This summer, I came across an idea that has apparently been around for a while and I just hadn’t been aware of it. Instead of starting your new year with a resolution, you choose a single word. Over the year, you meditate on that single word, examine it, explore it, make it yours and let it change you for the better.
What’s the upside to choosing a single word? It isn’t as likely to end up a disappointing failure like resolutions tend to. After all, keeping a resolution require a certain”resolve”, doesn’t it? Resolve is defined as a firm determination to do something. I obviously don’t have much resolve. If I did, I would already be watching what I eat and how much I spend. I’d already be organized and exercising. My house would already be clean on a daily basis, and I would know where all my important documents were. But I don’t have much resolve.
I do, however, love words!
Earlier this year, I’d considered the word “resilience”. I could certainly stand to be more resilient. But recently, I think I’m going to go with ACCEPTANCE. And the first thing I’ve chosen to accept is the fact that just because I chose this word doesn’t mean that I can’t change it if I want to. Because I might. Maybe. We’ll see.
As I was looking into this new way to start 2018, I checked out a couple of websites and blogs. After realizing that I had the general idea, I stopped looking. But not before I spotted a single sentence: You are here.
What a great place to start the new year!
I have a hard time just “rolling with” something. Years of caution and anxiety have made me overly cautious, afraid of looking “less than”, of being embarrassed. It can be pretty stressful to always feel like what you put out there has to be perfectly punctuated and polished.
So this may be my first step toward “acceptance” – accepting that this is an experiment of sorts, accepting that this blog might not be more than a journal of my own, accepting that this might become uncomfortably transparent.
Another advantage to this approach is that it focuses on something positive as opposed to focusing on something that you’re not doing successfully now
It’s Christmas time, and like most people, I’ve been reflecting on the birth of Christ. As I look at the nativity sets sprinkled around town, my thoughts go to the girl on the donkey with the round belly.
Can you picture it? Mary is full-term and ready to deliver. She and Joseph get into town only to find that there are no vacancies. She’s ridden on the back of a donkey for over 90 miles. Her baby is kicking inside her. Contractions have taken her breath a few times. And her water may have broken while Joseph was trying to find a place to stay.
This was probably the most physically and emotionally draining thing she’d ever done in her short life. Son of God or not, Mary was not exempt from labor pains. Mary still had to puuuuush to get the King of Kings into the world. His divinity did nothing to make this delivery any easier than her future deliveries. (And little did Mary know it, but a little boy was going to stop by and play on a drum for the baby; most likely right after she got Jesus to sleep.)
Delivering Immanuel was probably a great relief to this girl.
The night Christ was born, God reached down to relieve the rest of the world as well.
“Let me get that for you,” He said. Although it didn’t come in a thunderous voice from Heaven; it came as a healthy cry Christ would let out as He filled His human lungs with air for the first time. With the birth of Jesus, God offered to relieve all of humanity from the weight of sin and he offered to take the weight of our yoke and bear it Himself in return for His yoke, which is light.
The wait was over. God was with us.
This is the place where I usually stop. The pregnancy is over! God did the miraculous. In a few days, Christmas will be finished and 2018 will come to an end.
But this isn’t the end. It’s the beginning! The beginning of the end.
Jesus didn’t come to us so our kids could wear sheep and shepherd costumes for Christmas pageants. His birth was the beginning of the endgame in the spiritual battle against Satan.
The baby Mary held in her arms was the revelation of God Himself.
He would be our High Priest, who would sympathize with all the weaknesses of our humanity.
He would be our Intercessor and our Deliverer.
He would be the only perfect sacrifice God could accept.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, NIV)
We can’t look upon the baby king without seeing His sacrifice on the cross.
1 John 3:8 tells us, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
Satan didn’t underestimate the significance of Christ’s birth. He didn’t see a tiny, vulnerable baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. He saw the fulfillment of countless prophesies. He recognized the divinity of Christ and the fruition of God’s infallible word. Satan and his legion can be regarded in many ways, but they weren’t stupid. They’d had free rein for a long time, but their time was up and they knew better than anyone what came next. Jesus’s first cry that night was a battle cry.
A kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they drew pictures. Occasionally, she would walk around the room to see each child’s work.
“What are you drawing?” she asked one little girl who was working diligently at her desk.
The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”
The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
The little girl replied, “They will in a minute.”
God must think we’re kind of funny when we try to identify Him or his plans. Or figure out what the platypus is.
I remember several years ago that someone contemplated the vastness of the universe. Imagine, they pondered, that we live in a solar system that we barely know anything about. That solar system is part of a galaxy. In fact, it’s one of several galaxies. And the universe is all of the galaxies. So…you’d think that somewhere out – at the end of all of that – is…a wall. Right?
The question, then, is…What’s on the other side of the wall?
HAND OF GOD NEBULA
EYE OF GOD NEBULA
The “other side of the wall” is the stuff that I think God is all about. We have those things we can examine and may some day be able to identify, label, and categorize. But what about the stuff on the “other side of the wall”?
People had ideas of what Messiah would sound like, look like, act like.
Do you think they expected their deliverer to be raised in the home of a carpenter – or in the home of a soldier or politician?
Do you think they expected him to “slum it” with lepers, Samaritans and tax collectors – or with society’s elite?
Do you think they expected him to actually encourage his brothers and sisters to walk the extra mile for the army that oppressed them – or to overturn that same government, to begin an insurrection?
Do you think they expected him to go to his crucifixion without a hearing or a single protest – or to defend himself and finally rise up to make his stand?
Do you think they expected him to come back to life after three days in the grave?
Now, that is the stuff God’s about! That mind-blowing, are-you-serious, how-is-that-even-possible stuff is absolutely what God is all about.
The Hebrews knew the stories of God’s miracles and deliverance – the exodus from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, Sarah’s conception of Issac, crazy Noah and his ark, David’s unlikely defeat of Goliath. But even then, they were determined to fit God into a man-designed box. Just like we do today, they considered very human, very limited ways that Messiah would – or could – come to them.
But Messiah didn’t come in a box. He came in a womb.
Now, that’s outside the box! But outside the box is exactly what we need because we’re not fighting a war that’s “inside the box.” The war is not about the possession of land or resources.
The battle is for our souls, for eternity.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
And the battle?
But as it is written: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
Like nothing we’ve seen before or can possibly imagine with our five senses and limited imaginations.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)
But how unbelievable is it that God would come to us as a baby – vulnerable and dependent, yet so very embraceable.
God came down to be embraced. (And if that’s not love, I don’t know what is.)
So what has God got planned for us? When he makes a way where there seems to be no way, what will it look like? If it’s like nothing we’ve seen before, if it’s a new thing, it’s going to make the platypus appear logical and mundane. It will have colors and scents that we can’t imagine because we’ve never seen them or smelled them! It will be the stuff on the other side of the cosmic wall, and it will take our breath away and feel like home at the same time.
And I have a feeling that God is looking forward to seeing the look on our face when we see it.
My daughter brought home a doll that would be her “daughter” for the next three nights and two days. Her name was August. Things didn’t go well for either Maggie or August. Or for Maggie’s cat, Mickey. The poor guy was beside himself with worry whenever baby August cried, which was often enough.
Around two hours into her Child Development assignment, Maggie had lost some of the tenacity that makes her so amazing. She didn’t know what to do with the crying doll. She couldn’t figure it out and she couldn’t fix it. (To her credit, I should disclose right now that the baby hadn’t been programmed correctly.)
“I can’t do this!” she cried.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried those same words or something that sounds like them. I’m a grown woman who’s gone through a whole lot more than three hours of intermittent crying from a baby. I don’t say that to minimize Maggie’s anxiety but to say that – like most of us – I can completely empathize with her.
I remembered the fearless little toddler who had once wobbled and fallen her way to successful walking. This was the same girl who tested a single stair step one day and conquered the other 12 within two days like a boss. My heart broke for her, and I was a bit surprised. This girl is pretty fierce, yet she was buckling under the pressure to “fix” her baby.
My first instinct was to take the baby from her to make it better. That’s what a parent does, right?
Our Heavenly Father feels the same way towards His children as we feel toward our children. He wants so badly for us to let Him make things better for ourselves.
That’s why He invites us to cast all our cares on Him.
That’s why He sent His one and only Son to pay for our sins and secure a permanent home with Him.
That’s why there are so many verses in the Bible telling us to not be afraid.
That’s why He reminds us again and again that He will go before us to make a way where there seems to be no way. He knows the number of hairs on our head and every desire of our heart.
That’s why he keeps pouring out grace and forgiveness everysingletime we need it.
God doesn’t expect us to handle everything alone. Max Lucado illustrated puts it this way:
“When a father leads his four-year-old son down a crowded street, he takes him by the hand and says, ‘Hold on to me.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Memorize the map’ or ‘Take your chances dodging the traffic’ or ‘Let’s see if you can find your way home.’ The good father gives the child one responsibility: ‘Hold on to my hand.’God does the same with us.”
In fact our weakness serves at least three valuable purposes:
God is a loving father, but we must recognize that the gospel is about His kingdom, His plans, His glory. God holds our hand and doesn’t abandon us; but He does so because He has a divine and perfect plan that has already been spoken into existence. It can not and will not fail – even if we might.
Does that mean that we’re merely simple-minded sheep? No. We’re valuable, beloved sheep. We’re the kind of sheep who are cared for, searched for, comforted and guided by the most loving Shepherd we could ever hope for. He knows each and every one of our needs and is never surprised by circumstances. But if we managed everything ourselves, having no need of Him, the glory would be ours, gained through our own strength and wisdom.
In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom drew this powerful portrait of a caring father:
“Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam-when do I give you your ticket?” I sniffed a few times, considering this. “Why, just before we get on the train.” “Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie.”
So the next time you find yourself crying, “I can’t do this!” remember that you are not alone. Our Father already has the map and the ticket for our journey! Just trust Him to get you there safely. And try to relax and enjoy the trip!
Getting up can be a much bigger deal than we think, really. Essentially, the physical act of getting up is a matter of defying gravity, isn’t it? When I think of it that way, it seems like a really big deal! We seldom think of it, though, because we do it all day long – we rise from bed, from a chair, from the floor. Toddlers are forever getting back up!
So when do we become conscious of the mechanics of getting up, of rising?
When it gets hard and takes more strength than we think we have – in the way Andra Day sings about in “I’ll Rise Up.”
Age, long hours and illness can make it a physical challenge to get back up. Anxiety, depression, high expectations, loss, and disappointment can make it an emotional challenge.
But sometimes there is something especially inspirational and profound in getting back up again. Our lives aren’t always as dramatic as a boxer’s, where a win is dependent upon getting up after being knocked down for the count while “Eye of the Tiger” plays in the background, but rising can be just as challenging and every bit as vital. And equally powerful
Our story may not be as beautifully worded as Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, but it’s inspiritational just the same. After all, it’s our story!
As I’ve mentioned before, I belong to two different Facebook groups – one for survivors of aortic dissections, which I joined after surviving my own ascending aortic dissection, and one for survivors of CPTSD/PTSD. I’ve been fascinated by how much they overlap. Those in the group dealing with health issues are also dealing with some serious emotional challenges, and those in the group dealing with emotional issues are also dealing with their share of health issues. What they seem to share most is a sense being alone and feeling quite weary.
So many members of these two groups feel like no one really “gets” their struggle, and they are aware that their recovery, their moving forward, is in fact an individual effort. Others can sympathize, empathize, encourage and support, but the journey of getting back up is ultimately their own.
Still, I know those feelings aren’t unique to these groups. I don’t think any of us have gotten through life without getting knocked down a time or two. Some of us come from a long line of people who have been knocked down and have fought hard to rise up. Some of us have gone through seasons of challenge in spite of every privilege and benefit the world has afforded us. Difficulty is no respecter of wealth, beauty, education, age, gender or ethnicity.
The apostle Peter knew a bit about difficulties, and yet he passed on this promise:
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:10-11
How could he be so certain of God’s grace? Because he’d experienced it. Jesus still loved him and called him after Peter denied knowing him. Jesus pulled him from the roaring waves the moment Peter cried out for help.
Peter is telling us that, yes, we will suffer. But! By the grace of God, we can rise up…again and again and again.
But even before that, Jesus had been born Emmanuel, God with us. That was God’s descent. And how glorious His rising was! In His descent, the weary – like you and me – were given hope. In his rising, we were redeemed. It is by His grace and the strength it affords us that we can always rise again. God has plans for you, fighter. You may be down, but don’t you dare stay down!
If you’ve never seen it before, here’s your chance. It’s called “performance painting” and it’s been around for quite a few years now. David Garibaldi is probably one of the better known performance painters around today. I remember the first time I saw anything like this was at least 10 years ago. I’ve seen it used as motivation at schools, leadership conferences, and even churches – like in this video.
I first saw artists create portraits of a musician as the audience listened to one of their songs. For example, someone would paint a portrait of John Lennon while the audience listened to “Imagine.” It truly can be beautiful and stirring. Then some artists got more clever and began to paint a portrait upside down or even on a canvas that could be turned 360 degrees during the performance.
Being gifted enough to paint is one thing. Being able to create a portrait from any direction with splashes here and swipes there is downright awesome! The really cool thing that I enjoy about performance painting is that most paintings start out looking chaotic, almost a mess of smears and lines that don’t look like anything. And, quite frankly, the artist looks a little fruity bouncing around on the stage throwing paint on a canvas haphazardly. But when he’s done…something beautiful has been created right in front of you and you probably didn’t even see it coming together!
Segue to yesterday: My daughter was deeply disappointed. She’s prayed for something. Her father and I prayed about it. Her friends offered her petition to God. And she didn’t get what she’d hoped for. We’ve all felt that disappointment.
There are times I’ve been completely confounded. I don’t understand why. I wonder if the hard times will ever let up. I just don’t get it!
I can only imagine how hard it is for my teen-aged daughter and her friends. Everything is so new to them. The pain, joy, rejection, confusion, hopelessness. It’s the first time they deal with the things I’ve dealt with some many times already…and I still don’t always have the optimism of hope or a steadfast faith that God has a good plan for it all.
We just see pieces. We see the splatters of paint on the canvas, a random swatch here, a flick of paint there. Quite frankly it looks like a mess! Kind of makes you wonder what sort of joke this is. Isn’t this supposed to be something?
Hey, heard you were up all night Thinking about how your world ain’t right And you wonder if things will ever get better And you’re asking, why is it always raining on you When all you want is just a little good news Instead of standing there stuck out in the weather
Isn’t that how we feel so often when we don’t understand what God is up to?
Is He there?
Does He see me, hear me?
Is He punishing me?
Am I not a good enough Christian?
Maybe – probably – that’s not it at all. Because God has a plan for your life, a good plan. You just can’t see the whole picture yet.
Maybe it will be a very long time before we see the whole picture. Perhaps we’ll be gone long before God’s purpose for something is revealed. It’s even possible that we may never know the purpose because it’s something that doesn’t happen, rather than something that does happen.
The question is, can we trust the Master Artist, the ultimate Creator Himself, to create something beautiful in the end?
Jesus made no sense to the world – from his birth to his resurrection. His people expected a military leader, and yet he talked about turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile for those in military power over them. He went to his own execution without defending himself. He said the strangest things about temples being destroyed and rebuilt again in three days. Then he just died.
And the apostles and other disciples had no idea what to do with themselves. So they decided to just go back to the lives they’d had a mere three years earlier. No one understood that the Creator, the Artist, wasn’t done with the whole picture yet.
The kingdom of God is upside-down! When Christ rose from death, the portrait was righted, and then – and then – it started to make sense. Only in God’s world could we be made white as snow with the blood of Jesus.
Life gets messy. It can be chaotic. A lot of the time, it just doesn’t make sense to us. But nothing comes as a surprise to our Father. He knows what He’s doing, and the really amazing thing is that He’s doing a new thing – which means there is no way we can anticipate what it will be. He is able to make a way where there seems to be no way.
So my daughter is disappointed right now, and she doesn’t understand why. I don’t have an answer for her except to remind her that she is firmly in the hands of the One who has a good plan for her. He will never leave her or forsake her. He knows how many hairs are on her head – no matter what color she decides to dye it! And when He is finished with her, her life will be a beautiful portrait of His love, His glory, His grace and His power! Even this disappointment will be a part of her life’s testimony. And, oh, how surprised so many people will be when they see it.