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for Miffy 🙂
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Mark 11:23-25 For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

9-1-2012

“You don’t have to climb the whole mountain at once.” His voice beside her made her jump. She’d been so intent on the mountain, she hadn’t heard His approach.

“Huh?” she said a little stupidly.

He replied with an amiable chuckle. “You’ve been staring at the mountainside above us for at least half an hour, trying to find the way up it or over it or through it or around it. Just like you have every single time we’ve paused to rest or camp. All I said was that you don’t have to climb the mountain all at once.”

She stared at Him, trying to find her way through the new idea He’d presented her with. “But I can’t live my life freely unless the unforgiveness no longer looms in my way. I mean, until I can successfully surmount this obstacle, I can’t properly love the people You’ve put in my life to love.”

She stared back at the mountain, and He let her puzzle over it a bit more on her own.

“Are you saying that total and complete forgiveness is too big a project to complete all at once? That somehow . . . ” she trailed off but looked at Him hopefully (hoping He’d caught enough of this question she didn’t quite have words for).

“When you have to tackle the peak, you’ll be able to. But you’re not there yet,” He threw an arm around her shoulders and they stood together looking up at the peaks ahead and above them.

I’m just so tired of its shadow being everpresent and not knowing what to do to surmount it,” she said softly. “I’ve done all I know to do, and the bulk of it is still there.”

He squeezed her shoulders. “Just do what you know to do,” He said. “You’ll stand on your high places one of these days.”

“Scout’s honor?” she asked teasingly.

He shook his head in mock solemnity. “Guide’s  honor,” He said.

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*Mountain Guides: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_guide
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Note: this sketch is one that came to mind a few years ago when wrestling with some of the feelings and questions that come with forgiveness. In talking through the topic of forgiveness in Bible study today, this sketch came to mind as we were discussing the way forgiveness is not only a choice but also a process.

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“Thou hast giv’n so much to me
Give one thing more, a gratefull heart”
~George Herbert (“Gratefulnesse”)

“What is genuine Gratitude? 1. I receive a gift. (Grace) 2. I value the gift. (Humility) 3. I appreciate the good intent of the giver of the gift. (Love)”
~Pastor Steve Quen (message 11-22-2015: “Thanks”  http://bacbc.sermon.net/main/main/20543970)

Father,
I need the grace to receive the gifts I am given. Gifts are grace. Undeserved favors from someone else’s heart to mine. Give me the grace and courage to truly receive what is given.

I need the humility to value the gift. Some gifts I can easily see how useful they may be or how immediately they enrich my life, but others are less obvious–or I am far slower to recognize them for what they truly are. I may not ever know what it cost to give the gift. Which is part of the grace in the gift. Give me wise eyes to see the value of each gift.

Give me the heart of a child to enjoy what I am given.

I need a heart of love. Love, shown through appreciation, completes the blessing of the gift. Please help me to see and trust the heart of the giver, for that is the true gift. Give me the love to respond to the giver with delight in who he is beyond his gift.

For all these things I ask in requesting this one thing I need most: a grateful heart.

This last portion of the poem deals with the one word that seems to be impossible–hope. Because that is the message of the Resurrection. Hope. Hope for new life that springs from the inside and changes us for eternity. Hope because the One who knew no sin became sin for us so that WE MAY BE MADE THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD IN HIM. That’s hope. And not the wishful-thinking kind. It’s the hang-your-hat-on kind. The lay-your-every-waking-moment-on-the-line kind of hope. Expectation.

I’m standing at the tomb
His tomb
My tomb
Your tomb
Dare I hope to see an angel
Announcing over empty grave-clothes
The Impossible has happened?
Where does my heart,
My death-wounded heart go
to find Your Resurrection?
Like Martha, I believe
You are Who You Are—
God, the Son of God,
The Resurrection and the Life.
Can this belief become
the spice I bring to mourn the dead?
Here is where we dwell:
We dwell with Death—
death of loved-ones, hopes, and dreams
Should I really be
Surprised that You should die?
It’s not ok
But I’m used
To it, to death
There’s always one more tomb.

But Yours is empty
Empty, hollow, vacant—
Incomprehensibly absent
Is the corpse I came to find.
“Because I live, ye shall live also”
Was Your promise,
A promise just as impossible,
Just as improbable—
Teach me to believe!
For now, just help me trust
In You, the One I’ve come to know.
I know You’ll read my message
When I send to You saying,
“Lord, the one You love is sick, is dead.”
You’ll come, e’en though he’s dead,
Because You love him, too.
I’m waiting for the glory of God
Promised by You,
Incomprehensibly impossible.
Hoping, waiting, believing
That You defeated Death.

No resurrection?
Your faith is vain; dead in sin.
Have we been liars?

 

2-5-2011

My friend posted a book excerpt that touches on the state we are in now–a state of missing something and longing for it and trying to get it back again. The book calls it “the feeling that quit at the Fall.” (Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller)

Read the excerpt here–http://meditationsfortheliminal.blogspot.com/2011/03/from-searching-for-god-knows-what.html

It struck me that he calls it a feeling. And it is a feeling. And the absence of it is a feeling. There’s an Adventures in Odyssey episode about God’s search for man that has Adam talking about what it was like after the Fall. His ultimate word on it all was that nothing could ever be the same again. And I’ve been pondering that. Especially in the light of the human relationships I know and enjoy. There are certain things that can happen in our relationships that take away the friendship, the openness, the trust that was there. And nothing is ever the same again. And there is an emptiness, a hole that needs to be filled. That’s what we are looking for as a human race–we are constantly seeking that condition that relationship that existed before the Fall.

The thing is that it goes both ways. It’s really easy to see the loss on our side. We, the offending party, lost the trust and the relationship and the ability to know and feel secure in God’s love. But He lost something, too. He lost us. Anyone who has ever been sinned against, who has ever been betrayed, lost the ability to trust someone, been deeply disappointed by son or daughter or student or friend knows this feeling. And God, being God, must feel it more deeply than we feel it.

There are only two paths away from a fall like this. And neither one is the same as before the fall.
1)  Things can be worse than before. And they usually are. There is distance, pain, separation, distrust, shame. And lots of other things we generally call “negative emotions.”
2) Things can be better than before. And that actually seems almost impossible. Miraculous at best.

But aren’t all the best things in life truly miracles?

Moving on
Is that what it is?
Just transitioning to newer pastures,
Leaving the old behind?
How many unconditional gifts,
Full and free and magnanimous,
Have I myself left behind–
Forgotten, untended,
(Like opened boxes of chocolates,
unfinished, inexhaustible)
Left behind as I moved on?
What happens to the gifts?
Do they remain mine–
Standing, as I left them,
Open and waiting?
Or do they move on, too?

Make me a window, Lord.

Let my life be clear so that Your life will shine through me. Let others look at me and wonder what is inside that glows so brightly, invitingly. In all I do, in all I say, in all I think, reflected on my face, let others see You. And may what they see make them want You to live Your life inside of them.

Make me a window, Lord.

Let me see outside my little world as You see. Let me see the beauty around me, beauty You have made, beauty You are still creating. Let me see Your hands busy working everywhere, and especially amid the ugly scenes of our lives. Let me see the opportunities You give my little hands to join You, working alongside You as I work alongside my father and my mother sometimes still. Open my eyes to the moments that I can bless others as You always bless me. Let Your light illuminate the truth that secures me in all places that I go.

Make me a window, Lord.

When it is dark outside–when the night closes in around me and I cannot see clearly–let me look at my window and see Your face reflected: You alive in me. With You inside, no night can be too dark.

Make me a window, Lord.

“And, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.”  ~ Matthew 28:20b

Trust in him at all times; [ye] people, pour out your heart before him: God [is] a refuge for us. Selah
Psalm 62:8

Hi, God.

I’m trying to do what You said to do with my heart–pour it out before You–but I kinda have a problem. See, I tip it over to pour it out, and nothing comes out. I think it’s dried up and caked in there, maybe a little like spices do when they’ve been sitting in the cupboard too long and gotten a little moisture in them. And, well, I’m not really sure what to do now because I can’t really pour it out, see?

I took my heart to someone I thought might care to see this strange phenomena that is going on in my heart, but . . . well, she was ready to pour out her heart at the moment and mine wasn’t exactly pour-able. Actually, it wasn’t really like she poured out her heart. It was more like just shaking some of its seasoning out to flavor my life. And I really was glad for it. It’s fun to hear her adventures.

I called another friend today. Wow! Was she ever busy! I really wasn’t expecting that she’d be able to scrape free the caked stuff in my heart. I was hoping that I’d hear a little of how she was doing. I think she needed a little encouragement, and it was really nice to hear a few sound-bites of her life. The call made me smile. I hope it made her smile, too.

Another friend was a bit confused by it all. She was a little panicky, too, as though I was panicky about what in the world this stuff was and was hoping that she would fix it. She really didn’t listen but kept suggesting recipes that I could sprinkle it into. Not quite what I think I’m supposed to do with it . . . hm.

I took my heart to another friend. As I showed her the dried-up stuff that used to be my heart, she listened and tried to understand; but she really didn’t know what to do with it any more than I did. And, frankly, I’m a bit tired of talking about it all. That’s part of the dried-up-ness. It’s like “what’s the use?” Ya know?

Another friend was better able than I to “pour out” her heart. I suspect that I didn’t know what to do with her heart any more than my other friend knew what to do with mine. But somehow the act of listening and trying to understand produced a little moisture. I think the shared moisture helped, but it didn’t last long. I’m dry and caked again.

So, here’s my heart. I was bringing it to You all along; I just had some stops along the way. I’m not sure what to do with it, it’s so dry. It doesn’t want to laugh or cry but it wants to do both; it’s both frustrated and content somehow; it’s tired but doesn’t want to go to bed; concerned but not worried. What do You make of such a heart? Shouldn’t it be crying out to You right now?

Hm. It shouldn’t, huh? This is normal? You say that this is what happens sometimes to hearts that have been working hard and pouring themselves out and opening themselves up to face the elements? So. I guess this means You know what to do with it, then? Whew! What a relief! I was getting a little tired of trying to figure it out. Make something good with it, ok?

I’m going to bed.

=)

“You need to blog again,” they said. I guess it’s about time.
But literally, this post is about time. As the saying goes, “time is money.” And it literally is . . . that is, unless you’re salaried =) When you’re not salaried, you think twice about taking time off of work. An hour off of work is an hour of lost revenue for you.
And how valuable is my time anyway? Setting prices for my tutoring services is always difficult for me–I don’t really have much of a head for money.
So, God has been teaching me these last couple years that He can provide for me monetarily. There have been (and still will be, I’m sure) some more than close calls and some worries and even some tears. But I can look into my heart and see that the seed of faith has at least sprouted there when it comes to money.
Now I just need some more time. There’s really never enough.
And I wonder: if time and money are really so closely related, could God provide time as He provides money? Of course He could! He’s God. But would He?
I’m still asking Him this one. Don’t know the answer yet. Maybe I’ll keep you posted on it . . .
 . . . if I have the time.
=)

When I was a kid, rosettes were my favorite cookie to make. Mom made them especially at Christmastime. It’s been more years than I can count since I made them, but I can still recall the fascination they always held for me. Mom heated oil in a frying pan and mixed up the thin, sweet batter; then she dipped the rosette mold (a flower-shaped piece of iron on a long handle) into the batter to coat its lower half and quickly inserted the mold–batter and all–into the oil. The hot oil immediately fried the batter in the shape of the mold, allowing Mom to lift the mold entirely out of the flower-shaped cookie and leave it to cook, floating in the hot oil until it was a beautiful golden-brown. We would lift the cookies out onto a stack of paper towels in order to remove the ecxess grease before dusting them with powdered sugar. They were the prettiest and most delicate cookies I had ever seen. I loved them!

Like rosettes, peace seems brittle. Sweet, beautiful, fascinating, but delicate. Breathe on it and it is gone like the miniature snowflake on your sleeve. Try to preserve it and it becomes rancid like old french fries (or old resettes, for that matter). So God’s gift that Christmas night of peace on earth seems not only rather unrealistic, but also a bit impractical. Yet it is definitely not a white-elephant gift. Everyone wants it.

One of the most famous Christmas songs of all time is the most peaceful: “Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr, given its perfect musical setting by Franz Gruber. The song’s story goes that it was composed and performed upon the grand occasion of the church’s organ being out of commission. Now, anyone familiar with Christmas programs and Christmas services knows how stressful losing the church’s main instrument can be–how stressful any glitch can be! Yet from that rather inconvenient situation has come a song capturing the peace of Christmas like no other song does. Listen:

Silent night! holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild–
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing aleluia–
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night! holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace–
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

The songs is so gentle, lulling us to restful contemplation. But as I ponder that first Christmas, as I ponder the Christmas story, I see that not everything was still, not everything was hushed. The city being so crowded, how could it be still and at peace? Tensions must have been higher than normal. How could Joseph’s mind not have been churning with the problem of where in the world they would live until the census was over? Childbirth being so full of anguish and pain, how could Mary have been silent? A sky full of angels, how could it have been peaceful? How could one’s heart not have beat wildly after being surprised in such a manner as the shepherds were? Silent night? Did I miss what Mohr and Gruber saw?

“All is calm, all is bright/ Round yon virgin mother and Child.” I remember walking into my mother’s hospital room shortly after my sister was born. I had skipped school and spent all morning in the waiting room of the hospital until finally Dad came to get me: my sister had been born. There was a stillness, a wonder to that hospital room when I entered it (almost on tiptoe). The pain was over, Mom was exhausted but happy. And she moved gently as she let me see my sister for the first time and then allowed me to hold her. In fact, each time I visited them in the hospital a peacefulness pervaded the room, a peacefulness because all was well . . . and because the baby might be sleeping. All was calm and bright. How could it have been otherwise for that tiny baby and his exhausted mother that night? As the new mother showed her newborn infant to his wondering father and later to the curious shepherds, it could not have been other than peaceful–the peace of happy and successful exhaustion, the peace of proud mother-hood, the peace of infancy.

“Shepherds quake at the sight;/ Glories stream from heaven afar,/ Heav’nly hosts sing aleluia.” What a concert that must have been! I’ve been to good concerts, and I have also been on various stages myself a time or two. While applause is nice to receive, a good performer soon learns to crave silence from his audience, and not just any silence. An attentive silence is so concentrated that a performer can feel the audience frozen in time and place, lost in the story he is weaving. I have heard that silence from audiences, and I have felt that expectant stillness myself. I, too, have had my times of sitting silent after the house lights come back on, awed and overwhelmed by the power of the performance I have just seen or heard, pondering the thoughts it has placed in my grasp. Picture the hillside after the heavenly curtain has fallen again and the aerial show is over: wouldn’t you have sat in silence, not wanting to break the wonderful stillness of the moment?

But those moments seem so fragile. The stillness must be broken eventually: the shepherds have to speak, have to move, have to go check out this amazing news the angels gave them; the baby Jesus, like other babies the world over, will cry for the various reasons babies cry. The peace can’t last. Was God’s gift of peace to the world as insubstantial as the rosettes we used to make at Christmas time–beautiful to look at but certainly not known for longevity?

“Love’s pure light/ Radiant beams from Thy holy face/ With the dawn of redeeming grace.” Perhaps beyond the ordinary stillnesses, a different kind of peace was embedded in that night, a peace more beautiful, more realistic, more substantial, more satisfying than those natural yet fragile ones described in the first two stanzas; a peace I have glimpsed like a hummingbird out my window; a peace I have tasted but not grasped; a peace I want more of. It’s the peace that comes from God Himself, from seeing His face and knowing that everything is as it should be between us.

God’s Word, in Philippians 4:7, aptly dubs it the peace “which passeth all understanding.” I heard it described at a New Year service in which people were given the opportunity to give testimonies of how God had helped them through the year. One couple spoke of living life after a devastating house fire. The wife spoke of the first night after the fire and of the peace inside which, in the face of loss and devastation, whispered to her, “Let’s see what God is going to do with this.” And I recognized something about this incomprehensible peace, something I have been learning but having trouble putting into words: this peace comes with a built-in sense of adventure! Somehow it can look trouble in the face and see it as a ride at an amusement park. This peace is not a fragile flower; it’s tough as rope. It makes absolutely no sense at all as it grins in the face of adversity. No, it’s not a bitter grimace nor a starry-eyed smile. It’s a grin, an infectious grin that’s like a rainbow through the tears. And it enables the possessor to rest–to “sleep in heavenly peace,” something that seems impossible at first.

So, how does one get it? And how does one keep it? Well, to answer the second question, we don’t keep it–it keeps us. Philippians 4:7 goes on to promise that it will “keep [or guard] our hearts and minds.” It’s an active, strong peace, stronger than we are. How do we get it? That one is just as easy and yet infinitely more difficult to answer. We get it from God. We get it, Philippians tells us, by pouring out our hearts to Him, letting Him have all the things that we are worried over or concerned by or angry about or longing for. John 13-15 says that as we do this we must allow Christ’s words to become part of us, expecting that He will answer those longings. That part isn’t so easy. In fact, it seems almost an impossibility that we will ever have enough of His words within us to purchase His gift of peace. Bother! So much for that thought, nice though it was.

That’s the difficulty: peace involves trust. And trust comes from love. I have been re-reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. And the marvel to me is that my favorite chapter, the chapter that moves me most, is the one about her time in a German extermination camp. As she and her sister lived through those days of hell on earth, their confidence in the love of God shines, beams out in defiance of all horror, radiates in the face of evil itself. There’s a peace on those pages that I want in my life. A beautiful, yet unbreakable peace.

It comes from knowing God, from knowing His love. Not from loving Him–oh, no! How many people have we loved and yet feared that our love was unrequited? How many times have our hearts been broken by insensitivity, ingratitude, betrayal? No, loving God cannot bring us peace. Only being loved by Him can. Just as we rest and relax the best in the places we feel safe, just as we feel safe in the presence of those who love us, we will only have heavenly peace when we know the love of Christ, a love “which passeth knowledge.”

How can we know something that’s too big to fit into our minds? Can a child fully understand his father’s love? Can he completely grasp the arms that encircle him? Does he really care that the arms are bigger than he is? Of course not! That’s what makes him feel so safe. We never outgrow that need for love. God’s love is the only love that will always satisfy that child we carry within us forever. That’s why He calls us His children.

Hungry for some peace? It starts here: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.”

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

My Grandma (the one I live with) has a wonderful theory about cinnamon: she heard somewhere that it is very beneficial to our health, so she tries to find things that contain cinnamon to eat or drink or else she adds a little extra cinnamon to thing that already have cinnamon in them. It’s a joke at our house that we can eat sweet things (such as pie or cookies or candy) because they have cinnamon in them and cinnamon is good for us.

One of the things that cinnamon is supposed to do for us it to stop the sniffles. My first reaction to this news was one of slight disbelief; but if Grandma’s theory is correct, I have the “cure for the common sniffles”: snickerdoodles, lots and lots of snickerdoodles! Snickerdoodles are such fun cookies! Even the name sounds fun. And making them is fun: take small balls of dough (containing cinnamon, of course), roll them around in a cinnamon and sugar mixture to coat them really well, and then put them in the oven to bake. When they come out and are done to perfection, these cookies are a little crunchy on the outside and a little soft on the inside. So good! They REALLY keep me coming back for more. And if Grandma’s theory is correct, they will keep away the sniffles, too. Grandma has tried taking extra cinnamon when she has the sniffles, and she has found that it works. Why not give cinnamon cookies a try when the common cold comes your way? (I know, the sugar content would probably conflict with the medicinal properties of the cinnamon, but still . . . )

There are few things more annoying that getting the sniffles: being in the middle of something and suddenly needing to dive for the box of tissues does not help productivity very much. Looking at life, it seems that sniffles plague us more than just in the cold season. O. Henry, the famous short-story writer, made this comment about life in his story “The Gift of the Magi” when his female character collapses into tears over something: “Which [action] instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.” I agree that life seems to bring sniffles up an awful lot; sometimes even when we are laughing, we are hiding a sniffle or two. Not that we spend our lives blubbering about the hard lot we have been given; no, we try to face things as bravely as we can, knowing that life is not fair and that we should not expect it to be. Still, we can’t really help the sniffles.

But what is there for solving the sniffles of everyday life? If–as O. Henry suggests–sniffles lead the statistics of our lives, eating cinnamon cookies for such a frequent amount of sniffles will add weight problems to the woes of the heart. Is there a balm for them?

There is. It’s an unlikely one–as unlikely as eating cinnamon for common sniffles. But it gives promise of truly working.

A King.

Now THAT sounds preposterous. Any American can tell you that a king is not necessary for a nation to work properly. And gone are the days of Britain’s autocratic kings. Who needs a king? Not us. We don’t need a dictator to run our lives, and we don’t need a figurehead to take all the credit. So the words of this Christmas carol have a hard time making sense to us.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.

~Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts is not describing a weak figurehead king here. His king has power–power to bring about changes. Look at the things He can do: send His blessings on everyone, reverse the effects of the curse, rule the entire world (notice there’s no mention of bureaucracy here–He is the One ruling, not His government), and prove His love to the world through the way He treats the nations. That’s power! And, to be honest, sometimes we long for that power to be seen in our lives. Having the curse reversed would be wonderful; and if blessings are being served out, pass me a generous helping! Also, I agree that it would be nice for the world to be full of love rather than hatred. Maybe I do need a king. I certainly wish for someone sometimes who will step in and make the decisions that seem impossible for me to make, someone who will pull out the necessary resources when mine are running dry, someone who has influence over others when I am getting a raw deal or do not know how to communicate with them. Yes, a king would be nice. A king looking out for my interests would definitely cure the sniffles.

But does it have to be a king? Giving someone else the reins of power is more than a little disconcerting! Put this thought in everyday shoes: we want advice from people, but we hate it when they step in to try to run our lives–we want to make the ultimate decisions (esp. since we are responsible to live with those decisions once they’re made); we want others to listen to our troubles, but we are terrified of what they might do about those problems–we want their help and we don’t want their intereference all at the same time. We have a relative amount of control over our own lives; we know what we are thinking before we do it; we know how we hope that things turn out. We don’t know these things about others. We have no control over them, well, very little. We may do our best to manipulate others or dominate them in order to get what we think we want, but those who refuse to be dominated or manipulated scare us. In our experience, a loss of personal control can lead to MORE sniffling rather than less. Is it worth giving up control just to have what a king can do for us? ummmm . . . pass the Kleenex, please!

But the price is joy.

And we don’t really have much of it. We find our hearts getting hardened and numb, and we walk through life in a half-fog, just trying to survive. We are more than fully aware of the curse, seeing its blight on our lives everywhere we look, especially when we look inside. It’s scary to realize the evil we are capable of and overwhelming to see the wounds we suffer from. And the worst part is knowing that really there’s little we can do about the problems within us anymore than we can control the circumstances around us. Our small measure of control is just that: small. Maybe we do need a king after all. We don’t want one, but we need one. We need one badly.

And to have Him, we are going to have to trust Him. Even though we don’t know what He’s going to do, even though we can’t control Him, we are going to have to open our hearts to allow Him to come in. As Watts wrote, we must “prepare Him room” in our hearts. We can’t keep Him relegated to the stable of our hearts, we have to allow Him to have the throne if He is going to do us the good we so long for Him to do. Watts was writing this song not about the first coming of Jesus–when He came as a baby to be born obscurely, live humbly, and die sacrificially–but about the second coming when He will come to rule the world and to make all things right. The Bible contains many prophesies of what He will do when He rules. All wonderful, all badly longed for, all in the future. But His rule in our hearts does not have to wait that long: it can begin now. And what He wil do for the world someday He promises to do within our hearts today: weed out the thorns and weeds of sin, heal the wounds, make us new. We find it easier to trust someone when we know towards what goal he is heading; has the King not showed us enough of His goal to inspire our trust?

Interesting thing about snickerdoodles: they get hard after a while. As they sit in the cookie jar, the moisture leaves them and they lose their softness. They’re still tasty, but not quite as addicting. Unless they’re dunked in milk. Dipped and held there until the milk has soaked into them through and through. Then they’re delicious. A joyful taste if ever there was one. Preparing our hard hearts for receiving the King is as simple as milk and cookies: it involves soaking in Him, bringing our hearts to His moisture and soaking in it until our hearts are saturated with it. Just soaking.

Happy soaking this holiday season!

It’s morning. I can tell it by the amount of light in the room. I can tell it by the way my body feels. I can tell it by the sounds coming from outside and from other parts of the house. But I can’t get up. Traces of a dream linger in my fuzzy consciousness, blurring the line between reality and unreality, dreams of going somewhere I can’t reach, struggling to be someone I can’t be, stuck between crushing stresses–not pleasant dreams at all. But I can’t wake up either. I dread the reality of the expectations and needs of my day: they resemble my dreams more than a little–trying hard to meet needs I can’t meet, be someone I can’t be, stuck between crushing forces I don’t belong between. At this point in the morning, it’s sometimes hard to tell which is the dream and which the reality. And sometimes it’s hard to tell which is worse.

So there I lie, eyes tightly closed, curled up into a little warm ball to shut out the morning, knowing that all that precious time is slipping away and making things worse by making life more hurried. And as consciousness begins to drown out my dreams, I realize that I am praying: “God, please! Please, I can’t do this! I can’t, I just can’t. It’s not possible. I’m too small, I’m too . . . I’m not . . . I don’t have . . . I just can’t face today, God. Please help me. Where is Your strength? Aren’t You going to help me? Please, I can’t do this.” The track plays over and over again as I lie there waiting for something–a divine power-surge, perhaps? Finally there comes, not an adrenaline rush, but a tiny modicum of readiness, and I plunge head-first into the icy water of the day. My morning has begun.

I have been pondering and dreading this post all day. Pondering it because I knew that it was ready to be written. Dreading it because, as much as I have wanted to write it, I also do not want to write it. I have too many questions about the subject matter. It seems improbable and impossible. I don’t want to type. I don’t want to ponder. And I apologize for the rambling that is sure to result from pondering of this type (pun not originally intended–this is what happens when I post and ponder at night).

I think I’ll go get a cookie. A Mint Meltaway. This Christmas season is the first time I have ever had one of Grandma’s Mint Meltaway cookies. I am currently living with my Mom’s mother, and this means I benefit from her wonderful culinary abilities. Mint Meltaways are her favorite Christmas cookie, and I now understand why. They are small short-bread-like cookies, firm and buttery, but not too crunchy. On the top, Grandma spreads a generous layer of icing–icing the pink color of peppermint candy when it is mixed in ice-cream and starting to dissolve. And the icing itself contains pieces of crushed peppermint sticks. The combination is fresh and invigorating and . . . addicting. The funny thing about this addiction is that rather than wanting these cookies in great quantities, I find I crave them one at a time, but frequently. Leave out a plate of these cookies, and I will snatch one as I walk past then snitch another on my return trip. This cookie is the most cheerful cookie I have ever met. It is excited to meet the day; even melting away in someone’s mouth is a great adventure to this little treat.

That little cookie is everything I don’t want to be in the morning . . . or at other times during the day. I do not want to view life as a great adventure–adventures are unpleasant and uncomfortable long before they sound great in storybooks. I do not want to be excited about being where I feel so inadequate or so unwanted or so helpless (depending on the day and the moment, of course). I want my life to be perfect, I know it is not going to be, so I will not be cheerful about it. I will curl up in a little ball somewhere inside myself, if possible, and beg God to end the storm.

To be perfectly honest, I know that I should be able to view life as cheerfully as the little Mint Meltaway seems to. I know that the Bible commands it of me. But, in the spirit of honesty, I confess that I think this command impossible and unreasonable. Unreasonable because it is impossible. Impossible because I cannot do it. I have tried. I do not want to try anymore. It takes too much energy, energy I need to conserve if I am to survive the challenges life sends me. I have lived long enough to know that life is one big bundle of sorrows. It is not a video game where you can fall down many times and come away with a body un-bruised. Its sorrows are real, and they cut deep into our souls. Some of them burrow so deeply into us that we do not realize they exist until something brushes them, sending throbs of pain throughout our whole beings. Life is real, life is hard, life is pain. (To quote from the movie The Princess Bride: “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling you something.”)

And sometimes the “Christmas spirit” seems to ask that we forget the pain of life in order to have beautiful moments that will be remembered for years to come. And sometimes Christmas brings with it the most painful moments in the entire year. In spite of all its “Christmas cheer,” Christmas can be a very difficult time. And the rejoicing of the people recorded in the Bible seems far removed from the real life struggles of the present moment. “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly,” one of my favorite Christmas carols has presented this seeming unreality to me this Chrismas in glaring words.

Infant holy, Infant lowly,
For His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging, angels singing,
Noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all,
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.
Christ the Babe was born for you.

~ Polish carol; tr. Edith M. G. Reed

It’s the end of the second verse that really catches at the tatters of my heart: “Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,/ Praises voicing, greet the morrow”! I’m supposed to wake up and greet the morning with praises, rejoicing and somehow free from sorrow? Right! Like that’s going to happen! But that’s what the song says; in plain English it tells me that I am supposed to meet the morning as the shepherds did in Luke 2: “and the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told unto them.” How could such a thing be possible?

Central to this issue is the word “sorrow.” At least the song does not ignore its place of importance in our lives. To rejoice as the shepherds did, we have to somehow be free from sorrow. And how, pray tell, is this supposed to happen? What magic potion is supposed to free me from sorrow, giving me the ability to greet the morning with eagerness and joy rather than dread and fear?

I’ve been pondering this for many days, almost two weeks since our church’s Christmas program in which my quartet sang this piece. A punctuation mark may hold the inconceivable answer. A colon. Observe with me: ” Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,/ Praises voicing, greet the morrow:/ Christ the Babe was born for you.” There is a colon between the injunction to greet the morning with sorrow-free rejoicing and the next statement. A colon alerts the reader to either a list or an explanation. Since the last line of the song is very clearly not a list, we must take the colon to mean that an explanation will follow. How can we manage this impossible feat of cheerfulness in the face of a cold and sorrowful world? We can manage it by knowing that we have been given a gift. And by knowing that the gift truly is ours to open and own and cherish and keep.

But is it possible that a gift can outweigh sadness enough to make me able to greet rather than rue the morning? I’ve been wondering this, and I have come up with some examples from real life of outlook-changing gifts. I will try to briefly cite some: 1) What child does not look forward to Christmas and to the day after Christmas? Those days involve getting gifts and then playing with those gifts. The anticipation and excitement can last for days, especially as the novelty of the gifts continues: “tomorrow I get to . . . ride my bike . . . play with my new game . . . .” 2) How much easier it is to get up and face a long-awaited day off from work than to face the demands of the workplace! 3) Facing strangers and acquaintances at a party is much easier to do when I know that I have a companion with me who enjoys my company. 4) Last February, my dad was in critical condition with a blood clot in his lung and another in his leg. A friend of mine paid for me to fly out for a week to be with him. Being with him was wonderful–I was getting first-hand knowledge of what was going on, and I was watching him mend. But as the week drew to a close, I dreaded going home; a week seemed like far too little. And so I called another friend, a friend who had also offered to help me out with my ticket if I needed her help. I asked this friend if she would pay for an extension to my ticket for another week. Getting that extension to my ticket, having that extra week made life much easier to face. I could hardly believe it was happening to me, truly being given to me like that. I went from dreading the morning to relaxing in the morning. That gift made all the difference between sorrow and rejoicing.

What is this gift that made the difference for the shepherds? “Christ the babe was born for you.” There is a gift. It has your name on it. Mine, too. As simple as that.

Maybe it is possible that the knowledge of the great gift we have received will enable us to face the day and the sorrows it holds with rejoicing and excitement. Maybe it will make the difference between trumped-up cheerfulness and true joy. A small, cheerful little voice inside me is eager to find out if such knowledge and such a gift does have that kind of power. Part of me wants to be that joyful, that refreshed, that refreshing. “Try it,” the little hopeful voice inside suggests. “Try it and see if it truly works.”

So I am trying it, trying to accept that Christ’s gift for me has my name on it, wondering if it will produce in me the same rejoicing that it produced in the shepherds. Will you dare to test it out with me this Christmas season? If it works (and it HAS to!), it promises to be even more refreshing than a Mint Meltaway cookie. And it promises to last longer, too. The Mint Meltaway cookies don’t last long around my house.

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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