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Secure and Untethered

Are you feeling untethered? Has the rope holding you secure to something or someone you loved, counted on, invested in, or believed frayed and split? Unraveled from that which you were once attached, do you feel flung, spun out, in limbo? Though you were not certain of the direction, you counted on it. Now swirling, bumping into life and pivoting from falls, you grab for another pole – something that won’t let you go.

“They are not of this world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You have sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate Myself that they may also be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:16-19)

When we feel like are are falling, it is because long ago we were caught by Jesus, the Son of God. It is He who wrapped us securely to God’s Truth. This is the Anchor that will never come loose, the Vine that attaches eternally, and the Rock that is immovable.We must allow the splitting and slicing of securities that bind us to the world’s temporary pleasures. The tether of our days – homes, kids, spouses, friends, jobs, vacations, health, dreams, and memories, all fray.

One thing remains – God’s never-changing, never compromising, never ceasing Truth – His Word. All else lets go.

You are not untethered. You are entwined and attached to the One whose Life is in yours.

I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one so that the world maay know that You sent Me and loved them as You loved Me.” (:23)

Let go and hold on to the One who holds you.

 

 


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Welcome to Our World

 

Welcome to Our World

 

“And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God’” (Luke 1:35)

 

On Christmas Day six years ago, a chunky baby boy with golden hair was born. Coffee cups were left behind on tables, wrapping paper and gift boxes were strewn around the family room, and the unlit Christmas tree looked slightly malnourished. Our entire family – fathers, mothers, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins – were gathered at the hospital to welcome the Christmas baby into our world. With gusto and appetite, Hunter Charles left his only known home of amorphous tranquility to join a new sphere of lights, noises, surfaces, and the touching, turning, and cradling of hands holding him in the air he gulped. The baby’s wail brought forth a fresh onslaught of cacophony from the blurred shadows hovering around him. This bewildered man-child seemed to know he was at the mercy of a new world, and he wanted to go back home.

Hunter is now a robust, sensitive, and introspective child. His mop of red hair is as bright as his blue eyes are deep. He stops at no obstacle bigger, harder, or faster than himself, yet he tip toes over sand, cringes at the feel of grass, and panics at the sight of a face cloth. While Hunter’s older brother is quick with words, confident and athletic, Hunter speaks from observation, prefers fun to competition, collects rocks, and nurtures his hamster Rosie. Being with Hunter feels a little like opening a Christmas present.

When I think about the birth of Jesus, I can’t help wonder what it must have been like for Him to leave the ethereal glory of heaven where His company was the encompassing love of His Father and legions of illuminated angels extoling praises as far as He could hear. What did the crash through the eternal hemisphere feel like as the needles of straw met Him on the manger?  Unlike Hunter, Jesus did not come from the world. God gave Him to the world. Yet, this baby was born in a manger among animals, shepherds, strangers, and kings. He, too, gave his first lusty cry, learned to suckle, and felt the chill of night. From the moment of His birth, the Son of God was immersed in the world as the Son of Man.

Christmas Day brings double celebration in our household. The birthday cake for Jesus, decorated with candies and candles, is now shared with Hunter. “Happy Birthday Jesus and Hunter!” sung loud and clear reflects in a boisterous way the joy and gratitude of our family.  As we’ve watched Hunter grow from infant to boyhood, we are reminded that Jesus, too, crawled on floors, splashed in puddles, and prayed at bedtime.

God came to earth as an infant, holy and pure, and as we celebrate His birth we are reminded that He truly was with us, lived among us, and is now within us.  


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Hope

Walking in Hope

 

Hope is as silent as snowfall, as soft as dawn’s first glimmer, as sure as footsteps in sand.

            The Christmas Season is in full swing, with its cast of characters swirling about in every imaginable way. The Nativity is lit near church steps, displayed in a handful of front yards, and portrayed in films and stages. Along with shepherds, donkeys, and camels, we have a lineup of reindeer, snowmen, the Grinch, elves, and the star of them all, Santa Claus. As if this melee of Christmas characters were not enough to remind us to be happy whether we want to be or not, advertisements twist our arms as they blare their holiday wares at every turn.

            It is hard to pull hope out of this mess. Yet, hope is the meaning of the Advent Season, celebrating the birth of the Messiah, for whom the Jews had waited for generations, and our hopes in the future for His return. Even without the stress of the holidays, hope is hard to muster when life’s pressures, tragedies, physical and emotional challenges, and daily mishaps plague us relentlessly, causing even the most pious faith to falter now and then. Where is hope when we need it, and if Christmas offers us a double portion where in the candles, sermons, cantatas, and wrapping paper do we find it?

            Almost an under-study in the Nativity scene, Joseph was so obscure we find ourselves checking to see if he’s a shepherd kneeling beside the Manger. He was a kid, a carpenter, and father-to-be. Like all of the citizens of his village, he had to leave his home and job to travel to Bethlehem, the village of his birth, to register his name for the Roman census. Perhaps the trip would have been only irritating, costing him weeks of productivity at best, but the mandatory journey was made nearly impossible because his betrothed wife, close to delivering their first child, huddled upon the back of his donkey.

            Joseph shows us real hope. Because he chose to believe God, his faith never waivered. Trudging through sandy pathways, he could have entertained bitter and angry thoughts toward the Romans who imposed orders that kept him from work. Instead of kicking brush and throwing rocks, he walked on. The young carpenter could have fretted over his dwindling finances, yet with purpose richer than gold, he walked on. Surely he questioned the validity of his dreamlike encounter with an angel who called himself Gabriel and appeared in the middle of the night to tell him to stay with Mary. He could have succumbed to voices in his head telling him it was only a dream and there was no angel, and what was he doing pulling an ass laden with his pregnant girlfriend all the way to Bethlehem? On he walked. He could have led the donkey and whimpering Mary to one of the many caravans from the other villages and left her in their care. His tarnished reputation and burden would be solved. He knew he hadn’t gotten her pregnant and he didn’t know who had. “God” that angel had said.

Joseph trudged the harsh dusty road toward Bethlehem, tending to Mary as she became more and more uncomfortable, because he trusted God. From the sustenance of his Jewish religion upheld by the prophets’ decrees, and God’s own testimonies, he knew the promise that a Messiah would come to bring freedom for his people. Joseph walked in the living hope for the coming Messiah.

Often, God is not where we expect Him to be, and sometimes it seems He has left the scene, and we lose hope in Him. When we battle life’s onslaught of endless wars fighting for our faith, we must remember the big picture – God’s great purpose of bringing all people back to him. Our little chaos is a friendly skirmish with God’s intended Love covering it. Joseph had world of conflict on his shoulders, yet he believed in the essence of God Who promised not to leave him in the mess and He would bring good from it. As Joseph trod one foot in front of the other through the sand toward Bethlehem, his hope was in God. Upon the swaying braying donkey behind him, immersed in holy water, was the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Immanuel – “God with us”. 


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Confessionss of a Fluff Ball

Confessions of a Fluff Ball

I was ten when we had just returned from shoe shopping and I helped search the neighborhood for my little brother who had a penchant for escape. Mom, Dad, and friends called out his name, scouring front and back yards. We had to be careful because the sidewalk was roped off where new concrete had just been laid.  It was me who first saw our escapist trudging behind a garage, and me who went running after him as fast as I could.

“There he is! I FOUND him!” Oh, how proud of me they all would be! But the more I ran, the faster my brother went and the heavier my brand new red shoes felt.

“STOP!” was what my parents were yelling, not “Hooray!” In my dramatic show of heroism, I had immersed my shoes in a winding lane of wet concrete.

“You are a Fluff Ball,” was my mother’s comment as she tossed the red shoes, heavy as bowling balls, into the trash.

I am a Fluff Ball. My mother told me so, over and over again as I flitted and twirled through my youth with my heart on my sleeve and my head in the sand. I am idealistic, whimsical, guileless, and prone to speaking in metaphors, dancing in the kitchen, and having crushes on men who look like Jesus.  I can drive Rule Makers crazy – ice cream for breakfast, dinner invites to strangers, donuts for workmen.

Once I figured out Jesus was more interested in my heart than my practicality, it was easy, a relief actually, to hand Him the mess of me.

Then I discovered He had rules of His own. He wanted me to be holy.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct…” (1Peter 1:14-15)

Peter, the disciple who could have been my distant cousin in the Fluff family, was the deliverer of this non-negotiable mandate. “In all your conduct”, he wrote. How is it possible to rise from the muck of failure to divine virtue? Peter’s story gives me new perspective. Impetuous, passionate, and unreliable, Peter wrote about the process of becoming holy because he, too, had to drop his junk in Jesus’ lap.

Peter, Simon at the time, was desperate for approval. He probably had been the older brother living up to expectations of responsibility to set the example for his siblings. He adored Jesus and tried desperately to prove his worth by chasing Him on water, grabbing soap from His hand to wash His feet, and agreeing with Him through gritted teeth to forgive sinners seventy times seven.

Approval is a deadly and illusive ambition for a Fluff Ball. Driven like Peter, I aspired to gain my parent’s approval. I was the oldest of four, but my brother, a brilliant man (who resembles Jesus, by the way) was my mother’s favorite and is probably to this day, though she is no longer living. Our family was no more dysfunctional than most in the 50’s and 60’s. Without therapy, a gym, or Oprah, my mother fought her demons with alcohol, drugs, and temper tantrums. After long night parties my parents had with neighbors, I washed glasses, scrubbed chip and dip bowls, and threw out limp soggy left-overs. I kept everything in order while dreams danced in my head. Academically mediocre, I strived to excel in good behavior. It would have been easier to be smart!

I could think of Fluff Ball as an endearment, but the title remains a stigma I’ve tried to slough off for too many years. I need a new nametag.

Peter got one, eventually. The ink was drying on the paper when Jesus saw the fisherman throw down his life’s work, a fish net, to hang with the Man who said, “Follow Me”.

I did not check my kids into daycare permanently when I followed Jesus, but I quickly enrolled them in Sunday school, signed up for a beginner’s Bible Study, joined a church, and much to my husband’s chagrin, put our five-pound Bible smack in the middle of the coffee table – open. I might as well have hung a banner on the front of the house, “Jesus lives here!”

“Fluff Ball” was just one of the names my mother and husband mumbled about me then, barely under their breath.

Years later after my father died, my mother finally fought off her terrors. But she still called me a Fluff Ball even though I took care of her when she was sick, had grown children of my own, and could place my husband’s Bible next to mine on the table.

Peter’s compulsiveness turned to shame when he ran to hide from his enemies. In fear of losing his own life, he denied knowing his beloved Friend. What he had not known was that his old life was already gone. Jesus had given him a new role and a new name. Peter was still trying to live up to Simon’s expectations when he realized the travesty of trying to be what he could not be. He finally surrendered to all that he was meant to be.

In his true identity, the one Jesus had given to him, Peter became bold, courageous, and filled with the Holy Spirit.

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

What could Jesus do with a Fluff Ball?

Release her from the shackles of approval and crown her with Love.

Bless her with a husband who tells her she is beautiful and guide her with three daughters who call her wise. Shower her with eight rollicking grandchildren who call her fun, hilarious, cool, and a “Present Lady”. Allow a crippling disease to enter her life just enough to keep her humble and aware of the preciousness of mobility. Give her worship music to dance to in the kitchen and turn her extravagant faith into a craft that exclaims to the world with all the imagery and metaphors of a Fluff Ball, He has come to set us free from the past to the joy of His holiness in the present.

Thank You, Jesus!

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 


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Bat Woman Saved

Bat Woman Saved

A bat flapping in a tree, that’s what I was before I asked Jesus into my life. Blinded by the enemy of self, immature and myopic, a mother of two under four, my husband deployed for months at a time, I was exhausted, lonely, and disillusioned. Family life on “Father Knows Best” had never given me a hint of life behind the scenes. I’d dreamed of being like Margaret Anderson with fresh lipstick and my apron on when Jim came in smiling for dinner. Instead, I found myself in the midst of wailing babies, messy dogs, and bell-bottoms that were too snug.

I’d wanted a happy family, picnics, strolls in the park, bike rides, flowers under the window, a cocker spaniel, and my husband home at five, preferably smiling. God would provide protection if needed, though it never occurred to me He’d be close enough for a relationship. I’d hoped He could handle my greatest fears – death, storms, and my babysitter cancelling on me.

When my girlfriend invited me to Bible Study at her church, I was reluctant to accept, until she added, “free childcare.” The following Wednesday with blankies, pacifiers, and bottles in tow, my little ones and I were ready to go. This is how Jesus first cracked open the door to my heart and shed a glimmer of light on my bat wings.

I felt like a nocturnal beast in a sunny field of flowers in the Fellowship Hall. All those lovely women with long curly hair, welcoming embraces and quilt-covered bibles gave me the jitters. They didn’t know about my bad habits or how I’d yelled at my kids. The only Bible I owned was a tabletop Readers Digest King James, which was on the closet shelf so it wouldn’t be used as a coloring book.

I continued to attend the Bible Study, however, and not just because the childcare was free. I was being taught about the love of Jesus, and I saw how peaceful it looked on the faces of the women who greeted me every week. Theirs was a “beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” (1Peter 3:4)

Their joy was real even though, like me, many of them were mothers of small children, who managed homes with laundry and pets, and had husbands away on deployments or who worked late into the night. Beside their friendships with each other and the Bibles they carried like purses, the ladies appeared to have something stronger on their side, like a hovering bodyguard. You just wouldn’t want to cop an attitude with any of them. I watched, listened, and learned.

Even the ladies who didn’t know me made me feel welcome. Sometimes they appeared thankful when I arrived, and gave me an extra wide smile and pat on the shoulder. I began to relax during the weekly discussions and listen to the prayers they shared.

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)

I struggled with my identity in God’s creation and could not perceive evidence of grace like theirs in my life, only faults and temper tantrums. Like Zacchaeus the tax collector, I felt hated and despised. How could God ever love me?

When I was brave enough to admit my fear and bold enough to ask for prayer, my new friends beseeched God on my behalf, not about my character flaws, but about my real need. Little did I know at that time, they were acting through the Holy Spirit as Jesus had with the blind man and tax collector in Jericho. I needed salvation.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  (John3:16)

“Jesus died for my sins.” I heard this over and over again, but could not connect with it. If He’d died for me, what did He want me to do for Him? Stop yelling? Quit smoking? Go to Africa? What if I couldn’t be good enough? Would I be asked politely to stop attending Bible Study?

The faith I had was just not working.

Finally, I knelt by my bed, as I’d seen the kids do on “Little Prairie”, and, like the blind man, I begged for mercy, quietly so I wouldn’t wake the children.

Our Father Who art in heaven”, was all I knew, and I felt I needed to start out formal. “Please will you help me?”

“Jesus, I give everything to You – my children, my husband, my dogs, my thighs, and all my fears. If You’ll have me, I give You my life and You can be Lord of my heart. No surprise to You, but I am a sinner, and I am asking for forgiveness. Amen.” My prayer was rudimentary.

I confess I’d expected something magical to occur – a rainbow in the night sky, a phone call from my husband at sea, the Cat in the Hat to clean my house. Nothing happened. I got up from my knees and climbed into bed where I slept soundly until morning. The days continued to tumble along, my husband sailed in and out of town, the girls were fussy, the dogs messy, my temper flared occasionally, and the Cat never showed up. But there seemed to be an invisible bodyguard at every turn and the peace I felt was unmistakable. Praying became a conversation between Jesus and me as I relinquished my fears. My Bible study developed into daily lessons, the girls and I attended church, and I prayed that one day our family would worship together. I wanted Jesus in our home.

I didn’t realize it then, but Jesus had heard my prayer LOUD AND CLEAR. He’d stopped in His tracks as if Bartimaeus the blind man was crying again for the Son of David; and, turning the universe to get to the Book of Life, He called my name and wrote it down.

Today salvation has come to this house…” (Luke 19:9)

Thanks to the faith, love, and prayers of those who went to the women’s Bible Study for Jesus not childcare, I am no longer a baleful bat. Forty years later, I am loved by the Son of God.  Our home is full of Jesus, gloriously alive in my husband, our children, grandchildren, family and friends!

“And immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” (Luke 18:43)