Old New News!

Twirlings of red ribbon. Sweaters. Glittering white snow. Fresh greenery. Twinkling lights. Smiles. Caroling. Happy people. Traditions. Memories. Boxes. Wool socks. Color contrasts. Family…

Ah, these and many more make me smile. This time of year is special. And yet in all the specialness, it’s easy to get caught up in all the season’s happenings to the point where we look forward to Christmas as the stop-plug to this busyness. I’ve been guilty of that. It’s a shame because the whole spirit of Christmas can totally be overlooked. As I laid in bed last night, I reminded myself that I want to feel the throbbings, the joy, and spread some cheer myself. If I bomb through the rest of the season, too busy to consider new thoughts and give beyond-the-box gifts, the blessing in this time of year will never be realized.

Five more days… Four more days. . . .Three more days… We may be counting down to Christmas day, looking forward to family gatherings, delicious meals, joy and cheer, presents, or peace and quiet, but if we stop and think, isn’t there something, someOne greater? The Savior.

“Today, One Who saves from the punishment of sin has been born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Of course, we know Christ wasn’t born December 25. But to celebrate His birth? Why, this is not something we should just do once a year—every day our hearts ought to ring with the glad tidings that a Savior was born. It would seem like 2,000 year old news would be just that—old and irrelevant. But the news of Christ’s birth echos just as loud as ever because it’s not “old,” it’s truly as new and relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14)

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Confronting Embarrassment

Haven’t we all done something klutzy, been embarrassed, but then we find out someone saw the whole thing and suddenly the embarrassment escalates into massive humiliation? We wish they’d just act like they didn’t see so that we could console ourselves in the disillusioned hope that they didn’t. But they did, and to top it off they ask the dreaded—”do you need help,” or “are you okay?” Whoa…

The mentality of let-me-prove-I’m-just-fine boils up within us and we want to just jump up and run away as we call over our shoulder “Yep, I’m fantastic!” As if we have something to prove?

We wish we would suddenly melt into vapor, or that the person who saw the mishap would permanently forget the whole thing. How mortifying.

But what’s our response? Or do we even respond?

This was my experience yesterday. I had a package that had to get to the mail and I figured it would be perfect for sliding around on a bike since the roads were slick with all the snow we had recently gotten. At a particular corner, as I neared the Post Office, I swung my rear tire around into a slide and didn’t keep my weight over the front wheel enough and swoosh! I was on one knee and both hands. The bike had slid right out from under me. Instantly, my first thought was, “I hope no one is watching.” “Are you okay?” The dreaded question punctured my hope bubble like a lightening bolt with obnoxious interruption. I looked up to see a teen boy across the street looking in my direction.

He watched me. I heard him. I saw him. Now what?

Fortunately, I was completely fine. As I picked the bike up, I quickly responded, “Yeah, I’m okay. It’s kind of slick out here. I’m sure you know how it is—once the front wheel goes out from under you there’s no saving it.” He nodded.

I rode across the street, but my mind was racing for more—I’ve learned that the only way to really live is to confront every reality, no matter how brutal or gruesome, head on. A fast escape only does us harm, perpetuating the unrealistic reality that is a problem for us. In that moment, I no longer cared what the boy thought, I was concerned about my own mind and how I was dealing with one of life’s embarrassing moments. Rushing past an experience creates gaps in life, and adds to the “unconfrontables”—the list of things, moments, and memories that we’d rather not talk about.

On the other side of the street, I stopped and waited for Michael to catch up to me. When he did, I struck up a conversation with him. Not to prove anything to him, but to confront and prove to myself that I can stand up in face of total embarrassment. I can talk about something that doesn’t reflect good on me. We had a great exchange, and I rode away triumphant—not because I had proven I was indeed “okay” to him, but because I boldly confronted an area of vulnerability. And on top of that, I had taken an opportunity to make a new friend.

Afterward, the question spiked in my mind: “If, in that instance, I had been hurt (however minor or major) how would my response differ?” My natural inclination would be to act like I wasn’t hurt and like everything is fine. BUT…

What if that isn’t the truth?

What if the whole side of my leg was scraped up and my hands were bloody. How would I respond to a genuine inquiry of compassion? Run. Hide. Ignore. Cry. Shout. Act cool. “Yep, I’m perfectly fine…”

Emptiness and continued embarrassment pursue those who run from reality.

What about when someone’s words dig deep and our hearts bruise; someone else senses that all is not right and asks, “Are you okay?” Do we bluff off, suck it in, paste a smile on our face, and try to act like everything is okay? Or are we true—true to the other person, and even more importantly, true to ourselves?

You see, this isn’t just about falling down and getting hurt, it’s about mentally confronting the hard and embarrassing stuff in life. How often do we find ourselves admitting to reality, whether good or bad? “You know what, I’m hurt by those words, acts, looks/that fall, hit, scrap, etc… but I’m working through it and your concern for me is very comforting.”

How do I respond?

“But you want complete honesty, so teach me true wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)

“He stores up perfect wisdom for those who are right with Him. He is a safe-covering to those who are right in their walk.” (Proverbs 2:7)

“Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given you.” (Romans 12:3b)

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Beyond Mashed Potatoes and Pumpkin Pie

Five things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving season:

• The fine twisps of grace interwoven into each day
• Amazing family
• Old Testament intricacies
• Long days with short daylight
• Life—in its simplest form

Oh, but there’s so much more. A list of five only preps the surface for a whole boatload more…

What warm fuzzies are making your heart all cozy in appreciation?

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Life-Diffusers

Life is such a beautiful gift. And every time I fight for it on someone else’s behalf I realize again and again how fragile it is. To watch someone breathe their last and feel their pulse fade into nothingness, despite my best efforts, reminds me that life is “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)

We are only promised today. And what we choose to do with the life we have today is up to us. We can either be promoters of life, seeking to inspire in others an existence of fullness, or we can squelch it.

Because it’s not just a lack of breathing and circulation that takes life away. Sometimes it’s words that cut deep, or expressions that hurt, or rejection from someone you thought to be a true friend, that threaten to choke out true life.

The truth is this: My words, my actions, even the look on my face, can either bring out life in someone else, or destroy it. As I heard someone once say “My words have a decision to kill or save someone.”

Let’s be life-diffusers – encouraging, inspiring, and bringing out true life in others.

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

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The Happiest Way to Spend a Day

I kept putting one foot in front of the other, but my thoughts? His words had stopped them in their tracks.

Just moments before, I had rushed out the door into October aura, this package all wrapped up and in my arms. It was a Bible. And this, a walk from my door to the Post Office, was the first leg of its journey around the world to the Philippines. This Bible would be my little friend Zenia’s first. I walked along, hoping, praying, that she will always love to read about Jesus. I smiled at the thought of my friends, these people a whole world away yet so close to my heart.

I’d have to hurry on my mission, since it was nearly time to do something to turn food into lunch. Crossing the block early, I noticed a man in his front yard doing something with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. I didn’t know him. I started to call out a greeting. His stopped me, spun me.

“Hi Neighbor! Are ya liven’ that dream today?”

There I was, in the middle of a day that seemed so… ordinary. Wonderful, yes, but what did making pizza and paying payroll taxes and walking to the Post Office have to do with living a dream?

And I knew it then, all over again: There’s no such thing as an ordinary day. No, not when Extraordinary God has life-dreams for me.

Dare I say it? Dare I answer him with, “Yes!”? My thoughts chased each other. What is God’s dream for me, anyway? Am I really doing anything to reach it? Today? How am I spending this piece of forever?

And then He reminded me, “Just because My plans for you are to give you hope and a future (Jer. 29:11) doesn’t mean that all those plans are far off in the future. I have a design for your every day. Walk with Me today, and you won’t want to leave Me tomorrow. Let Me fill your days, and you’ll naturally fulfill My dreams.

Yes. My answer is “Yes!” I called it out to both of them, the stranger and the Lord.

Yes, because today I can serve up the Word, send a smile through the phone line, squeeze a shoulder, say a prayer. The wonder! I can take steps that leave tracks on the other side of the planet. Yes, the miracle of Grace, how He moves in us to accomplish His own plans, how He dreams big dreams for each of us, how He fills our days, our hearts, with Himself.

If Christ is my core, every chore is a glorious project. If He is making my plans, seemingly mundane things can leave eternal marks. I can live His dream today by letting Him live His life in me.

Yes. It’s the happiest way to spend a day—swapping dreams and living His together.

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Amazing Flying

Fly

Wouldn’t it be like a dream to fly up, up and away from the challenges and heartaches we face on this earth? To see “our world” from another perspective, one unconnected to our world-seared reality? Wouldn’t it be so amazing to grab ahold of God’s hand and fly, I mean really soar in our relationship with Him?
Just imagine it—running down the runway with God… and then, almost unknowingly, you find yourself swept off the ground. You’re flying!

Alright, we’ve probably all wished for such an experience—a thriving, ascending relationship with God. But why does it seem so impossible? After all, the experience, the lifestyle is in receivership to everyone. God wants to fly with you.

Fear grips it’s death hold on even the stoutest people, and maybe we’re scared of failing again. We have to remember that we can’t do it on our own. Far too often we think that we can get ourselves off the ground. No. It doesn’t work. In fact, if we try to kick in any amount of our own power, we won’t make it off the runway. Our power is actually the opposite of real Power: one is finite, the other is divine, one is weak, the other is perfectly strong.

Could it be that we often get in the way of our own desires? I think so… We just have to let go of ourselves. And while that can be the hardest choice we make, it can also be the most exhilarating once we’ve made it. Imagine not worrying about self—what a relief!

Today is the day. There’s no better opportunity than right now to grab God’s hand and say, “I want You to take me flying.”

“Those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Gearing up

Checking the fuel levels

Onlookers

Getting ready

Checking the moving parts

Untying the plane

Ready

Down the runway

Inside

Fire line from the air

Colstrip from the air

From the air

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Fire!

I sit in the back of the ambulance spiking IV bags, waiting for the helicopter to bring our patient from the fire zone. My phone rings and I promise to call the clinic with my first set of vitals. I step outside as the helicopter lands, blown by smoky wind on this 107 degree day. As I meet lots of new faces in yellow shirts and hardhats I notice they all take their orders from the same person. And it’s crucial that they do, or it would be a disorganized mess. I’m amazed at how the incident command system can take a huge group of people and organize them into a unit that works together to achieve the same goal. And I can’t help but wonder if we all took our orders directly from God’s throne how different we’d live. Because it’s not about what other people think or even what they might tell us.  The confusion that comes from getting directions from a third party doesn’t ultimately bring organization. It’s only when we go directly to the Source of wisdom that unity can be found to accomplish the task before us.

I hardly notice the heat as we load the exhausted firefighter in the ambulance. I jump in and go right to work – vitals, reports, assessments, medication, cold packs, IV’s… And as I go through my mental trauma level 1 checklist, I find myself still thinking about the ultimate Incident Commander. Our course has been laid out by the One who is all-knowing, and the “fires” that we find ourselves going through, when surrendered to His master plan, prove only to refine us. Even in the midst of heat and smoke and black everywhere, He offers us life-giving water – the kind that quenches even the thirstiest soul.

We pull into the clinic bay and a flurry of activity pursues. More patient care is given. Another helicopter lands. And when everything is all over, I marvel once again at the fact that God only leaves us in the fire until His reflection is perfected in us, until we live and breath and love like He does.

“When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” Isaiah 43:2 NKJV

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Darkness. Wait—Light?

Light of the world

This world is full of darkness: thick, grotesque, and black, sin has clouded and stained our atmosphere. We all easily recognize this reality. But it seems like we almost like to dwell on it—the dark side, that is.

“People love darkness more than the Light because the things they do are sinful.” John 3:19

If we find ourselves focusing on this shadowy, unlit earth, could it mean that we are darkness lovers rather than Light seekers?

What we give mental thought to, that begins to become a part of us. We need to get our attention out of the dark, and step into the light.

“…Is light best friends with dark?” 2 Corinthians 6:14

Is there any common ground between the two? Can half of our mind be in the dark and the other half in the light? Or, can we give thought to both at the same time? Of course not!

True Light illuminates everything around it.

“I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me won’t walk in darkness but will have the Light of life.” John 8:12

Just imagine it! If we follow Jesus, we won’t grope around in darkness! We won’t even have time for considering it—we’ll be walking in His light.

You see, this world may be full of darkness, but if we’ll just open our eyes… at every corner we’ll see God. He’s here, always here. It’s us who stick our heads in the sand and then wonder why it’s dark. This world is overflowing with light, and even the little things reveal it: a curled twig, colorful bug, or pellucid raindrop.

It’s fascinating that even though everything in the world is tainted by sin, there is so much that brings glory to God. I look at humanity, and marvel. Here we are humble beings who are sinners, yet in the life of every one of us, the divine imprint of God can be found. The most broken, beaten, battered, and torn, still has the stamp of the Master Artist’s artistry. Yes, His Light pervades ubiquitously.

My point is this: God is a God of light (Genesis 1:3), and even though this world may be plagued with darkness, His light still shines (John 1:5)—it’s everywhere. And He calls us to lift our eyes and behold His Light—be filled, and put aside the darkness which now consumes us.

“O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Isaiah 2:5

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Glory

Have you ever felt like God did something just for you? He wouldn’t have had to do it, but He did it anyway and you got His I-love-you message. Well, He did it for me all over again a few weeks ago as I stared out of the little window of seat 10E. It had been a beautiful morning above the clouds, the kind of morning that makes it just a bit hard to drop down into the clouds and watch the air strip appear below. Hard because I know I’ll hit ground running, literally (almost). Hard because all of the pressures and complexities of life are realities again. Hard because this world is a dark place.

From my little place on this planet, I’ve always been fascinated by the sky. Weather and rain and atmosphere, clouds and stars alike. And rainbows. There’s something about a rainbow that’s just downright wonderful and personal. God, the great Promise-Keeper, arranges light and water and strings a bow across the sky. And when we see it, the color breaks through clouds inside of us.

A rainbow is spectacular science, yes. The kind I always hunted for at the library and soaked up all too fast. But a rainbow is more than science. A rainbow is a reminder of God’s covenant with us (Genesis 9:13); it’s the circle around His throne (Revelation 4:3). And to me, a rainbow is His mercy and love set ablaze at just the moment I need to see it in full color.

There skimming the tops of clouds I saw it, that love of His. Scientists call the phenomenon “glory.”

Double Rainbow Around Our Plane

A rainbow encircling this airplane, me? I smile, hugged by Glory. And I realize, as long as we are bound to this planet, the only time we can see the rainbow full circle is when we’re in the clouds.

But it’s worth it. The clouds—the trials—are the vantage point where God makes the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy (Romans 9:23).

This backdrop of clouds, this ring of reflected light, they grip my attention. I am surrounded by promises, held by their Maker. And even when I do touch down on the runway and return to the realities of a dark and hurting world, I know this:

“You, O Lord, are a shield around me; You are my glory, the One who holds my head high.” Psalm 3:3

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Kingdom of Night

Imagine with me for a moment the shame and degradation the Holocaust victims experienced. Imagine the pain of losing absolutely everything — family, friends, hope, confidence — even the semblance of humanity. Imagine the relentless reality that if you don’t die today, there’s a big chance you’ll die tomorrow — whether that be from starvation, or by any of the devised means of mass slaughter.

This is what Elie Wiesel went through as he endured the death camps during World War II. He was one of very few to survive. In an interview 12 years ago, he was asked whether, after all the tragedy he had witnessed, he still had a place for gratefulness inside him. Here’s his reply:

“Absolutely. Right after the war, I went around telling people, ‘Thank you just for living, for being human.’ And to this day, the words that come most frequently from my lips are thank you. When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. A person can almost be defined by his or her attitude toward gratitude . . . for me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”¹

And we think our trials are hard? We think our painful experiences are too much to get through? We don’t see how we’re going to make it from this moment even to tomorrow? Yes, I know I have considered such thoughts. Naturally, it’s hard to see beyond the present. And yes, life does hand us hard things, but could it be that we tend to look at things from the wrong perspective? Would God really allow something hard if He couldn’t make something good come of it? Could it be that the hard times are for our good?

I think so.

“No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night.”

“Kingdom of night” opens a vivid picture in my mind — my darkest trials, my most formidable situations, and my toughest circumstances. In other words, Elie Wiesel — the Holocaust survivor, writer, and Nobel Peace Prize recipient — is saying that the hard stuff in life is the petri dish for deeper gratitude.

Wiesel draws from his prison experiences when he explains the reality of those who are trapped. Their minds build the prison walls, their thoughts line them with barbed wire. Internal judgements become the patrolling guards, and escape requires tunneling or climbing through those barriers, walking past the guards.

We may not be in a literal prison, but aren’t we the same? We build prisons in our minds by our thoughts and perceptions of situations, other people, and especially ourselves.

How do we escape? For Wiesel, the key that opens the prison door is the key of gratitude. There’s no digging, no secret planning, or anything like that; when we open our eyes to see the giftedness of life through gratitude, we walk out free. On our feet.

Wiesel writes:

“This simple process [being thankful for what is positive in every situation] has the power to transform your life. If the dust settles and you’re still standing, there’s a reason for it . . . now start walking! You can leave [your] kingdom of night. You can start walking toward the gates right now. Your freedom begins with being thankful for the small things — gaining courage and strength to reach the big things.”²

This radical concept of gratitude isn’t some man’s idea; it came from God. Check out what the apostle Peter said almost 2,000 years ago:

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,  that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6, 7)

Of course, the ability to give thanks to God, even when life is rough, is a gift in itself. Gratitude is definitely not our natural response in the face of challenges, but as we recognize and acknowledge the goodness of God to us in sending His Son, who was mocked, scorned, and hated by His very own creation, we begin to recognize that this life is not about us. It’s all about Jesus.

Because of Him, there is hope. And, as we consider His attributes and all that He has done for us, what is there not to praise? Isn’t Jesus entirely worthy of our gratitude?

“God, a God of mercy and grace, endlessly patient—so much love, so deeply true—loyal in love for a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” (Exodus 34:6, 7)

No matter what we face, Christ’s love for us rings true (John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:39). He is always with us (Matthew 28:20), and we can always be thankful. Not necessarily for every situation, but in every situation.

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

¹Retrieved on February 6, 2006, from http://www.oprah.com/omagazine.200011/omag_200011_elie_b.jhtml
²Retrieved on January 10, 2006, from http://www.pubs.org/eliewiesel/life/henry.html

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