Friday, December 31, 2010

How to Weather a Storm

Hurricane Katrina rocked my world. I didn't sleep for a week, I couldn't concentrate or eat. That one storm reaked havoc on (or totally destroyed in some cases) every city and town I had lived in since seventh grade. The video feeds on TV were of the gas stations I pumped my gas, the restaurant in the harbor my family owned, the bridge I traveled to work every day. Katrina's damage swept so wide that part of me was washed away right along with a whole coastline,and I wasn't even there.

It was Thursday, three days after the storm and I knew my mom had been rescued from the City of Biloxi Bedlam by my cousin hero and was well on her way to me and safety via the airport. One would think that I would be feeling much better by then, but I wasn't. I was reeling from a realization that hit me so hard that the thought slipped out of my head and through my words into the quiet around me. I was so deep in thought that the sound startled me, and I wasn't even aware that it was my own voice that I heard until just a fraction of a second later. Hurricane Katrina disturbed me.

But this is not a post about Hurricane Katrina; it's a post about safety.

With an audible chuckle, I had leaked these words from my thoughts: "We're really not safe."

And we're not, you know. Not in the sense we crave it — physically. And not in the sense that I had always felt that I was.

It's America, the land that has known only peace and security within its borders since just after the Depression and the World Wars — almost a full hundred years ago and several generations now. We live where there is the rule of law and peace and order and freedom.

So we don't know danger and insecurity. We don't even imagine the possibility of it. We take the blessings of health, and home, and our children all gathered in close for granted, something we are entitled to, or at the very least, expect.

And because of all we have, the suffering we see on the nightly news and from the missionary's reports falls on us uncomprehended. It's so far removed from our American security and sensibility, that it's not real —until the pictures are of your relatives and the street corners are the ones on your old jogging route. Until Hurricane Katrina teaches you that no one is exempt. No one is safe on this Fallen Earth.

Guatemala is under seige. Journalists have been strong-armed, and their innocent family members and their president and their neighbors have been threatened. Army tanks and anti-drug agents (masked to protect their identity and thus their safety) patrol the streets in Coban, a city we have come to love over the last five years. Drug traffickers are not happy, and our Guatemalan children live just behind stucco walls that are a flimsy shield from danger and drug gangs and storms no child should have to weather. And our villagers don't even have stucco, but only wooden planks and thatched grass roofs and vulnerability to drug cartel recruitment. They don't have much.

But they do have faith — a shield that's sure and not flimsy or unreliable. It is the forward part of the whole armor that when we stand in it, we are firm. Outfitted in prayer, we are ready for battle. And prepared for victory. (Ephesians 6:10-18)

My mom spent Hurricane Katrina with knees bent to a soggy carpet on the second floor of her borther's house. She prayed for three solid hours on arthritic knees and a storm surge that rose up to meet them. While there was talk of escape for nine in a two-man skiff tied to the balcony, she didn't pray for safety or deliverance. She prayed for faith.

Will you kneel beside me and stand firm, Warrior? Those in need depend on us and our weapons of warfare to weather their storm. May we stand knowing that no matter our physical safety, our spiritual safety is sound. We fight the good fight planted firmly in the palm of his hand. And there is no safer place to be.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Feliz Navidad del Hogar de Los Niños

{Merry Christmas from the Children's Home}
New Hope Children's Home
Coban, Guatemala

If you would like to partner with our ministry in Guatemala, there are many ways to do so.
You can sponsor a child in the children's home,
become a monthly partner,
give a one-time gift,
or let us design and guide your ministry team on their own mission trip to Guatemala.
You can explore all the options by contacting  Mike Gonzalez at
pastormg {at} gmail {dot} com 

Monday, December 27, 2010

A New Daily Discipline

We're in that week of in-between, looking forward to beginning anew after such extravagance. I am not one given much to resolutions, not that there are things that could be made better in my life. But resolutions feel like the establishment of a law that begs to be broken, and I'm really not in need of legalism or a sinful nature aroused by a law.

But there is something new being instituted in our family. It was a commitment made by Mike that will benefit all of us. Before I let him tell you about it in his own words, I want to clarify that although Mike asks forgiveness in the letter below, he is the best father I have ever known, loves his children and his wife to near perfection. He sees his own short-comings as glaring; I see them barely. And this is right, because love covers a multitude of sin. (1 Peter 4:8)

So here he is, my first guest blogger, my dear Mike.


December 17, 2010

Dear Children,

2010 Christmas Picture

I cannot begin to say with words what the three of you mean to me and your mom. You are a treasure and a gift from the Lord to us. I feel that the years of your childhood are QUICKLY passing me up and I have a gnawing in my stomach that somehow I have not prepared and equipped you enough or properly to face the great uncertainties of life as well as prepared you for the most important of all tests, and that is to stand before the Lord having done His will. I obviously know I cannot live your life for you, but I am to be the most godly and loving father and the most godly and loving husband to your mom before you. As a matter of fact it is the most important of qualifiers for me to be the pastor of the church. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy and says, "He (the pastor) must manage his own family well. His children should respectfully obey him. (If a man doesn’t know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 1 Timothy 3:4-5.

It is for this reason that I am writing this note to you today. I have decided that I will surrender all to God and devote myself to training and instructing you (even when you do not feel like listening) as well as spending more quality time with you (the little that we have left before you are all grown up and gone from our home). As I am dedicated to training and teaching the flock that the Lord has entrusted to me, even more must I train and instruct my family. For all the times I have failed to meet the standard of Christ before you, I repent and apologize from the heart. Thank you for extending mercy to me and grace in my sin and in my failures to be a godly example and a kind and gentle father. One of the things that is very difficult to accept is that sometimes what I see in you when you fight with each other and argue and yell is a reflection of what you have seen in me. When you do not hunger for God and seek Him is sometimes because I have not hungered for God or sought Him myself. When you do not pray is sometimes because I have failed to pray. "I must run the race to win the prize in Christ Jesus" and leave you an example, a legacy, a pathway to follow. Not a pathway that I have settled with but the pathway of righteousness and truth - which is Christ Himself.

I will begin today, along with what I have shared with you in this note, to send you a verse, a quote, or a thought from my heart each day to your email box. Since I know that you will be checking your email EVERYDAY :) I love you all so much and am so thankful for you. I would keep you by my side forever if I could (even though this is not humanly possible nor is it healthy) but that is the truth. It is because I know my time is short with you and because the Lord has laid this on my heart, that I am with great urgency and fervency giving myself to this wonderful privilege and honor of raising you three in the Lord. Please pray for me because I cannot do this in my own strength, but I know that "with God all things are possible" Matthew 19:26.

So here is your verse for today.

"He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." Proverbs 17:9

When you see or hear someone do or say something that is not like Jesus you should forgive them because that is what Jesus has done for you. On the other hand, if you go and tell someone about it and repeat what you saw and heard you will cause the person you tell it to to think less of the person who messed up and cause a separation between them. This is not acting in the attitude and Spirit of Christ. What would be best is to pray for that person and then speak with them about it and encourage them to live the way Jesus lived. Show them the same mercy the Lord showed you.

Love you much,

: : :
Perhaps a "Verse For Today" is something you might want to do with your own family? You don't have to be a trained pastor to pick a verse from scripture, give it a brief, age-appropriate explanation and a challenge or two for living it out. It's a great way to serve the Lord and grow together in Him as a family in 2011.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Satisfied

It's 3:15 am and the three week old baby wakes me with cries that are impossible to be ignored. I carry the angry lump of flesh to the rocking Lazy-Boy in the living room and bear my breast. I look towards the front porch light shining through the semi-circle window in the front door and will myself in the now-quiet to not forget what this feels like. My offspring small in my arms, milk rushing in answer to infant cry, nature taking over. I close my eyes and try to memorize the feel of it in my stomach and my lungs and knees.

I'm rocking now and humming a made-up tune, and my mind has wandered and I'm already not paying attention. I'm so tired. When I lift my small daughter to burp, she strikes the pose; you know the one. Every newborn does it: the head lolling back slightly with fists to the ears, elbows in the air by her temples. Her little arched back pushes a miniature diapered hiney out, legs drawn up. Her eyes are closed and a lazy half smile accompanies the trickle of milk that never got swallowed that spills over her cheek. I think in yoga it's called "Satisfied Infant." All three of mine did it, and it always made me giggle. I used to say they were drunk on breast milk.

What a difference twenty minutes makes to the belly of a hungry infant.

I remember it all tonight, from the bathtub, wearily wiggling my aching toes in the warm water. After I filled the fridge with an absurd amount of leftovers, and put bags of discarded wrappings and trappings to the curb. The silver's now cradled again in its velvet chest, the dishwasher's humming, and I lean back into the water, with that same satisfied almost-grin. Downstairs there are random stacks of opened presents, and a counter of pie and cakes with missing pieces.

And I remember what it feels like in my stomach, my lungs, my knees to see a hungry infant satisfied. I remember the light shining into the darkness of my quiet three-o'clock-in-the-morning-living room. The Light shined again into my tired living room today on the same baby girl and Momma almost thirteen years later. Weightless in the water, I think back over today and giggle. I must be drunk on perfect Love come rushing down.

What a difference a Christmas Day makes in the soul a Savior-starved sinner.

Ghost of Christmas Mornings Past

are the baby born in Bethlehem
and the Christ on the cross.

May you and yours unwrap Him today.

Behold what manner of Love
the Father has given unto us.
Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Sickness

I awoke to a hurting throat, and when I thought of the things that need to be done in the next four days, I swallowed hard, and that hurt. I staggered to the shower and realized my head hurts, too, I'm sneezing and surprised that I didn't escape the miscroscopic germs that are slowing greeting each one in our family. For such little critters, they have amazing reach.

Being sick is an inconvenience I don't have time for.

And I think of Mary. Was she a little sick, a bit weak, not quite up to the tasks before her? Did she swallow hard the News that got stuck in her throat? Did she feel imperfect? Inadequate? Under pressure? Intimidated?

Perhaps being sick is right where I'm supposed to be, remembering I am unable, ill-prepared, just plain ill, and in need of hope.

I leave for work with a cup of hot green tea and a head full of mucus. I feel my acute humanity and my heart feels pregnant with Advent.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

State of Siege: Coban, Guatemala

Yesterday (Saturday, December 18, 2010) Guatemala's president, President Colom, declared a 30-day state of siege in the region of Alta Verapaz. This is the region which borders the Chiapas area of Mexico. Large and powerful Mexican drug cartels are using this region of Guatemala as a gateway through a more and more porous border between the Chiapas area of Mexico and Guatemala. The drug lords and gangs have been gaining ground, and the Guatemalan government is beginning to fight back.

This happens to be the area of Guatemala where we have been ministering for the last five years. We have a children's home in the city of Coban, a city specifically mentioned in the official notice prepared by the US Embassy in Guatemala City shown below. We also are training pastors in six villages in the rural areas surrounding Chisec. The following video of actual footage from our previous ministry trips to these areas now under siege. We have taken ministry teams into this area with medical treatment, sanitation efforts, building materials, bibles newly translated into their native tongue, and training for pastors in each village.

I've roughed out a map below noting where the city of Coban is located in relation to the Mexican border as well as a small town called Chisec, which we use as a hub between villages as well as in/out of the area. There is a hotel there we stay in often. Imagine a dormitory, and that's more like this "hotel" than the actual word hotel, but it's a bed and four walls and food that's sanitary.

View State of Siege in a larger map

We have a couple scheduled to make a trip in January during the time of the state of siege, and another larger group planned to go in March 2011.

The American Embassy has issued the following:

Please pray for the safety of our full-time minister running the children's home and all those vulnerable in both cities as well as those exposed in the remote villages.

Another point of prayer is the pastors planning in the US for upcoming ministry during this time of violence and place of danger.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Story of Us in the Ever-Elusive Perfect Christmas Picture

It all started when Mike and I decided a picture card was where it was at when it was Christmas and we had our first 8-month-old and we used a florescent lamp to light the situation because we knew we loved our little one but knew nothing of photography. It took a whole roll of film (yes, film, and drug store developing — the dark ages).

1995: The little brown and tan appendage growing from the side of Adrian's head turned out to be a favorite bear of his that now resides in my underwear drawer because I developed an emotional attachment to it when my son's attachment was outgrown.

1996:  This little outfit I hand smocked and sewed by hand (well, machine). I still can't believe it turned out fit for wearing. I purchased $60 saddle oxfords from Stride Right for a one-year-old who wore them with only this outfit and only three times. The ridiculous things we do to and for our children. Recognize the  bear? He's already becoming more prominent in our lives.

1997:  The wonder of a childhood Christmas had finally arrived. See it in those eyes? He's not quite three and fully aware of all the delicious-ness of Christmas. I was very pregnant with his little sister. He looks so oblivious to the fact that his days of being the center of my universe were about to come to an abrupt end.

1998:  Mike and I decided to get in this picture because it was the first time we felt like a full-fledged family, no more single child. We had the frenzied getting dressed for this picture and the frayed nerves and the snipping at one another to prove it, too. Oh the things that hide behind the perfect picture....  But from the looks of it, you'd never know. My daughter's dress and matching bow? Hand smocked and hand sewn again. It's still in the attic somewhere.

1999:  Adrian wasn't the only one with his hands full. An infant plus a one-year-old equals chaos — cranky, tired chaos. Hence, the paci in the Christmas picture. Whada-ya-gonna-do? Nobody's clothes were hand made that year. I counted dressed and fed as a victory back then.

2000:  This picture makes me cry. When they really were these ages, I was so busy trying to meet their needs, I completely missed how cute and precious and adorable God makes the next generation. I look at this picture now and can't believe God used me in any capacity to have anything to do with these marvels of His.

2001:  Trust me when I say we worked very hard for this one. It was worth it.

2002:  Mike and I got in on it again this year because so many of our loved ones were anxious to see Mike, the man who had cheated death after a very late-stage cancer diagnosis. He had just been released from the hospital and had his first chemo treatment under his belt. We were happy just to be all together that year, embracing a life spared as an unspeakable gift.

2003:  There were threats of spankings before this was snapped, and that's all I'm gonna say.

2004:  Not a one of my sweet children wanted to wear the carefully matched blue and grey outfits I picked out for them. I distinctly remember much fussing and fighting in order to capture this happy family for the Christmas card that year. You can see it on everyone's face but Mike's. He's still just blissfully happy to be alive. Cancer treatments had lasted a solid year, and it changes your perspective — you stop worrying about matching outfits.

2005:  I'm not sure what I was more proud of this year: the new house we had built, the stockings it had taken me four years to cross-stitch that were finally finished, or my kids. It should be an obvious choice, huh?



2006:  We came close to not having a Christmas picture this year; life was now moving again at break-neck
speed. We used this snapshot from a fall trip to the mountains. I was grieved by their everyday clothes and the fact that although she denies it to this today, it looks like Reagan had snipped the left half of her bangs right off. But for all this picture was lacking, the mountainous backdrop and the proud big brother more than made up for it.

2007:  I wish I could freeze time here. We were past diaper bags and sippy cups and nap times, but hadn't yet hit the turbulent teens. I didn't know it at the time, though. That's how life is sometimes:  not knowing to cherish the ordinary moments because you don't realize they're extraordinary until afterward.

I broke my winning streak in 2008 because we just never found the time to get a picture taken:  proof that life only gets busier and goes by faster as the kids get older.

Last year we hired a photographer to take some shots for the church website and for our personal use. The photographer introduced me to blogging, which, for better or worse, has changed my daily life more than anything else since giving birth to these three beautiful kids. She's no longer blogging.

This year? It hasn't happened yet. But I'm feeling inspired to overcome the whining, fighting, dressing, and pretending to smile for the camera. It's worth the effort to capture a perfect moment, to look at the picture of a perfect family, and know that behind the scenes it's not so perfect after all. But it's ours, and how I love it, every wonderful moment of it from year to year.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's In a Name

Select US Constitution Signatures
With just a few days left to homeschool before we are Christmasing full-time around here, I started a new read-aloud book today with my girls. Judging from the first two chapters of Island of the Blue Dolphin, we're in for a grand adventure with a developing young heroine.

I ran across this early on:

"I come in peace and wish to parley," he said to the men on the shore.

None of them answered, but my father, who was one of those hidden among the rocks, came forward down the sloping beach. He thrust his spear into the sand.

"I am the Chief of Ghalas-at," he said. "My name is Chief Chowig."

I was surprised that he gave his real name to a stranger. Everyone in our tribe had two names, the real one which was secret and was seldom used, and one which was common, for if people use your secret name it becomes worn out and loses its magic. Thus I was known as Wan-a-pa-lie, which means The Girl With the Long Black Hair, though my secret name is Karana. My father's secret name was Chowig. Why he gave it to a stranger I do not know.

My mind raced to the Christmas story. Joseph was told to name the child Jesus. Joseph is now on board with the whole Messiah thing — it only took an angel to convince him.

Can you imagine? Your fiancé tells you she's pregnant by the Spirit of God rather than by any act of unfaithfulness. While you're trying to figure out what to do with this tidbit of information, an angel appears to confirm the story (making it easier to swallow?!). The last straw is when he hears from angelic tongue, "Call his name Bob." Bizarre doesn't begin to do it justice.

Jesus — to many of us today in Western society, a name reserved for the Messiah, but back in the year of our Lord 0002 in the holy land, it was number three on the list of most popular baby boy names.

Why such a common name? Was God sending the message that Jesus is Everyman? That God is just like us? A common, ordinary guy, like your next door neighbor? He was the God of the Universe disguised as man.

Think of it: He, the Son of God, shed names like the Word and Light to take upon himself an earthly name like Bob. John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. To dwell means to pitch one's tent, and that means God went camping.

He bent low, staked the tent peg of sacred seed in the earth of a virgin womb and crawled inside the tent of human flesh and moved in next door.

The One with the name above all names unrobed himself of heavenly majesty to become Bob, our new neighbor. It's no wonder Israel didn't recognize Him.

The Old Testament law prohibits using God's name in vain. Unable to bring themselved to forming the name on human lips, the Jews wouldn't even write his full name in sacred scrolls, leaving out vowels so it could not be pronounced. It was too holy for such common use and vain repetition.

But how many times did God answer to the name Jesus while he walked the earth? Did he feel common? Did his name become meaningless? Did he blend in with the countless others who bore the same Hebrew name?

My life sometimes seems meaningless and common. When someone needs my attention, they call me by name. And so many call my name:

The responsibilities of life call us;
Children, husband, friends call upon us;
Our problems and worries beckon us.

Sometimes I cringe when I hear my own name called yet again. Do you ever get tired of hearing your name? Did He?

After he took the name Jesus and came to earth to redeem us, the Father highly exalted him and gave him the name which is above every name. And just like that, our neighbor named Jesus became heavenly King of kings, Lord of Lords and sent the Holy Spirit earthward to reside near to us in his stead. And someday the man called Jesus will ride to us on a white steed with another name: Faithful and True.

Then we, too, will get new names when we climb from our tents to become his neighbor on Gold Street and live in mansions he custom built especially for us. No one will bow to our new name like we will His, but it will be important. It won't become ordinary, overused, or worn out. It won't have lost its meaning or remind us of our earthly life. It will be the Father's pet name for his beloved child. Just like in the Island of the Blue Dolphin, it won't be a name one uses with a stranger. Instead it'll be an intimate sacred secret.

An edited repost of some thoughts that always return when I ponder his gracing us with his presence in a long-ago stable.

Monday, December 13, 2010

How to Maneuver a Flyover

The fog clears as hot water falls around me. It's an early morning effort to get a running start before I attempt a pole vault over the mountain of things that need to be done this week. It's 5 am, I smell shampoo, then hear, "Mom? I don't feel so good," and the pole gets caught in the gravel just before I lose my grip, stumble and almost fall.

Almost fall.

Just in the nick of time, I realize that my way over the mountain is to be thankful. Gratitude vaults us right up and over the stuff of life piled high, even in the December madness that happens despite our best efforts.

321 ~ sick child forcing me to slow down and do what's needful
322 ~ a hot shower before having to care for a sick child. Oh, thank you, Lord.
323 ~ watching Mike dance his praise to God with two-year old great niece singing "Danza"
324 ~ the groceries I need to buy
325 ~ the week's worth of menus already planned out
326 ~ the checking account and bills I must catch up on today: YUCK! (must be thankful -- must.)
327 ~ the rest of the elf costume to get together today
328 ~ invitation to schedule a long overdue conversation with brother
329 ~ looking forward to wrapping Christmas gifts
330 ~ shopping less, giving more, worshipping fully
331 ~ giving clean water to an entire Guatemalan village for Christmas
332 ~ Sunday night Christmas musical singing scandalous mercy
333 ~ children dressed up in nativity attire, leading worship with an innocence found only in children
334 ~ the solo voices of Mae Mae and Joshua: the sound of heaven's purity right here on earth
335 ~ The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever, the book and the one by our children
336 ~ early morning, half-asleep, whispered  half-conversation with Mike, still under cover
337 ~ Auntie Donna, no matter how much time has passed since we last talked
338 ~ going it alone, conquering fears, and courage to delve into something new
339 ~ preteen who still comes looking for goodnight kisses
340 ~ biting wind and central heat
341 ~ home cooked Christmas dinner for fifty prisoners, where the Bread of Life is served and two partake
342 ~ Holy Spirit who keeps me from falling into the temptation of complaining even before the day has really begun

Joining others in gratitude today, because gratefulness is the only way to really live a life that pleases Him.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Kitchen Towel At the Top of the Stairs

It's been there since Monday, and five people have traveled those stairs countless times since then. Not one of us has picked it up.

How it got there is anyone's guess. And everyone's denial (although we haven't discussed it). I'm pretty sure it wasn't Mike or me. That would leave three teenagers (or almost) in the running for the not-so-coveted title of Towel-Dropper. And let's face it, it could be any of them: it's the specialty of teenagers across America, the dropping of cloth things on the floor and hoping it won't smell as bad, but will decompose just as well as the compost pile, so they don't have to pick it up–ever.

My son's even made the extra effort to hide his dirty clothes in a neat pile on the far side of his desk, unseen from the doorway. It takes more effort than actually putting them in the hamper. I really don't get it, he's going out of his way to live in filth.

I constantly badger my kids about picking up after themselves to no avail. The broken record keeps screaming, "There are no servants here!"

And today, when I passed that kitchen towel for the umpteenth time, I realized it's still on the floor because there are no servants here. 

I think I might have just aired some dirty laundry, but that's okay. It's an uncomfortable glimpse into the pastor's glass house with the realization that we're more like you than you think.

So the goal is that our home will house a real servant or two sometime soon, the kind who do the important, not-so-glamorous work of seeing the forgotten, doing what's necessary, namely applying grace to messy situations. Nagging will only get me so far. I think I'll change my strategy to picking up dirty dish towels that have wandered from their calling in the kitchen in hopes that we, also, will wander back into our true calling of servanthood.

Until then, does anyone know where the Fabreze is?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Real Christmas Presents

It's Christmas morning. Early. Too early.

But this can't be helped because there's too much eagerness to be borne a moment longer. So they come, they rush in, and wake parents who have long forgotten the feeling of sleep deprivation. Teens too old for this kind of excitement, and yet there they are in all their expectancy. And it's delightful, their energy contagious.

It's not magic, but Christmas morning Love come far down to share the centerpiece of heaven with earth.

He's come.

So they rise early, sleepy, expectant. To see for themselves, to behold God's gift to the world. It's wrapped in brown paper, plain, but boasting a shimmering ribbon to hint at the radiance of the gift within. It's quietly lost among the rest of the gleaming presents beneath their tree. But this plain brown gift was the first to be placed there, once alone among the branches and boughs of a cornered December tree.

The first Christmas gifts to ever be given, to introduce them to Christmas, is always first to be unwrapped, held close and treasured. There are three children, and but two gifts in a trilogy given so far ... the third gift of his second coming not yet birthed from the eastern sky. So they fight to be the one to open, to place the Babe in his rightful manger, the one that waited empty until now. The gift is announced and bestowed.

"To The World, from God," one child heralds as another dismantles the brown paper trappings to unveil the Christ.

The father reads the familiar text, there is holy hush and prayer and a stray tear leaking unspeakable thanks to be witnessing with fellow beasts of burden the divine marry the earthly in a barn. They sing quiet,

"Great is thy faithfulness, 
O God, my Father.
There is no shadow
Of turning with thee.
Thou changest not,
Thy compassions, they fail not.
Great is thy faithfulness,
 Lord unto me. 

The next gift is announced, "To the Sinner, From Jesus" and they unwrap the cruelty and punishment they were due for their sin, yet unfathomably spared, saved from their wretched end by the only One who could survive it. His purpose in coming is reverently remembered. How can it be? This two-part gift unwrapping birth for the purpose of death? They speak of it with sacred words, read of death and resurrection, and the nail pierces grateful hearts to hang strangely at home among the other ornaments of celebration on a tree. They sing O Come, All Ye Faithful because they are indeed joyful and triumphant.

Only then, is the family ready for earthly gifts given. Only then are they prepared to receive, and give, from hearts overflowing with the spirit of Christmas.

On Wednesdays I and others walk with Him. Join us?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pastor Appreciation

Yesterday our little small part of the body of Christ gathered the pastoral staff together for a little bit of appreciation. It is always humbling to be appreciated. We really must come up with an English word whose definition is "way more than a simple thank you." And after a weekend away with 14,000 Christian women, I was elated to be home, with family for fellowship. 

Not that 14,000 stranger-sisters weren't amazing with whom to worship and break Bread. That indeed was a thing to behold, especially with the ears. It made me long for heaven, to hear this sound made when countless throngs worship in voice. I almost listened more than I joined in the singing of praise, because the sound of that many voices reverberating, ricocheting through a round concrete dome whet the appetite for what is to come. (Come quickly, Lord Jesus...) 

But the intimate knowing and the weekly walking alongside in faith with the few, it's just as beautiful a thing.  And intimately walking alongside one's pastor is another marvel. How about a bit of the inside scoop, a glimpse behind the scenes, rather than the usual behind-the-pulpit perspective you are so used to?

These are a few of my favorite things, not because Mike is my husband, but because he is my pastor.

His one hour sermons are so very much more. His computer is a permanent fixture on the kitchen table. Years of daily study have worn out and completely broken two of our chairs. The padding on a third is deflated, and he's currently working on destroying a fourth. When we gather to eat our meals, we bring in a fold-up chair to accommodate the five of us, because our table and chairs are devoted to the feeding of a flock, not a family. Nightly I remember this when I sit on the hard deflated seat, as that souvenir is mine.

I have seen his personal prayer journal, a leather-bound book with a page devoted to each one of his sheep, so as to leave none out, forget no one, not a need, not a single answered prayer gone unrecognized or unrecorded. He is a man devoted to prayer; his concern is for God's children.

Among my arsenal of bible study tools, he is at the top of the stack. I know of no one who knows God's word as well. He is my walking concordance. I bring my questions and wonders to him, and we revel together in our God.

I am not afraid to trust him to lead and protect and provide for my children or for me. The one who is willing to vacuum as well as call us on the carpet and has the wisdom and love to know the appropriate time to engage in each, this is a godly man. Look it up, it must be in Proverbs somewhere, because he loves this book, reads from it daily, the whole book monthly, year after year. He's a whole book of  proverbial sayings that eats my food and sleeps beside me and fathered my children. He puts beautiful feet to God's compassion every day, and I know because he lives and breathes in my house.

You are a treasure to me, Mike, by far the best thing on earth that's happened in my life. It is my honor to be your helper, to serve you, to share your life, to be one flesh.

You are so easy to love.

Mike with Naki, one of the youngest in our Guatemala Children's Home
   Number 320 in my list of 1,000 (and probably many others already along the way) ~ Mike

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Being Unprepared

I’m ready.  The tree is decorated, the dining room table is covered in linen poinsettias, the stockings hang at the ready, and the manger awaits in its usual perch on the mantle to receive the Christ child. The gifts are in hiding, the packaging prepared for a long afternoon of wrapping with a cup of hot cider. And the Christmas CDs? Well, in a moment of weakness, I broke them out in September. And I’m confident the other usual traditions will fall right into place:

Gingerbread cookie baking,
Christmas Eve caroling,
Christmas dinner,
the reading of the Grinch and Luke chapter 2.

But now I wish I wasn’t.  I don’t want to be this ready.

 Is it possible to be too prepared?  Does Christmas morning really live up to the hype?

The element of surprise only works once. After a thing is known it’s known. What else can be done now except anticipate it, build it up, make it big and extravagant.  

And I love the extravagance. What, other than a lush celebration, is due the arrival of royalty? Divinity wrapped in humanity?  It's exquisite, right to prepare lavishly.

But I’ve been the wise men before. I’ve mapped out this path to the birth of Christ with gifts in tow so many times that even the ornaments with my precious babies’ faces feel tired and predictable.

I want to be Mary this time. I’d like to be busy going about my daily life, drawing water cooking dinner, weaving cloth paying bills, worshipping in the outer court serving in the nursery, and caught completely unawares. I want to be found by God's angel while I’m planning to marry then quietly grow old with the man I love. I want to be taken by the Holy Spirit’s Song-of-Solomon-kind of passion and my life to take on a whole new One, and a new direction.  Mary had no idea her life was about to be interrupted by baby's first Christmas.

I want to be there when God breaks a four hundred year silent streak. That’s a long time. Four hundred years ago Galileo was unveiling his latest invention he called the telescope, and James the First was about to become a New York bestseller for a certain bible translation he commissioned. That is, if there was a New York.  Those quiet four hundred years were a mere momentary hush before the God of the universe made the announcement of all announcements. He chose to tell Mary, and I want, like her, not to know what to do with all this miracle that I can only ponder the wonder of it in my heart. 

And what of the shepherds? Only one night in all of time would it have been great to be a shepherd. Every other night they were marginalized, disdained, unengaged, forgotten. But, oh, for that one night turned day, they were the ones astonished by an army of angels, entitled to heavenly secret. I want to be there, be them, to hear the peculiar sound of heavenly voices, to see worship from those who had already seen His face, while common shepherds expected an ordinary night.

I want to be sore afraid. I want to never be the same again, nor celebrate by rote because December deems it time. I want to have to grope in darkness until I’m brave enough to follow a Light above and before me to where He is.  I don’t want to know the way.

I want to be undone, caught unawares. I want the thrill of surprise. I need it to be a miracle. I want to be unprepared, so the coming of Christ can again be gift's seeming-spontaneous arrival after long-expected age.

Most Wednesdays I chronicle my walk with Him. This week we ponder the practice of Christmas.

holy experience
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