This morning began with a thick blanket of fog obliterating the view in every direction. It felt a bit like maybe many of us are feeling during these early days of ‘social distancing’. Not quite sure what is and isn’t permissible, plans canceled or at least postponed for the foreseeable future, normal rhythms out the window…just not able to have access to the usual line of sight that we possess on any given day for what comes next. And while it may feel like rubbing our eyes will get rid of the foggy feeling, we aren’t supposed to touch our faces!
Today is a great day to put this reminder out there. 2 Corinthians 5:7 nudges us to “walk by faith, not by sight”. My favorite definition of the word ‘faith’ is to believe in something you can’t see because of something you can see. (Thanks, 252basics for that clarity.)
Believe with me that the world is still spinning on its axis, the sun is there beyond the fog, and God is firmly in control. Have a great, however distanced, day…and wash your hands!
Just six years ago around this time of year, we were huddled around the fireplace for warmth, and cooking on the grill outside whatever couldn’t be rescued from our freezer as we enjoyed our four days without electricity due to the ice storm of ’14. And news reports remind me that in ’73, before I became an Augustanite, there was a record snowstorm.
In this season of unsettled weather, it’s 75 degrees and sunny, followed quickly by a front that moves through bringing rain and colder temperatures. Pictured is a recent day my weather apps blew up my phone with warnings…Severe Storm Warning….Wind Advisory…Tornado Watch…and then, Tornado Warning!
I’ve been caught in a tornado, and am well aware of the fury and strength it delivers. The sound is unforgettable; the sound of a train, just like they say. The ‘out of controlness’ of the situation with flying glass from windows blown out, and giant cement planters with trees rolling by like they are made of plastic, causes one to hunker down in the nearest corner and pray. In the middle of the storm, there is no time to think, but plenty of time to feel…fear!
As we move through our lives, the sun may be shining and we may be in the middle of a fair weather type of day. But that person that you see in the grocery store, or the coffee shop, or even in front of you at the stop light may be in the middle of a storm you cannot see. Be gentle. Be kind. While it may not be storming on you, the next person may be in the middle of an emotional, life altering, hunkering down tornado. Here’s a PSA from Zechariah 7:9: …”show kindness and mercy to one another…”. Be kind!
Summer…the hotter the better…I am an avowed lover of all things summer! Once we’ve cleared the Christmas season, where cold weather is a fitting accompaniment to the snowy holiday songs, if there’s no hope of a lovely little snow day, then January and February stretch on and on in endless unpredictability; sunny and warm one day, cold and rainy the next. So I’ve been known to look at the bare trees with a bit of a snarled lip. The beautiful green leaves that soften the landscape for so many months are no where to be found… and I miss them.
This particular picture caused me to pause and think a bit more generously about wintertime. As I stood in the middle of a beautifully wooded path near the river, I was struck by the lines of the bare trees around me. Unseen when covered in their leaves, these branches…the support system for all things shady for much of the year. Without their foliage, I can see the structure and lines, somewhat like beautiful architecture against the cold blue sky.
When life, with its hard places, strips away our own leaves, James 1:2-4 reminds us that that we can keep going; “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
When you’re down to the bare branches, be grateful for what remains. A strength and structure that supports you through good times and bad. Good bones.
OK…love is NOT a cup of salted caramel Ghirardelli hot chocolate on a ridiculously cold day! But I chose this picture because it sure can feel like love! It brought me in from the cold wind, let me warm my hands around the steaming mug, was sweet to my taste buds, and filled me up with its smooth, comforting chocolatey goodness.
Look today for the love around you! Maybe it’s romantic love, and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s the love of a friend, a sister, a mother, a child…love is such a great gift we can give each other. Let that love warm you up, fill you up, and bring you in from the cold. Share it with someone. 1 John 4:7 says “…let us love one another, for love is from God…”
There’s just something about air travel that sends me ‘Picture This’ moments to consider. Maybe it’s putting my life totally in the hands of someone I don’t know…sobering! On my most recent adventure, I boarded a Delta flight in Atlanta, headed to Chicago. I mean… who doesn’t think January isn’t a great time to visit Chicago? Evidently I will go anywhere to hang out with my fella and enjoy the bright lights and good tastes of the city.
Back to the flying lesson. As we passed from the jetway to the aircraft, the door to the cockpit was open, and I am sure, not by accident. Hanging just inside the cockpit was the captain’s coat and hat. Inside his hat…snapshots of his two children. I grabbed a quick pic because this shouted at me! The man who was going to pilot this big ol’ jet through Atlanta air traffic, through turbulent January skies, and set it down in icy Chicago had reasons to do so with great care. Not only did he have all the ‘souls aboard’ to warrant his best effort. He had two very precious souls at home to get back to. The pictures there for us to see as we came onboard spoke the words, “I’m your pilot, but I am also ‘Dad,’ and I will make sure we get where we are going, because we all have someone counting on us.”
I am examining my ‘greater reason’ for how I spend each day. Love seems like a good use of my time. A Christlike direction for caring for others comes from Philippians 2:3-4. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of other.”
What I hope to bring to this day? Encouraging and caring for the people around me; to love them. They are gifts to me. I want them to be able to count on me.
No, this isn’t a Christmas post you missed during December, but actually a fresh thought for January. I have to restrain my husband from taking down Christmas decorations until after January 1st. No judgement of the early November decorators, but we hold off until Thanksgiving has come and gone to put up Christmas. Then I love to have the tree and lights and other reminders of the season still shining bright on New Year’s Eve. I would probably leave them up longer, but life is full of compromises, so they come down the day after New Year’s usually. Undecking the halls is accomplished with the same love and attention I gave to the original decking…Christmas music playing, tree lights glowing, and maybe even a leftover Christmas cookie in my hand. My mate is the master packer, coaxing the tree back into ‘not quite big enough’ storage box…like trying to get a hefty girl into a girdle. Then there’s the careful packing of the memories in the form of the snowman cookie jar, the nativity scene we’ve had forever, and the pyramid we acquired when we lived in Germany. It’s work, but it’s a labor of love. Each little item reminds me of the joy of all the Christmases past, and the laughter and love of the most recent Christmas.
Now to the item that will make you doubt my sanity. As the Christmas tree lights are removed from the live tree on the front porch (allergy issues decree that’s where it lives) I clip a tiny branch to keep for the coming year. It lives in a special drawer where I can pull is out and whiff that amazing piney Frazier fir smell any time I want. And in the keeping and the sniffing of it, I am reminded of the reality that Christmas can be a year round celebration. I won’t tell you about the time the tree went out before my clipping was acquired, and I went to the recycling lot and located our own tree to get that clipping. Yes, I did. And yes, I found it!
There is just something so wonderful and timeless and encouraging about the Christmas season that I choose to hang onto all the year round. “Pleased as Man, with men to dwell. Jesus, our Emmanuel.” Those words from Hark the Herald Angels Sing, can stay with us all year round. Beyond the lights and the gifts and the busyness of the season just passed is the reality that the Savior we celebrate can remain the center of our hearts and lives year round. “God and sinners reconciled.“
According to Merriam-Webster, there are some different slants on the word ‘new’.
The first…’having recently come into existence’. Yep! That fits, since the new year is still just a few hours old.
And there’s…’being other than the former or old’. Yes, again. 2019 is history, along with its wins and losses, its disappointments and surprises.
But the definition that stands out the most in my mind is ‘unfamiliar’. Twelve months, fifty-two weeks, and 366 (this is Leap Year, you know!) unfamiliar days ahead, with 8,760 hours available with potential, yet unfamiliar at this point.
So as you peel off that first day of 2020, be it the desk Cat calendar someone gave you as a joke, or maybe the digital calendar that you utilize to organize your life, make the day count. Embrace the ‘unfamiliar,’ because it may be amazing in a way you could have never planned yourself! Jeremiah 18:12 reminds us that what is unfamiliar to us, is not a mystery to the Plan Maker! “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Really…it’s my favorite genre when it comes to recreational reading…a really great mystery! There’s something about trying to compile clues, untangle unknowns, and solve the situation that just reels me in. Maybe that’s why some of my favorite Christmas carols are sung in a minor key. (For the non musical, those are the songs that have a softer, sometimes sadder, but definitely mysterious sound in the melody.)
Some of my favorites from that category are ‘God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen’, What Child is This?’, ‘Mary, Did You Know’, and ‘O Come, O Come, Immanuel’. Hum a few bars of any of these songs and you will recognize the haunting, questioning sounds of the minor keys.
Take a look at some of the words and we begin to uncover an intriguing mystery.
What child is this? Let nothing you dismay. Mary did you know that when you kiss your baby’s face you kiss the face of God? Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel.￼
Everything about the birth of Jesus is a wonderful, joyful mystery…from the startling visit by an angel to a young girl, Joseph reeling in shock over the unprecedented circumstance in which he finds himself, an impossible journey with a pregnant mother that lands this drama birth event right where prophecy had said it would be, as foretold so many generations before.
So as you listen and touch and taste and read all the sights and sounds of this season, don’t miss the mystery…resolved by the birth of a child…the Child.
1 John 4:14 wraps the mystery up with these words: “…the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” Mystery solved!
During our family pre Christmas get together, our youngest grandchild came running up to me in distress. ‘He’s missing! Baby Jesus is missing’, she reported. I got down at ‘eyeball to eyeball’ level with her and asked what she meant. Our three year old detective took me over to her great grandmother’s beautiful nativity scene sitting on a nearby table. ‘See! Baby Jesus is missing!’ She was right. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, sheep…the scene was set, but no Jesus. So we found Her great grandmother (a.k.a. MaMa) and Reid explained the problem. MaMa explained that since we celebrate the birthday of Jesus on Christmas, that she would add the Baby Jesus to the scene on Christmas Eve. That would NOT do for Reid! She would not be satisfied until Baby Jesus was safely in the manger. So MaMa opened a drawer and Reid carefully picked up the baby and placed him gently on the hay. Then she ran off to play with her cousins, satisfied that Jesus was right where He was supposed to be.
“ Away in the manger no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head…. …Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay!’
Help me to panic like Reid just a bit if I find myself accepting all that is Christmas without making sure Jesus is in the center of it all!
If you are like me and most everyone else, you’ve been decking the halls with falalalala and making your space look Christmassy. Unless you are one of the pre Thanksgiving deckers…and I don’t judge you…bring it on whenever the spirit hits you!
It fascinates me that even the lowliest little shop does something to say ‘We are celebrating here,’ even if it is just a commercial ploy to get your gift dollars. Again…no judgement. Because honestly, I love seeing the world acknowledge the birth of Jesus, even when they don’t make the connection, because I do!
Picture This moments for Christmas will come from the songs of Christmas…pictures of words, a.k.a. word pictures. And this particular song is one of my favorites because, like digging in the attic for the decorations and choosing the perfect tree, it sort of kicks off the season for me, reminding me of my childhood and walking down the streets of Atlanta with my parents and gazing in the magnificent windows of the big Rich’s store. The windows were filled with animated carolers and Santa’s workshop and other glorious things to fill a child’s imagination. But my favorite window was the one with giant (to me as a child) gold bells pealing out the sounds of the season. Which brings me to the song!
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Soon the bells will start.
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing right within your heart.
Whether you go all out with lights and a tree in each room and a snow village and live reindeer in the yard, or you keep a simpler Christmas in a lower key, remember the words of this sweet song. What happens in your heart is what makes Christmas Christmas.
Want to know how to get that carol going that will make your heart ring? Try this direction from Psalm 96: Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples! …
There’s a Gift to celebrate and the Gift is for you. Keep your heart singing this week!