Category Archives: Transformational

Monday Morning Moment – One Shocking Revelation After Another – Shaking Off Our Fantasies and Grounding Ourselves in the Real

A dear old friend gave me a book shortly before Christmas of 2020. Just starting to read it in January, and once in, I realized I was way behind. Debbie Macomber‘s One Perfect Word gives a strong case for choosing a word for the year. A word to dissect, and meditate on, and to make real in both our thoughts and walks of life. One Perfect Word. For the year.

[Thanks, Kay, for this book.]

Here, a bit into this year, the word compassion has become my word for 2021. For clarity: It is best defined as: to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help. Compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering.

For those who know or think they know me, compassionate is a word that might seem already descriptive of who I am. “Seem” is the operative word.

10 Ways to Show Compassion – Katie Krawczyk

You see I have always thought of myself as compassionate. Being there for friend and family. A cancer nurse for many years. Hospice, as well. Living overseas for love’s sake. Volunteering in my community and beyond. Love God. Love neighbor. Love even my enemies. This is life…the life Jesus lived; the life I’ve ascribed to live.

So I chose a word compassion to examine and flesh out in my life.

As fate would have it, some friends and I decide to tackle an old and brilliant book: C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942). In affectionately abbreviated TSL, Lewis presents a series of fantastical letters from a master demon (Screwtape) to his nephew, Wormwood. The nephew is on assignment to mess in the affairs of a certain young Englishman. In the letters, God is referred to as The Enemy.

[I recommend this book to everyone, whatever your worldview or belief system – the wisdom captured on the pages of this small book is phenomenal. Our human nature and struggles or challenges in life are exposed. Fortunately, we are also given a way forward; oddly by looking at the schemes set in place to trip us up or cause us to fail.  This book is both fascinating and heady. It requires a deep read, for sure.]

In Chapter 6 of TSL, the demon uncle advises his younger on how to trouble the human assigned to him. In the particular area of worrying about the future. This is where fantasy can overtake the real, and, fortunately vice versa: the real can prevail, if we pay attention. Remember my word, compassion.

Screwtape gives much “good counsel” to Wormwood on how to trouble the human by keeping his thoughts on the fears of and hopes for the future rather than on what is right in front of him. For those who do believe in God’s providential care of people, Lewis wholly satisfies us readers as well.

The main message of Screwtape is to keep the human off balance and focused on himself, thinking that he cares for people and outcomes and that he is a good person. The reality is that the human is actually overcome by cares of the world yet does little about them.

How do we shake off our fantasies and ground ourselves in the real?

Screwtape instructs Wormwood to deal with the human as one made up of concentric circles of will, intellect, and fantasies or imagination. Our will, or our heart in spiritual terms, is the deepest part of who we are. It is where we make our choices on how to act and then, in turn, take action. Different than intellect, or what we know about life (intellect) or what we imagine or fantasize about life…or about doing life.

YouTube Video – Screwtape Letter 6 – Providence eLearning – Dr. Arthur Hippler – a clear and excellent resource

Photo Credit: Providence eLearning, YouTube, Screwtape Letters

So I can think I am a compassionate person. In fact, one can choose to be compassionate. However, we can also simply apply our intellect to the whole idea of compassion and then only fantasize or imagine ourselves doing acts of compassion… This is NOT what we think it is. Compassion, in its truest most real sense, happens in the will…and in the moment. Oh, we can plan on acts of compassion and put in place steps toward compassionate outcomes… but, until we act, compassion itself lies in the realm of imagination or fantasy.

Sobering and extremely helpful.

A huge and relevant example in modern culture right now is the statement, and call to action, “Black Lives Matter”. Do black lives matter? Absolutely. Do all lives matter? Of course. Do lives “womb to tomb” matter? Not to everyone…but that’s for another day.

We can say and lean into powerful messaging. Yet, until we grapple with the realities of that messaging, and sort out what truly communicates the truth of that message…not just in word but also in deed…then, in fact, the messaging is just so many words.

Screwtape has wreaked his havoc in our culture and in us as fellow humans, as we struggle with how to respond to messaging. Both in our news and social media platforms, and conversations with neighbors and friends. What is fantasy and what is reality and how shall we then act?

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your [human’s] soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.Screwtape to Wormwood, Chapter 6, The Screwtape Letters

Related to compassion, my word for 2021, I no longer want to stay locked in debate over whose lives matter or what hasn’t been done than needs to be done. I would love to settle in my will to act…with compassion. Not thinking I am showing some sacrificial compassion out there among those I don’t even know…but in fact, acting in compassion, toward my housemates, my extended family and friends, this neighborhood and beyond. Leaving off the malice of disagreeing or tweaking each others messages out there in the world somewhere.

This is the goal: shaking off my fantasies about compassion and the idea of my being a compassionate person and grounding myself, my very will, in the real…acting in compassion, in the moment and moving toward making it habit.

Restless Pilgrim – Pints With Jack – The Screwtape Letters 6 – “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”the most fun to be had in diving deep into C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

YouTube Channel – C. S. Lewis Doodle

Worship Wednesday – When All I See Is the Battle, You See the Victory (Battle Belongs) – Phil Wickham

Photo Credit: Pinterest, Toby Mac

Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord...Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”2 Chronicles 20:3-4, 15-17

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.Isaiah 55:8-9

When the song Battle Belongs first came to my hearing just this past week, it stirred so much thought and prayer…not so many words, but they are in the song…and my hands go up, and I want to dance!

Praying this prayer:

“Oh, God, give me eyes to see how You see things…and people. Free my thoughts from the bondage of the ‘but’s’ and the ‘what if’s’. Empty my mind of worry and fear…and even ridiculous dread. Forgive me when I am consumed by thoughts that are simply not true…when I believe lies over what You have already told us…already promised. Remind me that You mean nothing but good for Your children.  Fill my heart with love for a good and loving God. Guide my steps to walk in Your confidence and Your compassion. You are God. There is nothing to fear. You are God…and we are Yours. You light our paths. You steady our gait. You hold us close. We are Yours…and we will rest our hearts and minds in Your keeping.”

Worship with me to this emboldened hymn of praise by Phil Wickham and Brian Johnson

“Battle Belongs”

When all I see is the battle
You see my victory
When all I see is the mountain
You see a mountain moved
And as I walk through the shadow
Your love surrounds me
There’s nothing to fear now
For I am safe with You
So when I fight I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And every fear I lay at Your feet
I’ll sing through the night
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And if You are for me
Who can be against me (yeah)
For Jesus there’s nothing
Impossible for You
When all I see are the ashes
You see the beauty (thank You God)
When all I see is a cross
God You see the empty tomb
So when I fight I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And every fear I lay at Your feet
I’ll sing through the night
Oh God the battle belongs to You
Almighty Fortress You go before us
Nothing can stand against
The power of our God
You shine in the shadow
You win every battle
Nothing can stand against
The power of our GodAlmighty Fortress You go before us
Nothing can stand against
The power of our God
You shine in the shadow
You win every battle
Nothing can stand against
The power of our GodAlmighty Fortress You go before us
Nothing can stand against
The power of our God
You shine in the shadows
You win every battle
Nothing can stand against
The power of our GodSo when I fight I’ll fight on my knees
With my hands lifted high
Oh God the battle belongs to You
And every fear I lay at Your feet
I’ll sing through the night
Oh God the battle belongs to YouOh God the battle belongs to You*

*Lyrics to “Battle Belongs” – Songwriters: Brian Johnson, Phil Wickham

[Phil Wickham explained the following in a story behind “Battle Belongs”, “One of my favourite stories in all of scripture comes from ‘2 Chronicles 20’. It’s a story of this huge army that is amassed to come against the people of God. And when the people of God and their king, Jehoshaphat, hear of this horde coming their way, they freak out. They literally come to God and say, ‘We are powerless against this army, but our eyes are on you, God. Show us what to do.’ And God responds to them. His Spirit comes upon this Levite man and through the Levite man God says, ‘Do not be afraid or dismayed, for the battle is not yours, but it is God’s. You will not have to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position and see the Salvation of the Lord on your behalf.'”]

Worship Wednesday – Celebrating the Giver and Sustainer of Life – Life Song – Casting Crowns

Photo Credit: Bible Study Tools

Every four years, my birthday and the US Presidential Inauguration are celebrated on the same day. This year was one of those years.

Now, my birthday was one of the big ones, drawing a lot of exclamations from friends when they find out which one. So that either says I look or act younger than my age, or I’m way older than they thought. I’m wondering at my age, as well.

Not so much that this birthday isn’t getting celebrated – like a rock star! Bring on the flowers, the cake, and the meetups [COVID-altered but undaunted]. Yay, for birthdays.

Peaceful transfers of presidential power are also worthy of huge celebrations. It is the American way, and it’s happening again.

We may have mixed feelings about birthdays…and even about inaugurations. If we raise our gaze just a little higher, we can thrill to what is going on in the spiritual realm.

Whatever we might think about life right now…us getting older, or times getting stranger…we can take heart.

Perhaps we were born for just such a time as this. [Esther 4:14b]

Photo Credit: Salvation Army

God is not surprised, nor is He hindered in giving life or sustaining life. Certainly, He is able to equip us and keep us on track – in the works He has given each of us from the beginning of time (Ephesians 2:10).

Isn’t that astounding?! For us, yes; for Him, no.Photo Credit: Daily Verses

I take great comfort in the passage in John 10 above. Nothing can snatch us out of His hands. Nothing. No one. Forever we are His.

In thinking about birthdays and inaugurations, we celebrate the God who gives us life and sustains us through it.

Facing a new decade of life, I look up. To the God who keeps His promises…who gives us life day to day straight on to eternity…and sustains His children through it all.

As for the Inauguration and a new US President…we are not saved by any political party or president, we are saved by a King. With a forever kingdom…and it stands in beauty and power and glory.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29

I love Gill’s Commentary on this great God being a consuming fire: “…here it is our God, our covenant God, our God in Christ; not that he is so to the saints, or to them that are in Christ: he is indeed as a wall of fire in his providences, to protect and defend them, and as fire in his word to enlighten and warm them, to guide and direct them, but not a consuming fire to them; this he is to their enemies, who are as thorns, and briers, and stubble before him.”

Oh that our lives bring a smile to the face of our Creator and Sustainer God! [As the picture the Casting Crowns‘ song paints below].

May we take birthdays and inaugurations in stride, and in the context of a larger Kingdom…and a God who is very much in control.

Worship with me:

Empty hands held high
Such small sacrifice
If not joined with my life
I sing in vain tonight

May the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

Let my lifesong sing to You
Let my lifesong sing to You
I want to sign Your name to the end of this day
Knowing that my heart was true
Let my lifesong sing to You

Lord I give my life
A living sacrifice
To reach a world in need
To be Your hands and feet

So may the words I say
And the things I do
Make my lifesong sing
Bring a smile to You

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Let my lifesong sing to You

*Lyrics to Life Song – Casting Crowns – Songwriter: John Mark Hall

Behind the Song: Casting Crowns Shares the Heart Behind Their Hit Song “Lifesong” – Abby Young

Monday Morning Moment – 2021 Come On! – New Year’s Resolutions

Photo Credit: David Lose

[Adapted from the Archives]

2020…the end is in sight.

What do we do with this new year ahead? Do we revisit those habits we thought about changing up in this tumultuous year? Maybe so. Or maybe we didn’t alter course so much for good reason. Let’s give pause a moment and consider…

Are We Doing New Year’s Resolutions After a Year as Lousy as 2020? There’s One I think We Need More Than Ever – Heidi Stevens

How to Make Healthy, Attainable New Year’s Resolutions During COVID-19 – Ashley Welch, Healthline

Are You Making a New Year’s Resolution This Year? Readers Weigh In – Sarah Fielding

I take New Year’s resolutions very seriously. They have served me well through the years in shaking up troublesome habits as well as galvanizing better ones. New (or restored) habits that nurture the body, the spirit….and, when possible, family and community.

Whether sugar detox or a decluttering project, New Year’s resolutions are not always exercises in futility. They can be excellent pathways to help us get off to a strong start into the next year. Some of my family and friends treat resolutions with disdain…they never work; they never last. Oh, but not always!

They are really very energizing. Whether we meet our goals or not, there is great promise within the resolution for resetting our thinking. A keen sense of self, or self-awareness, aids in our understanding of habits and true habit change.

A couple of times in my life, I resolved to go off sugar. It was a successful endeavor for over a year each of those times. Excluding sugar from my diet. Never having really lost the weight from my first pregnancy, I decided to remove sugar from my diet for the pregnancy of our second-born. In those days, there was a chapter of Overeaters Anonymous in our town, and that group was a great help in my dealing with pretty much a sugar addiction.

The second time I “gave up” sugar was over 4 years ago, and I stayed the course of that habit change for over 1 1/2 years. Less accountability but even more resolve. Although I am back having dessert or sugary snacks sometimes, I am still operating with more self-awareness than ever before. Self-awareness, not self-condemnation. A very different experience.

Without knowing it, I was using a practice of habit change that Ken Sande writes about on his blog, Relational Wisdom 360. He first influenced my life years ago with his work on conflict resolution through his Peacemaker Ministries. He is a gentle guide in many of the issues that complicate our lives.

His article on Seven Principles of Habit Change came at a great time. Sande talks quite kindly about how we develop habits and what it takes to change them. His first principle of habit change gives us a look at the cycle of habits – the cue, the routine (or response), and the reward. For me, in eating sugar (or in overeating, in general), the cue could be a number of things – fatigue, anxiety, loneliness, the mere presence of yummy food. It never takes much to send me to the refrigerator or pantry. The routine: feed the cue, whatever it is…with high-carb oral gratification. The reward: a brief soul satisfaction and temporary relief from whatever was the cue.

In my two seasons of not eating added sugar, I actually followed Ken Sande’s principles below (without knowing the wisdom of it).

  1. Every habit has three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
  2. You can change an undesirable habit by keeping the cue and reward but learning a new routine.
  3. The best way to overcome the temptation to revert to old routines is to have a detailed action plan.
  4. Habit change builds momentum if you can change a single “keystone habit” and then continue to build on consecutive “small wins”.
  5. Will power is like a muscle: it can be strengthened and yet needs to be exerted strategically.
  6. Faith is an essential part of changing habits.
  7. Habit change is more likely to occur within a community (even if it’s just two people).Ken Sande

Self-awareness is a huge factor relating to habit change. I can see that more now having come through seasons of looking at my own habits.

“Self-awareness is defined as conscious knowledge of oneself; it’s a stepping stone to reinventing oneself, learning to make wiser decisions, and helps you tune into your thoughts and feelings. So often we place blame on externalities because it’s the easiest excuse, when in fact we should be thinking about our thinking, reflecting, trying on different perspectives, and learning from our mistakes.”Paul Jun

It is possible to affect true habit change if we are willing to take a studied look at ourselves – our awareness and our engagement with making choices/decisions and within relationship. I used to think that self-awareness was morally charged, i.e., it drove us to become more self-centered. That doesn’t have to be the case. When we take time to really examine where our minds go, through the day, we can train our thinking toward what matters most – related to people, resources, and life purpose.

When we are willing to do that, New Year’s resolutions can become much more transformative than just, for instance, going off sugar for a few weeks. These same habit change principles can apply to anger issues, pornography, other addictions, and pretty much any habitual process that negatively affects your work, relationships or general peace of mind.

Consider these questions as you think on resolutions for 2021:

  1. What do I want to keep from changes I made to cope with the pandemic?
  2. What do I want to reclaim from the pre-pandemic time?
  3. How would I “build back better” if I were in charge of the world or my neighborhood? – Katherine Arbuthnott

Three years back, our pastor Cliff at Movement Church challenged us to commit to some resolutions to the Lord…together [podcast of 12/31/2017 here].  I have kept the resolutions made that day in a visible place, to be reminded of the good change in life, and the struggle… I still have them in view…two years out. Still relevant to now. For 2021, on it again…plus prayer for wisdom how to be creative and intentional, given COVID.

Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century preacher and theologian, definitely understood the importance of praying through and writing out resolutions that would inform his daily life. Over the course of several months, he composed seventy resolutions for life. You can read them here. The five resolutions I made during church on a New Year’s Eve are weighty enough for me…can’t imagine 70! Edwards just gives an example of a man who, even as deeply devoted as he already was, did not want to miss God in a busy life of ministry. Nor did he want to miss the people God placed in his life.

Resolutions help us to keep the main thing the main thing. Sure, we may struggle to keep our bodies and houses in order. Those are temporary situations. Where we hope most to be successful is in keeping our hearts tuned to what matters most. Going deep with God and others. Even in the face of a pandemic...if we are ruthless and wise, and don’t give in to a year of listlessness and waiting.

We already had a year like that.

I am resolved…

Photo Credit: Reformed Outfitters

New Year’s Day – Resolved – Deb Mills Writer

Resolved – The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Do You Want to Change Your Habits? – Relational Wisdom – Ken Sande

Habit Change is a Team Project – Ken Sande

Seven Principles of Habit Change – Relational Wisdom – Ken Sande

Make Habits, Not Resolutions – Justin Whitmel Earley

Why Self-Awareness Is the Secret Weapon for Habit Change – Paul Jun

RW Acrostics in Action – Relational Wisdom – Ken Sande

Ten Questions for a New Year – Don Whitney – Desiring God

Need Help With Your New Year’s Resolutions? – David Lose

Understanding True Habit Change and Rocking Your New Year’s Resolutions – Deb Mills Writer

5 Friday Faves – Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, Reading, Moving On or Staying In Relationship, Recycling, and Home for the Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! For some, you may understand Christmas as just a fun, family-oriented holiday. It is so much more than that for many of us. Christmas commemorates the birth of the Messiah – the only son of almighty God. Christmas is huge for those who have experienced God coming close to humanity. Coming close to us in a sinless life, laid down in love for us. If you don’t know Jesus, consider getting to know Him, rather than just making the assumption you do. It (He) might change your life. He did mine.

1) Christmas Eve to Christmas Day – It’s looking somewhat different this year, but the things we hold dearest can still be celebrated.

  • Grandchildren  – bringing joy and wonder into every experience. Super sweet to have their parents around as well.
  • Friends and neighbors who make life fun are not deterred by the need to physically distance.
  • Baking goodies and playing games – still happening. Our grands are big enough that this year we played a new game. “Bring Baby Jesus Home” – we gathered the Jesus figures from all the nativities (I have a collection), and our littles (with help from their parents) “raced” to return them to the proper nativity.

  • Candlelight Christmas Eve Service – Every year at Movement Church, we have this lovely service. The worship center is normally packed with families and friends gathered for Christmas. We sing carols and light the last Advent candle. Then Pastor Cliff brings a Christmas devotional. Finally, we light our candles, passing the light from person to person. So thankful that we still had this worshipful time this week…albeit not quite together. Thanks, you who made it happen.

2) Reading – My husband asked for books for Christmas. Somewhere along the way, he lost his collection of Chronicles of Narnia.

He’s already reading it this afternoon.

The British author of Chronicles, C. S. Lewis, had this to say about reading:Photo Credit: RelicsWorld

“We seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves…Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”C. S. Lewis

Words: “We Seek an Enlargement of Our Being” – C. S. Lewis

What are you reading these days? Please comment below.

3) Moving On or Staying In Relationship – Holidays can be especially hard when we find ourselves in tough places with family or in a marriage. One writer and marriage counselor who has been instrumental in our married life is Gary L. Thomas. The book we always recommend to folks struggling in marriage is his: Sacred Marriage: What if God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?

Marriage and family rifts are the deepest heartache in life. The ripple effect is wide. Now, there are times, we find ourselves in this situations…not wanting it to be so. Thomas is very candid about these issues. Candid and kind.

He talks a lot about the life-altering decision of leaving a marriage. I was touched at how he described the losses that come at us blind when we divorce. All the history…gone. [Now maybe you hope it will be gone…I can understand that in abuse, for sure.] My mom and dad divorced when I wasn’t quite 6 years old. It was not amicable. In fact, I saw my dad once after that, and never again. I wrote letters to him for 20 years (at his last known address…never got a letter back so I figured he got them). At the birth of his first grandchild, when he didn’t respond even to that announcement, I stopped writing.

Anyway…I have dear friends separated from each other and family members deeply hurt with each other…so I listen, write, and pray…

Below, you’ll find some of what Dr. Thomas has said about marriage and the relationships attached to them.

“A good marriage isn’t something you find; it’s something you make.”
Gary L. Thomas, A Lifelong Love: What If Marriage Is about More Than Just Staying Together?

“I wouldn’t be surprised if many marriages end in divorce largely because one or both partners are running from their own revealed weaknesses as much as they are running from something they can’t tolerate in their spouse.”  – Gary Thomas
“Love is not an emotion; it’s a policy and a commitment that we choose to keep in the harshest of circumstances. It’s something that can be learned and that we can grow in. Biblical love is not based on the worthiness of the person being loved—none of us deserves Christ’s sacrifice—but on the worthiness of the One who calls us to love: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).” – Gary L. Thomas, The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why?
“Contempt is conceived with expectations. Respect is conceived with expressions of gratitude. We can choose which one we will obsess over—expectations, or thanksgivings.”
Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?
“Just when we are most eager to make ourselves understood, we must strive to understand. Just when we seek to air our grievances, we must labor to comprehend an other’s hurt. Just when we want to point out the fallacies and abusive behavior of someone else, we must ruthlessly evaluate our own offensive attitudes and behaviors.”
Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?

 

4) Recycling – OK, here’s a question. Do you know anyone who works in a recycling plant? Now, I’m not talking about the very kind drivers of the big trucks that pick up our recycling every other week. I’m talking about someone who works, at any level, in the recycling industry. I haven’t. Yet, we have been recycling for a very long time, thinking we were helping the environment…doing what we could.

What if our recycling is ending up in landfills…if not our own but those in another country, China, for example?

The other side of our sacred holiday of Christmas is its full-out consumerism. We buy a lot of merchandise this time of year (less this year because of COVID). All kinds of stuff to give those we love. Besides the commercial packaging of said stuff, we also love to wrap or bag it in festive ways. It’s a heavy week for generating and processing recycling.

Now, like many of you, I love to reuse or repurpose things when possible. Especially, now, that I’m looking at the possibility that recycling may not be offsetting my use of materials. Not sure, but am becoming more suspicious.

So, more than ever, I am reusing whatever gift bags, bows, and boxes are left at my house after Christmas. This isn’t new around here. You can see in the image below a bag with a cut-out angel and a bag with a handsome young man‘s picture on it. We’ve had those bags since these two kids of ours were in high school. Now they are many years married and parents. It’s a small thing, but we’re rocking at the reusing aspect of recycling. How about you? I’m also still putting the recycling bin on the curb next time our neighborhood recycling truck comes around. I will keep believing…for now.

5) Home for the Holidays – Who is your “home for the holidays” person? Several in our family fit the bill, but this COVID year, the one in particular for us is our youngest son. Last night, he spent the night in his own bed at our house for the first time in over 9 months. He is a front-line worker and has his own place. Because of his situation and mine (being more at-risk), we have only visited more from a distance since mid-March. Some back-yard barbecues, and an occasional family dinner. He is so kind about wearing his mask except for eating. We miss him. This Christmas, we decided it would be really good to have him home. So…here’s our youngest, and our joy is full…he’s home. Hope you are able to connect with that person of yours…if not at home, then in as real a way as our modern lives allow.

__________________________________________________________________________

Be safe out there and enjoy the moments that make Christmas the best it’s meant to be.

Bonuses:

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.* – Christina Rossetti

The Remarkable Woman Behind “In the Bleak Midwinter” – Karen Swallow Prior

Who knew?! The Babylon Bee has a book out. Ever #TongueInCheek

Thankful for organizations who give us paths, all year but especially during the holidays, to give to those in need. Movement Food Drive:

The Christmas Star – the Great Conjunction – Facebook – Best image

Andrea Bocelli Sings ‘Silent Night’ in an Empty Cave, in Haunting Duet with His Own Echo

Worship Wednesday – When Earnestly Wrong – Behold! – Plumb

[A theme “Behold” – See! – continues this month in Worship Wednesday – last week’s blog Behold Him is found here.]

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 43:19

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...” – Jesus – Matthew 5:43-44

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – Jesus – John 13:34-15

This week I oddly became the target of some Twitter hate, related to my politics and a comment I had made. It was nothing – social media stone-throwing doesn’t usually have an effect if you have nothing to lose. Plenty of folks reacted in my defense, but when the last person commented (to me) that what I expressed was “shameful” – and she was also a Christ-follower, I finally had to respond: “You don’t know me”.

With the greatest of earnestness, was I wrong? Was she?

How do we respond to each other when what we think or believe is contested? What goes on in our hearts when our reputation seems at stake? How do we process a situation when what we were longing for…what we had hoped would happen…didn’t. Do we throw in the towel on relationships that get complicated, or even hurtful, because we don’t want to do the work of reconciling them…or nurturing them back to health. Do we want our way more than God’s?

Could we be earnestly wrong about such things?

The Jews of Jesus’ day were earnestly wrong about the coming Messiah. Oh, not that they weren’t looking for him…but he was supposed to be a “conquering king on a white horse, not the suffering servant…. Should they have known about the Messiah coming first as a baby?”

Yes. The Scriptures are full of prophecies and promises about the Messiah…There would be those who received Jesus…and through the ages there will be…as Himself, not as we wish he would be…our own made-up messiah.

When we want something that doesn’t go the way we think it should, something dark can happen in our hearts. Something dark that we then take out on others…even on God Himself.

The real Jesus calls us to trust him even in the darkness of our current circumstances. He calls us to love when we would rather hate. He calls us to speak and live in the truth, when we would rather just give the perception of doing so, without the reality displayed in our lives.

Whether my Twitter foe knew me or not…God knows me…and loves me…and wants what’s better for me than even I want for myself. When I stated to her, “You don’t know me”, my own self-protective heart was exposed. She didn’t know me…did she see Jesus in me?

Singer, songwriter Plumb talks about Advent being the season of anticipation. When we set our hearts on who God is, who we are as His image-bearers, and whatever His purposes might be, we can look forward with joy…for the coming of Christ. This Christmas. This coming year. Into every circumstance and every relationship.

“We in our own lives anticipate things coming or happening and sometimes they don’t happen or they don’t come in such a way that we thought or we expect or we wanted. We can still trust in the same God who knew what we needed then in a Baby. He knows what we need now in our own lives, no matter what. Behold, He has come, and He knows exactly what we need, and we can trust Him.”Plumb

Worship with me to Plumb’s Christmas worship song “Behold”.

Years of silence
Waiting on a king
They thought they knew who you would be
A soldier, fearless and strong
A warrior, but they were wrong

In the darkest night
Came brightest light

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world

So we pray
We ask and seek
When the answers don’t come easily
And when they’re not what we expect
Help us to trust you even then

In our darkest night
Be the brightest light

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world

Unlikely Joy
Anticipated hope
Give us your peace
Undeserved love
Such relentless grace
You are our king

Behold
Behold
A baby’s birth
Precious lamb of God
Behold
Behold
Your gift to us
Savior of the world*

As we count down to Christmas and to the end of 2020, a hard year (harder for some of us than we ever thought), we have an opportunity to examine our own hearts. Have we been earnestly wrong in dealing with a situation? Have we taken our own counsel about a relationship and not God’s (the Scripture is bursting with His great wisdom)? Has our resoluteness in our own rightness (in politics, or any other stand) jammed a wedge between us and someone He also loves? If so, there can be forgiveness…

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”Philippians 2:5-8

“Oh come to my heart, Lord Jesus. There is room in my heart for Thee.”

*Lyrics: Behold – Songwriters: Tiffany Arbuckle Lee (Plumb), Christa Wells, and Jerrod Morris

YouTube Video – The Story Behind the Song “Behold” – Plumb

Isaiah 43:19 Commentaries

Advent and Christmas Music in the Midst of COVID-19 – Diana Sanchez-Bushong – includes the program of a Service of Lessons and Carols

Monday Morning Moment – Chef José Andrés Feeds the World – Inspiring Us to Do Likewise

Photo Credit: Screenshot from The Richmond Forum; Chef José Andrés, speaking to us from Honduras, where he and his team were feeding people after the Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

The first offering of the Richmond Forum‘s 2020-21 season was this past weekend. Because of COVID, it was virtual. Dave and I would miss our traditional pizza before the show, and talks with our friends at the Altria Theater, but comfy at home was not a bad option either.

We didn’t know this evening’s speaker, José Andrés, but with all who come to the stage of the Richmond Forum, we knew we would come away with a larger sense of the world and our part in it.

Photo Credit: José Andrés, World Central Kitchen, Bahamas, 2019

Chef José Andrés is an extraordinary person who challenges us to move that descriptor into the ordinary column. Here’s a brief intro to this amazing man – just a bit of his extensive bio from his website: “José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, New York Times bestselling author, educator, television personality, humanitarian, and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. A pioneer of Spanish tapas in the United States, he is also known for his groundbreaking avant-garde cuisine and his award-winning group of more than 30 restaurants located throughout the country and beyond, ranging in a variety of culinary experiences from a food truck to his multi-location vegetable-focused fast casual Beefsteak, to world-class tasting menus…As a naturalized citizen originally from Spain, Andrés has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform. In 2010, Andrés formed World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides smart solutions to end hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies. Notably, his team served over 3.6 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.”

Photo Credit: José Andrés, World Central Kitchen – 2019 in Review

This celebrity chef who owns restaurants all over the US, writes cookbooks, and entertains us with his TV appearances.

However, you look at his face and see his heart. He says, “I am a cook. I feed the few, but I love to feed the many”.

He grew up in Spain with parents who were nurses. At times, one parent heading to work, would bring their four sons to the emergency room to exchange with the parent leaving work.   His parents also loved to cook for the family and for friends and neighbors. He tells the story of his father making a huge pan of paella. When his mother asked his father what if too many people come and there is not enough food. “We just add some more rice”.

Andrés credits his father with an early love and understanding of cooking. His father would tell him “Learn your fire. Control your fire. Master your fire. Then you will be able to cook anything you want.” He took that cooking lesson and applied it to his life.

As a young man, he dreamed of coming to America, of being a part of “We the People”. When he finally was able to immigrate to the US, he wasted no time in beginning work in a restaurant. He continued growing and learning…and before long, teaching others himself. Not just about cooking itself but what food brings to all of life.

“Respect people. Teach them to work. Give them a plate of food.”

He feels very strongly about giving back (especially to his beloved America) as well as giving to all who are suffering. “There’s nothing more nurturing than a plate of hot food.”

After responding to the Haiti earthquake in 2010, his vision to “feed the many” came to fruition with the World Central Kitchen. Andres took his ability to cook and his experience in leading and mentoring staff in his restaurants and applied it in the worst of situations. Through this non-profit, he and his teams would be “boots on the ground” after earthquakes,wildfires, wars, flooding, hurricanes, and other disasters. They came and found a kitchen and bought local food. They listened and learned. They mobilized others to help, and thousands upon thousands were fed.

[We sat mesmerized at this man and his stories of real life. This immigrant. This cook. With a heart as big as the world. He could have just enjoyed the great successes of his American dream realized, but this is not who he is.

We spent our evening with him (thanks to Richmond Forum). Hearing stories of how a few fed many…in Honduras, in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, and years ago in Haiti. These were just some of the many stories of the work of this chef and World Central Kitchen.

As questions came in from the Richmond Forum audience, he taught us, just as if we were standing in his kitchen, or his classroom. As if there was already a relationship there. As, for sure, he cared for us, somehow.

Nothing he said was the stuff of unapproachable genius. He put his hand to a cascade of difficult situations and made a difference. It gives hope to any of us willing to try. He changes recipes to fit the circumstances and peoples they served. He looks for new ways to make things happen. He uses food not as a charity but as a healing connection in a community – sustenance and support, pulling people together to heal and restore their lives and livelihoods.

His goal: to do good in the world.

“I have work to do. I’m here to be an improver of the world. Not by talking but by doing. There will always be a job to do.”

Andres has even worked with the US Congress on the Feed Act and the Restaurants Act that have come out of our battle with COVID-19. Food insecurity and restaurant closures should not be happening when the former can be helped by the latter – subsidizing restaurants to feed people in need. Who knows what will come out of all this, but that can-do creativity and great generosity of heart are at the heard of what makes America great.

Get to know José Andrés. It will not be one-sided.

He closed the evening with this: “Maybe I’ve added an ingredient or two to your life. I look forward to one or two from yours one day.”

Youtube Video –  José Andrés on 60 Minutes in 2017; Feeding Puerto Rico

YouTube Video – José Andrés on Giving Back to America

YouTube Video – When Disaster Strikes, Jose Andres Brings Hot Food and Hope – PBS

The 10 Best Lines From Jose Andres’ GWU Commencement Speech

Worship Wednesday – God’s Purposes Are Not Thwarted – “Where Were You?” – Ghost Ship

blog-where-were-you-job-pray-write-growPhoto Credit: PrayWriteGrow

[From the Archives]

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…”Job 38:1-4a

I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.  – Job to God, Job 42:2

How can this be?! How could this have happened? No way could this be right. No way could this be God’s plan.

We are all given to platitudes. “It’s all good.” “It’s not your fault.” “God’s still on His throne.” They may be true but they’re not very satisfying.

When we’re hit by a strange and unsettling reality, we want to call it something else. We want to cry out that it’s not good and it’s got to be someone’s fault…we ache to point our finger at someone…anyone. At times, the blame ascends all the way to Heaven…to God Himself.

Job, a righteous God-fearer whose story is chronicled in the Bible, found himself in that very situation. He didn’t just wake up one morning to news that he couldn’t stomach; he was singled out for the most devastating personal loss – the deaths of all his children and his own health ruined. His questioning of the rightness of this unimaginable occurrence was understandable.

Having friends who offered all sorts of scenarios as to how this could have happened…gave Job no relief.

Finally, he took his case to God, objecting to how such a thing could happen. In God’s defense of Himself in the matter (Job 38-41), He opened Job’s eyes to the wonder and goodness of all that He does.

God is not put off by our questioning, our fears, our confusion…this God who lovingly asks questions Himself for us to see our own strange thinking about Him…this God who is the answer to every question that’s whispered or shouted from the depths of our beings. Where were you, Child? …Where were we?! How gentle He is with our self-righteousness and presumptuousness that we know better than He. We may not understand…but we can be assured that He is working out our good and His glory in every page turned in history. We can question, absolutely…but He calls us to continue following Him, even in our questioning…to love Him, to love others…with everything in us.

On this Sunday, four years ago, we gathered at Movement Church, and worshiped together. That Sunday followed the 2016 Presidential election, the outcome of which probably surprised every voter and non-voter in America…either joyfully or sorrowfully.

This Sunday, like every Sunday, was made for worship. No back clapping, or derision, or condescending opinions of any political ilk. Whatever hopefulness and whatever despair were set aside. Just voices raised in community to the God whose purposes are not thwarted…no matter what.

Worship, with me, through this great lyric Where Were You? (by Ghost Ship) – taken straight from the Job narrative.

I said, “God, I do not understand this world
everything is dying and broken
why do I see nothing but sufferingimg_0418

God I’m asking could this be Your plan
Sin has taken hold of this whole land
Will You not say anything else to me?”
He said, “Where were you the day that I measured
sunk the banks and stretched the line over
all the earth and carved out its corner stone?img_0423
Where were you the day that I spoke and
told the sun to split the night open
caused the morning dark with its light to show
Who shut in the ocean with stone doors
marked the reach of tides on those new shores
hung the day the waves rose and first broke forth
Have you seen the springs of that great sea
walked the caverns carved in the black deep
through the gates of darkness there on its floor

 

Have you seen the armory I hold
snow and hail are stacked up in silos
for the times of trouble and war and strife

Can you raise your voice to the storm cloud
would the thunder answer and ring out
does the lightning ask you where it should strike

Who has cleft the channels for torrents
rain to sprout the desert with forest
in the wilderness that my hand has built

Can you hunt the prey for your lions
can you use the cords of Orion
is this whole world bending beneath your will?”

I spoke of things I did not understand
things too wonderful for me
although I had no right to ask
my God knelt and answered me*

For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?  Isaiah 14:27

Lyrics to Ghost Ship’s Where Were You?

The Plan of God – J. I. Packer

Worship Wednesday – Do Something – Matthew West – Deb Mills

Worship Wednesday – In Suffering – Where Were You? – by Ghost Ship – Deb Mills

blog-where-were-you-tumblrPhoto Credit: TheMadeShop – Tumblr

Worship Wednesday – The Bruised Reed – Abigail Miller

Photo Credit: Myfriso, Pixabay

“Here is My servant!

I have made Him strong.
He is My chosen one; I am pleased with Him.
I have given Him My Spirit,
and He will bring justice to the nations.
He won’t shout or yell or call out in the streets.
He won’t break off a bent [bruised] reed or put out a dying flame,
but He will make sure that justice is done.
He won’t quit or give up until He brings justice
everywhere on earth,
and people in foreign nations long for His teaching.”Isaiah 42:1-4, CE

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break – Sam Allberry – for Desiring God

We wake, this morning, to the news we don’t have a clear outcome for our Presidential election.

I was walking recently with a friend of mine in a Civil War battlefield park. The irony wasn’t lost on us as we talked about our country’s troubled situation. COVID-19. Harshly divided in our politics. Racial unrest. Rioting and looting in the streets of our cities.

As we finished our walk, we prayed. Looking out over a field where fellow countrymen fought and died, we cried out for our country.

With her permission, I captured some of her prayer below. It moved my heart so…absolutely positive it moved the heart of God as well.

“Lord, we are a bent country. Smoldering…we stand in the power and protection of Your righteous right hand…We’ve seen you move the heart of kings…You can change hearts today as You have through the centuries. You love Your children…please Father, make our country’s bent straight.”

We hear so often how our news media is broken, the family is broken, our country is broken. No, not broken. I refuse that…not just me, but God’ Word gives testament.

We are bent and He will not allow for us to be broken. Our wick may be flickering, but He will not let it go out. He will bring justice.

Now, I’m no prophet. Only God knows what will happen in decades ahead with our country or yours…but this is sure: God is in the mix. He is strong and He is good. He will carry His children through it all. Hallelujah!

I came across this songwriter Abigail Miller whose song The Bruised Reed fits this reality so well.

Worship with me (she begins singing 1 minute in):

Crushed, shaken by wind,
Darkened within
Staggered by sin,
I was afraid.
Bruised, covered with shame
Until He came,
Calling my name,
Lifting me–tenderly,
Changing my wounds for the good,
As only He could.

For the bruised reed He shall not break
And the smoking flax, He will not quench
For He loves and tenderly cares for His own.
He will not leave me alone.

A flame–once burning bright,
Shining through night,
Flickering light–
Now it is gone.
Smoke rises like a sigh
‘Til He draws nigh.
Light’ning the eye.
He will heal and reveal
All He has worked for the good
As only He could.

(He will not leave you alone.)

If you are weary and heavy within,
Trampled by pain,
Bruised by your sin,
He will not leave you or cast you away.
He turns the midnight to glorious day.
He’ll exchange ashes for beauty again,
He’ll replace sorrow with joy in His name!

He will not leave you alone.*

Take heart. With eyes fixed on God. We stand and we help others stand, in the truth that God “will not leave (us) alone”. He is here.

*Lyrics to The Bruised Reed by Abigail Miller

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break – Sam Allberry – for Desiring God

A Bruised Reed and Smoldering Wick – Rhonda Maydwell

Thanks, Friend (you know who you are), for the comfort God gave me as He breathed into your prayer His own words.

Monday Morning Moment – I’m Going to Change the World…or At Least Try

Photo Credit: Inblix

[Adapted from the Archives – here and here]

My husband always brings me coffee. He did again this morning. When I asked what he had on his schedule, he replied, “Work…the usual stuff”.  Then he asked about my day ahead.

“I’m going to change the world.”

Now, that isn’t a usual Monday morning response. It actually surprised me. I really have absolutely nothing on my schedule. Nothing.

When he gave his take on his day, it reminded me of our Sunday night.

We both sometimes struggle with a bit of depression and foreboding on Sunday evenings…especially after a sweet weekend.

Kind of a shudder and shake preparing our heads for a new week.

Well…it’s Monday morning now…who knows what can happen, if we look for it. I am going to clear my head of all the sluggishness that’s set in from devouring too much political news…it’s a new day.

Making the bed every morning has been a habit of mine since childhood. Somehow in the middle of the chaos and clutter of life, that “made” bed stands in hopeful defiance.

Blog - Make Your Bed - habit formation (2)

Admiral William H. McRaven a highly decorated Navy Seal, retired in 2014 from a 37-year military career. He oversaw Operation Neptune Spear – the military operation that culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden. In the year of his retirement, he was commencement speaker at the graduation ceremony of University of Texas – Austin. Blog - Change the World - Make Your Bed - pinterestPhoto Credit: Pinterest

As he encouraged the young graduates, he told of 10 lessons in his SEAL basic training. Beginning with “Make Your Bed”, they follow in brief (you can watch the video of his speech or read more detailed highlights here).

10 Life Lessons to Change Your World

1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

4. If you want to change the world get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

6. If you want to change the world sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

10. If you want to change the world don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

Steve Nguyen, Workplace Psychology

Adm. McRaven closed the commencement speech with the following challenge:

“Start each day with a task completed. Find someone to help you through life. Respect everyone. Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often . . . but if you take some risks, step up when the times are the toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up….if you do these things, the next generation, and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today, and what started here will indeed have changed the world for the better.”Navy Adm. William McRaven

 

You WILL change the world!

Besides making the bed, a habit of prayer and time in God’s Word also helps clear my head and set the course of my day. This morning, a resolve was stirred afresh to set myself on the course of a world-changing God. He loves us and will work good out of every situation for those who love Him and respond to His call on their lives (Romans 8:28).

A powerful piece by Jon Bloom a few years back continues to encourage and inspire. Below is just an excerpt:

“You will change the world, more than you know. And because of that, because your life will impact so many others, Jesus wants you to live prayerfully (Ephesians 6:18), walk carefully (Ephesians 5:15), and seek his kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). If you do, if you faithfully invest the “little” he has entrusted to you, no labor of yours in this life will be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58) and he will entrust you with more in the life to come (Matthew 25:21).”Jon Bloom, Desiring God

You Will Change the World – Wisdom from Jon Bloom – Deb Mills

So to you out there…and especially to you, Dave…the bed’s made. Praying for you and for me…as we prepare and brace ourselves to change the world. Who knows what God will do as we stand ready?!Blog - No Life wasted 11

[Postscript: Thank you, Dave, for your willingness to follow God where He leads you…and all the amazing people, memories, and God-lessons we have in our lives because of that willingness. Thank You, God, for every stamp in my passport, and for being there every step of the way…including this very day. Help me to take hold of it…I can change the world, because of You.]