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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Thea, Thea

“Are You kidding me, Lord?”

The words form in my head before I can edit them. Even in the midst of holiday hoopla, I know I’m conversing with omnipotence; there’s a certain decorum to such encounters. I smile, realizing I'm also communing with omniscienceWhy sweat it? 

This is, after all, Christmas Eve, and I know the Almighty realizes this is a hugely busy day for those He came to die for.

I’ve already obeyed Him several times this morning. I woke early, then spent quality time with Him and a few dear friends He laid on my heart. Isn't it about time to get to my chores?

“No, you heard me right, Thea,” He whispers back. “You can choose to ignore Me … but is that really how you want to commemorate My birth?”

I reluctantly seat myself at the keyboard, shooing away fragments of to do lists that are cluttering my brain. The food and presents will have to wait.

The reason I must sit down and write is because the message He’s giving me really concerns all the mania of this time of year. I’ve been mentally checked out most of the week at work (I’ve come to refer to this phenomenon as “Christmas brain”). Task piles upon task as I strive to “get Christmas right,” and I almost resent having to show up at the place that not only represents my livelihood, but also a strong sense of purpose for my existence.

More thoughts arrive unbidden.

“You’ve got another hour, Lord. Then Elise and Aaron arrive, then her father, and he's never been to the house before, and the bathroom's not clean yet, and then we go to Anita’s, and then … “

Breathe.

I had a divine encounter at the super market yesterday. I met up with my son and daughter-in-law to grab the cholesterol and sugar, er, ingredients, needed for today’s festivities. It was the most peace I’ve had all week. Despite the crowds and shortage of parking (we had three vehicles between us), my heart surged with joy to be sharing such madness with two of the dearest people on earth to me. We divvied up the list and finished in short order. I told them I enjoyed every moment of our trip, and I meant it.

I’m ashamed to admit, though, one thing marred my happiness. While scrambling to hunt down my share of the goodies, I bumped into a friend. I haven’t known her long, but there’s a certain depth to our acquaintance that comes from shared struggles. She had been a frequent texting correspondent some months ago, but had fallen off the radar of late and not responded when I contacted her. That’s never a good sign.

She followed along as I shuffled through the peanut butter aisle. At first we chatted about trivialities, but all of a sudden she shared something from the heart. I’m an experienced selective listener (most multi-taskers are), but the down side of only paying partial attention is you can miss important tidbits when you’re in deep speculation about weighty matters like which jar of honey has the best unit price.

I did a mental double take, forced my gaze away from the food fest that had been consuming my attention, and looked her in the eye.

In all honesty, I really didn’t have time for an in depth conversation in that setting and with that company. BUT it behooved me to MAKE time to share my love and concern for her well being, and to let her know I was praying for her. That was all I had to give in that instant, and it had to be enough.

A young boy once had a small lunch which he was asked to share with a great multitude. It wasn’t nearly enough, of course – a couple of fish and a paltry amount of bread. Still, what he had he shared willingly, and at day’s end, thousands left satisfied.

Do I dare offer any less?

The phone rings as I type that last sentence. When my son's number appears on caller ID, I know it means he and his wife are on their way and my time to write is slipping away. 

And I haven't wrapped one present yet.

I think of a long ago party such as the one I'm helping to host today. An important Guest was expected, one who had never graced that home before and maybe never would again. When the Visitor arrived, one hostess served with gusto, growing more and more resentful of her sister, who chose instead to soak in the presence of their prestigious company. It’s worth examining Luke 10:38-42, where Jesus rebukes Martha, the complainer, and commends Mary, the listener:

“Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.’
 And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’”



Check out Jonny Diaz's "Just Breathe"

                      




Sunday, December 11, 2016

Grinch Pinch


In this season of peace on earth and good will towards men, many joyfully lay down resentments and take hold of compassion. There’s just something about the lights and carols and festivities that beckon us to reach out to others and share the joy.

Why, then, am I in the grip of the Grinch?

We all know this guy. He’s the legendary scoundrel who tried to steal Christmas from the unsuspecting Whos Down in Whoville by cooking up an elaborate scheme to abscond with their Christmas goodies. He found out in the end, though, that he couldn’t spirit away their Christmas spirit.

Would that I were a Who.

I’m not going to delve into particulars because I don’t think I’m unique in the slightest. See, behind the lights and carols and festivities lie labor and cash and family stuff, any of which can squeeze joy out of the well-intentioned faster than December 25th turns into December 26th.  I have my baggage, you have yours, but the bottom line is we all have the “I” word: issues. Just because the calendar flips to December doesn’t mean those issues are laid to rest; on the contrary, they’re often exacerbated by the very season we celebrate.

What to do?

The only means I know of to combat the Grinch Pinch is the one that inspired a young, unmarried woman to welcome a pregnancy that could ruin her societally. It’s the same guidance that caused her fianc√© to stay the course with his betrothed and spurn voices that would label him a cuckold and a fool. It’s the same force that led an unnamed number of stargazers, AKA, wise men, to travel well over two thousand miles round trip to worship a divine baby.

It’s a little thing called the Incarnation, which in simple terms means God laid aside His royalty and became a peon for 30 or so years. He put His immortal nature on hold temporarily and took up humanity, ultimately dying a sinner’s death in our stead. He asks only that we accept His sacrifice into our hearts, not just our heads, and try to pattern our lives after His.

A good start to sending the Grinch packing.

Miracle Child

My friend is very concerned about a family member, whose actions have resulted in the breakup of a marriage and the lives of several school aged children being turned upside down. I pray for this household when I remember, but recently something occurred to bring the whole matter much closer to my heart.

I was visiting my friend’s new baby, whose little body was sweetly wrapped in handmade clothing – gifts, I learned, from the family member who went astray. Before giving way to temptation and sin, this person had lovingly crafted the items for a not-yet-born niece or nephew.

Somehow, seeing these tiny wearables made the situation more real for me. Before, it had been someone else’s problem, someone else’s “family secret,” about which I was concerned from a polite distance. But here lay a child, wearing evidence of the love in this troubled person’s heart for an unknown infant, before darker impulses took over.

It brought me to my knees.

It also brought to mind the following verse, which more or less includes every misdeed of which mankind is capable. Some are explicitly stated; others, included by extension, for what offense isn’t motivated by desire and envy when you get right down to it?

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals. nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. ~   1 Corinthians 6:9-11

I intend to stamp the image of those grace-filled garments onto my brain, as a reminder to pray for both wearer and bearer.

The following song by the Newsboys is my prayer for this misguided soul:




For more like this, check out: Between


Thursday, December 1, 2016

A God Thing

It's a God thing. It really is.

Yesterday I felt about as dreamless as a writer can get. Technology problems, time constraints, and the old rejection monster keep knocking at my door. Writing contests beckon as a way to pad my resum√©, but most cost money; which ones are legitimate and most worthy of the time and expense to enter?  Funny how quickly I get mired in discouragement, despite baby step victories. This past month, I had a couple of pieces published in magazines, one more thing to add to my list of credits.

"Yeah, but..." my mind goes, and ticks off a list of vetoes and unanswered queries from agents and publishers.

I seek advice from wise counselors and others in the profession, and their suggestions don't delight me. I don’t want to take courses to rub shoulders with someone who might know someone who might help me. I don’t want to self-publish, have never felt led to do so. Agent-less though I am, can’t the literary world recognize greatness when it shows up in its inbox?

But, oh, what a difference a day makes!

Today - every bit of it - was like a "Dear Thea" letter from God.

A fellow writer invites me to swap and critique manuscripts with her. Our respective books are at about the same point of readiness and we think alike, so why not combine resources? A long forgotten travel mug with the words, “Look into thy heart and write!” appears in my kitchen. Bible verses that inspire me to continue the work I've begun find their way into my daily reading. Notes from a four-year old sermon* cross my desk, addressing the question, "What do you do when you think you're at the finish line, and it becomes a brick wall?" Not least, the same sermon contains an admonition to pray consistently for things that may never benefit me.

How’s that again?

I admit it, I want accolades. I want writers’ prestige. Heck fire, I want Penguin Random House to seek me out, woo me with a huge advance, and whisk me off on a 15-city tour.

I also want to be able to eat chocolate till the Easter bunny cries “Uncle” without gaining an ounce, but that’s not happening either.

Nevertheless, everything I touch today holds the message, stay the course.

It isn’t about my getting mine, whatever that may be. It isn’t about me getting recognized for a plot line God planted in my brain, or for stringing together sentences that flow well and hold people’s interest.

It is about making a meaningful contribution to an important dialogue our country needs to have. It’s about advancing truth – not relative truth, as so many would declare it, but eternal, absolute truth spelled out in a Holy Book that’s survived for centuries because it contains just that.

And it’s about obeying a calling that persists and resists the urge to give up and insists on being heeded, however long it takes.

It’s about doing each next right thing, as God directs, and leaving the results in His hands.

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” – Romans 11:29

 *Notes taken from Rev. Jerry Iamurri's August 26, 2012 sermon based on Daniel 10:1-20.