Empty Hearts Can Be Filled

I don’t know about you but I’ve never thought of hopelessness as something I wanted on my resume.

Hopelessness is typically tossed into the pile of “negative” feelings we all acknowledge but don’t want to experience and if we do, we try to minimize, rationalize or disguise them.

If I admit to it at all, I tend to look downward, whisper quickly and pray that no one takes much notice because it feels shameful.

But maybe hopelessness is the first step to truly celebrating Christmas.

Read the rest here: Qualified by Hopelessness: An Empty Heart Can Be Filled

Advent: Right On Time

I admit it-patience is not my strong suit.

I’m a person of action rather than deliberation.

Sometimes that gets me into trouble. Almost always it makes me intolerant of delays.

So I have to be very, very careful not to apply my impatience to God’s timing.

I’m pretty sure Israel was getting tired of looking here, there and everywhere for Messiah. I’m almost certain some folks felt abandoned and forgotten. It had been centuries since the last prophet spoke truth to God’s people. And another despot now ruled over the Jews.

Yet God was not late in fulfilling His promise, He was right on time.

But when that era came to an end and the time of fulfillment had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman,[a] born under the written law.[b] Yet all of this was so that he would redeem and set free all those held hostage to the written law so that we would receive our freedom and a full legal adoption as his children.

And so that we would know for sure that we are his true children, God released the Spirit of Sonship into our hearts—moving us to cry out intimately, “My Father![c] You’re our true Father!”

Now we’re no longer living like slaves under the law, but we enjoy being God’s very own sons and daughters! And because we’re his, we can access everything our Father has—for we are heirs of God through Jesus, the Messiah!

Galatians 4: 4-7 TPT

Of course, for those trapped in time, it was hard to wait for and maybe hard to understand how perfectly every little detail came together surrounding the birth, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus.

I’ve touched before on how the census brought Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Bethlehem.

Local synagogues, teachers of the Law and a well-organized system of worship and education guaranteed Jewish males knew what God required and (if at all desirous of pleasing Him) recognized the chasm between personal holiness and that of the Lord. The whole Sermon on the Mount was about pointing out the impossibility of meeting the Law’s requirements.

It’s hard to appreciate freedom if you’ve never known bondage.

Jesus preached freedom from the Law through His perfect and final sacrifice.

That was welcome news to hurting hearts.

Galatians 5:1 — Verse of the Day for 07/04/2017

I can tell you that I was never more thankful for the truth of the Gospel than when I learned Dominic left this physical plane and entered Heaven.

I was desperate for my Abba Father to assure my heart of His love, His Presence and His provision.

I’m so, so grateful that I don’t have to wonder if Dominic “measured up” because God wasn’t measuring my son. When Dom trusted in the finished work of Jesus Christ, he was no longer a slave to the Law. He was free from the penalty of sin and the sting of death.

The Father looks at Dominic and sees the righteousness of Jesus.

My son is clothed with His Son.

Now it’s still hard for me to wait for the final unveiling of what God is crafting from my sorrow.

But I’m absolutely, positively certain it will be glorious.

And I can rest assured that the revelation won’t be early or late-it will be right on time.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever considered the historical context of Jesus’ birth? It was a unique point in human civilization. Roman rule meant that there was a (nearly) universal language. The empire built and maintained roads that connected most of the then-known world. Even Roman persecution of Christians aided the spread of the Gospel. Can you think of other ways this was the “right time” politically?
  • The Babylonian captivity spurred Jewish religious leaders to codify and expand details of the Law. By the time of Jesus’ birth, the Pharisees and Sadducees had, in many ways, made a “god” of the Law itself. Jesus rebuked them over and over during His public ministry. His death, burial and resurrection satisfied the Law’s requirements and opened Heaven’s doors. Have you received the free gift of eternal salvation through Jesus? Has someone or some experience made you doubt that you are clothed in His righteousness?
  • Not all of us have (or had) a good relationship with our earthly father. But most of us have an ideal in mind of what a daddy should be. When Paul said we have the right to call God “Abba” it was a radical idea for the time. Jews tended to think of God as distant, separate, unreachable and definitely NOT “daddy”. How does it make you feel to know God IS your Father? Can you (do you) come to Him with outstretched arms? What do you expect if/when you do?
  • Are you ever impatient waiting for God to answer? Does the Christmas story, with all the perfectly timed and perfectly positioned events encourage patience?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Thank You for sending Jesus at just the right time. Thank You for preparing a people, a world and hearts for the Good News. Thank You that because I’ve trusted in Christ, I CAN call You “Daddy”.

I admit that even though my heart rests in Yours I can be awfully impatient. It’s hard to wait.

Help me recount and recite Your past faithfulness so that I’ll be more inclined toward patient waiting.

The Christmas story is a perfect example of how You work all things together to accomplish your purpose and to bring You glory.

Grant grace and courage as I count the days until every promise is fulfilled and my faith is made sight.

Amen

The Christmas Story is Messy and So Is Mine

It’s tempting to line up our friends and acquaintances in columns under headings of “perfect family”, “good christian”, “struggling addict” or “hopeless case”.  

When I label someone I justify my response-good or bad-and let myself off the hook for sharing the extravagant, unrestrained love God has shown to me.

The longer I live, the more people I meet, the more certain I am that the neat little categories we like to use are not very helpful.

If I decide they are “doing well” then they don’t need my help.

And if I decide they are “beyond hope” then why waste my time or effort?

Either way, I’m wrong.

Christmas is the story of God come down-Emmanuel-of Love reaching down into a dark and lonely world. It was hardly tidy, it was a Messy Christmas

Christmas 2020: Why I Still Put Up a Christmas Tree

It’s a question every hurting heart has to answer if you celebrate a traditional western Christmas:  Will I put up a tree this year?

christmas-tree-melanie-edited

I had a few months of lonely travel through the Valley of the Shadow of Death before I had to answer that one.

Dominic left us at Easter, so by December I had learned that wishing didn’t make anything better nor did it make decisions disappear.

As Christmas drew near, I just could not bring down the usual decorations from the attic.

So I didn’t.

Read the rest here: Why I Still Put Up a Christmas Tree

Advent: Extravagant Worship

I don’t know what the wise men expected to see.

It seems natural to us who know the story–who know the REST of the story–that they ended up finding Jesus-The King of the Jews-the One whose birth was announced by a star in a humble abode.

But I think it might have surprised those rich rulers traveling so far to worship Him.

They were asking around to find a king and found out no one else (even the current king!) seemed to know anything about it.

 1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
    no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

Matthew 2:1-12 MSG

In their experience, future kings were born in palaces, surrounded by servants. Such births were announced and trumpeted loud and long.

So when they found this little child with poor parents in a poor house, perhaps they thought they were mistaken.

We don’t know because Scripture is silent on this point.

What we do know is that they offered the gifts they brought, they worshiped the One they had traveled long to see.

They undertook a treacherous and costly journey for the purpose of worship.

True worship is expensive.

To raise my voice and my hands after losing Dominic is hard. It requires that I trust God regardless of my circumstances.

It means I lay my treasure at His feet even when I don’t understand why or how He intends to use it.

But worship inclines my heart to the God Who made it.

Just like the star led the wise men, worship leads me to the feet of Jesus.

And there is where I can safely leave my treasure.

QUESTIONS:

  • Many scholars think that the wise men were from Persia-the same area Daniel and his friends were taken. It’s believed that Hebrew Scripture and knowledge were added to the amazing library kept there. So while the wise men most probably weren’t “believers” they were most definitely “seekers”. This story encourages my heart on many levels. Are you encouraged by God’s redemption of Daniel’s hardship and heartache? Why or why not?
  • It’s difficult for us to understand how expensive and dangerous the trip was for these men. Obviously their desire to find this newborn King was compelling. Do you think you would/could risk as much to worship Jesus?
  • Herod was a very wicked and ruthless man. He wasn’t interested in worshiping the Christ, he wanted to eliminate the competition (that’s why he had all the male children under 2 years of age murdered). Do you ever despair over injustice in the world? Do you ever wonder why it seems God intervenes sometimes and not other times (I do!)?
  • It’s folklore to say there were three wise men but we have no idea. There were three named gifts, though. Gold-traditional gift for a King; Frankincense-offered by priests in worship; and Myrhh-used as a healing poultice and also to embalm bodies. Consider how these gifts from pagan travelers emphasize the offices Jesus came to fulfill. Can you personalize His role of King, High Priest and Healer/Sacrificial Lamb?
  • I have to choose daily to offer up the sacrifice of praise. Some days it’s easier than others. How do you help your heart turn toward the Lord in spite of disappointment, pain and sorrow?

PRAYER:

Father God,

You gave everything so that true worship is possible. You have made a way where there was no way. The veil is torn. I can come boldly before the Throne of Grace without fear. Thank You.

Sometimes I don’t want to bring my offering to You. I’m hurt, confused, angry even. I want answers to questions and it seems the cost is too great.

Forgive me for holding back.

Help me be as fearless as the wise men who risked a dangerous and expensive journey to worship Jesus. Give me strength to bring all I am and all I have to lay at the feet of Christ.

Only You are worthy of worship. Only You are worthy of praise. May my words and my life always point others to You.

Amen

Christmas 2020: What The Bereaved Need From Friends & Family

Dominic left us in April, 2014.

At the time all I could manage (barely!) was the twenty-four hours of each long, lonely and pain-wracked day.

After six-plus years I’ve learned to look ahead, plan ahead and forge ahead to birthdays, holidays, special days and not-so-special days.

But it takes a great deal of effort and often uncomfortable conversations because no matter how long it’s been, I’m still dragging loss and its after affects behind me.

I wrote this in 2016 when I was desperate to communicate how hard it is to try to marry joy and sorrow, celebration and commemoration, light, love, life and darkness, grief and death.

It remains (I think) my most useful post: Grief and Holidays: What the Bereaved Need From Friends and Family

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

Another Christmas: 25 Practical Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving


This is the seventh Christmas without Dominic. There really are no words to describe the intersection of holiday cheer and another milestone in this journey of child loss.

I’m not sad all the time-far from it. Often I am very, very happy.

But I will never stop missing him, missing the family we used to be and missing our blissful ignorance of how quickly and utterly life can change in an instant.

And I will never outgrow the need to have others remember him as well, to encourage my heart and the hearts of my family members and to help us make it through another year, another Christmas.

Here are some great ways to do it:  25 Ways to Give Holiday Hope to the Grieving

My Goodness! Why Is Christmas SO Hard???

I first shared this a few years ago when I really thought I should have reached a place in my grief journey where holidays weren’t as difficult as they were at first.

But what I realized then and what has been confirmed since is that every year has new and unique situations that make Christmas a fresh challenge each time.

This year is particularly difficult since our family will not be able to spend it together due to the pandemic. It makes an already melancholy season even more so.

As the seventh Christmas without Dominic rapidly approaches, I am pondering the question:  “Why, oh why, is Christmas so hard?” 

I think I’ve figured out at least a few reasons why.

For me, probably THE biggest reason Christmas is hard is because it throws off the routine I depend on to shepherd my heart through a day.  It’s easiest for me to manage when I have at least a couple of hours of quiet time each morning.  I need those silent moments to let my heart feel what it needs to feel, to cry if I must and to orient my thoughts after, once again, “remembering” that Dominic isn’t here.

Read the rest here: Why, Oh Why, is Christmas So Hard???

Advent: Stunned Into Silence

When I received the news that Dominic would never walk through our door again, I let out an unearthly wail.

Then I had to make phone call after phone call.

And after that I ran out of words.

So while I realize Zechariah’s silence was imposed on him by God, I can imagine how it felt to hold a secret so deep and yet not be able to speak it aloud for others to hear and share.

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is too old to give me a child. What sign can you give me to prove this will happen?”

1Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel.[I stand beside God himself. He has sent me to announce to you this good news. 20 But now, since you did not believe my words, you will be stricken silent and unable to speak[until the day my words have been fulfilled at their appointed time and a child is born to you. That will be your sign!”

21 Meanwhile, the crowds outside kept expecting him to come out. They were amazed over Zechariah’s delay, wondering what could have happened inside the sanctuary. 22 When he finally did come out, he tried to talk, but he couldn’t speak a word, and they realized from his gestures that he had seen a vision while in the Holy Place. 23 He remained mute as he finished his days of priestly ministry in the temple and then went back to his own home. 24 Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for the next five months. 25 She said with joy, “See how kind it is of God to gaze upon me and take away the disgrace of my barrenness!”

Luke 1: 18-25 TPT

I feel Zechariah’s pain!

He and Elizabeth had undoubtedly prayed the same prayer for decades so maybe he not only questioned what Gabriel told him, he may have questioned his own senses and sanity. That’s not in the text, but I can imagine he might have.

Before he could stop himself he blurted out that the words were all well and good but a sign would be something he could hold onto for assurance.

Mark 9:24 | The Consecrated Woman

Gabriel told him, in essence, that if his own presence was not enough to validate the promise, Zechariah wasn’t getting the sign he hoped for but he’d get another sign-one he wished he hadn’t asked for.

It’s natural for human hearts to long for something they can hold in their hands to act as guarantee of God’s promises. We are creatures of the earth and we live by our five senses.

Our Heavenly Father knows I am frail and made of dust. He doesn’t despise me. But He does insist that I walk by faith, trusting in His character, His love and His promises. He doesn’t supply me with signs and miracles as proof to soothe my doubts and fears.

He could.

But He doesn’t.

Instead I have the testimony of the Holy Spirit to my spirit. Leading me into all truth and helping me hold fast to hope.

If you are raising prayers or your heart to the Lord today, anxious for Him to show you that He’s listening, be still and let His Spirit speak to yours.

It won’t be an audible voice, but it will be unmistakable.

He’s still in the business of answering His children.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever prayed long for something? If your prayer was eventually answered did it shock you?
  • Sometimes silence seems the most holy response when I’ve spent time in God’s Presence. Can you remember a moment when what the Lord revealed to you felt too precious or too impossible to share with others?
  • What do you think Elizabeth’s response might have been when Zechariah came out and couldn’t speak? Do you think she had a clue what had happened?
  • Do you believe God answers prayer? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Lord,

You are my Maker. You know I am frail and prone to doubt. It’s especially hard for my heart to trust when it feels like prayers I’ve prayed for nearly my whole life have gone unanswered-or answered in a most painful way instead of the way I wanted them to be.

I confess, it’d be wonderful to have some sort of sign I could see with my own eyes, turn over in my hand and tuck in my pocket as a reminder of Your sovereignty. But that’s not how You work in the world.

You have given me Your Spirit and Your Word and that is enough. Help me believe that it’s enough-more than enough-to guide my heart through this Valley. You hold me fast even when my grip loosens and threatens to give way.

Thank You for Your Presence. Thank You for your Promises. Thank You for the privilege of lifting my hands and heart to You in prayer.

Amen