When God Breaks Your Heart With Giving

      “…{the poem} raises an important and again characteristically modern issue about how faith is known and shared. In the end, everything depends on trustworthy human relationships.  A person who has been damaged and betrayed in one set of ‘horizontal’ or secular relationships may be genuinely prevented from opening in the ‘vertical’ dimension to the Divine.”  Malcolm Guite, December 11th reading from ‘Waiting on the Word’(emphasis mine)

 My friend Jill and I volunteered six weeks ago to co-lead the charge of organizing, planning and staffing our church’s annual Christmas Store this year. This is a two-day, nine-hour event where we serve our community by providing an opportunity for guests to ‘shop’ for household and personal items, clothing and best of all, toys, completely free of charge.

All of the items in the Christmas Store were new donations to our church from the surplus of a large relief organization here in the Seattle area, along with toys and cash given by members of our church over the last few weeks. People gladly gave and we gladly spent.

Organizing, staffing and scheduling this kind of undertaking is an enormous task, but Jill and I know each other well and have complementary organizing and communicating gifts so we were game for pulling it all together.  There were hours on the phone, email conversations, texting each other, in person meetings with volunteers and our Pastor—all the necessary elements that go into an event this size.

Prior to the Friday/Saturday store hours things seemed to be going swimmingly. Volunteers stepped in to add their muscle—as only volunteers can do–of hauling boxes, moving furniture, schlepping tables and the like.  The Scripture about “outdoing one another in doing good” (Hebrews 10:24) kept running through my mind; some of the guys lifting tables and boxes exhibited a healthy competitive spirit in getting the job done.

Six hours into the unpacking and set up process, however, Jill and I sat back and watched as tables filled up with merchandise. Our stealth bomber sorting team were piling items atop tables that seemed to be spilling over into every available space, including the floors around the tablecloth-skirted tables.

She looked at me and said, “This was a lot more fun until right about now.”  We were both overwhelmed at the visual input of the space around us and I for one felt buried at the enormity of what we were going to do. There were plush blankets and 8 million pairs of canvas shoes and men’s body wash and all manner of balls and books and dolls and pillows and…..you get the idea.

I confessed I felt like crying myself.  I was waaaaayyyy outside my comfort zone—I like organizing things on paper, but in actuality, the stuffing and piling and sorting of STUFF made me feel like I was going to drown. When Jill made the statement she was actually an introvert who liked being alone, we both laughed out loud. We had 35 families coming with over 100 family members to serve, there was no turning back.

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It’s funny how God shows up to do what only He can do after you say that first “yes” then commit to serve  it out. The realization dawns you actually ARE in over your head; the only way out is to look up to let God do the work and get glory for doing the impossible.

When we opened our doors at 6 p.m. Friday night, there was a quiet kind of magic in the air along with the Cambridge Singers Christmas music in the background. The apartment residents we welcomed were also overwhelmed, but in a good way.

While guests shopped, we heard stories of hard times, challenging job situations, homelessness and want. But these people who seemingly had so little? Not only did they give back to us with their thanks and their hugs, but with the openness with which they received our prayers, inviting us into their brokenness with open arms.

Guite’s line above, that “everything depends on trustworthy human relationships” was certainly borne out in the time we spent with those folks we got to know while we all plugged in to that ‘vertical dimension.’

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"Although" & "Yet", A Christmas Post

     “In many of our shop windows at Christmas time there stands a most significant picture. It is a dreary, desolate winter scene. There is a dark, stormy, wintry sky, bare trees, brown grass, and dead weeds, with patches of snow over them. On a leafless tree at one side of the picture is an empty and snow-covered nest, and on a branch near sits a little bird.
     “All is cold, and dark, and desolate enough to daunt any bird, and drive it to some fairer clime, but this bird is sitting there in an attitude of perfect contentment, and has its little head bravely lifted up towards the sky, while a winter song is evidently about to burst forth from its tiny throat.”
     “This picture, which always stands on my shelf, has preached me many a sermon. And the text is always the same, and finds its expressions in the two words…“Although” and “Yet.”

     “Although the fig tree shall not blossom neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the field shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stall: YET I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” 
(Habbakuk 3:17, 18)

     “Come what may, we lift our faces to our God, like our brave little bird teacher, and, in the midst of our darkest ‘Althoughs,’ will sing our glad and triumphant ‘Yet.'”
         Hannah Whitall Smith, “The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life,” Ch. 21. Nesbit, 1906, paragraphing is mine.

Singing a glad and triumphant and rejoicing ‘Yes’–our God reigns!

Merry Christmas!

Can I Get a Do Over?

     I was lamenting recently with some friends in our Glory Writer’s Facebook group about my good intentions not exactly panning out for observing Advent….I SO wanted to light the candles each Sunday and do the readings. I even have a daily devotional “2016 A Book of Grace-Filled Days” with selections to read. Little selections–just a nugget for the day to contemplate. But each entry had four Scripture references. No way I had time to read all those passages in The Word. Every day. 

     I think what finally did me in was the pink and then purple candles.  The colors just didn’t seem right for Christmas. I just couldn’t put them in my Advent candle-holding table wreath.

But I wanted to.

     It’s my want-to that gets the better of me sometimes. On the DISC Personality assessment, I’m a High “I”–Impulsive and Impressionable–I want to please people and I think a lot of ideas are Great Ideas and I Should Do This.


Silly me.


     My dear writer friends Amy Young and Tresta Payne (of said Glory Writers group) also wrote of the tension–the balance of wanting to remember without getting buried in the ‘shoulds.’ And over at The Mudroom-you’ve read at that place, yes?–Velynn Brown shares her thoughts–can she still be a good Christian without all the reciting? (Links to their posts are below).


All of this brought a comforting smile–I’m not the only one.


Instead, I’m going back to the word God gave me for the year–‘Surrender’ and camping there. I have to ‘camp’ there–no matter where I am, it keeps coming up.

In the worship songs we sing at church, in our Small Group Bible Study, and in my own reading.

Andrew Murray, Abiding in Christ, has this to say:

“Whatever the present moment may hold, however unprepared the message finds you, however sad the divided and hopeless state of your life may be, do come and surrender–this very moment. I know it will take time for the Lord to assert His power and arrange all within you according to His will, time to conquer your enemies and train all your powers for His service. 
This not the work of a moment.”

The words “unprepared” and “divided” really resonated with me–and a little sadness, too. The sadness is because I’m not always feeling the love and joy and peace I should. And when I don’t ‘feel’ something, I think it’s not there.  That’s the problem with the other “I” that I am–intuitive–much of what I focus on comes via my sense about some things, and I’m not sensing the joy. Or peace. Or love.
Doesn’t matter, it’s still there–’cause God is bigger than all that. That’s why you walk by Faith. End of Story.

Also? I have 5 grandchildren arriving next week (their parents are coming, too) and they’ll be here for one week. (and I couldn’t be more thrilled ’cause I love them to the moon and back).


But still…. They’ll be headquartered downstairs in our finished apartment during their stay, but of course there will be all kinds of traipsing and traversing upstairs, downstairs in and out.


Getting my house ready for Christmas–my stove sized-boxes are stacked in the living room waiting to be unpacked–plus getting their space prepared….oh, and the grocery shopping and well, the planning. And vacuuming the pine needles off the trampoline. 

‘Cause people gotta jump–rain or shine.

It’s all been a bit much.  


     Do you know how many moving parts there are when you add seven people to seven days and two cities and throw in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and the ‘Event Day’ which of course is going to see some movie everyone wants to go see (the one with the word ‘Star’ in it)?  Well, we had to make a chart to organize it all.


Well, I had to make a chart. For my sanity.


I think I’ll adopt the word ‘Surrender’ for next year, too. But for now it is a moment by moment life, as Murray reminds me.

A daily, “Yes, Lord, Abide with me now.  I’m not waiting for you to come–you’re already here. And I need you.”

I think I’ll get a do over in 2016….It takes a long time to surrender.

~~~~

You can read Tresta’s post “Failing at Advent” here
Amy’s  “Out of the Mouth of a UPS Worker” is here
and Velynn’s “Coloring in Christmas With my Favorite Things” is here.
The 2016 Book of Grace-Filled days is by Jessica Mesman Griffith. You can find it here.
2016: A Book of Grace-Filled Days

A Very Married Christmas

We’re standing in the kitchen.  I move fluidly from dishwasher to counter, bending, stacking–bowls, dishes, cups, goblets.

Husband is at the cupboard behind me.  I rotate, wordless, and hand him his favorite glass-he replaces it to the shelf and continues swallowing his vitamins.

I interrupt his healthy intake once again, this time with the rainbow-colored stack of Ikea cups.  Without a word, he fits them on the shelf next to our stash of kid-safe plastics.

I love this morning routine–coffee pot steaming and gurgling, the bird clock chiming it’s 8 am hour–the robin, I think–and the garbage truck outside our window beep-beep-beeping.

It all feels so safe–full of comfort and joy.  The silent, sure sounds of an easy morning, a gift to me.

How restful to be here, next to my humming husband, confident of his presence, his help, his silly whistling to the birds, the all-of-it that makes this early quiet time feel like we been doing this for a thousand years.

God reminds me of a soul prayer I had at the beginning of Advent , not a spoken request, a written non-lament (in the book I never finished).  It was a prayer of wondering, “I don’t know what I want, but this is what I think I need”–and I realize the answer is standing right here next to me.

The quiet feeling like a well worn pair of old warm slippers, pouring my juice while I make the coffee, humming ‘Frosty the Snowman’ while I unload the dishes…It’s a quiet symphony of comfort and joy, a gift to my soul from my Saviour–a married Christmas.
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This is a re-post from two years ago. I was reminded again of how blessed I am with my husband.

When Worship Looks like a Bass Player in a Flannel Shirt

 “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
                                      Mary’s Song, Luke Chapter 1, vv. 47,48
       One of the joys of the Christmas season at our church is to see the transformation each year from ordinary worship space to glorious, decorated festive space.  A volunteer team of folks gather of a morning, led by a gifted floral designer, and set about transforming with snowflakes, holly, ribbon and glitter galore. Soon there are trees of all sizes, gifts buried in ‘snow’, tinsel, garlands, wreaths, and voila!, our sanctuary is a wonder-filled space.
      The room is filled with a bit of magic, where beauty lifts our spirits and adorns our praises. 
******
       When God came to Mary via the angel to announce His plan to use her (“who me?!” “yes, you”) her response was an immediate “be it unto Me, Lord.”  Her next breath also reminded God who He was dealing with.
       “I am only a humble servant, Lord, but I will be a handmaiden for you.”

       God is in the habit of using humble folks who will say “yes” to His ask, who will let him transform ordinary to miraculous. Why? So He gets all the credit for the glory when the amazing impossible happens.
*******
      When I glance around the sanctuary on any Sunday morning, taking notice of who is lifing their voice and arms in song, I am overwhelmed at what God has done with the people I call brothers and sisters. There is a lot of amazing impossible stories these folks on my right and left could tell.
          We are a down-to-earth group, a slice of every day America. A room full of people foolish enough to believe in the same Saviour whose care binds us together. There are men and women of all ages, all colors, all sizes who can share about their ‘yes’ to God’s ask, their “Be it unto me” that led to wonders. No, that led to miracles. 
******
          There are no lowly shepherds here (this is church in the ‘burbs, after all), no servant girls, per se. But we long to be–need to be–a waiting and watching people. And while we wait and watch, we walk together. Through divorce and death, healing from and dealing with cancer, recovering from loss, renewing our faith, hanging on by a thread.  
       We are car mechanics and Sudanese refugees, wheelchair-bound and learning disabled. We are just getting by, just getting settled, just trying to get well.
          And our God loves that.
          He loves K back up front with the worship team, her bass line filling the stage, the worship inside spilling through the simple façade of a flannel shirt, skater shoes and baggie pants.  She loves Jesus with all her heart and is grateful to be here. “It’s good to be back,” she told me a few weeks ago, “That other church was okay, but I wanted to come worship here. I knew they’d welcome me.”
*******
          When Mary visited (“hurried”) to see her Aunt Elizabeth, she shared the astonishing news of what had been promised.
          Her declaration was not words of what would be done in the future….the birth of her son Jesus nine months hence, but what God had ALREADYaccomplished.  The promise of power and glory was a done deal.
51 “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones

    but has lifted up the humble.

53 He has filled the hungry with good things

    but has sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    remembering to be merciful.”
Luke, Chapter 1

          Transformation, change, healing–they don’t often come with the suddenness we would like, the instantaneous “wow! Look at that” of a bursting-at-the-seams Christmas-filled sanctuary. 

         No, it is more of a lifetime of yesses, staying hungry knowing God will fill us, falling forward because He will lift us up. Lifting our arms towards the Father who said, when He was sending His son to save us–salvation is not only coming, it is HERE.

Glory to God in the highest!
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Linking with Jennifer Lee for Tell His Story