Tag Archives: joy

Worship Wednesday – I Lift My Hands – Chris Tomlin

Photo Credit: David Joyce, Flickr

Yesterday, driving to an appointment, an old Chris Tomlin song came on the radio. It touched my heart in an unusual way. Familiar words, I Lift My Hands stilled my thoughts for the moment. God drew me to Himself, and worship flowed. Not even thinking, one hand on the steering wheel, my other hand rose… I made a note on my phone of that old song and didn’t think about it again. Then early this morning, the Bible reading for today was in Psalm 63.

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You. So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.Psalm 63:3-4

I wanted to write on joy today. Especially after reading Psalm 63-65. That unquenchable joy at all the good in our lives. New babies. Graduations. Weddings. Health. Milestones. Victories.

Then my newsfeed on Facebook brought the news that a friend’s sister died yesterday. Heidi Lodenstein – 47 years young. Adored by her husband. Two children at home. Glioblastoma. Devoted daughter of an all-loving God who chose not to heal the cancer here but received her Home, healed There. Sad? For that sweet family and friend group. Joy in grief?…abundantly so.

A Lament for Heidi – Cindy DeBoer

We lost a dear friend to glioblastoma a couple of years back as well. He left behind a much-loved wife and three darling little daughters. As we prayed through those months of his disease, while he fought for his life, we asked for miracles of healing. On this side of Heaven, it wasn’t meant to be.

At his funeral, Dave and I sat, tears on our faces, along with his family and friends. Sad with the loss of him. Yet, there was also something else. Something from so deep in us all, it had to push up and out. It was a strange and magnificent joy. How grateful we were to have known him. To have been a part of something bigger than all of us…with him. To be connected forever with each other by the God he trusted…and we trusted.

Joy. Even in that awful grief.

At that funeral, we lifted our hearts to the God who brought us all together…to be comforted together…and especially by Him. To breathe in the peace that we would see our friend again…whole and himself.

Whatever your situation is right now, my prayer for you is to know joy… May the object of your joy be the Lord Himself, who turns our weeping into dancing…our sorrow into joy [Psalm 30].

Worship with me.

Be still, there is a healer
His love is deeper than the sea
His mercy, it is unfailing
His arms are a fortress for the weak
Let faith arise
Let faith arise

[Chorus]
I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge, you are my strength
As I pour out my heart, these things I remember
You are faithful, God, forever

Be still, there is a river
That flows from Calvary’s tree
A fountain for the thirsty
Pure grace that washes over me
So let faith arise
Let faith arise
Open my eyes
Open my eyes

[Chorus]*

Sometimes our thoughts take us place we weren’t aiming to go. Today I wanted to write about joy. It flowed out of sorrow…but it flowed full. 

Listen to the sound of my pleading when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary…May the Lord be praised, for He has heard the sound of my pleading. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
Therefore my heart rejoices, and I praise Him with my song. The Lord is the strength of His people; He is a stronghold of salvation for His anointed. Save Your people, bless Your possession, shepherd them, and carry them forever. – Psalm 28:2, 6-9

[Postscript: Presently reading Rob Morgan‘s The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times. It came at a good time.]

YouTube Video – Chris Tomlin – I Lift My Hands – Official Lyric Video

*Lyrics to I Lift My Hands – Chris Tomlin, Louie Giglio, Matt Maher

Story Behind the Song I Lift My Hands – New Release Today – Kevin Davis

God Gives Us Joy in Grief – John Piper

YouTube Video – With Hope – Steven Curtis Chapman

The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times – Robert J. Morgan

Heath Has Finished His Race… – Deb Mills Writer

When Christmas Is Hard – the God of Comfort & Joy

On this predawn Christmas morning, my thoughts are heavy remembering a year ago when Dad died about this time. He died after a long goodbye with cancer and Alzheimer’s. He died under the tender care of my brother and sister-in-law who had already lost her own dad just days before.

Dad is in Heaven, and joy comes thinking of seeing him, Mom, and others there one day. The heaviness of my heart is just to be endured for now…I can’t seem to fix it. It’s been a year of not quite what it should be. Hard to even write those words because I am deeply grateful to God for even being here, in front of this keyboard, able to reflect on His goodness and provision.

Dad, in his sweet and generous heart, was one of those provisions. The only dad I ever knew, even though he wasn’t our biological father. He loved Christmas and brought to it a gleefulness that I can’t find this year.

Maybe some of you are struggling with Christmas this year. Away from family or with them in the shadows. Or there is something else going on…I don’t really want to string a series of possibles here. You know for yourself what is making Christmas hard.

If this is not your situation, just be glad in it. Most years, I have known that kind of Christmas and will again.

Sadness makes it hard to reach out to others (although I have a friend who today, pushing through her own sadness, will serve in a hospital hospitality house). I have struggled to reach out this year.

Still, we will hold to the comfort and joy that is ours through Christ Jesus. What he did for us…what he continues to do in the greatest love known to us.

If you are having a hard time reaching out, and getting the help you need, just please be gentle with yourself. There are resources for us in the depth of our despair (links below). God is near. He desires to comfort us and restore our joy. He will pierce the dark cloud of our sadness as we turn to Him. He will be with us right where we are.Photo Credit: Holley Gerth

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Postscript: We have known a lot of airports in our long life of travel – and watching folks arrive to family and friends has always been a marvel to me. I think of Dad’s Homegoing and smile, in spite of this morning’s sadness, at the welcome he received in Heaven. Sweet.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. it seems to me that love is everywhere. Ofte, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.” – from the film Love Actually

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255

Celebrating Christmas with a Broken Heart – Brittany Salmon

What Suffering People Wish You Would Do at Christmas – Vaneetha Rendall Risner

A Sorta Gift Guide for the Overwhelmed & Broken Hearted This Christmas – Ann Voskamp

How Having a Little Charlie Brown Christmas Gets You into the Best Christmas Spirit of All (About Fears & Heartbreak & Hard Families at Christmas) – Ann Voskamp

This Christmas – Our Little Clark

Teach Your Children Well…12 Essential Lessons of Life

Photo Credit: Pixabay

I married late in life, and the children came even later. Parenting wasn’t an instinctual process for me. Fortunately, mentors came along at pivotal times, as did parents whom I did not want to be like. Between the two, I found my way.

Feeding, clothing, and protecting children are all crucial…but what do we teach them? What are the essential lessons of life?

Two old songs come to mind when I think of the sober nature of teaching our children what they must learn for life. The old folk/rock group Crosby, Stills, and Nash & Young wrote and performed Teach Your Children. Graham Nash wrote the lyrics out of his painful relationship with an absent, sometimes imprisoned, father. Nash’s message is that we have to teach our children to make a better life…if not better world.

You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught is the other deeply emotional song out of the musical South Pacific. This song points to racial prejudice and cultural bias, and how hatred must be taught to children when they are young. Mandy Patinkin‘s version of this song communicates its meaning powerfully.

Although hatred or bias can be taught, even from an early age, such dreadful things can also be caught over time in culture. Things like entitlement, dishonesty, greed, and irresponsibility. We as parents (teachers and employers also) have a huge role in guiding children and young people to mature into caring and responsible adults…even in a culture that may cut across the grain of our own values.

I’d like to explore what we must teach our children. Intentionally, with meaningful purpose. Catching those teachable moments and seasons. Some things are more “caught than taught”, as the saying goes. Kids will catch some values living in close proximity to us and others. That makes the case, as well, for how we choose to live and what companions we seek for ourselves and our children.

More Is Caught Than Taught – Gabbie Nolen-Fratantoni

When our children were young, we taught them a set of rules which we honored in our home. The 21 Rules of This House by Gregg and Joshua Harris. These rules were, in ways, simplistic but also comprehensive enough to help us create a safe, orderly, and loving home, where children AND parents had the same expectations. Photo Credit: Choosing HomeSchool Curriculum

Our children are grown now, out on their own. Two of them are already in the season of small ones and will establish their own essentials for teaching their children.

This is a reminder to them of their own family values…I hope it’s also a help to you. These are 12 essential lessons of life. They are not comprehensive. I would love to hear what you think should have been there as well, in the Comments section below. Thanks.

1) Love God – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” – Jesus – Matthew 22:37-38 If you are reading this and don’t share a faith in one God, then this won’t have meaning for you. Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandments of the law (in that day, they were burdened by the weight of over 600 laws). His answer? Love God with everything in your being. Clearly it’s good for us to do and something parents can model and teach from the time children are tiny.

2) Love others – You shall love your neighbor as yourself.– Jesus – Matthew 22:39  Jesus didn’t stop at the greatest commandment. He added this one as just second to the most important. Love others. Not just your buddies. Not just those like you…but whomever neighbor is…the nobody, the every man. Jesus was clear in his instruction in “as yourself”. However it is we would serve ourselves, we give of ourselves to those around us. Wow! Great wisdom to teach our children.

3) Be obedient (honoring) – Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” – Ephesians 6:1-3 What a struggle it is for us to teach our children to obey! What a developmental milestone when they get it! Not after we count to 3, or 10…or whatever other enticement to obey comes to mind. Immediate obedience – in attitude and action.

Raising in our children in huge cities made it crucial for them to obey the instant they heard us speak to them, especially over the noise of the city. One thing we did was a bird call (a whistle sounding “bob, bobwhite”. When they heard they looked up and started heading in our direction immediately. I still marvel when even today, that still gets their big grown-up attention.

More on obedience can be found here.

Photo Credit: Flickr

4) Be grateful. – Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18  God’s Word is filled with examples and encouragements toward being grateful (here are just a few). Jesus’ life was a testament of thankfulness to God the Father, and He taught us to pray with thanksgiving. Our kids grew up with The Thankful Song (from the Veggie Tales Madame Blueberry video) – “A grateful heart is a happy heart; that’s why we say thanks everyday.”

The Power of Gratitude – 21 Verses of Thanks to God – Debbie McDaniel

Avoid Raising an Entitled Child – 5 Strategies That Really Work – Amy McCready

5) Speak the truth. – Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight. – Proverbs 12:22 The worst offense in our home was lying. Jesus spoke of Satan as being the father of lies (John 8:44). Telling the truth is something we model and something, I hope, our children value highly in their adult lives. No spin, no deception…straight-up truth. Truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

6) Work with diligence and excellence. – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.Colossians 3:23   In grasping this lesson, children learn perseverance, patience, and an understanding of the value of work. Our youngest struggled with academics and he would say, about homework, “I just want to get it done!” As he matured, he moved his lament to more of a charge of “get it done and done well”. Watching him grow in that continues to make us so proud of him.

12 Ways to Glorify God at Work – Jose Etter

7) Seek joy. – Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persistent in prayer. – (Romans 12:12) Grumbling, discontent, and whining are such a part of human nature. When we count our situation joy, whatever it is, everyone wins. Other verses here.

8) Seek peace. – “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:9) Sometimes we crave peace, and we’ll do anything to get it. Our children don’t need to learn how to be peace-keepers but to be peace-makers. It’s not about giving way to the one causing trouble, for instance. It’s developing relational skills to bring peace to a situation, resolving the conflict. More verses here on peace.

9) Be forgiving. – Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.Colossians 3:13 Holding grudges and distancing ourselves from others in un-forgiveness is no way to live. Forgiving because we are forgiven carries with it a deep loving perspective. Helping our children understand how to forgive, especially little ones who have been gravely hurt by others, is huge. More on forgiveness.

10) See beauty; create beauty. – He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 My children tease me sometimes because they say I think everyone out there is handsome/pretty. God has given me eyes to see, maybe as He sees. He creates beauty and He means for us to see and appreciate it…and create beautiful things ourselves.Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

Our children are all musicians (one professionally) or writers . They create beauty as we all can…in some way or another.

Nathan Mills -Beyond The Guitar

Top 10 Bible Verses about Art with Commentary

Saying Beautifully as a Way of Seeing Beauty – John Piper

11) Be kind. – Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – (Ephesians 4:32) Again, years ago, when our kids were very young, they participated in a Vacation Bible School and learned a little song on kindness. “K-I-N-D, Love Is Kind”. I couldn’t find it anywhere for today’s blog, but the message stuck in all our heads. One of the simplest ways to show love is to be kind – to be generous and caring in our consideration of others. The Scripture points often to kindness in loving each other.

Be Kind to One Another – John Piper

12) Serve others. – Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.Hebrews 13:16 This lesson of serving others is one I actually struggled to teach well. I fell into the excuse (like many in America do) that they had so much homework, so many assignments to complete, that they should just have fun when they had the time. Serving could have totally been a “fun” way of life. I hope our children do better with teaching serving than I did. More on serving here.Photo Credit: Niagara

In closing, I’ve left off many things. Critical thinking is one. Physical purity another. In fact, do you remember that little song, “Be Careful Little Eyes What You See.” Our kids knew that in English and Arabic.

Still probably the greatest lesson across the years of childhood (which goes along with the two greatest commandments Jesus taught) is the one Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, taught us.

Let (your) heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.

We want to teach our children to do right, for for the sake of others and for themselves, and to stand up for what is right.

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.Proverbs 22:6

Let Your Heart Be Broken – Jeremiah 8, 9 – Rick Ezell

Bible Verses on Injustice

Lost Things Found – A Story and a Parable

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My husband and I love coffee. We also love to serve coffee to friends who love coffee. Over the years, we’ve collected favorite mugs – pottery mugs from Petra, Jordan; mugs with encouraging verses; favorite cartoon mugs; pretty flowery mugs for moms; mugs with whimsical animals tucked in the bottom, hiding for the coffee-with-cream drinkers. We have other every-day, minimalist mugs but these are the mugs that make us smile.

Then we lost them.

At Christmas, we bring out a box of Christmas mugs for the month of December. Our favorite mugs are then packed in the Christmas mug box until the New Year. Four Christmases ago, that box got misplaced. We looked and looked for it, after Christmas that year – scoured the shed and other less likely storage spots. We never found it.

Over time, we replaced those mugs…but still from time to time, wondered aloud about them.

Until yesterday.

I was out in a different shed (we had since moved from the house where we lost the mugs)…organizing and preparing to use or get rid of the contents of old boxes. When I got to this box that wasn’t labeled (very odd for me because I’m a great packer and inventory-maker after so many years of traveling).

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This box – this Avery label box – was one of many my mom used when she would pack up treasures at her house and store them to be given to us or shared with others at a later date. In her shed, she had stacks of these Avery boxes. When we closed down our parents’ home, many of these Avery boxes came to our houses. I still have a wave of emotion when I see them, even though we’ve also re-used them for storage of our own things.

Opening this particular box, I began unwrapping…it was a mug, just like one of my favorites. I didn’t remember Mom having this mug!?! By the third “favorite” mug unwrapped, I realized this was the lost box. The box that ended up in a corner with Mom’s treasures that we hadn’t yet begun using. This lost box…found!img_9886

It was so much fun unwrapping each mug…remembering the stories and people related to them. So much joy in re-discovery. img_9888

We have all lost things…my mom used to regularly lose her glasses and we kids would search everywhere until one of us proudly recovered them – from her sewing machine table, or on the Bible by her bed, or in the bathroom… Even though the losing would make us late somewhere, the joy of finding changed “mourning into dancing“.

blog-finding-lost-things-lost-sheep-gregory-dickow-ministriesPhoto Credit: Gregory Dickow

Finding our mugs, and the pleasure in finding them, reminded me of a series of parables Jesus once told his disciples. In Luke 15, he tells about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. Jesus first tells about a shepherd with a hundred sheep. When he discovered one of the sheep was gone, he left the ninety-nine out in the open, while he searched for the one. On finding it, he called his neighbors and friends together to rejoice with him over the sheep found and restored to the herd. Then Jesus tells about a woman who lost a coin in her house and turned the house upside down until she found it. She was so thrilled by recovering the coin, she threw a party for her friends and neighbors (her joy was so great).

In both parables, Jesus compares this joy to that of the angels in Heaven over the sinner who repents and is restored to Father God.

Finally Jesus relates a parable of a lost son. This young son was reckless with his life and his inheritance, ending up in a miserable state, in a far country. He finally came to his senses and returned home. His father saw him coming and ran down the road to meet him. That same joyful father ordered a feast for this wayward son who had found his way home. blog-finding-lost-things-son-choosing-todayPhoto Credit: Molly Flinkman

This same joy, throughout these three parables, was that great joy of finding a treasure lost…the same as having a relationship restored.

There are a couple of troubling elements in the last parable. The older brother, the only other brother, was angry at his younger brother’s return. No rejoicing there. It doesn’t seem to fit in these parables of joy.

Also…the coin once lost was searched for. The sheep once lost was searched for…but not the son…not that younger brother.

My husband, Dave, loves these parables. He has often used them in his teaching, when appropriate. His conclusions about these two remarkable elements follow.

This older brother that was not joyful at his brother’s return. Why not? Why was the wayward brother not searched for?

Is it possible that the brother who stayed home, faithfully working beside his father…all those years, in the absence of that other brother…was the one missing from the searching?

Think about it. When my mom lost the glasses she needed…it wasn’t like losing a son; it was just glasses. Yet, because we loved her, we all scattered to find those glasses. That father whose foolish young son left him must have grieved terribly. More than farming beside him, that older son was meant to go after that younger one…that foolish one…and bring him home.

It might have been a struggle…but can you imagine, the immense joy of both the father, and the brothers, if the two came walking toward the house together…the lost one found…by his own brother?

I’m glad we have our mugs back. Rejoicing in that.

In thinking also of these parables of Jesus, my hope is that I won’t give up when there is something of much greater value to be found…recovered…restored. What joy!

Coffee, anyone?

What Finding Things Taught Me About Lost Things – Molly Flinkman

Story Vs. Parable – What’s the Difference?

Worship Wednesday – With Hope – Steven Curtis Chapman

Blog - Heath Funeral - Grieving with hopeWe do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.    –            1 Thessalonians 4:13

It’s been quite some time since I attended a funeral. Not that we haven’t lost dear friends in the last few years…but we lived far away at the time and just didn’t go. This time…when Heath died…we went.

Death is something no one wants to have to look on full-face. There’s no way really to polish it up. It is our final enemy. Our temptation is to remove ourselves as far from suffering and death as we can. When someone you love is on this path, then how can we do anything else but enter in…?

Heath lived 15 months or so with a devastating, killing cancer. That in itself was a miracle. When he died, a small loving family is left to figure out a new normal for their lives. They won’t be alone in this.

How thankful I am that God draws close to His children in the daily and in death. Heath’s wife and children will have what they need to face what comes next. God is faithful. God is good.

When a gifted, lovely 42-years-young man dies, leaving a wife and three little girls, can we say in this that God is good? If we cannot, then we never can. We cannot see what God sees, but we know from experience and from His Word that He will work good out of every situation in His children’s lives…every. single. situation.

Heath understood that, and he lived it. His family does as well.

You might not think that a funeral can be a joyous thing. I don’t cry easily. Maybe after so many of our own losses, maybe after years of cancer nursing…tears just don’t come at the usual times. During Heath’s funeral, I couldn’t stop them from rolling down. Out of love and out of loss…but also out of wonder at the beauty of God’s care and character.

With Hope is a song written by Steven Curtis Chapman in 2008 after the accidental death of his 5 y/o daughter, Maria. The tribute video for Heath at his funeral featured this song as the soundtrack and it was so right. Somehow, especially in times of loss, God weaves a deep hope into our faith. I saw it in Heath’s family…and I experienced it myself. God is good…always.

Worship with me.

This is not at all
How we thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We has so many dreams
But now you’ve gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you

And we can cry with hope
We can say good-bye with hope
‘Cause we know our good-bye is not the end
And we can grieve with hope
‘Cause we believe with hope
There’s a place where we’ll see your face again
We’ll see your face again

And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God’s plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father smile and say ‘well done.’
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
‘Cause now your home
And now your free

[Chorus]

We have this hope as an anchor
‘Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true

[Chorus]

We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope*Blog - HeathPhoto Credit: Facebook

Postscript: Toward the end of Heath’s funeral, a solitary musician with guitar began to sing Come to Jesus We, in that gathering, were all suspended in our thoughts of Heath, sad in our loss of him and full of joy that he was Home with the Lord. In the emotion of that moment, the singer, just into the first verse of that beautiful, soulful song, faltered. He willed his voice to continue but couldn’t. Even as his voice gave away, soft voices in the congregation took up where he left off. He strummed the guitar, and we sang…quietly, full of reverence at the meaning of all before us.

It is what we find in the truest experience of the Family of God and the grace of God. We all falter sometimes…we all fall. He lifts us up – either through the hands and voices of others, or by His own hand and word. He carries us. He helps us see beyond the pain and wretchedness of an unbelievable loss…to the glory of that life, of our lives, and His glory reflected in them.

Hallelujah!

*Lyrics to With Hope by Steven Curtis Chapman

Steven Curtis Chapman

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” – 1 Peter 1:3-9

Christmas in a Verse, a Prayer, & a Poem

Blog - Christmas - Christmas Town (2)

[From the Archives]

A Christmas Verse

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

[And One More]

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.  – Matthew 1:23

A Christmas Prayer

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)

A Christmas Poem

Not Celebrate?

Your burden is too great to bear? Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season? Your tears have no end?

Not celebrate?

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

Pixar’s Inside Out – and a Second Thought on Joy & Sadness

Blog - Inside Out - Theology of Sadness - scpr.org

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.Psalm 30:5

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.Matthew 5:4

My husband and I watched Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out this weekend. It was so stressful. We wondered how children managed coping with the anxiousness of the story. Riley, the heroine of the film, is an 11y/o who moved with her parents far away from her hometown. The story tells how she deals with that move with the help of her emotions (5 in particular – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust).

Happy, happy, happy little Joy is the moon-faced, darling emotion of Riley’s. The tension in the story is Joy’s attempt at damage control as little Sadness begins coloring some of Riley’s happy memories “blue”. The plot twists and turns as Joy tries to right Riley’s world.  She is pulled into a journey with Sadness alongside and spends most of the film trying to get back to Riley’s “presence of mind”. Meanwhile, Anger, Fear, and Disgust do what they can to help Riley maneuver through her day…without Joy and Sadness’s help. It’s a scary prospect.

I’m thinking children must get caught up in the adventure, the mesmerizing visuals and the familiar faces of these emotions. For me, it was just stressful.

I have a huge respect and admiration for Ed Catmull after hearing him speak at Global Leadership Summit 2015. Catmull heads the work of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios. Dave recently read his book Creativity, Inc. and so enjoyed it that I’m reading it also.

Blog - GLobal Leadership Summit - Ed Catmull by brainpickings.orgPhoto Credit: Brainpickings.org

Watching Inside Out, my mind wandered to the creative teams at Disney/Pixar. What were they thinking?! Then later, I had second thoughts on the film…after watching bits again as our youngest son, visiting over the weekend, watched it on pay-per-view.

He, too, also thought it was stressful, but as I watched his face, watching the film…I saw what we might have missed as older ones watching. Wonder, surprise, vexation, empathy. In the strong face of this young man, I saw the response to the film maybe hoped for by the creators. The audience identifying with the film…and in the end…understanding and a sweet resolution of the seeming conflict between Joy and Sadness.

On that second watching (both the film and watching my son watching), I liked Inside Out much better. It helped me to Google that great “Aha!” moment of Joy’s – when she discovered:

“Sadness…Mom and Dad, the team…they came to help because of sadness.”

No spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen the film, but for me, a couple of articles really resonated (see below). I struggle personally with sadness which shades the joy I also experience.  Then that same joy re-colors the sadness, bringing perspective and healing. Josh Larsen, in an article on the Think Christian website, wrote beautifully about this film’s message (at a deeper level):

It’s a rich subject – one mined with Pixar’s usual combination of wit, intelligence and emotional resonance – and also one that echoes a Christian understanding of the human experience. Christianity, after all, is an expression of joy in response to – not in denial of – deep sadness…we can’t fully understand our place in God’s story unless we’ve experienced sadness of some sort. It isn’t until we recognize the deep sorrow of this world – the Fall, and our perpetuation of its effects – that we can fully appreciate the almost laughable generosity of Christ’s redemptive act. And only then will we know true joy, the fairy-tale ending that is God’s restoration of His creation. – Josh Larsen

Toward the end of the film, there’s a lovely moment between Riley and her parents. She finally comes to terms with her deep sadness in moving away from home. It’s a place all of us have been if we linger with a person grieving…a person who knows we love them.

I was reminded how sadness sometimes  overtakes us and it’s best confronted head-on in all its real…on-another’s-shoulder…Riley, tears spilling down her face, doesn’t hold back as she pours out her grief to her parents. As they cradle her into their arms they, too, confess their own sadness.  Then it happens…that last wet-faced shudder into Daddy’s chest; that deep sigh…all cried out.

That’s what we love about Disney/Pixar…and the God-given emotions of joy and sadness…especially when love is in the mix.

Inside Out and a Theology of Sadness – Josh Larsen, Think Christian

Many critics love Pixar’s ‘Inside Out.’ Not this guy.

Inside Out Quotes

All 15 Pixar Movies, Ranked From Worst to Best

Jeannie Elliff – Home Now with the GOD She Loved So Well

Blog - Jeannie Elliff

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 1:3-7

Dear Jeannie. A life well-lived. Finally Home.

We woke this morning to the news that our dear friend, Jeannie Elliff, went to be with the Lord during the night. Such a mix of emotions over that news. So thankful that God kept her from suffering and kept her with her Tom, surrounded by family, until that moment she went Home.

We are also so grateful to God to have known Jeannie. Since January of 1999 when we first heard them speak at a conference. It’s as if we’ve know Jeannie and Tom our whole lives…the impact they had on us, that she had on me.

It’s always been Tom & Jeannie. Jeannie & Tom. Strange to think of her not here now. Yet, she is still in all we learned in the life she lived.

Jeannie was (is) full of joy. Any conversation with her felt like a ticker tape parade as she checked on the one in front of her or spoke of how God was working in the lives of people she loved. She deeply and fiercely cared for all God brought her way. She was just the wife that Tom needed. What a blessing over these nearly 49 years of marriage (since August 20, 1966) she was to him!Blog - Jeannie Elliff 6Photo Credit: bpnews.net

She delighted in Tom, and her children, and all the grandchildren. Blog - Jeannie Elliff family portrait

She and Tom had great capacity for love…so much room in their hearts for others…and we knew that love. So grateful for that.

I only got to sit under her teaching once. Her love for the Lord and wonder at the goodness and faithfulness of His Word lit up her face as she taught. Even in the last days of her life, she soaked up God’s Word with Tom. It was a habit of her life – early in the Word and in prayer, every day.Jeannie & Tom Elliff at Christmas

Her prayers were her greatest gift to all of us. She prayed with an earnestness borne out of a deep personal faith in God. She knew Him and knew what He could do in our lives. He called her to prayer and she met Him there…for all of us.

I will miss her laughter. Her stories. Her loving playful jabs at Tom. Her wonder…at the love and mercy of God. The amazing way she never drew attention to herself, but always pointed us to God and toward each other.

Our last visit was short but wonderful. Her face, so beautiful and so full of His peace…and her readiness always to encourage another was still with her, even days before she would leave this life for the glorious Next. Jeannie…we will miss this about you so much.Blog - Grace 13Blog - Jeannie 7

She fought a good fight, she finished her course, she kept the faith.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-8

For us…there is still a race to run.  For God’s glory and for those He’s placed in our lives…as Jeannie so marvelously showed the way.

Please pray with us for Tom…and the family…for all the sweet memories of Jeannie to wash over them in these days ahead…for God to be so near to them, as we know He will be.

Blog - Jeannie Elliff 3

YouTube Video – It Is Well – Kristene DiMarco & Bethel Music

YouTube Video – Come to Jesus (Untitled Hymn) – Chris Rice

YouTube Video – Give Me Jesus – Jeremy Camp

YouTube Video – I Can Only Imagine – MercyMe

How to Become a Follower of Christ

Jeannie Elliff Honored by Ministers’ Wives

My Blog on Tom & Jeannie – Need You Now

My Blog on Tom’s Dad’s HomeGoing – and the Hope for Us of Finishing Strong

Tom Elliff

Photo Credits: Jeannie Elliff & Family, and mine from our last visit

Tom’s Dad Is Going Home…and for the Rest of Us…the Hope of Finishing Strong

Blog - Tom Elliff & his dad

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.

Blog - Tom & JEannie at Christmas

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].*

Blog - Tom & Jeannie

“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.

Praying for you, Tom and Jeannie.

Tom Elliff Website & Blog

If Ever Two Were One – Puritan Poet Anne Bradstreet

Photo Credits – Jeannie Elliff & Family

 

Worship Wednesday – In the Hands of Our Redeemer, Nothing Is Wasted – Jason Gray

Blog - Nothing is Wasted - Worship Wednesday

 

I love the words of the old prophet Joel calling God’s people to repentance with the promise that He would restore the years destroyed by locusts. Read the passage (below) and allow rejoicing to take the place of regret… How thankful I am for the grace, mercy, and kindness of Almighty God.

“Now, therefore,” says the Lord, “Turn to Me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.”

So rend your heart, and not your garments; return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm.

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten… You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, Who has dealt wondrously with you;
and My people shall never be put to shame…I am the Lord your God
and there is no other. My people shall never be put to shame.”                – Joel 2:12-13, 25a, 26, 27b

Jason Gray’s song Nothing Is Wasted is poignant in its message and melody. Listening to it takes me back to those years of locusts in my own life – years in my youth when I praised God on Sunday and went my own way the rest of the week. Truth be told, I was far from Him, taken in by the deceit of the world and the Evil One…and my own self-serving heart. How thankful I will forever be that God is such a great Restorer, a gentle Redeemer, and that, as Jason wrote, nothing is wasted in His hands.

As the years have passed since that time, I have seen God use those years of brokenness in my life to tender my heart toward others struggling with the pull of the world, drawing them away from God. Losses, failures, and disappointments abound in this world and can cloud our view of what is true about God and His Gospel. He wants to turn our “mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11), and He wastes nothing in doing so.

“There isn’t anything that happens that is beyond God’s reach to redeem. He gives us a place to bring our brokenness, our weakness, our sadness.” – Jason Gray
Blog Jason Gray
Whatever has happened in your past – whatever separates you from the hope and healing God desires for you – give it to Him. He alone is able to bear it. Then reach forward and upward…He is reaching out to you. I know…He reached very low for me, and I will love Him forever with the most grateful of hearts.
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14
Worship with me…
Jason Gray, from the album A Way to See In the Dark
The hurt that broke your heart
And left you trembling in the dark
Feeling lost and alone
Will tell you hope’s a lie
But what if every tear you cry
Will seed the ground where joy will grow
(chorus)
Nothing is wasted
Nothing is wasted
In the hands of our Redeemer
Nothing is wasted
It’s from the deepest wounds
That beauty finds a place to bloom
And you will see before the end
That every broken piece is
Gathered in the heart of Jesus
And what’s lost will be found again
(chorus)
Nothing is wasted
Nothing is wasted
In the hands of our Redeemer
Nothing is wasted
(Bridge)
When hope is more than you can bear
And it’s too hard to believe it could be true
And your strength fails you halfway there
You can lean on me and I’ll believe for you
And in time you will believe it too
(chorus)
Nothing is wasted
Nothing is wasted
Sometimes we are waiting
In sorrow we have tasted
But joy will replace it
Nothing is wasted
In the hands of our Redeemer
Nothing is wasted