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The Story of Us

The beautiful fir tree was decorated with lights, tinsel, and bulbs.  The branches were lovely, but devoid of any personality – until the box of ornaments was brought out to be placed upon the waiting boughs.

As Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas CD played in the background, we sipped our hot chocolate and talked about the ornaments from years past.

I proudly placed the “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament in a prominent position, remembering  how it felt to hold my first baby in my arms so many wonderful years ago.babys first christmas

My teenage son said, “Look – it’s the ornament we made together when I was in preschool.”

My husband brought out several ornaments that we have purchased on family vacations.

The cinnamon-stick Santa, the one-eyed light-bulb reindeer, and the pretzel-twist wreath all found welcome homes on the tree.  Each ornament was symbolic of a memory from years past.puzzle ornament

When it became apparent that the sturdy tree couldn’t possibly hold the weight of any more memories, we decided that the tree was complete.

As we we stepped back to admire our handiwork, my husband placed his arms around me and whispered in my ear, “This is the story of us.”

This is the story of US.

The tree is a symbol for the life we have created together -a representation of our marriage and of the lives of the children we have raised.  It signifies the places we have visited  and the people who have touched our lives along life’s path.

Then I began to notice other symbols.

angel

Angels and stars were a common theme.  And of course, there were many ornaments that depicted the manger scene at Jesus’ birth.

Christmas is the story of us – Jesus and me – Jesus and you.  This is a story where the holy God/Man meets up with the imperfect earth man.   This  is a deeply personal story,  full of memories from the past and promises for the future.

star

Our Christmas tree tells the story of Jesus.  The Emmanuel, God with us,  is represented here, from the star, to the shepherds, to the angel in the night.  Emmanuel, God with us,  is symbolized here from the wise men, to the manager scene, to the cross.

“Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown,  for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever.” Isaiah 55:13

This is the story of the Christ child, who has come to be with us, in us, and around us.  He came to be one of us, and to ultimately die for us.

    “For the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.” Luke 1:49

cross

Thank you Jesus for being the hero of my story – the story of me and you.  Thank you Jesus for the story of us.

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It was a dark night in Bethlehem.  The Romans had occupied the city and were forcing families from near and far to return here in order to register their families.

Not far from town, you could spot the shepherds in the  yellow haze of moonlight, going about the business of caring for their flocks.

Shepherds were the every day man, the blue collar man, in this little village, which was now bursting at the seams with visitors.

Then, in the dimly lit expanse, a white light broke through the darkness.

 “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Luke 1:9

The heavenly came down and illuminated the earth with holy brilliance.

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. ” Luke 1:10-11

It is fitting that the announcement of good news came to meek and unassuming shepherds.  Immanuel, God with us, had come.

Immanuel is with US, the simple, the humble, and the lowly, in our daily struggles.  He pierces the darkness of our hearts in this dimly lit place we call earth.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

He came as an innocent baby, with pink cheeks and ten chubby, little toes.  He came for you you and for me with no fanfare and no grand welcoming – simply a humble birth in a stable.  His first bed was a feeding trough made for animals and he was wrapped in simple cloth.

This birth – this piercing in the night – was overlooked by most in this bustling city.  If we don’t stop in our busyness – in our hustling and bustling around this season –  we might overlook the Christ child’s birth as well.

But on that night, that very dark night, the simple, earthly shepherds and the intricate, heavenly angels came together in a worship song of praise and holy fear to celebrate Immanuel – the Holy Child that broke through the darkness.

“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 1: 13-14

After the angels left, the shepherds raced with all their strength directly into town to find Him in the stable, bowing down at his makeshift bed to give Him glory and honor.

“When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”  Luke 1: 17-18

I pray that you find Him in your darkness, in the simple places in your life this Christmas season.  He is Immanuel – God with us.

My son came home from his cross country meet with a new t-shirt.  The front says, “It’s a Jungle Out There.”  The back says, “You don’t have to be faster than the lion… you just have to be faster than the person next to you.”

The sport of cross country running is like that.  Only the fastest and fittest runners – the “front runners” – are concerned about finishing first.  Most runners concentrate on improving their own personal times and passing a few guys ahead of them.

The course today had been thoroughly soaked by a morning rainstorm.  The boys ran on wet, muddy paths, and splashed through a slippery creek bed.

We saw one boy running in stocking feet, holding just one shoe.  There were lost shoes all along the path and runners were falling down in the slimy earth at every turn.

In addition, some of the front-runners lost their way in the woods and went off course.  They ran the wrong way, turned around and then met up again with the rest of the pack.

It was a messy and sticky situation.  The t-shirt said it appropriately.  It was a jungle out there!

The bible compares life on this earth to running a race.

Sometimes life gets messy.  We get pulled down into mucky, messy situations that are often beyond our control.  We may even fall down or lose part of ourselves along the way!  Unlike the cross country course, however, the traps that cause us to stumble in the course of life are often caused by sin.

When sinful thoughts or people try to ensnare us, what are we to do?

We are instructed to fix our eyes on Jesus.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2a

By following our Savior and persevering through life’s circumstances, we can run the race marked out for us with strength.

It takes courage to follow Christ instead of our fellow travelers on the path of life.  It is wise though because only Jesus knows the correct course we should take.

“I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.  When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.  Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.” Proverbs 4:11-13

As we run the race of life, Jesus is our front runner and we should follow him.  He shows us the right path and keeps our feet from stumbling.

“Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.” Proverbs 4:26

So let us run our life race with perseverance, keeping our eyes on Jesus, until He leads us to the heavenly finish line.

Juggling

The juggler asks his audience of children for help.  He is atop a six-foot unicycle and needs someone to throw him three bowling pins.  As he tediously moves back and forth across the narrow stage, he catches one pin after another, successfully balancing the movement of the cycle and the catching and tossing of the pins.

I began to grow anxious as I watch him.  What if he drops a pin, or rides backward off the stage?

Often in life, I feel like that juggler.  Life is moving back and forth out of control and in the midst of transition, I balance many tasks.

I manage the roles of wife, mother, daughter, and friend.  I balance service to my church, home, and community.

I have many pins in the air.

What if, with a loud “clank”, I drop a pin and the whole show falls apart?

Sometimes the expectations are overwhelming and I need to be alone in God’s presence.

Jesus felt this way sometimes.  When He felt overwhelmed, He went away to a quiet place.

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat,   he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.”  Mark 6:30-32

He needed to spend time with God.

The people wanted to spend time with Jesus, however, and they tracked Him down.

I often feel as if the many demands of life are tracking me down too.

But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.” Mark 6:33

So Jesus cared for the people late into the day even though He already felt depleted.

We’ve all been there.  The evening shadows are falling but our tasks haven’t been accomplished.    So much is being thrown our way and we are trying desperately to balance it all.  We want to go off by ourselves and pray, but there is simply no time and not enough hands to attend to everything that must be done.

How can we juggle everything life throws at us?

Again, Jesus shows us the answer.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Mark 1:30

Jesus came to the Father in the newness of the day, before any other demands were placed upon Him.  We too can come to our Heavenly Father at dawn to receive early morning refreshment.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Psalm 90:14

In the early morning, we hear the quiet whisper of God’s love as He guides and directs our path for the day.

Thirsty

The brown grass crunches like stubble beneath my bare feet.  The flowers have stopped producing and their leaves are sun-scalded.

It hasn’t rained in weeks, and the tired earth is scorched.

In the fields, stalks of corn raise their wilted leaves upward toward the heavens, crying out for relief.

I have begun to pray for a slow, quenching rain to saturate deep into the parched and cracked soil.

I have also begun to pray for spiritual rain to nourish my dry and thirsty soul.

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1

Jesus once met a Samaritan woman who had been through a spiritual drought.  Her life was hard and hopeless.  She was thirsty for something more.

She tried to fill her thirst with the company of a husband.  But that didn’t work out.  So she tried again – and again, and again.  She had experienced the company of five husbands – and the pain of five divorces.  Marriage wasn’t enough to satisfy her thirst.

She had a new man living with her, and they weren’t married. However, that arrangement wasn’t satisfying either.

Jesus met her at her place of greatest need – the well – a place designed for relieving thirst.  The giver of all things, He ironically asked her for something – a drink.

She was taken aback.  It was improper for a strange Jewish man to talk to her in public.

“Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  John 4:10

The concept of “living water” intrigued the woman.

“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4: 13-14

When she realized that she was talking to the Messiah – the Savior of the World – she was so excited that she told her entire village and they all went to the well to see Him.

Her spiritual thirst was even greater than her physical thirst. She wanted to taste the “living water”.

It is the same with us.  Our physical needs are great.  We need water to rain down on our thirsty land.

But more than that, we need to go to the well to visit Jesus, where we can drink deeply of the “living water”, and we will never be thirsty again.

“He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.” Revelation 21:6-7

Millions of people around the world were glued to their television sets last Friday night as Nik Wallenda became the first person to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

I was one of them.

As he walked, we heard his prayers and words of encouragement.

“Praise You Father, Praise You Jesus,” he said.

“This is what dreams are made of people.  Pursue your dreams and never give up,” he encouraged.  “Mine might seem strange but anyone dealing with any battle; focus on that other side.”

It was incredible watching the small silhouette of a man draped against the mighty rushing waters.  As he inched forward, teetering over the great abyss, I knew that this was history in the making – something my grandchildren will ask me about someday.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that he had arrived safely on the other side.  Nik Wallenda had accomplished his dream, despite difficult circumstances and imminent danger.

A Canadian border agent asked him, “What is the purpose of your trip sir?”

Nik replied, “To inspire people around the world.”

He was an inspiration to me.

Someday we will all be asked a similar question, “What was the purpose of your life?”

Did we honor God, live our lives for His glory, and care for fellow mankind?  Or did we just go about life, selfishly serving our own desires, wants, and basking in the comforts we have been given?  Were we miserly, or we a good and faithful servant of what we have been given?

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.   Come and share your master’s happiness!” Matthew 25:23

What is the true purpose of our trip here on earth?

I want to inspire people – in my neighborhood and around the world – for the glory of God.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance   from the Lord as a reward.   It is the Lord Christ you are serving. ” Colossians 3:23-24

God has given me the gift of writing.  My devotional writings are  my “tightrope.”  And God has blessed you with a way to touch the world as well.  What is your “tightrope” – your gift to the world?  How can you use it to glorify God?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31

When asked about his faith, Nik Wallenda responded, “Faith plays a huge role in what I do.  I believe that God has opened many doors for me in my life, and this is one of them – to inspire people around the world.  And again, the impossible is not too impossible if you set your mind to it and reach for your goals.  Reach for the skies and never give up.”

What is the purpose of YOUR trip?

The Open Hand

Our family has decided to simplify, streamline, and trim the excess from our lives.

Downsizing is harder than you might think.

The problem is that we have acquired so much stuff!

Why is it so hard to say goodbye to the things gathering dust in the background of our lives?

We hold tightly onto material possessions because they give us comfort and security.  We think that keeping them will give us peace and we may find a use for them again someday.

This is flawed thinking.  Those things are actually keeping us.  It is much better to open up our hands and let go.

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19

The deliberate act of releasing my hold over things and placing earthly treasure into the empty, waiting hands of someone in need has given me great freedom and joy.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven,where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6: 20-21

King Solomon called the accumulation of wealth a meaningless chasing after the wind.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done  and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2: 10-11

It’s an age-old struggle – this holding tightly onto the things of the earth.  God commanded the Israelites to not be tightfisted with their wealth.

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.” Deuteronomy 15: 7-8

God told them to open their hands to the poor and then He would bless them in everything they put their hand to – including the very act of giving.

Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.  There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15: 10-11

And He will bless us as we release the hold we have over our possessions and offer them to others.

I can either sit in my house, holding tightfistedly to the comfort and security of things.  Or, I can find my security in God as I open up my heart and my possessions to those in need – as I let go.

Downsizing has become, for me, a spiritual act of trusting – hand and heart open to God.

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