Monday, December 31, 2007

Come-mu-nee-kay-shun is Kee

I awoke this morning at 5:30 AM to the realization that before I went to bed last night, an envelope I'd left on the kitchen counter on Saturday wasn't there any longer. Normally, that would be no big deal, except this time it had a check in it made out to me. And, even in my dreary state, I remembered that Darin had gathered the trash to be put out today. Yep, you guessed it.

Now, I take full blame and responsibility for what happened. I left the check in the torn open envelope, relatively near the garbage can, causing it to look like trash. (Although I'd like to think I'm a better housekeeper than that since the garbage can was less than 4 feet away, but that's another issue entirely.) Nevertheless, I should have communicated to Darin that something valuable was in that envelope. He was simply trying to help keep our house a home.

Everyone knows how important, even vital, communication is, but so often we assume others, especially our loved ones, can (or should) read our minds and even our actions and interpret them accurately. Why are we so unfair? Consider how indignant we are when they expect that of us! Even more so, why do we try to and even believe we can "figure out" God and his workings?
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Romans 11:33-34
I don't know what 2008 will hold, but I plan to keep communication lines open with God and my husband (!), because what they have to share with me from their hearts is infinitely more valuable than what was in that envelope. To do that, I must keep confessed and humble before God, and authentic and considerate with Darin. Challenging? Yes. Worth it? Undoubtedly.

I am happy to announce, thankfully, that I just pulled the check out of the trash. And I only stuck my fingers in one can of refried beans in the process. The teller at the bank will be wondering why she's craving Mexican food for lunch.

Little Red Toboggan--Part 3

And for the conclusion...
Nearby, Santa and his elves were roaming through the woods looking for one of the reindeer who had wandered away from the barn (Dasher was always getting out), and heard Little Red's call.

Hurrying as fast as his jolly legs would let him, and calling to the elves, they all ran toward the igloo. Santa tripped the bear as he ran by and when he fell, the elves piled on top of him, holding down his paws and face into the snow. (And you'd be surprised how heavy that many elves can be!)

Santa grabbed the bear's head by his ears, and lifting his face, told him to spit out Grandma, who, though she was frazzled, was still in one piece.

"Oh, Grandma, I was so scared!" sobbed Little Red. "I didn't know what had happened to you, and I don't know what would have happened to me if Santa hadn't appeared with the elves!"

"There, there, my darling," said her Grandmother. "It's all worked out just fine. Let's just be grateful they were nearby and you shouted loud enough to get their attention!"

Santa, in his kind, gentle way, came over to comfort Little Red, then took the polar bear by the paw and sent him back into the woods, warning him that this year he would not be on the "good" list. Then, he, the elves, Little Red and her Grandmother walked into the igloo and shared happy stories and Christmas carols while munching on sugar cookies, candy canes and hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course).

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Little Red Toboggan--Part 2

When we last saw Little Red, she was headed to her grandmother's igloo, but had wandered off the path, distracted. She has just encountered a polar bear:
"What are you doing out here, little girl?" the bear asked in a voice as friendly as he muster.

"I'm on my way to see my Grandma who lives in an igloo on the other side of the woods," she cautiously replied. "But I'm afraid I didn't realize how late it has become. Please excuse, me, Mr. Bear. I must hurry to her house now." And immediately, Little Red began walking on the path through the woods toward her Grandmother's igloo.

As Little Red made her way closer to her Grandmother's house, the polar bear did, too. Except he ran and took a short cut to get there. Arriving at Grandma's house long before Little Red, he knocked lightly on the door.

"Come in!" called the kind voice, hoping Little Red was at the door.

The bear burst into the house and in one quick motion, before she could even shout, gobbled up Little Red's grandma in one swallow!

The bear, knowing that Little Red would be there any minute, poked through Grandma's closet to find a nightgown he liked. He added a frilly sleeping cap, dabbed some of her perfume behind his little round ears, and jumped into the bed, pulling the covers up past his nose.

Moments later, Little Red knocked on the door. The bear called out, "Who is it?" in a cackly voice.

"It's me, Grandma, Little Red," the girl called out.

"Oh, how lovely! Do come in, my dear," croaked the bear.

"Grandma, your voice sounds so odd. Is something the matter?" she asked as she entered the igloo.

"Oh, I just have a slight cold," squeaked the bear, adding a very fake cough at the end.

Now when Little Red got a look at the bed, she could scarcely recognize her Grandmother. Sure, whatever it was lying there had white hair like her grandmother, and had dark eyes like her grandmother, and even had clothes like her grandmother. But, it wasn't her grandmother.

So, placing her basket inside the door, she decided to test the impostor, saying, "Wow, Grandma, what a big nose you have," and edged closer to the bed.

"The better to smell you with, my dear," said the bear.

"But Grandma, what big hands you have," said Little Red.

"The better to hold you with, my dear," said the bear.

"But Grandma, what big teeth you have," said Little Red inching still nearer.

"The better to eat you with, my dear!" roared the bear and leaped from the bed, chasing Little Red.

Because she'd been suspicious, Little Red was ready to run the moment the bear came after her, so she took off across the room and out the door shouting, "Help! I'm being chased by a bear!" as loudly as she could.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Little Red Toboggan--Part 1

I thought I'd share a story I "re-wrote" for my niece as a Christmas present. Although Laura's only one year old, I'm hoping to have many years of reading the story to her each Christmas. I put it together in a scrapbook with pictures, so you're not getting the full effect, I'm afraid, but I hope you'll enjoy this brief serial retelling of Little Red Riding Hood with a Christmas setting!

Once upon a time very near the North Pole, there lived a little girl who always wore a bright red toboggan. She lived in the snowy woods with her family, and her grandmother lived not too far away in an igloo on the other side of the woods. In the whiteness of the snowy landscape, the little girl's red toboggan became a welcome sight to all those in the land, because she never failed to share a smile with friends or strangers. Because of her welcoming, friendly nature, people from all around knew to look for Laura, or Little Red, as they called her sometimes.

It had been about a month since Little Red had seen her grandmother, so one day she asked her mother's permission to go visit. Together, they packed into a basket a wonderful snack of sugar cookies, candy canes and hot chocolate (with marshmallows, of course) for Little Red to take with her.

When the basket was ready and Laura had put on her red toboggan, she kissed her mother goodbye and began the walk toward her grandmother's home.

"Remember to go straight to Grandma's house," her mother called out as she left. "Don't dawdle along the way and be careful. The woods can be very dangerous."

"Don't worry, Mom," Little Red replied. "I'll be careful."

But when Little Red noticed some lovely icicles hanging from the low tree limbs in the woods, she forgot her promise to her mother. She broke off a few to suck on and shook some others to watch the snow fall off the limbs to the ground all around her. She made snowballs and tossed them at knotholes in the trees
, chased reindeer, made snow angels in the ground, and slid across a frozen stream. She was enjoying her fun so much that she didn't notice a dark shadow approaching out of the forest behind her.

It was a polar bear.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Message For the Year

You may remember an earlier mention that for a number of years I've heard the Lord speak to me in the Christmas Season about one thing or another. Whether through a song, a character from the story of Christ's birth, art or scripture, I've always looked forward to hearing God impress upon my heart a lesson or concept that needed teaching or reinforcement.

Through several personal devotions, sermons and our Advent celebrations at home, I've been deeply struck by two things this year: 1) the prophesied, foretold coming of the Messiah and 2) the incarnation of that same One.

The prophecies of Jesus' coming point so distinctly and accurately to the baby born and laid in a manger. He was to be born in lowly circumstances, in Bethlehem Ephrathah (there were two Bethlehems at that time--he came to the right one), of a virgin, from the lineages of Judah and David. (And these are just a few of the prophecies.) A Messianic Rabbi I once met gave a listing of the significant prophecies he found fulfilled in Christ which ultimately led to his own salvation. He was a Jew in heritage, faith and birth, yet eventually recognized Yeshua (Jesus) as the fulfilled Promise of God. Expectations so often prevent us from seeing the signs that point to truth. It's been that way for centuries.

Secondly, Jesus was God, come to earth. He lived this human life thing. As Hebrews 4:15 says (paraphrased), we don't serve a God who doesn't know what it's like to be us. He has known our griefs and carried sorrows, too (Isaiah 53:4). He wept and laughed and hugged and bled. He was flesh and bone and heart and soul. He was God, with us.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Pleasure Almost Completed

Just over a year ago, I was challenged and felt impressed by the Lord in a Beth Moore study to pray the Psalms. Meaning that over the course of about 6 months, I would take a Psalm a day (or less, if it was really long), and say or write the words of the Psalm as though from my heart to God, not just reading them as someone else had written them. For example, Psalm 4:1-3 became:
Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. How long will I and others turn your glory into shame? How long will we love delusions and seek false gods? I know that you have set apart the godly for yourself; you will hear when I call to you.
Well, I finished that right around June 30, and began asking the Lord what I should do next. His answer pleased and surprised me. Since I fully believe all scripture is inspired by God (God-breathed), and it is certainly reasonable to say God's words back to him in prayer, why not let God speak through those same Psalms to me from his point of view? So, Psalm 4:1-3 became:
I, your righteous God, will answer when you call to Me, Julie. I will give you relief from your distress; I will be merciful to you and hear your prayer. How long will you and others turn My glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? Know that I have set apart the godly for Myself; I will hear when you call to Me.
Doing this has enlightened and opened my heart and mind to aspects of his character that I'd never before thought about so deeply, and most importantly, has made my conversations with God through Scripture so personal. His promises actually have my name on them.

Now, it is true that not all scripture can be read this way. For example, when God told Moses to take off his shoes, because he was standing on holy ground, it doesn't mean that the spot in front of our fireplace is sacred. And when the angel told Mary that she would bear a son and he would save his people from their sins, it wasn't so I could assume that one day I'll give birth to a Messiah! Thus, in using this method of Scripture-reading, you have to be careful in applying things to yourself that were intended for that person alone. But overall, I've found it to be a delightful, pleasurable exercise in devotion, because I've been able to hear God speak to me, personally, through words he ordained thousands of years ago. I'll actually finish tomorrow with Psalm 150, but I thought I'd share some of God's words from Psalm 145 (from his perspective) with you:
I am gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. I am good to all; I have compassion on all I have made. All I have made will praise Me; My saints will extol Me. They will tell of the glory of My kingdom and speak of My might, so that all men may know of My mighty acts and the glorious splendor of My kingdom. My kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and My dominion endures through all generations. I am faithful to all My promises and loving toward all I have made. I uphold all those who fall and lift up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to Me, and I give them their food at the proper time. I open My hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. I am righteous in all My ways and loving toward all I have made. I am near to all who call on Me, to all who call on Me in truth.
Can you hear his heart? :-)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Edith's Story

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:13-14)

Peace on earth, the angels said. At the time Jesus was born, the known world was experiencing the Pax Romana (Roman Peace) marked by thriving commerce and relatively little military conflict. Opposition to Roman rule was quickly put down, and since most of the desired territories had been conquered, history has recorded this period between Augustus Caesar (sound familiar? see Luke 2:1) from AD 27 through the next 150 years or so as the most peaceful time of the Roman Empire.

So why then did the angels offer this blessing of peace?

The peace they hoped for humanity was not limited to military or even personal conflict. They proclaimed a "deeper, more lasting peace than that--a peace of mind and soul made possible by the Savior."1

This kind of peace is not only available in relationship with God (in fact it must begin there), but also in daily life, in ways that I think we fail to tap into. Let me explain:

My friend Edith is a prayer warrior. For a period of about a year, this precious retiree and I would pray together on a weekly basis. At one time, Edith felt as though her life and even her home were lacking in peace. So, to her morning ritual of getting a cup of coffee and spending time with the Lord in personal devotion, she added a new element. Walking through the house, she would pray over each room and the people that slept or activities that occurred there. For example, walking through her own bedroom, she would pray that she and her husband Wayne would experience restful sleep that night. In the kitchen, she would pray for creativity in meal planning that would result in meals to delight them both. In the dining room, she would pray for joyful and peaceful conversation to surround the table. In the study, she would pray for the Holy Spirit to guide their bill paying and money-handling, so that she and Wayne would be in peaceful agreement about each thing. In the living room, she would pray for a spirit of peace to welcome her guests as they conversed or even watched TV.

One afternoon, I came to the house to pray with Edith and she met me at the door with a glow in her eyes. "It's working!" she said as I stepped inside. My first thought was, "I didn't know the doorbell was broken," but thankfully, she continued before I blurted that out!

That morning, she went on to explain, a TV repairman had come to the house to look at the set in the living room. When she'd let him in the door, she'd noticed a funny expression on his face, but he quickly dismissed it and got to work. After he'd finished and was preparing to leave, he turned back to Edith and said, "I'm in and out of a lot of houses, but your house is the most peaceful I've ever been in." Edith jumped on the opportunity to explain why, telling the man about Christ's saving work, too.

Jesus was called the "Prince of Peace" (Isa 9:6), and promised peace to his disciples (Jn 14:27). I think we forget that aspect of his character and assurance. I hope you and I, like Edith, will tap in to what he's already offered, especially at a time of year when life often becomes more hectic and crazy than ever.

NIV Study Bible notes (Luke 2:13-14)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A + B = ?

Last night was surreal in a way. For several years during my college and grad school days, and even a little past that, I had numerous opportunities to speak to groups, sharing from my heart and opening up the word of God with them. When I began teaching school, those opportunities diminished, simply due to time constraints, not lack of interest. Teaching a ladies Bible study at our former church resurrected that passion for a while, and last Spring, a friend invited me to lead a small group session at her church's ladies conference which scratched right where I was itching.

But, after a hiatus of more than seven months from teaching or speaking publicly, I felt a little "off my game" last night when I spoke at our Ladies Tea at church. I caught myself talking really fast a couple of times, due to the adrenaline rush of excitement and joy in sharing from my heart with people I'm growing to love more and more. Although I knew I was well-prepared, a couple of times I wasn't sure I was even making sense, but those were honestly moments when I felt the flesh emerging with self-conscious uncertainties. For the majority of the time, however, I truly felt used by the Lord, as he suppressed those anxieties with his calming peace and assurance. A couple of times (and this is the surreal part), I felt as though I was watching myself, because I knew it wasn't I who was speaking, but rather the Holy Spirit communicating through me. I was merely the enunciator of his heart and word.

I'm not saying I'm looking for a career doing this kind of thing, but I guess in some ways it is the culmination of what I trained for - a Bachelor's degree in Communication and a Master's in Religious Education logically work out toward teaching people from the most important Book ever written. What's funny about that is while I was taking those steps, I wouldn't have guessed what the Lord would add that up to. The only reason I chose a major in Communication was because my speech class was the one I most enjoyed in the first two years of college. (And if I didn't choose a major before the summer was over, they weren't going to let me come back!) And when I was pursuing my Master's degree, I had in mind to be a Children's Minister. While I still enjoy interacting with children, I learned that my giftings didn't match that role because it is so heavy in administration, not personal interaction with kids. (And I got sick of begging people to serve Jesus by serving kids.)

I am a firm believer that "God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose." While I may have plans about where God is going with his ministry in and through me, he adds up my training, skills and experience to fit the time and place he needs me most. It's the same for you, too. What is he adding up for you? It's an ever-expanding, never-ending summation of who you are - to equal who he wants you to be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Relationship Priority

Yesterday was bittersweet. Of the 13 kids I've been tutoring since September, eight of them did well enough on their benchmark reading tests to be removed from my tutelage. I was so pleased to know that more than half have displayed improvement, but man, I'm gonna miss those kids! I've been blessed with the replacement of eight others, plus one more, and I'm sure I'll develop an attachment to these kids, too, but for now, my heart is torn between losing my previous students and the joy of seeing their success.

It reminds me once again of the priority Jesus placed on relationships with his disciples. I can only imagine what he felt as he sent them out (Mark 6:6-13 and Luke 10:1-17), after teaching and training them, and having had them watch and live out with him his life and ministry. Those missions were the culmination of his investment in them. And notice, he didn't send them out alone. They went in groups (pairs, specifically). Now, I know there are those who are "people persons" and those who tend to be "loners."And I truly believe God created the difference on purpose. But, at the core of our beings, don't we want to live life with the support of those who matter most to us?

In their book, Captivating, the Eldridge's point out that we are wired to want meaningful, sustainable relationships. "Our lives were meant to be lived with others. As echoes of the Trinity, we remember something. Made in the image of a perfect relationship, we are relationship to the core of our beings and filled with a desire for transcendent purpose."

In other words, we don't want to be alone in life's adventures, because our holy, amazing, incomprehensible three-in-one God placed relationship at the very core of our existence, as it is for him.

Am I saying that every person needs a committed marital relationship in order to live life and be all they can be? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Never-married Lottie Moon affected China for more than 40 years, but she didn't do it alone. Few people know she actually went with her sister for the first few years, and then, when Edmonia (what a name!) returned home due to health, Lottie depended upon the encouragement of others through correspondence and visits in order to fulfill her calling.

What I am saying is that we all need someone else. Whomever that may be. It takes a painful kind of humility to admit that we are not an all-inclusive entity unto ourselves, but Satan uses that very line of thinking to hold back the Kingdom of God. Notice carefully that the only relationships he has are with demons. Aside from that, he is the antagonist, accuser, enemy and foe.

So, I'll be a little sad for today, but when I'm back in the classroom tomorrow, I'll look forward to seeing what's going to happen with this new conglomeration of kids. Because I have no doubt that God wants to see me invest myself in relationship with them as he has with me.