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: A Willing Heart

It’s easy to read the stories of Zechariah and Mary, both visited by the angel Gabriel with unlikely and hard-to-believe messages, and wonder why Zechariah was struck dumb when he asked a question but Mary was commended.

The difference is heart attitude.

26-28 Then, six months after Zacharias’ vision, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a Galilean town, Nazareth by name, to a young woman who was engaged to a man called Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel entered her room and said, “Greetings to you, Mary. O favoured one!—the Lord be with you!”

29-33 Mary was deeply perturbed at these words and wondered what such a greeting could possibly mean. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; God loves you dearly. You are going to be the mother of a son, and you will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be known as the Son of the most high. The Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather, David, and he will be king over the people of Jacob for ever. His reign shall never end.”

34 Then Mary spoke to the angel, “How can this be,” she said, “I am not married!”

35-37 But the angel made this reply to her—“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will overshadow you. Your child will therefore be called holy—the Son of God. Your cousin Elisabeth has also conceived a son, old as she is. Indeed, this is the sixth month for her, a woman who was called barren. For no promise of God can fail to be fulfilled.”

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

Luke 1:26-38 PHILLIPS

Zechariah was a priest who had studied the Torah and should have understood the sovereignty of God. He didn’t ask a question about how Gabriel’s prophecy would come true, he asked for proof that it WOULD come true.

He questioned God’s character and faithfulness.

Mary was a poor young woman who was (most likely) unfamiliar with Scripture except what she had heard in the synagogue.

She knew how babies were made and asked a very practical question.

She wasn’t suggesting God COULDN’T do it, she simply wondered HOW He would do it.

It is portrayed so sweetly in Christmas plays and Christmas movies:

Mary bowing her head in response to the angel Gabriel’s announcement that she has been chosen to bear the Savior.

I don’t know what went through her mind before she answered.  I’m not sure she had a clue what submission to God’s will would look like as it played out across the months and years.

I only know that she was willing.

And God honored her willingness to bend her knee and her heart regardless of the unknown cost.

I’m not as noble as Mary.  I didn’t answer quickly when God allowed my life to be turned upside down. I kicked and screamed and resisted as long as I could.

But who can fight Almighty God?

How can I carry on if I resist the Only One Who can carry me?

My heart still balks.

It. Is. Still. So. Very. Hard.

But I bow my head and heart each morning and ask for the grace to make it true:

“Behold, I am the servant of the LORD; let it be to me according to your word.” ~Luke 1:38

hand-coffee-roosevelt

QUESTIONS:

  • I know most of the people reading this are bereaved parents. While Mary was indeed “highly favored” the role for which she was chosen was one of heartache as well as honor. If you knew then what you know now, would you have still chosen to bear and love your child?
  • It is absolutely OK to bring our questions, doubts and fears to God. Do you see the difference between Zechariah’s and Mary’s questions? Or do you think there was a difference? Why or why not?
  • Have you reached a point of submission regarding the loss of your child? If you have, how did you get there? If you haven’t, what lament do you need to offer up to God so His grace and strength can fill your heart?
  • It’s easy to read Bible stories like make-believe fairy tales and discount the flesh and blood humans who lived them in real time. Does it help your heart hold onto hope to realize that none of them could see the end from the beginning? Does it encourage you that they were able to rest in the Lord’s faithful and unfailing love? Why or why not?

PRAYER:

Father God,

Oh, how I long for Mary’s faith! How my heart yearns to be always willing, always wanting to let You do whatever You deem good and right. But I balk at giving up control-even as I admit I have no control-to You or anyone else.

I am often dismayed and even angry at the things You allow. I am distraught that You don’t intervene when You most certainly can and I think You most definitely should.

Help me submit willingly to Your plan. Help me wait patiently for the fruit of obedience. Give me strength to endure even when the road is long and the path inky darkness.

You are Faithful and True. You are Light and Life. Help me hold onto that truth and rest in Your goodness and love.

Amen