Simply praise

Many people begin each year choosing a word to focus on for the year, to learn more about, to look for, to grow in.  Anyone have a word for 2017… Maybe it’s a word that you are praying through…

This year my own word was something terribly profound:  the word, BUT.  Now let me explain.  I realize that might not be too impressive… so let me explain.  I have come to understand that so often we use the word but to negate something we’ve just said.  Think about…

I really like your dress, but I think it would better if it were green not blue.

The dinner was delicious, but I would have preferred chocolate cake as dessert.

You did a great job on this project, but there’s just one little problem.

Clay, you got 2 A’s this semester, but that C in Math isn’t so good.

The service was so worshipful today, but that last song was off.

So… for this year, I’ve really tried to replace the word but with the word so

It just changed a negative turn… to, at least, a different thought.

So what?  Recently I've read through the accounts of Matthew and Luke about the birth of Jesus.  Always drawn to Luke… probably because of the familiarity, while trying to see the story with new, fresh eyes. 

Luke 1:28 reads,  "The angel went to her and said, Greeting, you who are highly favored.  The Lord is with you.  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.."

She didn’t know what the greeting would mean.  I have to believe the Lord says the same words to us often… and we are also greatly troubled… because we don’t know what is coming… what He may be asking us to do… not in our own power… but in His.

The conversation with Gabriel continued with some details of what is to come…. Crazy details. 

So Mary responds with grace… I am the Lord’s servant.  May your words to me be fulfilled. 

So then… she really responds…beautifully, humbly with an overwhelming 9 verses of praise…

Can you see this scene:  Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her…  Cue the lights.  Dim everything except the spotlight on Mary.  Kinda like the scene in Charlie Brown… Linus… reciting Luke 2.

So even though she didn’t fully understand what was coming, she chose praise.  The next verse brings the lights back up with the words, Mary stay with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

I can't claim to get inside her head, but I have to think Mary surely was "paused" by the sudden announcement she received. She did not ask for or seek this role in God's plans; God has simply stepped into her life and brought her into His service. Her response was the choice to be faithful. Faithful to serve… faithful to praise… faithful to His guidance..

So we are being called… sometimes daily, sometimes unexpectedly, sometimes with little warning…
Do we respond in praise and faithfulness… or in uncertainty and fear…

I so want to be like Mary… faithful…

So, I’ve tried to take the “but” out of my responses… and then … Jesus is born, the shepherds come..

And verse 19, But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart…

Instead of fear, instead of angst,  instead of questions for all the details… But Mary … I think she could do that because she was faithful… so just maybe I’ll put the word but Susan back in my vocabulary…

What do you think?
 For today, let's focus on responding to God's call simply in praise to Him... the Mighty One...

 And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”  Luke 1:46-55

No phone, no lights, no motor car...

Can you finish the jingle?  

No phone, no lights, no motor car...
Not a single luxury, like Robinson Crusoe, it's primitive as can be.

You may recognize the theme song... from Gilligan's Island.  The show actually aired on CBS from September 26, 1964 to April 17, 1967 according to Wikipedia.  I remember watching the show in the afternoons when in the 70's.

My two sisters and I would pretend to be the characters...  my oldest sister got first choice, so of course, she was Ginger, the movie star.  Second choice for the middle child gave me the title of Mary Ann, and that left my younger sister with the classy, "Lovey - Mrs. Howell".  She was probably 4 or 5  at the time!  :)  We acted out scenes and could certainly belt out the theme song.

This week, however, my thoughts are focused on two words from the song... "no phone".  Frank and I found ourselves in the car headed out for an evening of dinner and hopefully a movie.  As we turned out of our neighborhood, I reached for my phone... and realized "in horror", I had left it at home.  The discussion to turn around to get it was quickly steered toward the fact that, "surely... I could be out of touch, unreachable... for a few hours without the world coming to an end."  So we continued...

Out of habit, even during dinner, I reached for my phone.
Out of habit, as we slid back into the car, I reached for my phone.
Out of habit, as the movie started, I reached for my phone.
Out of habit, as the movie ended, I reached for my phone.
Out of habit, as we rushed back to car, I reached for my phone.

Are you noticing the pattern??  I'd like to honestly tell you that I really only checked for my phone those five times... but that isn't true at all.  I tried to find a statistic on it... the results vary from 80-150 times per day.  Just taking a middle number of 120 - hoping we sleep/shower 8  hours or so, that means our phones are checked at least every 10 minutes.... every 10 minutes... that statistic doesn't show how many minutes are used WHEN we check that phone.  Does that boggle your mind just a little?  

You've been to dinner... let's be honest, we've been THAT family seated at a table with the majority of the members attached to the phone of choice.

Can I challenge you... challenge us.  Choose a time of day... maybe a full day, that you take a break... not just adjusting your phone to vibrate or even silent/airplane mode.  Really push the button, turn it off... for an hour... half a day... give it a try, and in its place, listen to some beautiful Christmas music, read a book to your kids, sit in silence, be still to ponder God's grace and mercy through Jesus, His son.  

Mary took a moment in Luke 2 to simply, "treasure up all these things and ponder them in her heart."

No phones... no lights... no motor cars...  Choose the day.... Choose the time... 

Oh, by the way... my phone was in the bottom of my purse the whole evening... silenced...

See the person in front of you

Sitting next to Frank in a hospital bed was a foreign thought for the first 20 years of our marriage.  The scene has unfortunately become more "normal" during the past fourteen.  Our most recent hospital stint came with such turmoil and borderline unimaginable angst.

After many miserable days of insomnia, perpetual movement and much craziness, understandably the first goal for Frank's care was simply allow his body to rest... literally sleep.

Reclining in the stiff chair, my little corner of the room was dimly lit by the gloomy drizzle that pelted again the window with the occasional clap of thunder.  He was finally asleep, and I was wrapped up in a fluffy soft blanket my friend had dropped off.  My thoughts... then my eyes turned to the purple journal and the big pink Bible peeking out of my stuffed bag.  Breakfast had already been delivered and the tray retrieved, so I knew the time would likely be quiet.  

He was resting... still, even peaceful, after such seeming days of chaos.  So I wrote..

Good morning, Father.
Being reminded this morning of Your great love.  
Sitting in room 444 with Frank.  
Thank you bringing him rest... 
for sustaining us through the past few days.
I will, with Your help (figure out out to) boast all the more gladly about my/our weaknesses, 
so that Christ's power may rest on us....
Would you bring answers for us..

Just then, the door opened - my hope -  it would a quick check of vitals and then the quiet would again envelop our dim room.  As she whispered her introduction and began her tasks, we were struck by the startling illumination of the room and the immediate follow of the booming greeting of a grumbling thunder rattling our bones!  We both about jumped out of our skin!!   Some storm, we agreed - sure took us by surprise.  She walked out to gather some supplies promising to return in a moment.  HE didn't speak out loud, but the Lord sure spoke to my heart clearly, "Ask T______ about the storm in her life?"  My response was raw and honest... I'm pretty much having my own thunderous storm right now... and that's about all I can handle for the moment.  I'd prefer to just continue writing my prayer right here in own little journal in my own little corner.

She walked back in, and against my will, I muttered, "That was some crazy thunder and lightning earlier.  How about you?  Any storms happening in your life?"

Her words came with little hesitation;  her tears followed with even less hesitation.    She shared of some really hard circumstances in her life.  I asked if I could pray with her - and she was so appreciative.  Moments later an orderly came to take Frank for an additional test.  We thought he had been so sound asleep.  As they wheeled him out of the room, he turned to her and said, "You are a beautiful daughter of the King - just like I've always told my own daughters, you deserve to be treated like a princess.  Listen to my wife, she's giving you wise advice."

T____ and I giggled as he was whisked away.  She shared more of her story and her walk with Jesus. Her words were tender, "I just needed someone to hear me - I prayed for a friend this morning... and here you are."  

I didn't tell her how strongly I didn't want to ask about her storm.  She was simply right there in front of me.  Who will be in front of you... and me... tomorrow.  

Get ready today:

“Share each other's troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 NLT)

How did I get here?

Hindsight is 20/20.  Seeing is believing.  Looking back allows us to move forward.  

Just for fun, google sometime... "quotes about looking back"...

Where are you in the "looking back" department?  Our teaching pastor recently led us back through his journey of walking backward through his life to answer the question, "how did I get here?"

It's a fun, not-so-fun, journey.  As I gave it a try, my mind recreated many specific, unexpected scenes.  The memory path took me back through specific career moves... teaching school where God clearly reminded me of some forgotten realities of challenges in raising young children as well as the truth of learning many strategies of a "new" job... late nights, early mornings, weekend catch-up.  Back up a little further to a year in children's ministry, then a step into teaching for several years.  Way back to 15 years in the preschool education world... how very much I learned from others about how to listen better than I ever had before.... Throwing in the joys and sorrows of raising teenagers, the precious memories of the birth of our four children, the loss of two our of babies who never took their first breath here on earth. Meeting, dating and marrying my husband, Frank... a paragraph of love.

 Sprinkled through all, I saw our life of indescribable joy, eternal hope, excruciating pain, unthinkable sorrow, overwhelming hurt, acceptance of the unexpected, devastating disappointments..

and the Lord was with us.

Several chapters in Genesis recount the story of Joseph.  I wonder, sometimes, how he would recreate his story... his life was a roller coaster of events - many of the circumstances came because of the decision of others.  He was sold into slavery by his brothers; his honesty landed him in charge of Potiphar's house; his integrity then landed him jail as he refused the sexual advances of Potiphar's wife.  He correctly interpreted dreams of two cell mates, the only one that could have helped him... forgot him.  He was finally remembered as the dream interpreter and was placed in charge of all of Egypt during seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

and the Lord was with Joseph.

Friends, how did you get where you all... the good, the bad and unimaginable?  If we believe God's word to be true, we believe that He is with us... today, tomorrow and forever.  Can you just think on that for a few moments?  Wherever you are, however you feel, the Lord is with you.

But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love... Genesis 39:21

and the Lord is with you too...

This is us... THIS is joy

Christian artists, Casting Crowns, wrote a song called Thrive in 2014.  The theme of the song is that we, as believers, should be living in the promise of thriving, not simply surviving.  The song is upbeat and encouraging.  One bridge in the song repeats with intensity the following chorus:

Joy unspeakable
Faith unsinkable
Love unstoppable
Anything is possible 

My three grandsons have loved this song... we often sing it together in the car, but as you might imagine, the tempo intensifies during this bridge.  Somehow this Mimi seems to get a bit mixed up in the words... joy unsinkable, love unspeakable, faith unstoppable, but I always catch up by the line, "anything is possible"... with Jesus.

...Speaking of those three grand boys... once again we've experienced such joy unspeakable as we welcomed grand boy number four to our growing clan.  Ryder Clay Anderson made his grand entrance into the world on Friday evening just before 6:00.  As we anxiously awaited his birth, words and phrases from Psalm 139 spun webs of apprehensive anticipation and unimaginable excitement.  

Ryder was knitted together in Kellie's womb.  
God, the marvelous Creator, formed each of Ryder's parts.  
Ryder is fearfully and wonderfully made.
Nothing about this child is hidden from the Father.
God's eye was on this precious baby before he was even formed.
The day Ryder was born was determined by our loving, powerful, ordered God.

As I write this very sentence, Ryder is exactly 2 days old - he has much to learn as he grows and navigates this world... His parents, Tim and Kellie, understand Ryder's precious, priceless worth in their eyes, and in the eyes of 2 sets of grandparents that are "over the moon enthralled" with this little boy, as well as a wealth of aunts and uncles, cousins, great grandparents, and numerous friends.  We understand that he is loved deeply, created by and for a relationship with his Heavenly Father through Jesus.

Oh friends, our Heavenly Father feels that very same about you and me.  Joy unspeakable - We are loved, created and never hidden from him.

This is us and this is joy!

For you formed my inward parts;

    you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.  Psalm 139:13-16


Click here to listen to Casting Crowns:  Thrive

This is Us...

This is us... THIS is hard...

Are you a fan of the show, "This Is Us"?   I should have known, but I didn't, so just checked, and Season 2 begins on Tuesday.  We were fans of Season 1, not saying we agreed with all the characters' decisions during all the episodes or even the writers' choices in all storylines.  Regardless, we were hooked.  The title of the show says much and then really nothing at all.  If I remember correctly, the pilot episode included the celebration of birthdays... four different people - adults, at first, seemingly unrelated.  Not far into the show, we were brought along for the creative story of how each of these lives were so intricately intertwined.  Each week brought new eye-opening, tear-shedding moments of the deepened understanding of each character and ... usually with a twist... the intricacies of their relationships.

Many moments were sprinkled with scenes from the past mingled with present day events in their lives, then just with a blink, back in time again.

What might your pilot episode include?  Would you share about your "now", or would a past event be key to understanding the progression of life?

Seems I've been busy lately with a time of figuring out... researching unexplored territory... asking questions... discerning much of what I don't feel qualified to discern.

How did we get here?  Anyone else ever asked that question?  Our family's journey, really it is Frank's journey, of chronic, unrelenting pain (we will never forget the gift of that pain-free six months!), has offered little relief and even less explanation.  Frank has battled hard often through gritted teeth with determined resolve to fight with every ounce of energy he could muster.  Realizing early on in this 14-year struggle his strength and will simply couldn't carry him through, his dependence on God's promise for help and sustaining presence became his lifeline.

Recently our "this is us" scene catapulted with such force, we've had a little trouble bouncing back.  Let's be honest... we've had a little trouble crawling back.  Without bunches of details of what we and some "much smarter than us" experts are trying to define, Frank has experienced a significant, for lack of a better word, my very medical term: brain fog... from days of memory loss, sleep deprivation, confusion, sadness, and honestly, deep despair.  This is hard.

For years we've laughed out loud at the term pain management.  Our discussion seemed to return to we have no interest or desire to manage pain... we'd simply prefer to remove pain.  That hasn't been the case, so management became the goal.  With much help we learned to live in a new normal of the managing reality.  

Managing this new normal... that prayerfully, will be short-lived, is hard.  Nobody has offered us the rule book, the ABC's to follow, even a list of "here's the likely way this will run".  

This is us... and this is hard.  We will continue to trust our God is the midst of very hard.  

We have prayed much... and will continue to.
We have asked others to pray... and know they have and will continue to.
We have grieved the unknown... and agreed that God knows.
We have feared uncertainty... and know Who conquers fear.
We have pleaded for understanding... and realized His grace is indeed sufficient.
We have asked for clarity... and hear the word of God give grace and peace.
We have looked for help... and know the HOPE of Jesus is our answer.

His word is active and alive... and brings comfort to these weary soul:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth
He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
 The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm
    he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.  Psalm 121

Praying His comfort in your 'hard', friend... and thankful for your prayers in ours.

Can I begin to imagine?

Spent this weekend at Camp Calvary in Markville, Kentucky at their fall their ladies' retreat.  Our conversation centered around the understanding of the how our God loves and pursues us. 

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:10 

On Saturday morning during a time a personal reflection and prayer, time I shared these thoughts...  Thinking through this today reminded me of the joy of singing over my four children when they were babies.  Sometimes there was just a hushed humming to help settle or soothe them. They recognized my voice and were often calmed just because they knew they were safe.  Although I was their mother, there were times that I didn't know what they needed or even how to comfort them.  Thankfully, we are children to the Heavenly Father that knows our name and our every need. 

Can I begin to imagine?

Inspired by the death of his father, Bart Millard wrote the song “I Can Only Imagine” in 1999.  His aim was simply to consider what it would be like in Heaven and to be standing before God.   The chorus brings to my mind both overwhelming joy with exhilaration alongside such humbling moments of quiet bowing in reverence to the King of Kings.   

Surrounded by You glory What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus Or in awe of You be still
Will I stand in your presence Or to my knees will I fall
                       Will I sing hallelujah Will I be able to speak at all
                                        I can only imagine

As we consider the relentless strength of our loving, pursuing Heavenly Father, I am once more drawn to His glorious mercy and grace along with His determined plan to love us with an everlasting love.
Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of King Josiah whose message began with wrath and judgment … and then: the clear call of hope.  Hope through the ONE GOD who offers restoration to the people HE pursues… His children… including you and me. 

As you quietly sit with the Lord in these moments, allow these words from Zephaniah 3:17 to encourage you, to comfort you, to remind you, to cover you with simply HIS great love.

You may feel lonely today… “The Lord your God is with you.
You may feel defeated today… the Mighty Warrior who saves
You may feel overlooked today… He will take great delight in you.
You may feel judged … in His love He will no longer rebuke you
You may feel worthless… but [He] will rejoice over you with singing.”

Allow the thoughts of the Lord your God, the Mighty Warrior, the ONE who spoke the universe in existence, the ONE  who delights in you…
to guide you to simply hear His voice singing over you…

                                  Can you only imagine?