Advent: Hope Of All Hopes

The world is waiting breathless for salvation from the prison of hopelessness.

We long for an end to the tyranny of fear, physical destruction and the power of an enemy that is stalking, harming and killing those we love.

Rumors of imminent help pass from lips to lips but rescue is still a distant hope.

Israel was waiting too.

And that is when God gave Isaiah this message for His people:

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
    The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
    He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
    Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:6 VOICE

This message is for us as well-so much truth, hope and promise packed into a single verse!

The Christmas story is all about beginnings and seeds of promise. But Jesus didn’t remain an infant and the prophet takes us from birth to Second Coming in a few sentences.

Yes, a Son was given but that Son grew into a Savior.

I’m oh, so thankful that the Baby in the manger is now the reigning Prince of Peace! I cling tightly to the truth that He is my “Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing, Master of Wholeness”!

The day Dominic died I wrote in my journal:

“The LORD gives and the LORD takes away.  Blessed be the Name of the LORD.  May my soul find rest in Thee alone.  May my eyes look only to Thy face.  May my heart’s peace be the Prince of Peace.  ‘Dominic’–belonging to God–You gave him to me and he is Yours again.  Marana Tha–Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

When Jesus was preparing the disciples for His death, He knew they would need a Counselor in their grief.  They would need a guide through the difficult and scary and confusing path they were about to walk.

But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit-the Father will send Him in My name-will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.” 

John 14:26 CSB

Because I believe with my whole heart in the sufficiency of Christ’s blood and the supremacy of His Lordship, I am filled with His Spirit.

What a gift!  To have the Living God in me–my ever present Guide even on this most treacherous journey.

This is what the Baby came to bring-restoration, redemption and ever-lasting life.

An end to the tyranny of destruction and fear.

A hope and an eternal future.

QUESTIONS:

  • I once heard a Bible teacher explain Isaiah’s visions like this: It’s as if he saw two mountain peaks clearly (the earthly beginning of Jesus’ life, ministry and sacrifice and the ultimate, powerful rule and reign of His Second Coming) but couldn’t see the valley in between. I think that idea is perfectly illustrated by these verses. Jesus has come but there is still much suffering. What promises do you cling to in this Valley?
  • Do the names of Jesus described in these verses bring you hope? Why or why not?
  • Which is your favorite? Consider using a concordance to look up other verses in which it is used. Does that flesh out the meaning in any way?
  • I have frequently copied this passage into my journal and illustrated it in various ways. If you’ve never done something like that, try it. Writing the words in my own hand has really made them come alive in my heart.
  • You will notice I use a variety of translations in these devotionals. There are a number of free online Bible resources that will allow you to compare multiple translations at the same time. Try it with these verses or others. How does that help you gain a greater and deeper understanding of God’s Word?

PRAYER:

Father God,

There are days when my candle has burned low and my heart is heavy with grief. There are moments when hope feels so far away I can’t even imagine it still exists. Just then, You whisper, “Courage, My child”, to my soul.

So many times I’m at a loss for words but the Counselor prays for me. Often I wonder if there will ever be justice for the cruelty I see around me but I’m reminded that You are the Mighty God and will not allow injustice to reign forever. When peace feels like a distant dream, You come with a lamp as the Prince of Peace and flood my heart with wholeness.

Thank You that I have a Savior. Thank You that He conquered death. Thank You for these words of truth.

Amen

Advent: The Righteous Branch

One of the recurring themes in Scripture is redemption, rescue and renewal.

Over and over, just when it seems things can only get worse, God steps in and crafts an unexpected and beautiful story from the broken bits.

The challenge for we who are trapped in time is to remain patient and hope-filled in the waiting.

Israel had plenty of practice.

I do too.

But God doesn’t leave us without promises to hold onto while we wait.

Jeremiah is often called “The Weeping Prophet” because the messages God have him were full of gloom. Judgement and destruction were on the way. There was no escape and Jeremiah had been commissioned by the Lord to tell folks all about it.

Yet woven throughout the verses detailing all the awful, God spoke hope to the heart of His people:

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it  will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’ “

Jeremiah 33: 14-16 NIV

These words speak hope to my heart too.

Dominic’s death is the most devastating thing I’ve ever endured. It was not only the earthly end of him, it was the earthly end of me in many ways. All the things I anticipated for him, our family and the future were cut down in one fell swoop.

So when Jeremiah promises that even though all that’s left of David’s progeny is a pitiful stump, God will raise up a glorious and most Righteous King, I hear that redemption is possible.

And because Jesus DID come, I know that redemption is guaranteed.

Advent reminds me that even when waiting is long and in the dark, God is working.

Just as He raised up life from a (humanly) lifeless bit of wood in the ground, He will raise my son and redeem my pain.

QUESTIONS:

  • Have you ever thought a plant was dead only to have it sprout fresh some time later? How might that experience help you cling to hope while waiting on the Lord?
  • What do the words “The Lord Our Righteous Savior” mean to you?
  • The literal translation of those words is “Jehovah Tsidkenu” or The Lord My Righteousness. There is no righteousness apart from Christ. No way for me to clean up enough to stand in the presence of God. Have you embraced and received the gift of God’s grace and mercy through Jesus? Is HE your righteousness?
  • God has never hidden from His people the fact that life in this fallen world is hard. Are you encouraged or discouraged by His honesty?
  • Do you have favorite promises your heart clings to in times of discouragement? Consider typing or writing them out in a journal or small booklet to review often.

PRAYER:

Father God,

It is so, so easy to be discouraged and disheartened. Truth is, life is hard and often seems headed in the direction of becoming harder.

I’m tired and sometimes I want to give up and give in. Not only is there no end in sight, I can’t even imagine an end that would be worth waiting for.

But I will choose to trust in Your unfailing word. I will rest in Your everlasting love. And I will take hold of every single promise You have made. Help me trust that You are working-even when I can’t see it-to redeem, restore, rescue and rewrite my story.

Let me remember that You are the God of new things, the God who transforms death into life.

Amen

The Best Time To Plant A Tree

Life is really rather unforgiving, isn’t it?

I can only live forward and there are no do-overs.

No amount of regret can roll back the clock and give me another chance to do it right, do it better or just do it at all.

I can’t undo or redo my past.

If I’ve made blunders, hurt hearts, missed opportunities or just plain screwed up, I have to live with that. And other people might have to live with the damage I’ve inflicted.

I need to own that.

But it is not helpful to let regret stop me working NOW to repair, restore and rebuild relationships.

Sometimes my best efforts may be rebuffed.

If I’ve hurt someone’s heart they have every single right to tell me, “No. I won’t let you back in.” I don’t get to establish a timeline for their healing. But if I don’t try to make amends I can be sure the rift won’t be mended.

If someone has hurt me I can choose to look beyond that pain, forgive the offense and commit to begin now, leaving the past in the past, and start fresh.

If so much time has passed that it feels awkward-so what? Embarrassment is a small price to pay for restoration.

So write a letter.

Send a card.

Make a phone call.

Offer peace.

There’s a proverb that’s been spoken by my family for years. It goes like this. A young man asks an old farmer, “When’s the best time to plant a tree?”

The old man answers, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. But the next best time is now.”

Image result for best time to plant a tree image

I can’t go back and sow seed or plant trees when I wish I had.

But I can start now and plant for the future.

Who knows what kind of fruit it might bear?

20 In 2020: Self-Care Goals For The New Year

I used to do this every December 31st-sit down with my journal and write out goals for the coming year.

I’d spend an hour or two jotting down areas that needed attention and then formulate a plan for addressing them.

I grouped the goals under five headings: Spiritual, Personal, Family, Community, Farm/Home.

That was Day One in the journal and the rest was filled with successes, failures, reminders, prayers, lists of actions taken or revised goals based on a more realistic understanding of how the year was playing out.

I haven’t done that since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. I tried last year but quickly realized I was still in day-to-day survival mode and unable to look past the next week, much less a year!

So I resorted to my scraps of paper here and there with lists for the morning-happy to cross off regular chores and maybe churn out a small project or two.

I’m going to TRY again this year.

And I’m making it public so perhaps I’ll be a bit more committed to completion of these goals. But instead of all those old categories I’m focusing only on one: Self-care. I haven’t been especially good at that for most of my life and have been downright awful at it for the past six years.

My mind, body and soul are weary.

My ability to rebound is next to nothing.

So I’m going to take the advice I’d give anyone in my position and focus on what will rebuild and restore my strength, my passion and my reserves.

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TWENTY SELF-CARE GOALS FOR 2020:

Spend 15 minutes each morning writing in my journal. Include something for which I’m grateful, something I need to get off my chest and something to look forward to that day. This will help me begin the day with a good attitude and without carry over from the day before. I sometimes spin my wheels trying to right something that went wrong yesterday instead of thinking about how to make today better.

Image result for finish each day and be done with it

Spend 15 minutes each morning doing gentle stretches. I need to get some range-of-motion back in the joints most affected by RA. I’ve always known consistency is key but I usually have something I HAVE to do and don’t take the time.

Drink 16 ounces of water along with my cup of coffee. We all probably need more water.

Image result for drinkmore water image

Light a candle. Both the act of lighting one and the gentle glow remind my heart that darkness doesn’t win.

Laugh every day. (Find a comic strip if I need to or watch a funny video.) Laughter is good medicine (not just a proverb, a scientific fact!). I know that on days when someone or something makes me laugh, endorphins flood my body and shift my mood for hours.

Copy Scripture daily. I’ve piddled at this in the past couple years. It used to be a daily (read NEVER missed a day no matter what) habit. Joint pain in my hands made it increasingly difficult and grief gave me the added excuse to drop it. But I miss it. Even when the particular verses don’t speak volumes to my heart, they never return void.

Reestablish a prayer journal. I kept a prayer journal for decades. And then Dominic left for Heaven. Along with other aspects of my faith, I reexamined what prayer is, why I should pray and how I wanted to pray. I’m ready to plunge back in with a new and slightly different understanding of what it will look like.

Complete one creative project each month. I’m a maker (from way back) and really need to have a creative outlet. It’s been hard to find the time (or set aside the time) for many years. Add to that ordinary life stuff and a shortened attention span since Dom left and I really haven’t made much in a long time. Creating beautiful things feeds my soul.

Walk for 30-60 minutes each day. Again, walked nearly every day for decades. All the physical and emotional difficulties of the past few years made it too easy to excuse one day and then another until I have fallen out of the habit. NO excuses in the coming year! Every day unless it’s pouring rain. (Somebody out there keep me accountable!).

Image result for benefits of walking infographic

Read for 30 minutes each night before bed. With screens everywhere it’s so easy to just scroll through “one more time” before drifting off to sleep. I used to read every single night but grief made focusing difficult and tiresome. I want to get back in that habit. I need the encouragement, mind-stretching exercise and relaxation of reading again.

Start a Grandmama journal for Ryker. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t purpose to write some things down NOW, I’ll never do it. So I think I’ll start a journal just for him (and any other grandchildren that might come along). I’m going to set an appointment with myself every two weeks to add to it. I want to include family activities, family lore, photos and funny stories.

Organize and preserve family photos and make copies for each child. Again-something I’ve learned the hard way-is that the longer I wait, the more enormous the task will be. And while this may not seem like self-care, it is. This has been hanging over my head since Dominic left us.

Gather family recipes. I think family food and the stories behind it is a beautiful and unique way to pass on family history. I’m not sure how I’ll do it, but this year I’m at least going to get all the recipes copied and in one place.

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Make birthdays and holidays special. We’ve limped along long enough. I was the mom (way before Pinterest) that created themed birthday parties and set out hourly activities for New Year’s Eve. With grown children, the celebrations won’t look the same (no one wants a plastic sheriff badge!) but they can be celebrations just the same.

Watch the sunset. I see every sunrise because my chair faces the giant eastern window in my living room and I’m up before the sun each morning. But sunset takes effort. I want to stop at the end of each day and recognize I made it through with God’s strength and Presence. Practice the pause.

Image result for sunset images

Spend time with my horses, start riding again. Another thing I enjoy that I’ve simply not pursued because there are always, always, always things that seem more important. But brushing the horses, working with them, smelling them and riding them bring joy. I need more joy.

Write old-fashioned letters once a week. I love writing letters but tend to forget that I love it. Old-fashioned mail is just as exciting to get in these digital days as it ever was. I want to send somebody some sunshine.

Pause for deep breathing three times a day. Resetting my body, mind and spirit gives me the opportunity to shake off any less than happy or satisfying moments earlier in the day and go forward from a new starting place. Many days can be redeemed. I don’t want to waste the days I’ve got left.

Image result for benefits of deep breathing infographic

Say, “I’ll think about it” when asked to take on another responsibility instead of always answering, “yes”. Each new activity, responsibility or promise means that something else will have to go or be delayed. I need to learn to consider whether or not I have the capacity to add and/or the willingness to take away. I will not allow these self-care goals to be set aside for more busy work.

Have at least one day per week at home, without a long to-do list, and be lazy. I don’t do lazy well. Part personality, part upbringing and a whole lot of experience while raising children predisposes me to make the most of every moment. But everything doesn’t have to be done “now”.

Some of my goals may be so personal they aren’t helpful to anyone else. But I hope some of them spur you on to writing a list of your own.

Either way, I hope my readers will help hold me accountable. My plan is to write a monthly update on how I’m doing and what adjustments I might have made to the original goals.

I firmly believe that failure to plan is planning to fail.

And in spite of my very personal, very painful experience that plans don’t always make a difference, I refuse to give in to hopelessness.

So grab a pen, grab a notebook and decide for yourself where you will set your aim for 2020.

I promise that if you do, it’ll be a better year than if you don’t.

The Locust Years

I’m no stranger to disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement and despair.

I have had some amazingly lofty peaks in this life but I’ve also had some terribly low valleys as well.

Some of the stories aren’t mine to tell so you will just have to take my word for it. Some of the stories I’ve already shared in this space so if you want more details you can check out old posts.

Right now I feel like I’m in one of those valleys.

In fact, I feel like I’m in the locust years the prophet Joel talks about in the Bible book that bears his name.

So I will restore to you the years that the swarming [a]locust has eaten,
The crawling locust,
The consuming locust,
And the chewing locust,
My great army which I sent among you.
26 You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
And praise the name of the Lord your God,
Who has dealt wondrously with you;
And My people shall never be put to shame.
27 Then you shall know that I am in the midst of Israel:
am the Lord your God
And there is no other.
My people shall never be put to shame.

Joel 2:25-27

Joel (his name means “Yahweh is God”) was sent by God to encourage the nation of Israel during a time of famine and judgement. Because God’s chosen people refused to follow Him and obey His commandments, they were punished. God didn’t do that to harm them. He did it to draw their attention to their sin and to woo them back to Himself.

I’ve written before that child loss is not a test or a judgement or a hammer in the hand of God (https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/08/25/grief-is-not-a-hammer-in-the-hand-of-god/).

I firmly believe that while God may discipline His true children (see Hebrews 12:6) all the punishment sin requires has been paid for by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Still, I feel like there are parallels to the famine and devastation Israel faced and the past eighteen months of my life.

One “disaster” after another. One herculean challenge after another. One hill to climb after another. And with each new hard thing, I find my reserves are fewer and fewer.

Nothing-NOTHING-rises to the level of sending Dominic ahead to Heaven.

But that one giant, life-altering, earth shattering, heartbreaking event has weakened my defenses. It has made me more prone to wearing down and giving up than I’ve ever been in my life.

My faith is intact.

I have absolutely no doubt that every promise of God in Christ is “yes” and “amen”.

I trust the truth that all the enemy has stolen will be restored. Every sad thing will be undone. The world (including my own family) will be redeemed, restored and raised to life in Christ. When I pass my son’s grave facing east, I know one day the skies will open and Jesus will return as triumphant King over all creation.

Even so I am weary and heavy laden.

I take the burden to the foot of the cross over and over and over.

Just as I think the weight is lifted, another heavy brick is added to the load.

Sometimes you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Other times you just have to trust in the dark.

Sometimes the trial is limited. Other times it goes on and on and on.

But I know, know, know God is faithful.

His love endures forever.

And even when I find myself in the midst of spiritual famine, desolation and desperation, He will meet me there.

So I wait.

Holding on to hope.

Looking for the promised bounty.

Trusting that He will redeem, restore and resurrect.

A Little Getaway Is Good For A Heart

My birthday is in a couple of weeks and my daughter has arranged for us to have a little getaway together this week.

She had no way to know when she made the reservations four months ago how badly we both would need it.

But God knew.

Nothing takes Him by surprise even when it blindsides me.

I often have to remind my heart of that truth.

Especially when blow after blow lands hard and knocks me off my feet. Especially when I feel that I might be crushed under the load. Especially when my mind is so full of fear and anxiety there’s no room for much else.

I’m thankful for a daughter who thinks ahead and a God who knows.

Some quiet time is precisely what our hearts are longing for this November. We will sleep and talk and walk and wander. We won’t have to answer to a clock or a phone.

It will be glorious.

Thanks For The Lift Friends!

Thank you for the outpouring of encouragement, kindness and prayers.

You’ve breathed new life into this old and weary soul.

I can’t really walk away. Writing is what I do, it’s how I process life-the good, the bad, the sweet and the bitter.

But crafting posts is more than stream of consciousness journaling not meant to be read by another soul. It’s sitting with an idea long enough to be able to present it to others in a form they can understand, appropriate and use in their own lives.

It takes time.

So for the next two weeks (maybe longer) I’m going to recycle old posts and give my heart space to do some of its own processing and healing.

For many of you, they will still feel new because you joined us recently.

For some of you, they will be old and tired and not worth your time. Feel free to skip them.

I promise to alert you when I’m writing new things again.

~Melanie

P.S. If anyone has ideas on which topics might be interesting to gather and repost all in a row, add them in the comments. I did this once with *Prayer* and folks enjoyed it.

Poured Out But Not Wasted

Even if my lifeblood is to be poured out like wine as a sacrifice of your faith, I have great reason to celebrate with all of you.
~ Philippians 2:17 VOICE

In many ways I feel like this season of my life is a drink offering-poured out on the ground-unrecoverable except as a sacrifice lifted to the throne of grace.

But my story is not only loss and pain, it is also life and love. 

I have to be careful to remember that.

 … you may reformulate your story in terms of sadness and pain. Because you lost a child, or experienced a divorce, or killed someone in a car accident, you will never be happy again. Or even worse, you are never allowed to be happy again.

In all of these cases, we must remember that our stories fall under Christ’s story of redemption. Your life is but a chapter in God’s greater narrative of restoring the world. Your Worst is merely a chapter in your own story. If we allow God to write our stories and to carry us through the season of darkness and despair, he will ensure that redemption constitutes the central progression of our stories.

~Cameron Cole, Therefore I Have Hope

Redemption is the overarching theme of my story, of all history.

It doesn’t mean I have to deny the pain and darkness.  In fact, if I try, I diminish His glory in redeeming what would otherwise be nothing but brokenness and loss.

I can lift those feelings to the throne of grace as a drink offering.

I can pour them out at Christ’s feet and trust that even though in the natural there is no way to recapture and restore what has been lost, in His power and love it is never, ever wasted.

And I heard a voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
~Revelation 21: 3,4
they that wait with hope shall not be ashamed

When It’s Hard to Give Yourself Grace

My little congregation is hosting a volunteer team blessing us with a new roof for our leaking sanctuary.

What would have been absolutely impossible if we had to rely totally on our own resources is happening right now!

The week after my daughter’s wedding.

fiona and brandon down the aisle

Which means that I am especially exhausted as well as depleted emotionally, mentally and physically. 

I’m simply unable to participate like I want to and feel I should.

I’ve brought food up to the church each day but I can’t stay to help serve because my family is still doing leftover wedding tasks.  My heart is torn between what I know I have to do and what I would like to do.  And it’s impossible to do both.

It’s so much easier for me to extend grace to others in similar situations.  I am often the first to say, “Don’t worry about it!  We’ve got it covered!”, and mean it.  The last thing I want to do for any struggling heart is add to the burden.

Yet here I am, knowing full well that the smart thing, the right thing and really the only thing I can do is accept the same grace from others I’ve extended in the past and I can’t stand it!

I’m pretty sure it’s pride stopping me from admitting my limitations.  I’m pretty sure it’s selfish ambition that goads me into trying to finagle a way to be in two places at once.  I don’t want to be the one person who didn’t show up all week, meet the volunteers and tell them face-to-face how very much we appreciate them.

How my heart can twist things!

These past six months have been hard ones.  Goodness-the past almost two years have been one crisis after another, more travel away from home than in the decade before, more heart-stopping, mind-blowing moments and challenges than any other season since the first year after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

And still I will cling to my pride.

I need to accept the abundant, overwhelming, free-flowing and never-ending grace of Jesus.

I do no one any good by refusing it.

Least of all me. 

god opposes the proud humble hands

 

For One Day

Today I decided for one day to ignore the clock and my own internal tick, tick, tick tracking minutes and hours.

Today I did or didn’t do whatever I wanted.

I refused to check my list.

Instead of optimum efficiency, batching chores and trips upstairs or down, I meandered in and out of rooms.  I picked up one thing and passed another.  I didn’t “clean as you go” when I made my salad.  I started something and didn’t finish.  I stared.  I hummed.  I listened to wind chimes tinkle away the hours.

My big fat cat jumped in my lap and I let him stay there even though it means I can’t do anything else because my arms don’t quite reach around him.

moonshine in living room

People tell me all the time, “Don’t worry!  It’ll be there tomorrow!”  But that is precisely what usually worries me-it WILL be there tomorrow.

Today, though, I gulped those words, chewed them and swallowed.  Gone.

And you know what?  

It was fine.  

Fine.  

Just fine.  

I doubt this will be a trend.  Fifty-five years of task-oriented, time-conscious living can’t be swept away by one glorious day of living minute to minute.

But it’s a start. 

enjoy today