Maybe you miss your family and friends and now realize what gifts a hug, an unmasked smile, and an intimate cup of coffee face-to-face really were. Perspective. Maybe it has changed how you plan on living next year…

2. Directivea goal, a plan, a desired outcome, and a carefully thought out way to get there. Battles are never won accidentally. They require strategy, bold commands, and faithful warriors engaged side by side in the battle. When you see clearly and accurately the path toward where you need to go, it makes the journey more productive, less stressful, and makes you more likely to arrive at the actual destination or goal.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul, Philippians 3:13-14

What is your one thing? One thing to leave behind or one thing to pick up and press on?

3. Electivewhat we choose to do. We can see and know what needs to be done, where we want to be, and what we would like to happen. We can even develop a plan of what the journey to change should look like. But then we must elect…we must choose, to follow through. To do it. Nike had it one-third right: Just do it. Just choose. Just start. Just get it done. Decide what “it” is that you want to accomplish or overcome. The change you want to make, the goal you want to meet. Define it and see it clearly. Then choose wisely. Just do it. 🙂 That doesn’t mean it’s a simple task. But seeing, planning, and then starting kindles the fires of revolution. The term revolution is neither peaceful nor passive. It suggests a fight or taking something by force, by determination, by strength and unity of purpose.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao Tzu

Be motivated and press on. Not simply as a New Year’s resolution…but a New Year’s revolution. As a rising up to overturn old patterns and oppressive ways…to overthrow darkness, doubt, depression, discouragement, fear, confusion, and anything else that would seek to defeat you or draw you away from achieving your goals, away from healthy relationships, and from personal growth. Let this be the year we desire and implement a fundamental change in the ways we think about and engage in the awareness and building up of our mental, spiritual, and physical health. Gather your army, build your arsenal, and start your own revolution!

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. -Hebrews 12:1

It’s a new day, a new month, a new year. It’s like my calendar: 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months, blank pages, empty to-do lists, spaces to fill with plans, purposes, ideas, hopes, and dreams. Bible studies, coffee dates, and trips to the mountains. Good things are coming. Keep believing. Happy New Year!

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. -Isaiah 43:19

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. -Ephesians 3:20-21

A Thrill of Hope…

I hope 2021 is better…I hope this virus goes away…I hope no one I love gets terribly sick…I hope we can start meeting together again soon…I hope my child will start making better decisions…I hope my candidate wins the election...

Those are just a few of the hope-filled sentiments and wishes I have heard in the last few months. What a long, strange year it has been. Such a hard season. Months teeming with questions without answers, conflicts without resolutions, information without facts, fears without explanation, and loss without mercy.

No doubt, 2020 has been a hard year for so many. I have seen, heard, and walked with friends through some incredibly hard battles this year. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I have witnessed more grief, conflict, loss, and despair than during this 2020 year. Job loss, financial instability, physical and mental health crisis, prodigal children, divorce, relationship conflict, hopelessness, death of loved ones, and so much more. I know very few people who have not faced a major battle or devastating loss this year.

But even as I typed the title, A Thrill of Hope, I was transported back to 2018…another very hard year for me personally. The details aren’t important…just that it passed and my family survived. And maybe lessons were learned and hope held us like an anchor throughout the stormy season. No, it did more than hold. It actually steadied and then redirected. Set a new course. Maybe it actually wasn’t harder than 2020. Maybe it was just somewhat of a great shaking and awakening to the fact that I really wasn’t in control of as much as I thought I was. That I was vulnerable. And too comfortable. A reminder that what seems fine on the surface can really hide darkness and pain. And in this world we will have trouble… No one is immune.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

-Jesus, John 16:33

Sometimes a word or phrase of inspiration comes from an unlikely place. Earlier in November 2018, my daughter had been asked to brainstorm an idea about a theme for an upcoming Christmas program. She suggested four simple, but well-known words from the beloved Christmas song, O Holy Night: a weary world rejoices… That’s the word I was looking for and didn’t even know until she spoke it: weary. I was weary.

Fast forward to December 2018 and we packed the car and took a mother-daughter trip halfway across the country. Well…to Waco, Texas. At the time I was still reeling from some major conflicts and disappointments, but the trip had already been scheduled, so away we went. The Silos, in downtown Waco, had been on my daughter’s radar for quite some time. Not knowing what to expect, when we arrived I felt like puzzle pieces had fallen into place when we discovered another four simple words had been chosen for their Christmas theme: A thrill of hope…

hope /hōp/ noun – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust. / verb – to cherish a desire with anticipation; to want something to happen or be true, or for the best; to expect with confidence.

A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices…

It was a great trip: a new place filled with new sights, sounds, and excitement. There was quality time with my girl. There was quiet time to reflect, read, and pray. And there was something new…a thrill of hope. An expectation. A faint quiver or stirring in my soul that hinted that being in a dark or desperate place was simply temporary. A passing place. An opportunity to see even the faintest flicker of light all the brighter. A place of hope.

Fast forward to Christmas 2020… The world is weary. Ten months deep in the midst of a global pandemic, fear, confusion, isolation, and suspicion have been draped over many weary souls like foul-smelling, constricting grave clothes, suffocating life and light. People are walking and living in the land of deep darkness. A land of loss.

Our local hospitals are full. Dark and full of despair. People are waiting in emergency rooms for days on end to be placed in rooms. I have seen physical death in the hospital where I work, in local and global news, among friends, and even in my own family. I have sat with, texted, and Zoomed with both the frightened and the fearless, the deniers and the conspiracy theorists, faithful believers and those without hope. The world is weary. My town is weary. My coworkers are weary. My friends are weary. I am weary. We are waiting. For what? An answer, a cure, a respite from the merciless hours of fears, questions, arguments, and excuses? Relief?

Looking through my pictures from Waco, I found this one I snapped of a fireplace in the gift shop. Above it hung a sign that read:

Anticipation is the feeling of hopeful expectation, believing in the magic of what has been and what might be again. This we know to be true: there is wonder in the waiting.

There is wonder in the waiting. I think we miss that as adults. As children, we wonder who our new teacher will be. Will we make new friends at school? What will be waiting under the Christmas tree? Who will I marry when I grow up? Where will I live and what will I do for a living? We hope, we expect, we dream. At least for a season. And even when we are hurt and dreams are shattered…We move on. We forgive. We try to forget. And hopefully…we continue to hope.

We believe in the magic… Well, maybe not the magic. But how about the good? We believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. We remember carefree times we took for granted: huddled in close for coffee and secrets with our best friend, laughing and good times with our small circles, long hugs, cheek kisses, and shared tears. Even the hard times weren’t so hard because we were together…and we had hope. Dare we believe in the magic of what has been and what might be again? When we kiss and embrace and gather and laugh with no fear of sickness and suspicion. When we gather and worship and shake hands and sing hymns and worship freely. When we stop and chat and share our good news and blessings with our neighbors…or a stranger at the store. When we see one another’s smiles unveiled and unhindered. I miss the hugs. I miss the smiles. I miss the carefree conversation with no mention of politics and pandemics.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Isaiah 9:2

Those are prophetic words found in the book of Isaiah. Words promising hope of a future salvation and deliverance. And while those words were written thousands of years ago, they feel timeless. The 2020 readers’ version could be: We are those people…walking and living in a land and time of deep darkness.

In biblical history, there were about 400 years between the last Old Testament prophet and the angel appearing to announce the arrival of Jesus. 400 years! Day after day, night after night of cold, prolonged, seemingly never-ending silence. And what is silence but auditory darkness? Emptiness. Hopelessness. Were they weary? Trudging through the mundane. Or were they ever-watchful and hopeful for their Deliverer and Savior?

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

So, yes, we believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. But more than that…we believe that a light has shone on our darkness…and we will again live and walk in that light.

…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

It’s almost Christmas. Is it coincidence that in this dark season, we experienced the appearance and the wonder of the “Christmas star” in the sky for the first time in 800 years? Or dare we believe that it is a promise and a beacon of hope?

What has 2020 looked like for you? Were your plans stalled? Life interrupted? Events postponed and people scattered? What have you lost? Time? Money? Security, schedules, vacations? Maybe something much more substantial: a friend or family member…

Loss makes us weary and uncertain at times. Grieve the losses. Remember the good. Grieving is therapeutic and remembering is essential. It says it mattered. We believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. May we be ever-watchful and hopeful…choosing to see the works of God on our behalf in this season. And may we hold onto the great gift of hope.

Driving alone on a cold, dreary day, I recently heard a song that I felt encompassed the heart of the 2020 Christmas season:

In your silent night, when you’re not alright. lift your eyes and behold him. Feel the thrill of hope. You are not alone. In this moment, behold him…King forevermore, come let us adore, Christ our Savior, behold him.

Francesca Battistelli, Behold Him

We have no way of knowing what 2021 will hold. But in this moment, I choose hope. And I choose to have eyes that see God’s past faithfulness and blessing. Praying that the Light shines in your darkness wherever you are. You are never alone. Lift your eyes. We have hope and light and life. God bless and Merry Christmas.

When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

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The evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

christmasalone

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through the overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

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I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back. But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

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What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting, and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.  I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

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But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in a world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ❤

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“Why Is Life So Hard…”

“Why is life so hard?”  There…I asked it. Well…I actually said it. It was more of a definitive statement. No question mark required. I said it to no one in particular since I was home alone; and it was, at the same time, an unanswerable question,  a statement of fact, a hands-up-in-surrender moment, and an exasperated prayer. Life is so hard. Yet the ‘why’ hung in the air like a taboo sort of question, complaint, and ever-growing dark cloud ready to burst at any moment. Why ask why?

Pictures from my own recent struggles as well as serious battles and prayer requests of family and friends hung in the air: death, divorce, isolation, estrangement, sickness, a runaway child, an addiction, bad choices, job loss, financial crisis, broken trust, broken relationships…and so much more.

And like the force of a blinding flash of lightning clashing with a rumbling clap of thunder, the invisible dam of stoic strength and self-defense that had been fortified with years of training, trials, tragedy, and trauma finally burst in that tear-filled question-statement.

Tears are simply the raindrops from the storms inside us.

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But the question remained. Is there an answer or understanding we can grasp with our limited view and experience? I’m not a theologian, sociologist, or a psychiatrist; but I have lived, witnessed, and experienced great tragedy, loss, and triumph. I am just a traveler on a long broken road and I believe there are more theories and partial answers that create more questions than there is space to write or brain cells to brainstorm, but here are a few:

THE WORLD IS BROKEN. People are broken, hearts are broken, laws are broken, vows are broken, trust is broken, relationships are broken. Do you feel it? Have you seen it? Life is precious and priceless, but also fragile and fleeting. What lies in the aftermath, the rubble, of any great breaking? Pain, dust, and broken pieces? Brokenness creates fragments and scatters bits and pieces. Like flecks and shards of shattered, jagged glass that wound and cut and dig into deep painful places. And looking through the brokenness often obscures our view, like a distorted reflection through a shattered prism. But brokenness is also a picture. It shows us what went wrong and gives us an opportunity to repair or replace. To start over and pick up the pieces. To restore and to make whole. It creates hurt, but also hope and a chance for healing.

Jesus said in John 16:33, In this world you will have trouble…  And I don’t think anyone would argue with him.

The psalmist said in Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Dare we believe it?! And seek it?

THE WORLD IS LONELY. Never have we seen so many faces and heard so many voices…and have yet been so profoundly alone. Alone in our homes, alone in our hurts. Behind a mask, behind a screen. Unseen, unknown. Alone.

King Solomon in all his wealth and wisdom understood: There is a man all alone, without even a son or brother. And though there is no end to his labor, his eyes are still not content with his wealth: “For whom do I toil and bereave my soul of enjoyment?” This too is futile—a miserable task. Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one may be overpowered, two can resist. Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. -Ecc 4:8-12

How can we show people they aren’t alone and unseen? Unimportant? Share a smile, hold a hand, make eye contact, give a hug, make time, ask questions, offer help, share the load. You may ease their burden for a moment in time.

THE WORLD IS HUNGRY. And seeking to satisfy its hunger with fleeting passions, importance, abundance, busyness, and untold distractions.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Isaiah 55:2

Anxiety and depression are at record levels. Addiction is rampant. Addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, work, or to pleasure. To relationships, recognition, and achievement. The ways we try to satisfy the hunger in our hearts or to still the quiet rumbling in our souls are countless and fruitless. How do you satisfy an unquenchable thirst and feed a hungry soul? Why does there always seem to be an insatiable hunger for more?

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

C.S. Lewis

THE WORLD IS CONFUSED. Wrong is right, right is wrong. There is no truth, no consistency, no identity, no clearly defined lines between right/wrong, good/bad, black/white, yes/no, up/down. Truth is relative, your truth is your truth, and on and on… But real truth remains truth regardless of who believes it, disputes it, tears it down, or tries to erase it. While those bold enough to stand and proclaim it are mocked or labeled as haters.

The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it

George Orwell

Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life.

My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

Abraham Lincoln

THE WORLD IS AT WAR. Sometimes it’s obvious. The never-ending news reports show battle images of soldiers and weapons and planes and death. Of rape and violence and murder, Headlines scream of anger, fear, division, and conflict. War at home, war abroad, war in our streets, in our homes, in our hearts. War without, war within.

There’s a battle for your time, a battle for your mind. For your kids, your spouse, your friends, your peace, your identity, and your heart.

We fight against time and schedules, against growing older and growing colder. Against shadows, demons, fears, and imaginations. The people in our past, in our homes, in our work, on the phone, in traffic, on the Internet, and often our worst enemy…the person in the mirror. It’s a battle on all fronts: physical, emotional, and spiritual. No wonder we are tired and battle-weary.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.   

– Jesus, John 10:10

People are angry. They fight to be seen, to be heard, to matter, or simply to be “right.” Life is hard, but life is also good. Trauma, trials, and tragedy come…but so do triumph and love and laughter.

And in the battle, sometimes wisdom and encouragement can be found in the least likely places: the hug of a friend, the laugh of a child, the wag of a tail, the rustle of the wind, the crash of the waves. Even a seed planted long ago in an inspired, creative idea. My very favorite movie is the Lord of the Rings. There is brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war. More than entertainment or escape, it creates a picture of life as we live it: triumph and tragedy, fierce opposition from enemies, the need for unity to stand and fight and overcome, light in darkness, hope in hopelessness, and the promise of a coming King. In both an intense and encouraging scene, as the battle raged, fighting seemed futile, and most hope appeared lost, young, brave Sam offered hope and encouragement for a battle-wearied traveler to continue:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”   

-J.R.R. Tolkien , The Two Towers

Does that answer the question of why life can be so hard? Maybe not. I still feel the hardness. And I know you do too. If not right now, then probable yesterday…or tomorrow. It will come. The brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war… within and without. But I have to ask: Are you holding onto something? Even just hope…maybe especially just hope. Know that there’s something or someone worth fighting for. I encourage you in this season of hard…when all seem lost or you think you’ve done all you can do…stand, fight, and hope.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.   

-Jesus, John 16:33

21 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me

Four years ago I wrote this post when my older child turned 21. Today my youngest child turns 21, and there are so many more things I could add to the list. More memories, more laughter, more advice, more regrets, more “wish-I-could-have-a-do-overs.” But for now I’ll just leave it as was:

Today it’s official: I’ve been a parent for twenty one years! From first steps to first day of school, first car to college, first apartment to soon-to-be married… I have very few regrets. I haven’t done it all perfectly but here we are: not in jail, still speaking to each other, more good times than bad. Isn’t that successful parenting? I’m sure the title could read 21,000 things being a parent has taught me but I’ve narrowed it down.

  1. It’s not all about me. Oh, if everyone in the world could recognize that truth at the same moment how different the news headlines would read! Most women really embrace this truth about the time they feel the img_9638first tiny movements inside. How much more apparent it becomes with midnight feedings, a hundred loads of laundry, and a thousand diaper changes. It’s even more evident when big brown eyes look into yours and tiny fingers hold your heart.
  2. It’s not all about my children either. What a harsh realization when you discover that not everyone thinks your child is the center of the universe! This seems particularly apparent in the midst of play-dates and four year old soccer games. While you love your children and think they’re the best artists and athletes and scholars, sometimes other parents give their own children those titles as well. Teach them balance, respect, personal responsibility, and healthy pride in accomplishment.
  3. My heart is bigger than I thought. It was bittersweet when I first felt the deep pangs of parental love. Not that love for my own children was painful, but I suddenly became aware of all the people in the world, especially those that had never been loved as I loved my own. I saw people very differently. Either they were loved deeply and deserved my love and respect; or they had been denied that deep, unconditional love and protection and merited my compassion. The depth of that loss changed the way I viewed people in their pain and messiness.
  4. How to be brave. Noises in the night, scary looking insects, bad dreams, bad guys, and bullies can all seem overwhelming. What better way to overcome those fears than to become a fearless champion, knowing little eyes are watching? What about bigger fears? Sickness, stitches, broken bones, and bruised hearts? Parenting is not for the weak or the faint-of-heart.
  5. Spiders won’t kill me. Okay, this one should probably fall under the how to be brave category, but it was such a victory that it deserved its own bullet point. Enough said.
  6. I can’t stop all the pain. From lost stuffed animals, being left out of friendship circles, not making the team, to the death of pets and people, the sting and sadness of rejection and disappointment cannot be avoided. While I can’t stop it, dress it up, or discount it, I’m called and equipped to walk through it, providing support, encouragement, and hope along the way.
  7. The importance of presence. Availability. Attention. Acknowledgement. Who hasn’t noticed the eager eyes of children as they searched for a parent at a ballgame, a performance, or a school program? A field trip, a day of shopping, a quiet lunch for two? A funny movie on the couch?  When you are truly img_9630present, you are better able to really see, hear, learn, and know your children. You’re not only their greatest cheerleader; you also become a shepherd of their heart.
  8. Words are really important. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak life, truth, and encouragement. Tell them you love them, are proud of them, and are always available.
  9. How to say I’m sorry.  I messed up. I was wrong. Please forgive me. A little humility and humanity encourages grace and mercy. It says you can own your shortcomings and it models good communication and responsibility.
  10. Let go of guilt. “I wish I had..I wish I  hadn’t..I should have..I shouldn’t have..if only… Home school, public school, other moms, other kids..What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my kids end up in counseling because of me?” Let it go. Do your best. Pick your battles. Say your prayers. Love your kids. Repeat.
  11. Stop comparison. Younger moms, thinner moms, cooler moms, moms with more money, more time, and more creativity… Who hasn’t felt the drive to compete, compare, or self-degrade? Your children were given to you, not your next door neighbor, the preacher, or the lady down the street. You are good enough, smart enough, brave enough, and just what they need.
  12. Always eat dinner around the table. Mealtime is always good. Why? We love to eat. We love to laugh. There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation and accountability. No television, no video games, no phone. It’s a time to recount events of the day, plan future events, and ask lots of questions.
  13. Cereal is okay for supper. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and grains. It’s cheap. It’s easy. Knowing that so many people in the world go to bed hungry, there is no condemnation in Frosted Flakes. Or pop tarts. 🙂
  14. Stepping over piles of clothes counts as exercise. So does walking around aimlessly, running in circles, and going the distance. Patience takes practice so that’s also a sport. Hiding in the bathroom counts as a cool-down routine.  🙂
  15. The car is a great classroom. It’s quiet. It’s confined. img_9636They can’t escape. The greatest lessons don’t happen in the classroom, but in the day to day moments of life when you can teach, share, and create real life and relationship. Believe it or not, they are listening.
  16. Make bedtime the best time. They’re tired. They’re vulnerable. They’ll open their hearts just to stay awake and to spend a few more minutes with you in the quiet darkness. What a sweet time to snuggle, to pray, and to listen to their hearts, dreams, and details of the day. It can be the great eraser of an awful, no good, very bad day.
  17. Take lots of pictures. There was no Facebook or Instagram when my children were little. Milestones and memories were captured in 4×6 glossy images in frames or behind plastic sheets. What seemed like too many at theimg_9635 time have proven to be never enough, but still offer glimpses into life and love and living.
  18. How to appreciate good art. Who needs expensive oils, French impressionists, and murky watercolors when hand-scribbled notes, finger-paints, play-doh shapes, fingerprint faces, and reindeer made of footprints can adorn walls and refrigerators?
  19. Laughing is the best. It reduces tension, stress hormones, and the need to hit something. Create inside jokes so no one else understands and you seem weird to other people.
  20. Remember to invest. Children are a treasure, a blessing from the Lord. Each season is to be savored and captured in word, photo, laughter, and experiencing each moment to the fullest measure. But…part of our investment is in teaching children to grow, stand, walk, move on, and create their own journeys. Then what’s left besides the memories, photographs, and holiday visits? What of the other relationships? The other investments? The spouse, the deep friendships, the knowledge and care of self, the spiritual growth that is left to explore and experience after the children marry, move, or follow their own paths? Cherish, but don’t idolize your children, as you make investments in other lifelong, life-changing relationships.
  21. How to let go. It starts the first time you leave them at daycare, with a relative, or a babysitter. It intensifies with the first “no” or “I can do it by myself”.  Then  classroom, camp, a car, college, marriage, moving away. There is beauty in freedom, success in standing alone, amazement as they fly. After all, they were only yours for a little while.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

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Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them    Ps 127:3-5

Invitation to Online Bible Study

In Matthew 28 Jesus gave the Great Commission: “to go and make disciples.”  That has become the Mission Statement of Community Bible Study: lighthousepromoTo make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in our communities through caring, in-depth Bible study, available to all.

And in Hebrews 10 we are told to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.

2020 marks the 45th anniversary of CBS as a ministry, and in the midst of a global pandemic and other  uncertainty, we are not neglecting to meet together, but are instead moving to a live online format for this season to better reach and serve the women and children in our community and beyond.

2 Tim 2:9 says the word of God is not bound! And in Isaiah 55:11 God says that his Word shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which He purposed, and shall succeed in the thing for which He sent it.

We are excited to be studying the Gospel of John, where we are told that Jesus himself is the Word and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We invite you to come and see who Jesus is, how He changed the life of a man named John, and how he can transform each of us as well.

John himself told us that these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

It is a book for all seasons, all ages, all believers, and all seekers. Come and see…

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http://murfreesborowest.cbsclass.org/

Independence Days

“With great power comes great responsibility…” Who said that? Winston Churchill? Someone during the French Revolution? Maybe it was Uncle Ben in the Spiderman movie? Opinions vary; but they tell you in Sunday school, when in doubt, just say “Jesus.”

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.  -Jesus, Luke 12

img_9424Today, July 4th, is Independence Day. And in the wake of a worldwide pandemic, violent, unpredictable rioting, political upheaval, a volatile social storm, and general worldwide uncertainty about the future, I am thankful for today’s freedom. It is a valuable, weighty gift that should be handled like a piece of fine china or priceless work of art; because once it is trampled upon or broken, it is often tossed aside and forgotten.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord…  -Psalm 33:12

My family loves history and can recite all the important dates, people, battles, and declarations. I just appreciate it, enjoy it, and walk in it. Freedom as a nation is an incredible blessing. As I see civil unrest, hatred, and division,IMG_5322 I don’t take it for granted. I am thankful to be able to think and write and speak and read and travel as a free American. But freedom is so much more than a declaration written on old parchment paper and filed away in the archives under watchful guard. Freedom  begins in the quiet corners of the mind and bursts forth in the heart and spirit like shadows of the painted reds, whites, and blues showering the sky.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  -Galatians 5:1

The apostle Paul wrote those words to a group of believers who were battling confusion and societal attempts to confuse or strip away their spiritual freedoms. We would be wise to tend his words:  Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 

People have short memories and are easily swayed at times. Why would anyone choose to give up freedom and return to bondage? I have to wonder: Have people always been so angry? So confused and uncertain? Hopeless? Insufferable? I’m no psychologist. Or sociologist. I’m a fellow traveler but also an observer. And a learner. And someone who cares.

b2475e78-316c-433f-9fc2-cdc8fce01328If there were a battle flag to represent emotional and spiritual independence, I propose that it would bear three stars, representing hope, identity, and awareness. I believe true freedom grows from those tended, nurtured, well-watered places.

Hope that there is more than the day to day struggles and battles with our own, and other’s, fragile emotions and faulty lives. Hope that we are not alone. Lack of hope breeds futility.  You’ve heard it: Why bother? Who cares? Whatever! When people have no hope, they have no direction. They don’t care or commit. To anything or anybody. Like a drowning person often flails and inadvertently pulls their rescuer under with them, they simply struggle to keep their head above water and fight for the next breath. Lack of hope kills life, motivation, purpose, and direction.

Identity: An inner knowing and resolve that we are more than just a fleeting breath that passes through the earth and then returns to dust. People are confused and don’t know who they are, who they are meant to be, what good and life-changing purposes they are capable of. People desire to be loved, accepted, and fulfilled. Their lives to have purpose and meaning.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  -Declaration of Independence

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…  God, Jer 1:5

Lack of identity creates confusion and lack of direction. It mars the identity of and importance others. People become nameless, lifeless faces. Violence and disregard of life often follows.

Awareness that there is more than what we see, hear, feel, and touch: a fragile, temporal world filled with fragile, broken people. And that our cb86c896-68cb-4ec8-ac6d-4cdcff778412thought and actions affect more than the moment. They potentially have a ripple effect that can affect generations and alter history. Beliefs matter. Choices matter. Actions matter. It all matters.

I suppose the three could also be summed up in 1 Cor 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Faith instills hope, hope clings to purpose, faith clarifies identity, love kindles awareness, and awareness fosters love, identity encourages purpose, purpose gives hope, and on and on. It’s a beautiful circle of freedom.

Today I am thankful for American freedom and for those who have sown their time, efforts, prayers, and very lives into the fabric of our history. I am also thankful that, no matter what happens in society, there are inner, God-given freedoms that no one can take away. I am thankful to be ever-growing in hope, identity, and awareness of myself and others.

True freedom is not the liberty to do whatever we want; it is the strength to do what we should. That is also true bravery. May God grant us that strength.  -Ravi Zacharias

IMG_5320So many freedoms, opportunities, and blessings. Free country: I have freedom to speak and eat and read and go and do most anything I feel led to. Free will: I have the capacity and the gift to choose whom to be with, to love, and to serve. Free to _______ and free from _________. You fill in the blanks. I am thankful for the freedom to be, the freedom to do, the freedom to want and work and gain. I am also thankful to be free from condemnation, guilt, shame, and sin. No longer a prisoner. I am thankful for today: another Independence Day.

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.  – 2 Chron 7:14