Welcoming the Stranger

Last night I did something brave (for me).  

I went to a Christmas musical production at a large church about 45 miles away from my home.  It was brave because since Dominic died I haven’t been able to go to a worship service that includes a band and worship singers without being frozen in my seat, tears running down my face.

Someone posted a video of a practice run for the song “Mary Did You Know” done Pentatonix style and it was beautiful.

Made my heart long to hear Christmas music again.

I thought sitting in a different church, with different people  might just be the bridge to help my wounded soul  reengage in worship music.

So I arrived early, walked in and sat down in a row facing an aisle, right in the middle of the sanctuary.

By myself.

Clearly alone.

And not one person greeted or spoke to me or even smiled–though I smiled at several as they passed.

Flashing up on the large screen at the front of the room was an invitation to “send us your photo” watching the musical,  followed by various ways to connect with the church online.  Cute snapshots of people from around the area and around the world cycled through.

But no one saw, or reached out, or spoke to the person right there in front of them.

My feelings aren’t hurt. I wasn’t looking for affirmation or comfort and I’ve already “found” Jesus–but they didn’t know that.

I could have been a struggling middle-aged woman who had come, desperate for hope, or a reason to keep living,  or for the Savior everyone seems to sing about this time of year.

And that made me think:  What are we doing?

Really?

Are we so busy being IN church that we have ceased to BE the church?

The music was wonderful, the staging flawless, the choir amazing.

But what frightened and seeking and lonely people really want is a personal connection not a perfect production.

At this time of year when the days grow short and the nights are long, so very many people’s hearts are yearning for a tiny ray of light, the smallest gesture of compassion, a glimmer of hope.

And some of them bravely step through the doors of our churches.

One smile can bridge the gap.  One word can invite them in.  One extended hand can give them something and someone to hold on to.  

For if you love those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that? And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the heathen do that?

-Jesus

 

 

 

Relational Acts of Kindness

I have two very special friends.

After Dominic died and the meals and visits and cards had dwindled and the silence and heartbreak had become oh-so-overwhelming, they came out to spend the day with me.

The whole day.

With me.

With this crying, couldn’t hold it together, didn’t know what to say mama who had buried her son just weeks ago.

They brought lunch.  And let me talk–or not. They didn’t try to fix me, didn’t offer platitudes or Bible verses to smooth things over when conversation lagged.  They hugged me and listened.

And they have been doing this every few weeks since.

It costs them a whole day and it’s 60 miles each way–but they keep coming and keep lifting me up so that grief and sorrow don’t drown me.

This time of year social networks buzz with posts and tweets and Instagrams of “random acts of kindness”.  That’s a good thing.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, those are easy.

We pick a stranger, discern a way to help (maybe paying for a meal or a coffee) and then both walk away feeling warm and fuzzy. No relationship, no commitment.

Relational Acts of Kindness are much harder.

We can’t just do our thing and leave.  Our hearts and resources are going to get tangled up with theirs.

It might get expensive.

That’s what my friends did.  They leaned into relationship with me even though it was messy, and hard, and costly.

So my challenge to you is this:  who do you know that could use a relational act of kindness?  A neighbor?  A distant relative? Someone who sits alone in a pew?

There is no greater kindness than coming alongside someone at just the moment they feel their strength is gone.

I know that without these friends I would not be able to bear my grief nearly so well.  I pray that God will bless them abundantly as they have been a blessing to me.

“Help carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will obey the law of Christ.”  

~Galatians 6:2 GNT

 

 

Messy Christmas

The Christmas story is a messy one.

An unmarried mother, a hurried and hushed wedding (you know they HAD to get married, don’t you!).

Life is messy.

It rarely fits into the tidy boxes we create for our convenience.

My grief has taught me that really, we are all a mess.

Some of us are better at hiding it but I’ve learned that sharing my own brokenness invites others to do the same.

Losing a child opened my heart as never before to the broken and wounded and ignored of the earth.

And isn’t that really the message of Christmasthat the Almighty God Who is unapproachable in His holiness, comes to us as the Babe in the manger–inviting us to draw near in our brokenness and receive grace, mercy and love?

Maybe the best way to honor the Son of God leaving the glorious perfection of heaven to enter the world in poverty and dependence is not creating lovely tablescapes and piling packages under a decorated tree.

Maybe the best way to honor Christ’s birth is to open our hearts and homes

to the outcast,

the lowly,

and the disregarded.

Sar Shalom

Sar Shalom.

Prince of Peace.

My favorite name of Jesus.

According to Strong’s Concordance 7965 Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.

Peace is not a place or a promise–peace is a Person.

I made this paper weight in January 2014 to remind me that Jesus IS Shalom–He IS Peace.

Four months into that year, my confidence in this truth was shaken. What tranquility can dwell in the heart of a mama who has to bury her child?  Where is wholeness when the family circle is torn asunder?

And yet…

Even as I walk this hard path, I am strangely, inexplicably at peace in the core of my being.

And God’s peace [shall be yours, that tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and being content with its earthly lot of whatever sort that is, that peace] which transcends all understanding shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 AMPC

Surrounded by violence and threats of violence, peace is hard to come by. Fear reigns in the hearts of many–even those who believe in Christ.

And if we trust in the government, or the police, or ourselves to keep us safe, we have every reason to be fearful.

But when we rest completely in Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace who is Himself our Peace, we can be assured that we are safe.

Not safe from all harm, but safe in His love and care.

 

Everlasting Father

We live in a throwaway society.

Cups, cans, plates and people.   Too often we toss friendships when they become inconvenient, uncomfortable or require more energy than we are willing to give.

Adults trade partners in a frenzied search for happiness and fulfillment and leave children’s hearts in the wreckage as families are ripped apart.

So it’s no surprise that many people find it difficult to believe in a Heavenly Father that is good, and loving and everlasting.

But God is just that:

He is an Everlasting Father.

A Faithful Father.  

A Father whose enduring love lasts FOREVER. 

 Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present andthreatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:35, 38-39

My mother love is fierce.  But it was not strong enough to keep my child from the grave.

How much greater is the Father’s love that NOTHING can separate us from it?

What fills my heart and soul with hope and gives me strength to bear this great grief is unshakeable confidence that my son is safe in the eternal arms of my Everlasting Father.

 

 

 

Mighty God

For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 HCSB

So many times, when I think of the “Mighty God” I conjure pictures of thunder and lightning or conquering power.  I’ve been in church services where someone will pray, “Show Yourself mighty here today, Lord!”  And what they mean is:  do something bold, easily identifiable and outwardly visible.

I believe the Mighty God shows up a lot more frequently than we realize. 

We are looking, like Elijah, for God in the whirlwind, but He usually comes in quietness and whispers.

I experienced the Mighty God the day I had to bury Dominic. 

I didn’t think I could physically survive greeting friends and family at his funeral, hearing loved ones tell him good-bye and watching his casket lowered beneath the earth.  But I did.

That morning I prayed:

“Father, bind any scheme of the enemy to take away the victory You have ordained for our great loss.  I know he cannot take away the real victory, but he delights in confusion, dissension and discouragement.  Only Your love, grace, peace and mercy can overcome hatred, bitterness, anger and discord.  Give us your Spirit in abundance—overwhelm us with Your Presence.  Help us say good-bye to our sweet boy in a way that honors You, magnifies You and honors his memory.  The only way we can do that is by Your grace and in Your power.  I must cling to the truth and to the Truth—otherwise all is lost!”

The Mighty God put steel in my backbone and upheld me with His love, grace and mercy.

He raised my hands in praise even as my heart broke in sorrow.

His warrior Spirit infused me with strength. 

I held on to the promise:

That one day Jesus, Who came first in meekness, will return in power.  He will set wrong things right and restore the earth to beauty and peace.

Death will be defeated and the grave will be no more. 

I am still fighting the enemy—every day he tries to defeat me and convince me that darkness and pain are all I will ever know.

But my faithful Savior, the Mighty God, comes quietly to my heart and reminds me that the victory is His—the promises are sure—and I, with Dominic, will dwell in His house forever.   

 

 

 

Advent: A Season of Waiting

We spend a lot of time waiting.  Waiting to grow up.  Waiting to get married.  Waiting to have children.  Waiting for our children to grow up.  Always looking toward the next big thing.

Israel waited centuries for the Messiah.  Generation after generation was born, lived, and died without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise.

I have always loved the tradition of lighting  a candle and reciting Scripture to build anticipation for celebrating the birth of Jesus.The ritual forces me to slow down in the rush of holiday preparation to ponder the coming of God’s great gift.

Celebrating Advent helps me recapture that desperate hope–Israel’s longing heart for her Savior.

Since Dominic went to heaven,  Advent is no longer just a seasonal celebration–it’s an attitude of my heart.

I received the blessing of Christ’s first coming-His payment-in-full of sin’s penalty and freedom from the curse of the law.  I know my eternity is secure.

But I live in this fallen world where death still intrudes to take the ones I love.

So now I’m waiting with greater desperation and hope for the complete redemption and restoration of the earth God created and the people for whom Jesus died.

Every time I light a candle to drive the dark from a room I remember the faithfulness of God and His promise that no matter how dark it gets, Light is coming.

 

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light.
For those who lived in a land of deep shadows—
    light! sunbursts of light!
You repopulated the nation,
    you expanded its joy.
Oh, they’re so glad in your presence!
    Festival joy!
The joy of a great celebration,
    sharing rich gifts and warm greetings.

Isaiah 9:2-4 MSG