Thursday, December 31, 2015

Courage in a Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree went up the day after Thanksgiving, while our sons were still around to chop it down, muscle it into position, and reach the higher branches with lights and ornaments. A morning or so later I plugged it in before sitting down with a first cup of coffee. It was still mostly dark outside, the sun just creeping towards the horizon. But as I looked out the window at the birds starting to come to the feeder outside, I delighted to see the reflection of the lighted Christmas tree in the glass of the deck door! Every morning after that I deliberately plugged the tree in and looked for that reflection. I sensed that I needed it somehow to make it through the day.

Many around us struggled with real life issues this holiday season, be it a death in the family, a financial crisis or some sort, or a serious or extended illness. Some were tempted to just skip the celebration this year – to avoid the work and the stress, maybe jump into it again next year when they were feeling better or more in the spirit of things. But there's wisdom in the lyrics of a song that have been dancing around my mind of late. Truly we've “grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older. ...(we) need a little Christmas now.”

We needed the joy and laughter of visiting friends and family, especially when missing some of the same. The lightheartedness of the season was good for those whose own hearts were heavy. And singing along to Christmas songs with excited kids brought needed smiles to faces prone this year to frown. Especially when dark days are upon us and we face difficult weeks ahead do we need a reminder of the meaning of the season...the birth of a Savior Who came to give us hope and salvation...tangible evidence of how very much our loving Father cares about the difficulties we are going through. As I worked my way through a crazy December, it was comforting to see the reflection of the Christmas tree in my every busy action, a reminder that God was with me (Immanuel!) and oh, so very near.

Lots of people put their Christmas trees up early this year. I thought we did so just because our sons were home to help. But maybe God wanted to remind us that His Son had come to help... help us cope, give us hope, and change our futures forever. And if the sight of a Christmas tree could deliver that message, then so be it.

But let's not pack away God's glad tidings with the ornaments and other decorations as we end this season and get ready to jump into the next. I printed the picture of the tree's reflection to paste inside the front cover of the new journal I'll start on January 1st, where I will see it each morning when I open the book...a reminder that God wants us to carry on and continue strong. To do so, we simply need a little Christmas...all year long.

So then, we are always full of good and hopeful and confident courage...”
(2 Corinthians 5:6 AMP)

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Season may be Red and Green, but my Christmas Miracle is Violet

Nobody realized that at three-and-a-half pounds, the teacup Yorkie was small enough to slip out of the fenced-in backyard. Set outside with the other dogs while the visiting family enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner, her absence wasn't detected until after the meal. By then the dog had the run of the Oakland streets and apparently wasn't looking back.

Everybody sprang into action. My brother-in-law and his relatives piled into cars and began the search. My sister jumped on an app on her phone that put an alert out to neighbors, asking for help in finding the pet. Then she fielded the calls that started to come in and directed those in the cars according to where the dog had been spotted last as they tried to piece together the direction in which the pup seemed to be heading.

Dot and Ivan had been having such a great week with their guests up to that point. Their house had been filled with people and pets, noise and chaos as the dogs wrestled with each other and the kids raced from room to room. Happy sounds, all, of family loving their time together... until this sudden turn of events threatened to destroy the holiday joy. Worse yet was the fact that the missing pet belonged to little Brianna, whose seventh birthday was the next day. The only gift she wanted was the return of her beloved dog. Dot sent me an email about the situation, asking us to pray.

I felt the weight of their worry as I read the story. Their panic was becoming mine as I pleaded their case before God. Gently He reminded me what prayer is all about – the simple exchange of our problems for His peace..and truly I began to feel the latter as I laid the situation at His feet and left it there.

The initial reports were not encouraging. The dog seemed to be continually running away from the house The night was cold, the hour was late, and at midnight the searchers returned home empty-handed to try again in the early hours of the next morning The family posted pictures of the pet and numbers to call in the area she had last been seen and started checking animal shelters in the hope she had been taken to one of those in the city. We needed a miracle, to be sure.

But even as the neighbors' calls gradually ceased, God started to check in with sightings of His own. The first was a quote from Ann Voskampf's book that suddenly popped in my mind: Thanksgiving precedes the miracle...a reminder that giving thanks to God in the midst of difficult circumstances is the way to restored joy, no matter what the outcome. Was it just a crazy coincidence that the Thanksgiving holiday had preceded our need for a miracle? Or was it an intended reminder of God's words to us in Philippians 4:6... “Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving , let your requests be made known to God.” Quickly I started listing the many reasons we had to be thankful despite all that was going on – the love in the family that searched together for the dog, the help of the neighbors, the fact that although it was cool for California, the night wasn't rainy or snowy...and again I felt the peace promised in the next verse of the Scripture start to permeate my soul.

The next day I suddenly came across the name Violet in the current bestseller I was reading! A name that was popular in years gone by, its use went into decline until a recent resurgence in the last decade or so. It's still not one you see or hear on a regular basis. That I did so at this particular time perhaps was a sign that our particular Violet was still popular with God, as were the people who loved her, and a reminder that He was still working on the situation even as we went on to do other things.

Lastly came a story in a Joel Osteen book about a woman who received a grim cancer diagnosis and was given little hope for survival. In the midst of all the negativity surrounding her, somebody gave her a little rock that had the words “Expect a miracle” inscribed upon it. It immediately sparked hope inside of her, and she carried that little stone with her wherever she went, through all her treatments, laying it by her bedside at night only to take it up again immediately the next morning. Finally came the day when biopsies were to be performed to determine the success of the medical procedures. Again she was warned that the chances for a positive outcome were slim, and not to get her hopes up. But it was too late for that. While she was still groggy in the recovery room when the testing was over, a lady in white came in her room, asked if she was the one expecting a miracle, and handed her a little plaque that read Miracles happen every day. One could ascribe her story to a drug-induced vision of some kind, except that to this day the plaque remains hanging on her wall... and her cancer is gone.

A miracle by definition is an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all know human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause. Nowhere in that definition do we see the word “rare”. Yet somehow we've gotten the idea that they don't happen very often. Maybe that is because we simply don't expect them to.

The idea took hold of me. I decided to enter December this year determined to see miracles every day. It seemed a bold test of my faith. Big miracles, little ones, it didn't matter. I would expect to see God move every day in some miraculous way. I felt in my soul that the first such miracle would be the safe return of little Violet. And wouldn't it be wonderful if it happened on December 1st?

It's important to remember that prayer is a surrender of a situation to God's sovereign control. There's a difference between being bold in one's faith and bossing God around. He delights in the former and doesn't think much of the latter. The key to unlocking the heart of God in a situation is to repeat back to Him the promises He's made to us in His Word. It's not that He needs the reminder; He hasn't forgotten what He said. But we need to hear them again and again because each repetition builds our faith to the point that we finally believe the words we are saying. God is then able to act on our belief.

And so December arrived, five long days after the little animal had been lost. All day long on the first of the month I waited, but there was no new word from Dot. As I lay my head on my pillow that night I told God that I still believed the dog would be found eventually, even if not on my timetable. I had just drifted off to sleep when my phone buzzed on the nightstand beside my bed. It was a text message from my sister telling me that she was on her way to pick up the dog from someone who had called the number on its tag! People in several different households were rejoicing that night!

May we likewise be awakened from our spiritual slumber and take Simeon as our role model this Christmas...a man the Bible says lived in the prayerful expectancy of seeing what God had promised him. Told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the promised Messiah, he was at the Temple the day Mary and Joseph brought their Baby in to fulfill all the requirements of the Law. Can you imagine the tears of joy streaming down his weathered face as he held the fulfillment of that promise in his arms?

Our belief is the only gift we can give God this holiday season that He can't get from any other source. Thank Him in advance for doing what's right in your situation, regardless of the outcome you are hoping for, and just see what miracle He puts in your arms in return. Brianna's delight as she hugs her newly-found puppy tight reminds me that God still has a heart for His kids...especially at Christmas.

O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will praise Your name, for You have done wonderful things, even purposes planned of old [and fulfilled] in faithfulness and truth.”
(Isaiah 25:1 AMP)

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