Remember the wonderful works He has done, His wonders, and the judgments He has pronounced. – Psalm 105:5
I have toted a small pile of 12 stones across continents. After over a decade of being moved, they sit above my kitchen sink today. There is nothing magical about them. They just remind me of the provision of GOD to His children (Joshua 4:4-7).
To be honest, I just love stones…especially those tumbled smooth by river currents or sea tides. They remind me of the work of God in our lives – how He takes rough, craggy humans and, by His Spirit, transforms us into vessels fit in form to worship Him and love others.
My husband asked us a few days ago to reflect on how we saw God act in our lives and in the world over the last year. He said:
“We are inclined to forget the works of God – remembering the works of GOD takes an intentional act.”
I spent intentional time this weekend, my journal and this year’s calendar in hand, and looked at all the ways God stopped me in my tracks with His greatness. So much, so amazingly much…that I hadn’t thought of recently in the daily forgetfulness.
It got me thinking of other times across my life when GOD’s presence was so obvious. Remembering is a good thing to do often, and especially as the year winds down. In another blog post, I’d like to share some of what He called to remembrance.
What are you remembering about God today? I would love to hear.
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
O Lord, how hard it is to accept your way. You come to me as a small, powerless child born away from home. You live for me as a stranger in your own land. You die for me as a criminal outside the walls of the city, rejected by your own people, misunderstood by your friends, and feeling abandoned by your God.
As I prepare to celebrate your birth, I am trying to feel loved, accepted, and at home in this world, and I am trying to overcome the feelings of alienation and separation which continue to assail me. But I wonder now if my deep sense of homelessness does not bring me closer to you than my occasional feelings of belonging. Where do I truly celebrate your birth: in a cozy home or in an unfamiliar house, among welcoming friends or among unknown strangers, with feelings of well-being or with feelings of loneliness?
I do not have to run away from those experiences that are closest to yours. Just as you do not belong to this world, so I do not belong to this world. Every time I feel this way I have an occasion to be grateful and to embrace you better and taste more fully your joy and peace.
Come, Lord Jesus, and be with me where I feel poorest. I trust that this is the place where you will find your manger and bring your light. Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen. (The Road to Daybreak by Henri J. M. Nouwen)
Your burden is too great to bear? Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season? Your tears have no end?
You should lead the celebration! You should run through the streets to ring the bells and sing the loudest! You should fling the tinsel on the tree, and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent. It is unto you that a Savior is born this day, One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders, One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes. You are not alone, for He is born this day to you. – Ann Weems
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28
All Is Well – A Story for Christmas brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. It was published in 1990 and we read it to our children every Christmas until they were old enough to read it themselves. Then I read it to myself. Frank Peretti is the author and Robert Sauber did the illustrations for the first book. It seems to be out of print now, and a newer edition, with illustrations by Gary Glover, came out in 2002.
I fell in love with the first edition, and it’s still my favorite. Don’t you love when you recover something once precious to you which you thought lost forever? In our many moves, somewhere along the way, we lost All Is Well – A Story for Christmas. I was delighted when, just today, I found the book, that old one, captured on a YouTube video.
The memories of that book have stirred again – reading together cuddled up with the children in front of the fire in Tennessee, Or listening to the audiobook as they stared sleepily into the dark on those long drives to grandparents. Then childhood years across North Africa when stories familiar brought home closer. The tears came again today, as I watched that YouTube video and the telling of All is Well.
The story focuses on a single mother and her little girl, in tough times financially. There was no money for rent and they were facing losing their home. The little girl, Jenny, was determined to help, and she found an old box of Christmas ornaments that she peddled to neighbors in hopes of helping her mom, Ruth, with the rent. One of those ornaments was a small homemade piece of clay inscribed with the phrase, “All is well.” The rest of the story is a lovely picture of courage, hope, love, and kindness – of neighbors reaching out to this little twosome so in need.
The last page of the book ends with this:
“All is well, huh, Mom?”
“All is well, Jenny. Some way, somehow. We can’t see it yet, but all is well.”
(Narrator) “Well, like I said in the beginning, it all depends on where you’re standing and how good the view is from there. When you’re the storyteller, you have a pretty good view. You know things people in the story don’t know… I know Ruth and Jenny will be taken care of…
You know what tickles me: Ruth knows it, too. She knows. She can’t see any of it from where she is…but she knows. Now that she remembers how come all is well, she knows. She remembers and she’ll tell Jenny once again: that God is the grandest storyteller of our lives. He weaves our days then strings them like beads on the chain of history. He knows the placement of every person…the end from the beginning. From His lofty heights, He has the best view of all.
She remembers and she’ll tell Jenny that in a stable in Bethlehem so long ago, God wrote Himself into the story and became that central character . Now the Weaver of the Story walks with us in the midst of the story…and He will stay with us, until that story is complete, in His way, in His time, for His glory…and that’s how come all is well. Remember?”
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says the Lord, “thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:11-13
Take the time to worship today…and then read this story as a family if you can. Or click on the YouTube video and cozy up with your kiddos to watch the story unfold. My children are all grown up now, but I don’t think they will have forgotten. All is well…or can be. Remember that.
All Is Well: The Miracle of Christmas in July by Frank Peretti (2002) with illustrations by Gary Glover – this story is updated from the one above – with Daniel as our young hero, and his mom, Ruth – same great message of love, neighbors, and God’s faithfulness
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable [unspeakable] gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15
The countdown to Christmas can be both exhilarating and exhausting. Last shopping trips. Last online ordering. Lists checked off. Presents wrapped or bagged.
Is it enough? Is it good enough? If there is any holiday that coaxes out our need to please people or to perform well, it’s Christmas. Our motives are well-intended. We love those whom we shop for…otherwise we wouldn’t spend all that time and money searching for that special something to put under the tree for them.
The dilemma comes when we look back over our lists and look under the tree and wonder, is it really enough? What would be enough anyway? There’s always one more thing that would just be the perfect gift…one more thing that would make you the best. mom. ever. Or not….
Thanks be to God for His unspeakable, indescribable gift in the Lord Jesus Himself! Brooding over whether I’ve sufficiently displayed my love for family and friends through these Christmas gifts adds nothing to what we’ve already been given.
What fun to see the joy a wisely-chosen treasure brings to someone I love on Christmas morning. Yet that is nothing, less than nothing, compared to the glorious gift of Jesus…His very nature God, His human birth, His perfect life of love, His sacrificial death for our sins, and His amazing resurrection. He is the Best. Gift. Ever.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. – John 3:16
God gave…God already gave. It is enough.
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! – Matthew 7:11
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. – James 1:17
What God gives is good, and what God gives is enough. Even Jesus bore witness to this, when He said, from the cross, “It is finished.”
It’s enough, Friend. Take a deep breath, and let Christmas wash over you with the peace of God. Jesus is good. Jesus is enough.
Image – Christmas card front – Anton Raphael Mengs’ Nativity Scene
For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6
It has happened again. My desire this December has been not to lose Christmas to crazy. From the first of the month I was determined to spend a bit of every single day quiet…just quiet. There’s something to be said about the verse, “Be still, and know that I AM GOD.”
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! – Psalm 46:10
In that quiet, I wanted to reflect on Jesus…what He did for all the world…what He did for me…and who He is to us today, until forevermore. I have spent lovely days in wonder this month, and then in a week, life became a jumble…crammed full of happy “other” things and stretched with “must do’s” as the year draws to a close.
Still, God is faithful…and here’s this story: on Monday morning, I pulled out a tiny book which I’d never read. It was a Christmas gift years ago, and I unpack it each year meaning to read it, and don’t. On Monday, I read it, in front of the fireplace, coffee mug warm in my hand. Roy Lessin’s Jesus – Name Above All Names.
Jesus is known among many peoples in the world…but He is not known like He can be…His names in Scripture tell a fuller story of who He is than what we hear in public discourse today. He is sometimes treated so common, I feel the shame of it, though I don’t think Him common at all. He is all that is good, all that is God. His love is perfect, and He loves all of us who are far from perfect.
After reading that little book, I determined to write a Worship Wednesday piece this week on the names of Jesus…then it became Thursday. If you write you know the experience of sitting in front of a computer or typewriter, and the words don’t come. I wanted to do justice to Jesus this week…and yet the words failed me…not because of Him, but because of me.
Then…[here’s the sweet nature of God]…I discovered that Roy Lessin already did the writing. He wrote a Christmas series for this December on the names of Jesus at his website Meet Me in the Meadow.
Read the daily readings along with me, and worship with me…this Jesus…the God who came near to us to show Himself to us, where we wouldn’t miss Him.
My heart is full. Thankful to God for this discovery that brings me back to Him and out of the craziness of December. One week from Christmas, life is sure to get full again…but in this moment, I am rejoicing, like old Ebenezer Scrooge, when he discovered Christmas and could begin again…joyfully and generously.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14
I worship in my car. You know when you are stopped at a traffic light, and your windows are buzzing with the sound of the bass in the car next to you? You look over and they’re rocking out to some cool song? Well, I sometimes do the same…on a quieter less rockin’ level…but there’s still a lot going on in my car, too. Just to an Audience of One.
When Steven Curtis Chapman’s song Our God Is With Us comes on my Christmas music radio, my thoughts rein in to this great truth. We are not alone. God is always present with us.
He brought that reality as near to us as possible in the birth of Jesus, the God-Son, born to the virgin, Mary, over 2000 years ago. God revealed Himself personally through Jesus. I am no theologian, but this is very clear to me – everything I have read in Scripture on the life of Jesus, and everything I have experienced of Him myself. My heart resonates with the words of this song. Jesus is the “Immanuel” – He came to be with us – to save, to heal, to restore us to Himself. Hallelujah!
One of us is cryin’ as our hopes and dreams are led away in chains And we’re left all alone. One of us is dyin’ as our love is slowly lowered in the grave, oh, and we’re left all alone.
But for all of us who journey through the dark abyss of loneliness There comes a great announcement, we are never alone. For the maker of each heart that breaks, the giver of each breath we take, Has come to earth and given hope its birth.
And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known as Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel, oh.
He spoke with prophets’ voices and showed Himself in a cloud of fire But no one had seen His face. Until the One Most Holy revealed to us His perfect heart’s desire and left His rightful place.
And in one glorious moment, all eternity was shaken as God broke through the darkness that had kept us apart. And with love that conquers loneliness, hope that fills all emptiness, He came to earth to show our worth.
And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known As Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel, oh So rejoice, oh rejoice, Emmanuel has come.
And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known as Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel.
Our God is with us, Emmanuel Our God is with us, oh Emmanuel Our God is with us.*
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. – the Apostle Paul in a letter to the Philippians; 1:21-23
Mr. Elliff is dying…or really, finally going Home, at 97 years young.
He is the father/father-in-law of our dear, dear friends Tom & Jeannie Elliff.
Tom describes this as only he can…don’t miss this brief story of a beloved father and a redeemed life – Dad is Going Home.
I never met Mr. Elliff but I know him through Tom’s stories of him. I also know more about the stewardship of whatever comes our way, again, through Tom’s stories. Not just through his stories, but through the lives of Tom and Jeannie.
When we think of someone dear dying, we think of others living with the prospect more real…as with a recurrent cancer. I saw my mom go through it in such a way that every day of her 3-year battle brought glory to God. That was all she wanted. There are others we love going gloriously through cancer and its treatment…by God’s grace and in the joy of the Lord…and we ourselves are changed. This is a picture of the God we love, who loves us more…this view of God in Tom & Jeannie Elliff’s life (life, not lives…because “if ever two were one”, then surely [they].*
“Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.” – the Apostle Paul again – Philippians 1:24-26
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7
For us…for now…we remain…for there is still a race to be won.
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:10-11, 13-14
In December, 1863, American poet and scholar Henry W. Longfellow received his wounded son home from battle. It was Christmas time, and the U.S. Civil War raged on. Having already lost his wife years earlier, Longfellow nursed his son, Charley, back to health. His own thoughts, in turmoil over all that was happening around him, he poured out in the poem “Christmas Bells”.
Longfellow clearly took comfort from God as he wrote, ending the poem with this stanza:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, The Right prevail, With peace on earth, good-will to men.”*
I Heard the Bells is a Christmas carol, not a worship anthem. Yet, given the continuing wars of our day, we must tend the fires of our hope. God is the “lifter of our heads” (Psalm 3:3). He is the One who gives strength to our “weak hands and shaking knees” (Isaiah 35:3). He will do as He’s promised. He is faithful. When you hear the bells ring where you are this Christmas season, take heart in that. We must continue to pray for His peace on earth. We can be vessels of His good-will toward our neighbors, both near and far away.
My older brother taught me how to fight. He won most of our battles and yet I would keep on coming. He was a formidable foe. Then…well into adulthood, I learned not to take the bait, and we became friends. None too soon, because short years later, he died, too young. Today I want to talk about him, and what I learned about fighting…and friendship…from him.
Bernstein reported on how holiday gatherings tend to push buttons with family members who already have issues with each other. Fights ensue and the day becomes another chalked-up disappointment. In these family fights, is there always a single culprit or do we each have a part to own in these conflicts?
If you are in such a family, Bernstein’s description of how the family gets embroiled in such a fight is all too familiar. She lists seven different roles in family conflicts. Take note if you see yourself in this mix.
The Trigger – the person who starts the uproar by getting offended by what another has said or done. [I actually think there may be co-triggers in a family argument. We know after years of growing up together what buttons to press with each other. We know sometimes exactly what it takes to get a reaction out of a sibling or parent, and when the time is just right, we strike. So like the bullied child who gets in trouble while the one who started the commotion looks wide-eyed innocent at the teacher, a family disturbance can proceed in the same way.
The Prosecutor – this is the family member who reacts, either in defense of the offended one or the one who did the offense. He is the accuser and is ready to call out the “trigger” for his own offending behavior.
The Defender or Peacemaker – she is the one who will try to calm down the two above. She may try to get each to see the other’s side, or she herself may side with one and try to convince the other. Finally, she may actually attack both the “trigger” and the “prosecutor” for spoiling the day for the family.
The Enablers – sometimes the parents try to stop the conflict without offering any real solution for those fighting with each other. Often the mom just wants it to stop, trying to salvage the holiday for the family, rather than dealing with the issues underneath the fight. The dad at times is more a passive enabler, disappearing in the noise of the battle.
The Deserter – lastly, there are the family members who feel most removed from this family history repeating itself. These are the usually (but not always) the in-laws who will actually remove themselves from the situation, taking the children with them.
The article is a quick read and fascinating in its familiarity with family dynamics – especially those that surface when faced with holiday pressures to have fun together. Bernstein gives counsel on how to prevent such family trauma on special days, or at least how to minimalize it.
My brother and I had no such helps during our years of fighting with each other. He was often a trigger in our family rows, and I was the tireless prosecutor. I feel, however, that we were all sometimes co-triggers because we just “waited” for him to start a ruckus. We didn’t have to wait long, and then we all did the usual.
I finally got a clue after years of this thanks to the wise words of two friends. They were often a part of our gatherings and they loved us all. It helps sometimes to have that extra set of eyes looking in onto family communication…especially eyes attached to a person who loves all involved.
One friend counseled me not to “take the bait”. When my brother took offense at something one of us said or did, a fight would begin and continue to escalate until someone left the room, or the house altogether. My role always was to react, but when I checked myself and didn’t, a strange and wonderful transformation happened (over time). He softened and didn’t pursue the offense or offender. He let it go.
The other friend reminded me of an old adage “Hurt people hurt people.” We’ve all heard this but when we feel attacked we also want to return the attack. My brother, over the course of his life, had experienced enormous losses – marriage, jobs, his health, the death of a child, his own helplessness, it seemed, to have close relationships with the rest of his family. These losses bent his heart, and dulled his thinking, and he struck out at the very people he loved most in the world.
Once my own thinking cleared, I stepped out of the “prosecutor” role, and began to just love my brother. Don’t get me wrong, I did not become a doormat for his abuses at all. If there was ever a time in life, I gave a person grace, it was in those (what would be the) last years of his life. We became friends. We learned to laugh together and share news instead of barbs. We both worked at understanding each other and actually looked forward to our visits together.
I thank God for this brother of mine. I was not the hero here…he was. He took a chance with me, and my sense is we both won. I know I did. Before he died, he rejoiced at time spent happily with our other two brothers. In the last moments of his life, he even began to reach out to his daughter, the one he loved the most and the one he most hurt…if there had only been more time.
One day there will be. My brother died on an operating room table, but he opened his eyes in Heaven. We will see him again, and all the pain of being part of frail, all-too-human families will be behind us. Every day will be like the Thanksgiving or Christmas we wanted. For now, we don’t give up…even though it’s tempting. For in not giving up on family, we may win a friend.
I hate shopping. There was a time I was good at choosing gifts, just right for person or occasion. Those days may be about over. Too many challenges – which electronics and what version…what style, size, color…what does he need that he hasn’t bought already…if not earlier this year, then for sure he bought it this shopper-paradise-post-Thanksgiving weekend…at the best. price. ever.
It is pretty sweet to get that just right Christmas gift for the people you love. So we stay on the hunt, and work ourselves into a frenzy of trying, once again, to get it right. If only. I would love our kids to tell us exactly what they would like for Christmas, and I would buy it for them. Bag it up and we can all act surprised and pleased when the tissue paper is pulled away. What do they tell me? “Gift cards” pretty much. Ugh…
When I stopped into the post office this morning, on the first day of December, the line of people waiting stopped me in my tracks. All those packages to be weighed…maybe their adult children did tell them what they wanted for Christmas, and these waiting in the post office line went out on Black Friday, bought those presents, and here they are mailing them. Sigh…
Oh, we are still buying gifts for each other, but I’m not frantic about it anymore. It’s pretty certain that I won’t be the Queen of Christmas shopping, but that’s O.K. I’m coming to terms with gift cards.
#GivingTuesday* has only “been around” a couple of years. It’s a global initiative to make generosity a priority this time of year. Not just in giving gifts to those we love, but in giving to those we may never meet. Those in greatest need.
Last year, my daughter gave me some chickens for Christmas. Well, she didn’t give them to me outright. They are laying eggs, hopefully, somewhere in Africa. In fact, although I don’t know what family got those chickens, I feel a Christmas kinship with them. That family. Those chickens. Knowing the gift I received was also received by someone else whose need far surpassed my want…it was definitely a gift that kept giving.
My favorite charity is Baptist Global Response (BGR). Some charitable organizations have disappointed us, with so much of our donations going to administration and fund-raising. I appreciate the low overhead of BGR and the heart of this organization toward the peoples of the world. There are other great non-profits as well (some are listed below), but BGR is my #GivingTuesday focus this year.
Just to be clear, in case my children are reading this, I like presents and enjoy celebrating that part of Christmas together. We already have the best gift of all in Jesus. So everything else is frosting…unless you’re a family who could really use some chickens, or a goat, or a water well.
Black Friday is finished. Cyber Monday is winding down. Now that the spending is done, let the giving begin.
How do you plan to spread Christmas around the world?