"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!

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


Wherein I take Nothing for Granted

It’s your breath in our lungs
As we pour out our praise,
Pour out our praise,
It’s your breath in our lungs
As we pour out our praise
To you only.

All the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry,
These bones will sing,
Great are You, Lord.

It’s your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
To you only

Leslie Jordan & David Leonard, All Sons & Daughters
– – – – – – – – – – –
There was a lull in the sanctuary the other morning as the worship pastor’s guitar faded; the piano’s tones softened on the keyboard. A quietness fell while we waited a few moments and listened.

From the back of the room a voice was lifted in confidence and confession–
     “I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your wonders of old.”  

Norm shouted his praise from Psalm 77 and we ‘amened’ the words on the other side.

It is not remarkable that there would be a moment of spontaneous sharing like that on a Sunday morning at our little Foursquare Church.

What is remarkable is that Norm is frail and bent over and confined to a wheelchair.
And without his oxygen tank towing forever behind him, he cannot breathe.

You would think he’d bemoan this fact each time he had a chance. That he’d recite a litany of ‘woe is me’s’ about his limited abilities to get around, his waning strength this last year, his reliance on the kindness of others to get him hither and yon.

But no, he shows up at church and our small group, he brings the Word and with all the breath he has in him, he belts it out.

Later on that day, I read these words:

There are countless hours in each day I never give a second thought to the fact that I can breathe, unassisted. I am upright, mobile, strong and healthy. I can shout and sing, laugh and yell. All manner of expressions are mine because of my Maker.


It is GOD’S breath in my lungs, whoooshed into me at birth, gracing me with strength and health these 60 plus years. I probably think about that fact a total of 30 seconds a week (or maybe never).

In/out, in/out, sing, talk, laugh, shout, pray….how many ways can I use my voice? How many times can I lift it in song? Countless, countless number of times. Without giving it a second thought.

This week I want to put on thankful, breathing praise in and out, and remember everything I have is a gift. 

Everything.
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What is something ‘every day-ish’ that you take for granted? Share in the Comments.

Beauty in a Broken World

       “The whole universe was stilled as though listening for a voice. For the space of one heart-beat there was peace on earth. For one fraction of a moment there was no deed of violence wrought on the earth, no hatred, no fire, no whirlwind, no pain, no fear.  Existence rested against the heart of God, then sighed and journeyed again.

        “…in each of them there was an infinitesimal change. A moment that comes perhaps once in a thousand years had touched them in passing and though the experience of perfection is feather-light it brands like fire.
        “It all stopped making a noise,” she said. “And God said something in a small voice.”                                     ‘Green Dolphin Country, c. 1945, Elizabeth Goudge           
~~~~~~~~          
         A few weeks ago I changed the tagline of my blog to “Words.Beauty.Books.” to signify a shift in my focus and thinking.  Originally my blog title was a banner for writing posts that would “shine, reveal and reflect God’s Glory.”  My pieces were Scripture-focused, lesson-filled, full of my bright ideas—to encourage people in their faith, share my opinions and often make a point (because everyone’s entitled to my opinion, yes?)
       In a slow genesis of change I realized my own inspiration came from reading books filled with great story, beautiful language and from poetry that did the same. As a good friend says, “All good stories lead to God.” 
     I see God in the creativity of gifted writers online** whose words leave me breathless with their expression and creativity, pulling me upwards, beyond myself, to come up higher.
        “Words.Beauty.Books”,not  because I didn’t want to talk about The Book, the only one that matters, but because I want my readers to find an oasis away from issues that divide and distract, to rest in a small space that would fill them and add to their lives. To inspire them to search for the God of beauty, the author of all that is good and creative in this world.
      There’s a foolishness, I suppose, in ignoring the disheveled state of this world, its disarray and discord, disaster and discontent. We have a role and a right and a calling, many feel, to speak to the issues and events of our day, to frame them in a Godward way.       There are many believers doing just that, though I often wonder if the crisis of the day isn’t becoming just one more distraction to keep us focused on the present horrors rather than looking to Jesus to find how He would have us respond.
      If, to keep my soul and sanity, I cast my eyes instead to truth and beauty—words, music, art—am I really playing the fool or dabbling in some wisdom on that same Godward side? If I focus on filling my heart and soul on the triumph that can overcome trials, not because they aren’t there, but because I can see past them, that is a good thing, in my humble opinion.
     And if I pass on that peace, the pleasant prose that might heal instead of add to your heaviness, wouldn’t that be a good thing, too?
     It is no secret that there are horrific, evil events toppling many corners of the world today. The terrorist attacks in Paris and the accompanying concern over the flood of immigrants has shaken us worldwide. 
     But to keep my center and marshal my emotional and mental defenses, I find my health and vigor comes when I’m reminded there is also a power for good in this world that will never be defeated. Sometimes that power comes from the simple act of writing a well-turned, lavish line of poetry or prose, pointing still and again to the Author that will always have the last word.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
 “How to Avoid a Noisy Soul” John Blase(the beautiful due)
November 12, 2015
How do you keep a soft heart in an exhausting
culture where a little colorblind boy in
baseball cap with coffee in one hand
and a gun in the other gets a viral hard-on
and we’re the ones who stroked him?
How do you keep your sanity in a crazy
time when self-hatred poses as forward thinking
and we rip off every god-given outer
detail so we can look at one another
with what, super duper x-ray vision?

In other words, how do you avoid a noisy soul?
Our thousand answers converge here:
     You must keep something beautiful in your mind.
Hold it there like a treasure.
When thieves come, and they will,
bare your teeth and growl and bark NO.
Such meekness will walk away with everything (wink)
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**Lanier Ivester comes to mind
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Joining other like-minded bloggers over at
Thought Provoking Thursdays link – up.
Join us?


How to Build a Bridge with Words

First item on the grocery list: postage stamps. In ALL CAPS. I’ve written it down three times this week, only to return with pasta, bread and milk, but no stamps.

This necessitates an emergency trip to the drugstore; I HAVE to get my Grandson’s birthday card in the mail.

While the counter clerk rings up a couple of other items (I believe there was dark chocolate in the basket), I ask for two books of stamps.
“We’ve got flags and Rudolph,” she announces. To  commemorate the upcoming holiday, obviously.

For a split second I consider mumbling something about no Madonna and Child on the stamps, or at least Jesus in the manger. After all, “that’s what Christmas is all about.”

Thank God for split seconds. They can make all the difference.

Internally, I scroll through social media’s recent protest about Starbuck’s plain red Christmas cups.  Seasonal hot beverage containers  with no design, no hint of anything that commemorated Christmas.  Supposedly missing ‘the whole point’ of the holiday.

Opinions were bandied about far and wide that Starbucks was declaring a ‘War on Christmas.’ Christians were supposed to take sides. It got ugly. And ridiculous.
Turns out the manufactured ‘controversy was generated by somebody with an iphone and a Facebook page; the sad end of the story is well, history.

I was pretty sure Jesus was okay with plain red cups; I asked for two books of Rudolph.

As the clerk handed them to me, I remarked about the charming and familiar sight of cartoon characters depicted on the page. All the old friends from Burl Ives’ 1964 classic, “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” are there—Sam the Snowman, Hermey the Elf, the Abominable Snowman, Santa himself and of course, Rudolph.

Nothing says ‘Christmas’ like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

For another split second I remember our pastor’s recent message about bringing Jesus into every conversation. I send up an arrow prayer, “God, I know Christmas is all about your Son’s birth as Saviour, not about Rudolph or Santa Claus.
I also know December 25th isn’t actually Jesus’ birthday; that’s probably not the point.
Is there a way to build a bridge here?”
  
I begin by commenting to the clerk about shared memories of the cartoon when it first aired on television years ago.  Chuckling together about our common ‘old age’ and love of Christmas classics, I include the young man in line behind me.

He’s probably all of 25.

I swing wide my arm and gesture towards him, including him in the conversation. Surely he’s seen the Rudolph classic?  It’s shown every year at Christmas, just like “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “A Christmas Carol.”

“Yeah, I remember watching it as a kid. It’s great. The Abominable Snowman was my favorite.  The music’s fun, too.  Who’s the guy that told the story?”

“Burl Ives.”

“Burl Ives. Yeah, they show that every year. It’s like a Christmas tradition.”

My purchase finished, I say goodnight to the clerk and the young man and head out the door.

Holy Spirit says, “That’s what Christmas is all about. Jesus came to Earth, yes, to save people but people need to get to Him first.”

The only way to bring people to Jesus is to build a bridge,laying planks of peace one conversation at a time. To reach wide our arms and our hands, invite people into the invisible Kingdom we inhabit and show them a better way.  

In the season ahead, especially in the world we’re waking up to each day, we need to find words that will bring us together, find ways to that will point to peace.

We need to share with a heart that cares about people over polemics.

And we need to remember the only red that matters is the blood our Saviour shed to free ALL of us, whether we love reindeer, Rudolph or red cups.