A Holey Holy Day

Another year has passed and here we are at Christmas, the first of our holy days as Christians followed by Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  December 25th, a holy day of celebrating the Prince of Peace’s entry into this fallen world as a pure and sinless babe, is precluded by all sorts of celebratory rituals.

But, what happens when the holy days are holey days?  What are we to do when we are wholly consumed with loss-related grief?  How do we wade through the fun and fanfare when our feet are encased in the cement of profound sadness?

In three short lines, poet W.S Merwin exquisitely gives voice to the saturation this kind of sorrow brings in his work, Separation.

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

And so it is on these holidays.  Attempted merriment is colored by thick threads of loss. Our hearts are threadbare and frayed at the seams.  The tapestry of our lives is rent.  Our vision is clouded by tears. Our holiday is hollow.  We are riddled with holes.

This year, our fake fir stood in the corner for days, completely unadorned.  It mirrored my feelings regarding the upcoming holiday.  I, too, felt stripped of anything celebratory; bare of anything resembling peace, joy and good tidings.  Imitation me, just like my tree. If it wasn’t for a visit from our grandbabies, I would have left the bare tree in the corner as a symbol of my emptiness.  Perhaps, a self-indulgent homage to my distress.

Even when it came time to hang the ornaments and light up the branches, I wasn’t ready for the flood of emotions that came when my grands brought me ornament after ornament with questions about the history of each one.  We were hanging poignant reminders of better times on garland adorned branches.   Uninvited grief during holidays is just like the Grinch, it can steal our Christmas joy.  No matter how many times I turned up the volume on the Christmas carols, I was unable to drown out the song of sorrow in my soul.

No matter who or what is absent.  No matter who or what is lost, holidays are poignant reminders of what was or what should have been.  Memories usher in a longing, and the gathering of families and friends can bring a sharp and painful focus on the holes in our lives.  Even if you haven’t experienced some kind of loss, these days of “celebrations” are filled with expectations that many times go unmet causing all sorts of heartache.  Sometimes, it’s simply the effort of getting along with the prickly pears in our circles can rob us of the joy we desire to experience at Christmas.

How do we turn our hole-ness into wholeness?  How do we recapture some of that childlike awe that the birth of our savior should bring?  How do we go from moving through the motions to experiencing true joy in the midst of gaping holes?

Maybe, we can look at the Christmas story from a little different angle. Let’s depart from the Mary and Joseph scene and take a look at what Jesus’ birth meant to his Father, our Father.  The day that teenager gave birth to our Lord and Savior was the beginning of a life lived solely to suffer and die on our behalf.  Every Christmas Day was one year closer to his betrayal, suffering, and tortuous death.  Every Christmas Day marked the moment at which God gave him up to be sacrificed…for you, for me.

I think our father knows Christmas grief.

I think our father knows the heartache of the empty chair, the empty arms, the empty house, the empty bank account, the health gone bad, the hardness of a holey holiday.  He simply knows.

He doesn’t ask us to revel in his knowing, but he does ask us to rest in that.  Don’t let this be cliché:

Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

Peace can be painful and joy can be muted, and that is simply okay.  Christmas can be laced with blue threads instead of gold and that is okay, too.  If this season’s tears outweigh its laughter, let it be.  He knows.

You Yourself have recorded my wanderings. Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your records?

Psalm 56:8

We will experience wholeness when we rest in his knowing and give our grief to Him. Our surrendered suffering will bring glory to Him and peace to us. Thankfully, we don’t have to figure out how that happens.  He’s got this!  When allowed, His presence begins to seep into every hole to the point of overflowing!

We must be careful to not measure joy by the world’s standards.  Painful, productive peace is not promoted in this be-happy-at-all cost society.  For Christ followers, tears and laughter commingle,  joy and pain join hands,  grief and God meet… in blessed ways the world can not know JUST as it did for our Lord that first Christmas morn.   Let that be your Christmas awe.

So, dear one, hold on.  Cry out to The Healer to fill your holes and rest well in His knowing this Christmas season.   I leave you with this:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 Romans 15:13

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On the No-Shower Days

Battle-weary from warring with worry, dazed and confused from the hard fall after the rug got pulled from beneath your planted feet, and insulated in isolation from the human interaction you desperately need, you find yourself staring at that familiar image in the mirror.  If only you could sneak in a 5-minute date with the tub.  A little too familiar?  A few too many no-shower days?

When life is providing challenges, it’s easy to fall into a few of Satan’s well-hidden traps.  If we learn to become vigilant and become skilled at recognizing and disarming them, we stay steady on our journey, and the no-shower days don’t hold as much power as they otherwise would.

Let’s visit a few of the deceiver’s favorite go-to snares otherwise known as lies.

Catastrophizing.

This is where you imagine the worst of outcomes.   Your inner Buzz Lightyear is screaming, “This will last to infinity and beyond!”  This present affliction has to be the absolute biggest and baddest of all big and bad things.   In this place, convincing yourself that this difficult day is destined to be repeated for the next 365 comes easy.  Words like “never” and “forever” and “always” ricochet in your brain space, piercing any positivity you might cling to.  You obsess over the current cause of your hygiene hiatus and believe you will never again shower.  Each of us have our own bait-lines that when swallowed, pull us into the abyss of despondency.  What are yours?

Ruminating. 

In an article titled “Rethinking Rumination” in Perspectives in Social Science, the authors give an excellent definition for rumination…

“rumination is a mode of responding to distress that involves repetitively and passively focusing on symptoms of distress and on the possible causes and consequences
of these symptoms. Rumination does not lead to active problem solving to change circumstances surrounding these symptoms.  Instead, people who are ruminating remain fixated on the problems and on their feelings about them without
taking action.” 1

If your thoughts have become the equivalent of a bad vine on YouTube, identify them now.

Enumerating.

Keeping track of your woes?  Adding up insults?  Tabulating troubles?  Multiplying misery?  How often do we count our burdens when we should be counting our blessings?  Becoming an accountant for the adversary is nothing but nonproductive.   It’s easy on the sans-bath days to start a lengthy list of all you do for the others in your life.  What are you logging into your mind’s ledger?

Generalizing.

Sweeping generalizations, the labeling of all of life.  One terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day does not mean they all will be.  Even if the present circumstance does permeate more time than we would choose, it will get better.  It will get easier.  We become healthy when we accept, adjust, and adapt.  Have you painted over a brilliant fine line of promise with a wide brush stroke of generalization today?

Victimizing.

It is far too easy to adopt a victim mentality on the hard days.  Human nature seeks to place blame on someone or something tangible.  We step right into the snares called “If only” and “why can’t”.  Here’s the deal;  bad things happen, people fail us, not everything comes with a labeled reason.  No matter what the source of your pain is, you get to choose whether you will live as a victim or victor.  Taking control of your thought life is the first step in becoming the latter.  Who do you tend to “blame” for your no-shower days?

The Solution:  Spirit-filled mindfulness. 

Mindfulness, apart from spirituality, is defined by Psychology Today as:  “a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

Mindfulness tells Buzz Lightyear that he’s overly dramatic.  When truly mindful, we can be aware that this no-shower day is actually a no-shower hour because we are simply in the moment, hour, day.   It grounds us in this truth:

Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself.  Matthew 6:34

See, even the Father instructs us to stay in the present!

With spiritual mindfulness, we can purposely list our blessings,  identify joy in mundane moments, cultivate a garden of gratitude as children of a loving God who holds the future we fear.

Rejoice always!  Pray constantly.  Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  1Thessalonians 5:16-18 (HCSB)

Here’s the best part!  As Christ-followers, we have an abundance of help.  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be discerning of our thoughts and motives.  He is waiting to gently and graciously expose those destructive thought patterns which make us so vulnerable to Satan’s lies.

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.  Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.    John 14:26 (HCSB)

When we allow The Spirit to control our thought live vs. dialing him up for damage control, our no-shower days aren’t so distressing and the image we see as we pass the mirror is not that of a worried and worn-out woman, but that of a gentle and quiet spirit who just happens to be tired.  Big difference, my friends.

In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.  And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  Romans 8:26-27 (HCSB)

So, you there with the greasy hair and the baggy sweats, know first that you are loved fiercely by your Father God.  Become obsessed with that.  Ruminate on that.  Count the ways He loves you.

BE MINDFUL OF HIM WHO LONGS TO FILL YOUR MIND!

For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth , or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39 (HCSB)

Make a plan for your next no-shower day.  Right now!!!  Here’s your have-ready list:

  • Scripture verses that hold great meaning to you personally.
  • A positive statement in BIG letters for a prominent place.  i.e. “This too shall pass” or “I am loved by the King” or “He knows”.
  • A dry erase marker for your bathroom mirror.  Draw a happy face every time you visit that room.  Don’t forget to smile back at it.
  • Start a blessings list now and add to it ON your rough days.
  • A play-list of your favorite inspirational music.

Blessings my friends!

 

(1) (http://drsonja.net/wp-content/themes/drsonja/papers/NWL2008.pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

Standing in the Pig Poop

Jesus drives out demons.  People drive out Jesus.

 Can you make any sense of it?  I can’t and of course, we can easily condemn the actions of our ancestors in scripture given we have the script in our hands.  Really, what was wrong with these people?

Let’s recap the situation.  There is this demon-possessed man who had run naked and lived among the tombs and hills where he didn’t sleep, wailed day and night and cut himself with stones for what the Bible says was a “long time”.  He was so violent, so maniacal that he repeatedly tore off the irons and chains that the people placed on him.  Imagine this uncontrollable savage whose eyes would have revealed the demonic torment raging within.  Obviously, no one was safe to travel the path that ran past these tombs of terror.   No Hollywood special effects needed, this was the real deal.  Demons.  Not one, not two, but thousands. The Legion. You can read the story for yourself in Matthew 8, Mark 5 and Luke 8.

So, Jesus, fresh from terrifying the disciples by calming the storm with three words, had just arrived to the region of the Gadarenes when this tortured man starts screaming at Jesus.   Remember, “even the demons believe and tremble in terror”. (James 2:19).  They, the demons, beg Jesus not to send them to the abyss but ask instead to be sent into a herd of pigs grazing on the hillside.  So, with his permission, the evil spirits exited the man and entered the approximately 2,000 pigs who then promptly drown themselves.

At this point, the horrified hog handlers book it and they broadcast to fellow farmers and townsmen alike what they just witnessed with their very own eyes.  There was no choice between the fight or flight response.  Unadulterated, adrenaline-laced fear fueled them as the fled the scene of deliverance.

Out come the people to see for themselves, and there he is!  The crazed man is totally coherent.  He is sane.  He is clothed.  He is sitting at the feet of Jesus hanging on every word.  Here’s where the story takes a twist.   The reaction of the people is not what we would expect.  No praise.  No worship.  No gratitude.  No falling on their knees in the presence of the healer.  Just dead pigs in the lake, leftover excrement, and fear.  Fear.  So much fear that they begged Jesus to leave their region. What?  Send Jesus away?  But, I don’t understand!  He just performed a miracle of gigantic proportion!  The whole community benefited from this.

Oh, the fear factor.  I have an intimate knowledge of fear and the sin that springs from it.  I believe it is one of Satan’s favorite tools.

The translation of this particular “fear” from the Greek ephobethesan, is “to be struck with fear, to be seized with alarm” and in this case, “of those startled by strange sites or occurrences”.  (Strongs). Let’s look at a couple other instances where this definition of fear is written about.

  • The disciples were seized by it just prior to this scene when Jesus calmed the storm.  (Mark 4).
  •  In John 6, it overtook them after Jesus walked to them on water and caused their boat to instantly time travel to the shore.
  •  The shepherds were hit hard when the angel appeared announcing Jesus’ birth. (Luke 2)
  •  Peter, James and John were brought to their knees at the transformation of Jesus where our Savior’s face glowed, his clothes became dazzling white, Moses and Elijah appeared, a bright cloud covered them all and God audibly spoke.  (Matthew 17 and Luke 9)

Are there any words to describe the terror which strikes at the frail human heart when brought face to face with the supernatural acts of our sovereign Christ?  No, for it is at that moment that we become engulfed by our finite and frail humanity and yes, the flames of spontaneous, sinful fear send us fleeing or, as in this case, begging the Savior to leave our territory.

There they were, sending away the solution as they stood ankle deep in pig poop, the disgusting waste of Satan’s evil army. No pigs, no demons, just the leftovers.   What is it that made them fear the Sovereign Solution over the remnants of years of torment?   What is it that made them fear the Supreme over the damned?  Why did they not want more of what Jesus had to offer?

It has been suggested that money drove their fear.  Two thousand hogs was a costly loss, and what else was this Jesus going to do; however, I don’t think it was that when we look at the other scriptures where the Greek “ephobethesan” is used.

 I think the pure power that pours from our Lord and Savior frightens us in ways we aren’t always aware of.  Why?  

Maybe because we are always trying to be the ones in control.

 Maybe because we are more comfortable with the status quo than we are with being moved out of our comfort zone.

 Maybe because when we see how unfathomably great our God is, we realize how small we really are.  

Maybe because we don’t believe we are worth delivering.

 Maybe because we are actually afraid of what He may ask of us.  

Maybe, just maybe, its because we don’t truly know the totality of who it is we worship and serve and because of that, faith gives way to fear.

Sit with this question:

 Are you standing ankle-deep in your leftover mess while sending away the solution?  Why?  What are you afraid of?  

Lord, forgive us for sending you, our Sovereign Solution, away.  Forgive us for not falling to our knees in worshipful respect and awe at your power.  Forgive us for not calling on you to exercise it in our daily lives.  In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Dance of the Daffodil

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From brown and barren ground, you make your promised presence known.  Enduring icy frosts and winter storms, your growth’s timing is not your own.

And when it seems cruel winter has spoken its last goodbye, stinging snow falls once again through foreboding, greying skies.

Beautiful, brilliant daffodil, you live not your’s, but HIS good will.  So, bend with grace beneath this season’s unfair weight and kinder times anticipate.

Trust in the One with whom you dance.  None of this is happenstance.

Bow your head and take this rest.  Accept the trials, accept you’re blessed.

One day the sun again will shine.  You’ll lift your head and find it’s time, to raise your weathered petals high and sway in praise to Adonai.

Yes, Adonai (our Lord and Master) provides so many lessons in nature.  We can stand in awe of his might and grand design, or like today, we can identify with the tender plant being assaulted by a heavy, late Spring snow.

Is this you?  Are you a tender daffodil emerging from crisis, trying to heal from pain, redefining your life after loss, facing an unknown future?  Please know that with your full cooperation, God will redeem it, meaning he will purchase your pain, disillusionment, fear, whatever you are holding, and he will present you with His peace in its place.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

We get to choose whether or not we accept what he gives when he purchases our pain.  We can stand there at the cash register of life with our arms folded, shaking our heads no and demanding what we think we should receive; or, we can hold out trembling, empty hands extending from battle-weary bodies that house trusting hearts.  We get to choose to  believe what he places in those hungry hands is what we need to grasp for His glory to be displayed in our weakness!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2 Corinthians 12:9

daffodil in snow

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18

So today, see your storm as His power being made perfect in your weakness, and see this weight of your circumstances as a spiritual workout preparing you for an eternal weight of glory!!  Doesn’t that twist the tears of sorrow to Yes, Jesus! tears of joy?!