Advent for the Brokenhearted: Announced by an Angel

When the angel came to Mary and told her she was to be the mother of God’s Son,  she was (rightly) confused.

Her first thoughts ran to what she knew and understood:  children are conceived by the joining of man and woman, she was a virgin.

How can this be?”

The angel Gabriel explained (sort of):  “Your child will be conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And as proof of God’s miraculous ability to do what He says He will do-your old relative, Elizabeth, is six months pregnant!” [loose personal paraphrase]

So Mary graciously bowed her heart to this strange thing God was doing in her and asking of her.

“I belong to the Lord, body and soul,” replied Mary, “let it happen as you say.” And at this the angel left her.  (Luke 1:38 PHILLIPS)

She was willing, even though she could not possibly have understood all that would be asked of her in the end.

God did not give me any warning that He was about to take my life in another, very hard, very painful, horribly sad direction. 

No angel explained to me what God was doing. 

I didn’t have a chance to ask questions or beg for a different path.

I cannot change what HAS happened-Dominic is dead.  But my heart attitude determines how I will REACT to what has happened.

I am faced with precisely the same decision Mary had to make:  Will I trust God-Who cannot lie and Who will fulfill every promise-or do I turn my heart from Him and seek my own will and way?

I am not nearly as gracious as Mary.  I have kicked against the goads and screamed, “Why???” at the sky.

I will still tell anyone who asks that I do not like this plan at all.

But I am learning to rest in the same truth that guided Mary’s heart. 

I am God’s servant-His bondslave-and He is in control. 

He may do with me as He pleases.

mary-and-jesus

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Kingship Foretold

There are so many surprises in the Christmas story.

A young woman “has” to get married.  She and her husband are forced to make a long journey while she is large with child.  Bethlehem is so full of folks there’s not a single place to lay their heads so she and he and the Son of God sleep in a “barn”.

But the birth is only the beginning.

God continued to bring forth His plan to save the world in ways our human hearts could never imagine.

Rejoice, people of Jerusalem. Shout for joy, people of Jerusalem. Your king is coming to you. He does what is right, and he saves. He is gentle and riding on a donkey. He is on the colt of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9

Jesus is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Ruler over all the earth.  He reigns supreme and cannot be conquered.

Yet He is also a Humble Servant, who gives Himself to all who ask.

My life is certainly not what I thought it would be.  It’s upside-down and backwards from the plan I made for myself years ago.

It would be natural to turn away from God because what He has allowed is not what I want nor would choose.

But when I read the words of Zechariah, I am encouraged.

God turns the world’s wisdom on its head.  He is not bound by my expectations nor my understanding.

I can rejoice because I know He is working His will even when the story is hard and painful and full of sorrow.

Jesus saves.  Jesus redeems.  Jesus restores.

That’s a promise.

rejoice greatly zech 9

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Birthplace Foretold

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
    whose origins are in the distant past,
    will come from you on my behalf.
The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies
    until the woman in labor gives birth.
Then at last his fellow countrymen
    will return from exile to their own land.
And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
Then his people will live there undisturbed,
    for he will be highly honored around the world.
    And he will be the source of peace.

Micah 5: 2-5a NLT

One of the things I struggle with since Dominic ran ahead to heaven is this:  is every detail of history planned by God?  Or are there general outlines filled in by human choices (good and bad) and leading ultimately to God’s working out HIS story within OUR stories?

How do I reconcile God’s sovereignty and my free will?

I’m still working on that. 

But there is one thing I do understand.  God had a plan from the foundation of the earth to reconcile sinful man to Himself by the birth, life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

He sent prophets to point the hearts of His people toward the place the Savior would be born.  He laid out promise after promise for hundreds and thousands of years so that when Jesus came, they would be ready.

It was no accident Jesus was born precisely when and precisely where the prophets foretold.  

Bethlehem-The House of Bread-became the place that housed the Bread of Life.

bethlehem christmas tree

 

 

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Suffering Foretold

It’s easy for us this side of Calvary to point fingers at the Jews for getting it wrong. 

But when you are waiting for a Savior, you aren’t thinking that the One Who will save will be the One Who suffers.  

You think He will be strong and mighty and armed for battle.  You think He will conquer and lay waste and stride triumphant through the streets.

You don’t expect a Baby who becomes a Man who becomes a Sacrifice.  

But that is exactly Who Jesus is-He is a Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.  And that is why this brokenhearted mama can lean in and hold onto the hem of His garment. 

Because He knows. 

He. Knows. 

 

“Who would have believed what we now report?
    Who could have seen the Lord‘s hand in this?
It was the will of the Lord that his servant
    grow like a plant taking root in dry ground.
He had no dignity or beauty
    to make us take notice of him.
There was nothing attractive about him,
    nothing that would draw us to him.
We despised him and rejected him;
    he endured suffering and pain.
No one would even look at him—
    we ignored him as if he were nothing.

“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
    the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
    was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
    beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
    made whole by the blows he received.
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
    each of us going his own way.
But the Lord made the punishment fall on him,
    the punishment all of us deserved.

Isaiah 53:1-6

When I think I can’t take any more, I remember that Jesus took it all.  

When I think this life is too hard to endure, I turn my eyes and heart to the One Who endured the wrath of God for my sake. 

When I want to give up and give in, I hold fast to the One who holds me in His hand and Who held me in His heart as He hung on the cross. 

jesus-the-heart-of-christmas

Advent for the Brokenhearted: Peace Foretold

Peace is elusive in the best of times. 

Even in the absence of all out war (emotional, physical or spiritual) most of us dwell in a kind of no-man’s-land where we might not fear for our lives, but we are not exactly content and satisfied.

And in the world of afterloss, peace seems like a fairy tale promise best relegated to children’s stories and Hallmark movies.

But God knows my heart.  He knows my pain.  He has made a way for me to experience peace even here, even now.

It’s not the “and they lived happily ever after” peace where every little thing is tied up in a neat package with a perfect bow.

Instead it is the firm assurance that no matter how messy and untidy our lives are, He is in control.

It is a promise that regardless of circumstances, we can rely on Him.

God gave Isaiah frightening visions of the destruction Israel would face.  But He also gave Isaiah precious promises of the restoration and redemption that He would bring to His people.

It speaks hope to my heart that this passage begins with “a green shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump”. Most days,  I feel like my life has been cut off to the ground.

I feel like there is not much left for even God to work with. 

JESSES-TREE-GREEN-SHOOT

But Jehovah is the God of Hope. 

He is the God Who breathes life into dry bones and brings forth new growth from old stumps.

I may feel like it’s over, but it’s not. 

I may feel like peace has fled, never to return, but that is a lie.

“But on this humbled ground, a tiny shoot, hopeful and promising,
    will sprout from Jesse’s stump;
A branch will emerge from his roots to bear fruit.
And on this child from David’s line, the Spirit of the Eternal One will alight and rest.
By the Spirit of wisdom and discernment
    He will shine like the dew.
By the Spirit of counsel and strength
    He will judge fairly and act courageously.
By the Spirit of knowledge and reverence of the Eternal One,
    He will take pleasure in honoring the Eternal.
He will determine fairness and equity;
    He will consider more than what meets the eye,
And weigh in more than what he’s told.

So that even those who can’t afford a good defense
    will nevertheless get a fair and equitable judgment.
With just a word, He will end wickedness and abolish oppression.
    With nothing more than the breath of His mouth, He will destroy evil.
He will clothe himself with righteousness and truth;
    the impulse to right wrongs will be in his blood.

With unwavering steps and integrity uncompromised, He will establish peace.

A day will come when the wolf will live peacefully beside thewobbly-kneed lamb,
    and the leopard will lie down with the young goat;
The calf and yearling, newborn and slow, will rest secure with the lion;
    and a little child will tend them all.
Bears will graze with the cows they used to attack;
    even their young will rest together,
    and the lion will eat hay, like gentle oxen.
8-9 Neither will a baby who plays next to a cobra’s hole
    nor a toddler who sticks his hand into a nest of vipers suffer harm.
All my holy mountain will be free of anything hurtful or destructive,
    for as the waters fill the sea,
The entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Eternal.

10 Then on that day, that root from Jesse’s line
    will stand as a signal for the peoples of the world
Who will come to Him seeking guidance and direction;
    and glory will be restored to the land where He resides.

Isaiah 11: 1-10 VOICE

Gratitude and Grieving: The Truth Will Set You Free

How much energy do we spend dancing around the truth?  How many times do we gather with family or friends and cast our eyes downward so we can ignore the elephant in the room?  How many shackles would fall away if just one person stood up and said what everyone else was thinking but was afraid to whisper aloud?

As family gathers around the table for Thanksgiving, we all have those subjects no one will touch.  And often they are the very ones that need to be laid bare, talked about and shared.  They are what keep hearts apart even while bodies sit closer than any other time of year.

courage is turning toward hard truth not away

Now I’m no advocate of random outbursts intended to shock and raise a ruckus but I am a firm believer in speaking truth in love.

It’s hard.

In fact, next to carrying this burden of missing, it is the hardest thing I do.

And I am often unsuccessful.

I screw up my courage, practice my speech, lay out the strategy and then crumble, last minute, under dozens of potentially awful outcomes.

What if they get mad?  What if they think I’m crazy, or selfish, or wrong?

Or I DO share and it falls flat because the words I thought would communicate love are misunderstood or misdirected or misapplied.

So instead of helping, I hurt.

But the alternative is this:  we all remain imprisoned behind a wall where freedom is clearly visible on the other side.  We can smell it, almost taste it but not quite touch it.

truth and courage are not always comfortable brene brown

And that is not how I want to live. 

I want to claim the freedom that truth offers.

So this Thanksgiving I will try again:  truth in love. 

Lots and lots of love with truth sprinkled in.  Maybe the sugar in the pie will help. 

I’ll never know if I don’t give it a shot. 

laughter and truth telling

 

 

Why I Watch the Sunrise

I’m up way before the sun each day-pecking away on the computer keyboard, puttering around in the kitchen, doing a few indoor chores, getting dressed.

But I always stop to watch the sunrise.

Because no matter how many times I observe the red and gold streaks make their way up over the black silhouette of trees and chase the night away, it never gets old.

Every single sunrise is a reminder that darkness has limits. 

Every morning God whispers, “See, I’m still in charge.”

Every ray of light promises hope to my heart.

psalm 8_1