Sunday, December 24, 2017

Silent Night

“And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” –Luke 2:9-11

Most every year it seems that one Christmas song each season repeats itself in my life and this year the theme has been “Silent Night.” I’ve always enjoyed the soft, lullaby quality of the carol: it seems to encapsulate the Christmas Eves of my past when my family turned out the lights and lit the tree and all the candles we could find. Then we sat around and shared memories, laughs and hot chocolate. We opened one gift a piece that night, a tradition from my mom’s Granny, and sang Christmas songs. As an adult, the night has changed into one of prayer and contemplation. And I very much enjoy the “silent night” after so much busyness crammed into a few short weeks.

So, the other day I pulled up a video of one of my favorite renditions of “Silent Night,” by acapella group Pentatonix. The arrangement begins as the traditional carol, but midway through, bass Avi Kaplan switches to tenor and the group introduces some poignant harmonies all centered around the word “sleep.” The focus shifts again when Kaplan’s clear voice cuts through the harmony and he initiates a refrain of just the words “silent night, holy night.” It is lovely and moving. But what I noticed as I really listened is that the arrangement seems to change the entire message of the song. The carol begins as an observation of an event, a silent and holy night on which Jesus was born. But when the Pentatonix arrangement brings in Avi’s haunting refrain, the message seems to become a plea to God to provide that silent and holy night the world is still missing. I think the message is indicative of every heart’s longing for and search for peace. The good news is that God has already provided a means for that peace if we will simply accept His plan, His love, and His Son’s atoning sacrifice.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Lost Art of Christmas Cards

Each Christmas, Mom used to write out and mail dozens of Christmas cards. She’d include an individualized message and sign them, “Merry Christmas! Love, Mike, Jean and the girls.” I guess that’s where I inherited my love of writing out Christmas cards. Even as a teenager, I used to pass them out to friends and I haven’t stopped since. Years ago, more people were like me. I could count on receiving at least two dozen Christmas cards each season. Some had wise men. Some had snowmen. But all came filled with the love of friends and family. Now, it seems Christmas cards have gone the way of the typewriter. And landline phones. Sigh. I miss them, those brightly colored pieces of cardstock with scripture and seasonal sayings. Sure, all through the year I keep up with loved ones via emails, texts, and phone calls, but there’s something special about receiving a card that was chosen just for me and includes the sender’s thoughts in ink. Somehow, their words just seem more permanent that way. So do mine. That’s why last night, I gathered my varied colored pens and boxes of cards and glittery stickers and snuggled up to write holiday messages to some of my favorite folks, some of whom I haven’t seen in years. Others I saw today or talked to this week. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that I let each of them know how special they are and that I send them all the love and joy of both my heart and Jesus’ by simply wishing them a “Merry Christmas!”

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Let It Snow

“Surely the snow held memories.” Kristy Cambron, The Butterfly and the Violin

Last Friday morning started out gloomy and drizzly. For more than 48 hours, the weather report indicated a slight possibility of a wintry mix some time that day, but I was dubious. It seldom snows here in my adopted hometown and the conditions weren’t quite right to create the frozen precipitation I was dreaming of. Consequently, as the day wore on, my lower lip drooped like a pouty toddler’s. But that night something magical happened. At 7:30 the icky cold rain transformed into snow, and not just any snow. Huge, fluffy white flakes fell so thick and fast that it’s no wonder forecasters call the phenomenon a “snow shower.” So like any responsible adult, I bundled up, rushed outside, and ran around with my seven-year-old niece. While this was the first time for her to ever see snow, it’s a toss-up as to who was more excited!

I can’t help myself…the snow turns me into a little kid. It holds such wonderful memories 
from my childhood. Granted, it usually only snowed twice a year in Birmingham where I grew up, but one of those times was almost always near Christmas and the other? It usually coincided with my January birthday. So for me, snow means parties and hot chocolate and snow ice cream. It means snowball fights and sliding down huge hills on plastic lawn and leaf bags. It means home. And now it means the precious memory of walking around in the hush of night with my awestruck niece whispering, “Kissy, it’s gorgeous.” In that holy moment, I shared her childlike wonder at the beauty only God can create. And while rationally I know He didn’t send the snow just for me, it still felt like my own special gift from my very loving Father. As I reluctantly headed indoors that night, I whispered, “Merry Christmas to you, too, Lord.”

Friday, October 27, 2017

I’ll Be Glad When…

It’s time to go home.
The weather gets cooler.
I finish grading all these papers.
It’s time for vacation.
The holidays are here.

There are probably dozens of ways I mindlessly finish that thought that begins “I’ll be glad when…” And sadly, while I focus on the future with the attitude of merely enduring the present, I miss out on the peace, contentment and joy God wants me to experience every day. As I recently pondered the fact that I need to change my thinking and thus my words, I began singing the hymn “This is the day” which I learned as a child. The message of the simple song, which is sung in rounds, comes from Psalm 118:24 which invites the congregation to acknowledge God’s goodness, salvation and deliverance. The preceding three verses declare that God Himself has provided salvation through Jesus, “the stone the builders rejected.” (v. 22). The psalmist goes on to proclaim: “the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad.” So, no matter the weather or season, my workload or worries, there can be no greater reason than God's great gift of salvation to rejoice in each day He gives me!

“This is the day that the Lord has made.

We will rejoice and be glad in it.”

      – Les Garrett

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Sinking Sand

But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Matt. 7:26-27

“…In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
 On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.”
 --“The Solid Rock” by Edward Mote

Thursday morning, as I sat at my dining table, I heard sirens pass by at least four different times. Each time I stopped working and said a prayer. Someone was in need. Somewhere there was a crisis. America seems to have endured too many crises lately. First there was Hurricane Harvey. Then came Hurricane Irma. And now, we struggle with the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas. In the wake of these crises, I have read and heard stories of kindness and generosity, but sadly I have not heard any real mention of God. I’ve read posts that told of all people were doing to help in Las Vegas and which had captions like, “Las Vegas is strong and powerful.” I am thankful these folks are expressing optimism and resilience. But truthfully, I wish they were expressing humility and sorrow for God is saddened by all of the loss of life and destruction of recent days. He longs for us to turn to Him for comfort and clarity. For strength and sustenance.
Unfortunately, I think America has become the foolish builder Jesus mentions in Matthew 7:26-27. I think our nation has chosen to build on the sinking sand of our pridefulness and our selfishness. Our self-reliance instead of our dependence on God. Our faith in our good works instead of our faith in the work of the cross. Ultimately, as Jesus says, a house built on this type of foundation cannot withstand the storms which assail it. Eventually, it will fall “with a great crash.”

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Taste Test

1 Peter 2: 2-3 “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation. . . now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

As a picky eater, I am often dubious of dishes offered to me that contain components which I cannot readily identify. For instance, I won’t touch mayonnaise, mustard or ketchup or any dish containing those ingredients. And the list grows exponentially from there. I’ve always been  called “finicky”; I was the child whose lunchbox contained a PB & J, never a sandwich with lunch meat or tuna salad. As a result, the coaxing words, “Just taste it” seldom have their desired effect on me. Over the last handful of years, though, I have broadened my horizons from Tex-Mex and Italian dishes, cultivating a taste for Indian cuisine and Chinese food. And I’m more apt than ever before to at least sample a dish, as long it does not contain the aforementioned condiments, or seafood, or pork…

Like the cultivation of my palate, my spiritual walk is also a constant work in progress. Psalm 34:8 admonishes readers to “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Yet, I’ve rarely had to be convinced of God’s goodness as I’ve enjoyed it all my life. I experienced His comfort when my parents died. I received His wisdom when I had to turn down a dream job. I treasured His mercy when I avoided neck surgery. Thankfully, I regularly experience His love and faithfulness and generosity, often through the kind words and acts of others. I would imagine for the friends who encourage me to try new culinary delights, sampling exotic food for them is easy. Likewise, it seems so easy for me to urge them to experience God’s grace for themselves. I want them to feast on His love and enjoy His presence. I hope one day that those who have yet to experience that pleasure will be counted among the ones who “have tasted that the Lord is good.” 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Are You Listening?

“I cry out and You answer.
Yes, I cry out and You answer.
Father, I know You listen when I pray
Father, would You hear these simple words I say?”  -- "Father" by Jadon Lavik

This Christmas I was very sick with a cough, congestion, and high fever. As is usually the case for me with this type of illness, I also struggled with my voice for a couple of weeks. So I texted one of my prayer partners to say I couldn’t really talk without coughing. I added a little playfully: “Do you think God’s trying to tell me something?” She responded, “Are you listening?” And I knew her good-natured question held both a dose of humor and truth. So, I tried to listen. And I revisited Jadon Lavik’s song “Father” which I discovered a few years ago. The lyrics to the chorus are a poignant reminder that God doesn’t merely hear us; rather, He actively listens when we speak to Him. Still, He may, for reasons often known only to Him, delay His response. Yet, the silence we perceive does not indicate He is unmindful of our requests. To reinforce this lesson, about a week after I received my friend’s text, God did speak to me and revealed some answers I’d been seeking for quite a while. Because He is a good and loving Father, He always listens. Because I am a stubborn, strong-willed daughter, sometimes I forget to. But I’m working on it, and thankfully, God is very patient with me during the process.

“. . .but God has surely listened
    and has heard my prayer.
    Praise be to God,
    who has not rejected my prayer
    or withheld His love from me!” – Psalm 66:19-20

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Roses in Winter

One afternoon last week I was surprised when I noticed two buds on a rose bush in my backyard. There haven’t been too many chilly days yet this season on the Gulf Coast, but the last time I observed my rosebushes, they were dry, brown, and covered in dead buds, having lost their bloom a couple of months ago. Yet, here they were blooming on a chilly January day and I smiled as I noted the flowers were on the red bush, not the nearby pink one. The color evoked the description of Jesus as the rose of Sharon and brought to mind the 15th century Advent hymn “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen,” or “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” The song lyrics refer to prophecies from the book of Isaiah which describe the coming Messiah as a rose. The writer pictures the Rose springing to life on a cold winter night:

“Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung,
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came a flow’ret bright
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night.
Isaiah ‘twas foretold it,
This Rose that I have in mind.”

As is often His way, God used His own creation, in the form of two simple blood-red rosebuds, to evoke the truth of Jesus’ sacrificial life. Furthermore, He used the incident to also remind me that with Him, anything is possible. Even roses in winter.