Advent: Ponder and Praise

The nativity story is full of contrasts.

Old Elizabeth, young Mary-both bearing sons. Zechariah’s doubts, a young maid’s submission-he was supposed to understand God through study and practice, she was the ignorant one yet trusted.

Priests within a Sabbath walk from the manger slept on unaware that God had broken forth into their world while outcast shepherds got a personalized and most glorious birth announcement writ large across the sky.

Perhaps the most poignant contrast of all is a tired young mother pondering quietly what this might mean for her and her newborn Son and shepherds telling everyone they meet what they saw and praising God for giving them the privilege.

Mary, too, pondered all of these events, treasuring each memory in her heart.

20 The shepherds returned to their flocks, praising God for all they had seen and heard, and they glorified God for the way the experience had unfolded just as the heavenly messenger had predicted.

Luke 2:19-20 VOICE

My heart beats with Mary’s. She knew and understood part of what was going on but had no way to anticipate or comprehend precisely what it meant to be the mother of Messiah.

She pondered the shepherds’ visit and their story.

I’ve pondered too.

“Ponder” means “think about (something) carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.” (Oxford Dictionary, online).

What we don't know about Mary and Joseph - Under His Wings

When Dominic was killed I dragged everything I thought I knew about God and how He worked in the world into the glaring light of child loss. I examined and turned it over. I compared my notions with Scripture and with my ongoing experience.

I was forced to make a decision.

I had to reach a conclusion: Was God who He said He was or was this all a made up, feel good story I told myself? Is the Bible true? Is Jesus real? Was His sacrifice sufficient and does it guarantee eternal life?

After long and careful thought I decided that my Heavenly Father was faithful, His character is trustworthy, every promise He made is “yes” and “amen” in Christ.

I imagine Mary had many moments when she wondered what God was doing in and through her. I suspect she had her doubts.

I think often of the ultimate pain and horror she endured at the crucifixion.

But she held on.

She believed.

And the Lord called her blessed.

I am holding on to truth and hope with both hands.

Sometimes my faith wears thin.

But I know, know, know that my Father is trustworthy.

QUESTIONS:

  • We really don’t know how much Mary understood about what was happening in and through her. Gabriel visited her, yes, but even his message wasn’t comprehensive. Have you ever thought about what or how much Mary knew? Does it give you courage to trust God as things unfold in your own life?
  • How has child loss impacted your faith?
  • The shepherds praised the Lord because everything the angel told them was accurate. Has your personal experience affirmed the truth of Scripture?
  • Can you find reasons to praise the Lord even here, even now?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You are the Almighty God, the King of the Universe, Creator and Sustainer of life. You know the end from the beginning. You are working all things for my ultimate good and for Your glory.

But it’s hard to walk along a path when I can’t see far ahead. Sometimes it’s a struggle to trust and not be afraid. I do ponder things in my heart. I want to make sense of what You are doing (at least what I think You are doing) and what I’m feeling.

Help me lean into your truth, to trust your heart even when I can’t trace your hand. I believe, help my unbelief!

Thank You for every evidence that points my heart in the right direction. Thank You for showing me more of yourself. Teach me to praise You for all You are and not only all You do.

Amen

Advent: Positioned For Blessing

Today’s verses may seem an odd choice as a stand-alone source for an Advent devotional.

But when you dig a little deeper, they are a beautiful affirmation of how God used ordinary people to bring about His extraordinary purposes.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were two humble and obedient Jews living their lives according to the Law. As a priest, Zechariah was responsible to serve in the Temple two weeks of every year. He’d been faithfully doing his duty for years. Elizabeth had done hers too.

But they were fruitless. Elizabeth was barren. And barren women (in those days) were considered cursed.

And then something amazing happened.

Zechariah, chosen by lot, seemingly random, is given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to burn incense before the Lord. A sacred trust, a holy encounter representing the prayers of all Israel and especially those positioned outside in the temple courtyard.

Faith, Fiction, Friends: Zechariah: From Priest to Speechless to Prophet

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”

Luke 1: 5-10 NIV

We will stop here for today although I’m sure most of you know where our story is going.

I’m glad to take things a little slow. Because when I race through verses full of detail I tend to miss important insights. And there are several in these words that help my heart.

Doing my daily duty can be pretty boring.

Living a life of faithful obedience sometimes becomes a burden. And when obedience doesn’t lead to blessing but perhaps even to pain I can lose heart.

Luke reminds me that being precisely where God wants me to be doing exactly what He’s called me to do may lead to unimagined and unanticipated blessing.

Don't Grow Weary | Ellie May's Garden of Grace

Zechariah and Elizabeth had no idea that their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem would change everything.

But it did.

And that was just the beginning.

QUESTIONS:

  • Do you ever tire of daily routine, regular responsibility? Does this passage challenge that attitude?
  • Scripture teaches that God is in control even when it seems like chance rules. Is that a comforting thought? Why or why not?
  • Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story echoes that of Abraham and Sarah. An old couple, past the age of childbearing whom God blesses with not just any child but a child of promise. How does their story once again that God is the God of the impossible and improbable?
  • Prayer is likened to incense throughout the Bible. I sometimes like to light a scented candle in the still dark early morning hours when I talk to God. Do you have any physical representations that help your heart connect with the Father?

PRAYER:

Father God,

I admit it-sometimes I’m just flat out tired of doing what’s expected of me. Dishes and laundry and ordinary work are dull and hardly rewarding. Obedience takes self-control. I’m not always interested in being who I ought to be especially when I feel like maybe there’s no upside to sacrificing fun for duty.

Even worse, I feel cheated when I’ve been a “good girl” and still not received the desire of my heart. In fact, the desire of my heart has been snatched away.

Help me feel Your Presence speaking courage and strength to my soul when I grow weary of doing well. Help me show up every time and everywhere You want me to be. Let the truth that there is no better place to be than in the center of Your will sink deep into my spirit.

You have a plan and You work through perfectly ordinary people to bring it to life. Who knows? It might be me doing my daily duty that impacts eternity. Thank You for inviting me to be part of the Eternal Story.

Amen

Holidays 2020: Blessing the Brokenhearted

The question is starting to pop up with greater frequency in our closed bereaved parent groups: How do you make it through the holidays after child loss?

So for the next few days I’m going to share again from the many posts I’ve written in the past five years addressing different aspects of holiday planning, celebration, family dynamics and just plain survival for grieving parents, siblings and those who love them.

❤ Melanie

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

Read the rest here: Season of Joy: Blessing the Brokenhearted During the Holidays

Bouquet of Blessing

I have the privilege of being trusted with my grandson for over a week while his parents work on getting ready to move.

I recognize not all moms and dads are comfortable leaving their not-yet-two-year-old with grandparents several hundred miles away so I am very thankful my son and his wife are OK with it.

I won’t sugarcoat it and say it’s all rainbows and butterflies. But I will say every minute is a blessing-even the ones that stretch my nerves or my muscles.

I understand NOW what my friends with grandchildren have told me for years-it’s wonderful to be freer from everyday responsibilities and to focus exclusively on relationship and experiences.

When I was a mama to four children six years old and under by age twenty-eight I didn’t have the luxury of spending morning hours exclusively on interactive play.

But now I do.

And it is a lot of fun.

Even when my hand and wrist don’t work as well as they should and screwing on sippy cup lids hurts like all get out. Changing a soaking wet nighttime diaper is a real trick for these arthritic fingers. But my little man is learning to help his ol’ grandmama by lying extra still while I get it done.

I know not every parent on this road of child loss has grandchildren. I didn’t have one until almost five years after Dom ran ahead to Heaven. And I’ll never have one that carries HIS genes, HIS personality, HIS unique quirks.

So it might not be a grandbaby that feels like a blessing in your day.

It might be a pet or a friend or an opportunity to pursue a passion or hobby or pour your life into your community or family.

Whatever it is, take the opportunity to pick those blessings like blossoms, gather them into a bouquet and take a deep sniff.

You’ll be surprised how even a tiny budvase of blessing can spread the fragrance of hope in your life.

And hope helps a heart hold on.

Why I’d Still Choose You

Some of us only felt tiny hands and feet pressing against the inside of our body.  

Some of us saw first steps or first grade. 

Some of us watched our child drive away to college certain it was the beginning of an adventure, not the beginning of the end.

Read the rest here: I’d Still Choose You

Repost: Sunflowers Sing Praise

I originally shared this post a couple of years ago when I was delightfully surprised by a row of beautiful sunflowers one morning just when I needed them most.

It was the beginning of a long, hot and very stressful summer.

Many of us are feeling the same way about this one.

When I ran across this reflection, I decided to share it again. I hope it makes your heart smile.

❤ Melanie


I love, love, love sunflowers!

Always have.

I love their bright aspect that brings a smile to my face no matter what mood I’m in or what trial I’m facing.  Their happy, heavy heads declare that today is a day to shine!

Read the rest here: Sunflowers Sing Praise

Blessing The Dust, A Prayer For The Broken

There are many times in my life when I’ve felt small and unseen.

Many times when my spirit sank so low I couldn’t even remember “up” much less find it.

But there is no moment so humbling as the one when I came face-to-face with the undeniable FACT that my son had exhaled for the last time.

Walking into the sanctuary where his body lay still, unnatural and absolutely silent, my heart shattered into even smaller pieces.

So I understand Job’s cry.

I cry out to You for help, but You do not answer me; when I stand up, You merely look at me.

Job 30:20 HCSB

I know what it is to fall to the ground in utter dejection, complete hopelessness and pray, pray, pray that life leaves my body because the pain is unbearable.

That’s one reason Lent is a kind of relief every year.

It’s a season when others join me in admitting that from dust we came and to dust we will return.

Image result for from dust to dust

But it’s also a season of hope.

Because while Lent forces my heart to focus on my frailty, it points me toward my Savior.

The One who made us is the One who rescues us.

The One who saves us is the One who sees us.

The One who sees us is the One who longs to comfort us.

I love this blessing by Jan Richardson:

“All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial—

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.”

—Jan Richardson, Blessing the Dust, For Ash Wednesday

It’s no secret I am frail, prone to break-even shatter-into the tiniest bits of dust.

But that doesn’t stop my God from gathering what’s left to make something beautiful.

When I find myself face down in the dirt, no strength to lift my head, I remind my heart, “[Do] you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”

Holidays 2019: Surviving Siblings


I have never wanted to make my life journey with blinders on.
  I realized young that MY perspective is not the only one.  I understand that more clearly now. 

So I try hard to think about, acknowledge and accommodate the feelings and needs of others.

But it’s especially challenging since Dominic left us.  And doubly so this time of year when every sight, smell and song screams, “It’s the holidays and HE IS NOT HERE!

I may not be as thoughtful to some in my circle as want to be, but I will expend every ounce of energy and effort I can muster to make space for my living children’s needs during this season.  

Read the rest here:https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/11/10/holidays-and-grief-making-space-for-surviving-siblings-needs/

Holidays 2019: Blessing The Brokenhearted

The question is starting to pop up with greater frequency in our closed bereaved parent groups: How do you make it through the holidays after child loss?

So for the next few days I’m going to share again from the many posts I’ve written in the past four years addressing different aspects of holiday planning, celebration, family dynamics and just plain survival for grieving parents and those who love them.

❤ Melanie

Most parents feel a little stressed during the holidays.

We used to be able to enjoy Thanksgiving before our 24/7 supercharged and super-connected world thrust us into hyper-drive.  Now we zoom past the first day of school on a highway toward Christmas at breakneck speed.

For bereaved parents, the rush toward the “Season of Joy” is doubly frightening.

Constant reminders that this is the “most wonderful time of the year” make our broken hearts just that much more out of place. Who cares what you get for Christmas when the one thing your heart desires–your child, alive and whole–is unavailable…

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2015/11/19/season-of-joy-blessing-the-brokenhearted-during-the-holidays/