A man is taken to the ER for breathing issues and is looked after in the ER and sent home the same night. After being at home for a time, he has breathing problems again, this time accompanied by a headache. He closes his eyes to get some rest and passes quietly that evening in his sleep.
A young woman is making wedding plans, only to come home the other evening and find that her fiancé has taken his life.
A mom, 32, goes to ER for the flu. She is a wife and mother of two little girls under three years. She never went home.
A tornado hits in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. It claims three lives and destroys much of the William Carey University where a friend is attending. She says that the chapel is heavily damaged but inside, there still stands, in its regular place, the word of God. The tempest has not been able to destroy the Book or its message. The president announces that its pages, after the winds have blown them hither and yon, lay open to Psalm 46. A message God wants all to remember. Desires all to hear.
“Listen to me… you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you…
“Remember this, keep it in mind…
Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
…What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.
Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness.
I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel.”
For those who have lost loved ones, to those who are grieving, to those who are deeply hurting, to those who carry sorrow that is weighing them down…
His righteousness near. It is not faraway. His salvation will not be delayed. He is God. There is no other – no one like Him. He will sustain you. He made you and He will carry you. He will sustain and rescue you.
He tells them to get into the boat. He tells them to go on ahead. Go to the other side and He will would dismiss the crowd.
He knows what he was doing.
The crowd, little by little disperses. Some continue to hang around and chat. Ponder collectively over what they had just heard. The words that had just tickled their ears. Spoke to their heart. Changed their lives.
While some remain, pondering His words, He hikes up the side of the mountain. Alone. To pray.
The air begins to cool. The sun begins to set. And there He is. Sitting, kneeling on that mountainside, alone, praying to his Father.
In the meantime, the boat, now a good distance away from the shore, begins to rock back and forth. Those inside that vessel grow fearful.
Meanwhile, up on the mountainside, He continues to pray. The cool breezes began to blow past Him.
He knows. He is God and, He knows.
He knows who is in that boat which sways more fervently with each sharp gust of wind. It bites at their flesh. The cold water washes over them, drenching their hopes for a safe return. It threatens to fill the hull that holds them in what little refuge they have. It mocks them. Its intent is to sink them. Sink bury their hopes. Their faith. Their trust. Their belief for a better way. If it has its way, it will leave them for dead.
And He knows this.
It is the fourth watch of the night. It is almost sunrise. They have battled through the night with a ship destined for destruction. He has battled all night in prayer. Were His prayers for their faith to increase and their fears to subside?
There are boats by the shore. He could probably get a ride. But instead, He walks. Right onto the water and the waves lap around His ankles.
On. the. water.
How many times do we read stories from the Bible – hear stories from the Bible – that they’ve become commonplace seem to bring nothing into our humdrum lives?
“Oh yes. I’ve read that one – Jesus brought a little girl back to life. Pretty cool.”
Cool? COOL? It’s miraculous! It’s incredible. Incredibly miraculous. And if I think about it for any length of time, at any depth, I realize – it isn’t cool, it’s unfathomable.
And so He walks. And fear rocks each disciple as the waves rock the boat. Then they spot Him. When that fear has clawed its razor sharp talons into the depths of their beings – they see Him. But through fear-tinted glasses they don’t really see Him.
They see a man.
They see a figure.
“Peter! It’s. a. ghost.!!!”
But He is not a ghost. He is the One who will save them. Now, at this moment. And three years later. And every day after that.
Immediately He calls out. “Guys – it’s okay. Don’t be afraid. It’s me – Jesus.”
Peter gathers his thoughts.
“Lord, if it’s really you then…”
Should he risk it? Should he sound and look foolish should it really be a ghost? Will his request make him look brave so that when he appears foolish in three years on that day of denial, his companions may overlook his shame?
He risks it.
“Lord, if it is you, then tell me to come out there to you on the water.”
Does Peter, at this point in time, have an inkling as to who Jesus really is?
There is no bravery here. There is no foolishness. There is relief. Relief that Help has come. But still the winds toss the boat about. And in the tossing and the rocking and the swaying, Jesus says, “Come.”
At this point, Peter may have wished it was a ghost he had seen for now he had to show by works what his faith meant to him. Could he walk over to Jesus, who had been coming to them but now waited for Peter to come to Him?
I don’t think Peter jumped. I think it was more like he wanted to jump ship as he slowly, cautiously, put one leg over the boat and then the next and then with both hands anchored tightly to the rim on the side the boat, with eyes closed, he lets loose. And… he. is .standing.
I can imagine his suprise. He. really. is. standing!
He probably smiles a sheepish grin to no one in particular and turns around and begins walking toward Jesus. You couldn’t wipe that grin off his face. You couldn’t squelch that pride that coursed through his very being.
His shoulders are broad and he could have moved a mountain. If only the waves at his feet would settle. If only the wind would calm. But, as he looks at the waves and feels their sting against his legs, and looks to the horizon and watches the clouds rush toward him, the faith flees and fear fills him once again and… he begins to sink.
Because that’s what fear does.
It pulls you down and makes you feel like you’re sinking. That the storms in life are pounding down so hard upon you that you will drown and no one can save you.
But Jesus knew. He knew what was going on in that boat while he was in prayer up on that mountain. He knew what they were thinking while he was intervening. He knew their battle with fear while he was battling for souls. And He knew what Peter would do.
“Lord, save me,” Peter cried out as he began to sink.
He knew the very second Peter quit looking at Him, is the very second Peter would begin to sink.
Peter didn’t sink immediately, but instead, “when he saw the wind”, we’re told he began sinking and cried out for Jesus to save him. And what did Jesus do?
Immediately He reached out and caught him. Not down, not under the water, but out. It shows Jesus was ready for that moment. Because He knew – before he even sent those boys across the lake, before he spent the entire night in prayer – He knew what was going to happen. Peter didn’t have time to sink because Jesus was in the process of saving him before Peter knew he needed saving. Before he cried out, “Lord, save me,” Jesus was in the process of reaching out before Peter had time to go under.
And Jesus meets Peters fears and faltering faith with tenderness.
With an arm around Peter’s shoulder and steadying his weak knees, Jesus asks, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
What do you say to that?
What could Peter say? What could he do? He said nothing.
The story goes on…
‘When they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.’
The wind died. In the mere presence of Jesus, the wind died. Not a word was spoken.
And, as the wind died, the disciples were saved. As the wind died, their faith grew. As the wind died, they began to live. Really live. And in their living, they worshipped Him. Why? Because they realized who they were hanging around with. They knew this Jesus – their Jesus – wasn’t some mystical, magical being that appeared as a ghost upon stormy seas. They knew this was the Son of God. The One that had the power to change hearts and minds. To change lives. To turn fear into faith and worry into worship.
There are a hundred and one things I could list that could cause me to worry. And fear. And many things on my list I have granted permission to cause fear and worry. Health issues. Financial issues. Family issues. Failures. On and on.
But God doesn’t want us to live there. We can’t live there for Jesus showed us that to live in fear is to sink in the storm. And His way is much safer: keep my eyes on Him, reach for His hand, and trust Him.
There have been times when I’ve gotten frustrated with all the books on prayer that seem to be available to anyone who is considering deepening their prayer life. It seems such a simple thing – to pray. After all, weren’t we given instructions by Christ personally, on how to pray. Doesn’t it seem obvious then, that all that is left to do is… just pray?
Yes. And, no.
If we are seasoned in the habit of prayer, then yes. We can get down to business and pray. We can come before the throne of God in faith and with confidence and present our requests, worship Him, repent of our sins, give Him thanks for all He has done and does still. We have been there at His feet often. We have learned the importance, the necessity, the need to pray. The key thought here however, is that we have already formed a habit of prayer. A routine of and a dependence on conversations with God. We have become (one might say) addicted to prayer.
However, I have found that just because we may think of ourselves as seasoned in prayer, it seems that it’s quite easy to become, if we haven’t already done so, ‘unseasoned’ in the area of prayer.
Instead of forming a habit or starting a routine or becoming dependent on meeting with our heavenly Father, we’ve somehow, somewhere along the way, allowed ourselves to easily become addicted to other things that take us away from that precious time with the Lord. So perhaps a few of those books on prayer might get a wayward prayer warrior back on track. Perhaps they will inspire and create a newness of spirit toward the act of prayer. Maybe we will become like a Nike runner and just do it… Just pray.
Lord, help me not become distracted so that other things take the place of being with You…
You’ve spoken all the words
time and time again,
in every way you know how.
How do you utter a word
when it seems you can’t pray?
How do you reach into the darkness,
longing to voice the pain
you find hiding there?
The aches and the wounds
have robbed you of words.
The burden you carry
has left you raw and weak.
Yet, still you kneel at your bedside,
holding your heart in your hands,
vulnerable and exposed
and admitting your weakness
you cry for help.
You need to talk to someone –
Is there anybody –
just one somebody who understands?
you have nothing left to give
as your tears mix with the salt of the ocean
where you stand standing at the water’s edge
contemplating your fate.
Yet somewhere within your weakened spirit
Someone calls you by name
and in the silence of the present
you hear the Voice once more,
and you weep.
In the dark of your desperation
you cry out
expressing the anguish
the heartache you’ve held for so long within.
When words begin to flow
the feeling of loneliness
the ache in your life subsides
as hope you’ve known before now
begins to surface once more
and a healing balm soothes you deep inside.
There is a God who cares
though at times
hard to see,
or to feel,
or to touch,
or to hear.
longing to meet with you
in the dark places
where we’ve thought
He’s left us –
You hold onto His promise:
He will never leave you –
a promise He gave from His heart
and in the times
when words can’t be found,
His spirit intercedes
and speaks for you.
While He already knows
the depth of your pain
the source of your tears
He also knows
you need to tell Him –
you need to say the words
few though they may be
they will cleanse you inside out
and heal from within
and let Him do
His most holy work
though it may be
What is Christmas? Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…
You better watch out, you better not cry…
The Annual Family Christmas Tree Outing…
Silent night, holy night…
Rudolph and his clan…
The Christmas story told in various and assorted versions…
Watching “A Christmas Story” about Ralphie and his Red Rider BB Gun…
Giving, receiving, and opening gifts…
In high school I memorized Clement C. Moore’s “Twas the Night before Christmas” for part of a speech and debate class, which crazily enough took me to a Speech and Debate Meet where I won something for some category. Funny thing is, I didn’t even believe in Santa Claus. I did as a child and he came personally each year, making a surprise visit in a red velvet suit, trimmed with white ‘fur’ and topped with a matching hat, a pair of black boots and a wide, black belt. He was the real deal. Or so I thought. The year I was six, cousin Dave whispered otherwise.
As Santa rounded the hall corner, cousin Dave, who had also anxiously been awaiting Santa’s grand entrance said, with great disappointment , “That’s not Santa. That’s grandpa.” How he could see past the curly white beard is beyond me, but he was right. I’m not sure if anyone else stopped believing that year or not because I’m not sure if anyone else heard him, but I sure did.
Yes, that was the moment I quit believing in Santa. It had been a deception that I didn’t want to accept: Santa wasn’t real. Santa was mygrandpa. Santa was still the man in red, but he didn’t live up at the North Pole. He didn’t have elves such as I had believed. His elves had the same names as my mom and dad and aunts and uncles. He didn’t have a sleigh but instead drove a Buick and he didn’t have a reindeer, but a toy poodle named Prince. I was devastated.
That year Christmas meant that not all people tell the truth.
A few years later, my mom bought the most beautiful doll I had ever seen. The first time I saw it, it was sitting on the top shelf in her closet. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to see it. I had been sitting on her bed, waiting for her to finish her shower and the closet door happened to be open and there it sat, sitting up there in its unopened box, all by itself, staring at me. I wasn’t snooping. It was just there – beckoning to come down and play. When my mom came out, I asked her why it was there and she said it was for my cousin—for Christmas. I didn’t understand that. I had never had a beautiful doll like that one. Well, okay I had beautiful dolls. Just not that one. And so I begged my mother for it and finally, after my persistence and annoying whining and pleas coated with how I didn’t have a doll like that, she gave it to me. Every time I held that doll, I felt selfishly guilty. I don’t think my mother realized that she gave me the gift of learning to be unselfish that year, because that year I learned it’s much better to give than to receive.
A few years later, I learned more about what Christmas meant. I learned what the meaning of Christmas was really all about.
Since the beginning of time, most of us have heard that ‘God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.’ In other words, God loved us so much, that He had to do something to give us hope in this crazy place and save us from ourselves. Hope for situations in which we had been deceived and forgiveness for our own selfish ways. And so, he gave us His son.
He put him on this earth as a little baby who grew up, much the same as you and I. However, the difference between us and Him? He didn’t deceive others. He always told the truth. He taught that the Truth would set us free. He didn’t try to manipulate people into giving him what he wanted but came to give what they needed.
He never pushed to get his way. He showed the world that it was better to give than to receive. He didn’t stand in crazy lines that wrapped around store aisles but stood on the stones of a temple courtyard where He was sentenced to die a sinner’s death.
The day had come for Him to go. If he stayed, hope would become a word without meaning. He showed the world once—and for all—the value of a gift when He held out his arms on the cross, similarly as his mother did some years earlier. She held out her arms to embrace the Son of God on that first Christmas night, only to watch Him embrace the world as He held open His arms on the cross.
That is what Christmas means to me – to open my arms to the world. To offer all that I have to those who have nothing – physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually. To embrace those who are alone and need someone to comfort them, listen to them, be a friend. To forsake what I think I need and give to another, learning that I have all I need.
The holidays can be so crazy—focusing on wants and desires. The desire for this or that. The desire to give the best gift. The desire for the best deals.
My desire is to focus on that little boy. To please him in my offering of gifts that I bring. And I want to bring to him everything. I no longer want to be the little girl, vying for a plastic doll or to tell Santa my secrets, but I want to scan the faces of humanity and see who needs a gift more than I do.
What is Christmas? Christmas isn’t about me. It’s all about Him.
I’ve been trying to get organized. Decluttering. Simplifying life. SIfting through my bucket box.
To others, it could translate a little differently, like: Getting your ‘affairs’ in order. Making a new (‘life’) plan. Cutting stress. Starting a new habit (or two) or breaking an old one. Cutting clutter. Going through ‘stuff’. Methodizing ‘things’. Putting things in ‘order’. Making a ‘power productivity program’. Designating time. FREEDOM. Spring cleaning. Setting goals. Cleaning out. Sorting through junk.
I’m sure you could come up with more. For me, it’s been a bit of spring cleaning (trying to get a head start so I can finish before summer this time), setting some goals, sorting through things, cleaning out other things, and/or putting things in order
Another thing I’m doing is trying to fill and empty my bucket, or box. I have a little box covered rather primitively and given to me by a very special person who hid a packet of soup in it when once I thanked her for the delicious meal she made for her sister and I. I loved the box and was elated to find out it was a mix so I could make it! The box became (and still is) my ‘bucket’ box. It holds ideas of things to do, to make, to write. I am good at filling it. I slack off on opening the lid to actually doing what I put in there.
In his book, Unfair and Unbalance: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky, the author, Patrick M. Carlisle, makes the statement that, “a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn’t want to go gently into that blacky black night, [will] cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!” I don’t wish to be querulous now or in my ‘twilight’ years, but I am ready to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge and pry the lid back on my bucket box. Perhaps live a little more – or a lot.
I think when you have a chronic or a terminal illness (or intimately know or live with someone who does), you tend to look at life differently. It becomes more valuable as you realize in one way or another, your time is limited. Limited by days or mobility, functionality or abilities. You tend to see things in a new light and what was once was not, now becomes a possibility.
For me, to make things more possible, involves being more organized and de-cluttering my ‘life’. That is all materially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
I guess you could say I owe this enlightenment to my daughter.
She and her husband came up for Christmas this past December and one evening (in front of her husband, no less) said to me, “Mom, you’ve really got a lot of stuff – a lot of clutter – laying around (yes, she used that word). You’ve really started becoming a pack rat.” The shameless boldness to speak to her mother with such truth. Hmph!
The actual truth is – I think I’ve always been a pack rat. I’ve just organized (or hidden) it well. So – she doesn’t know it but, her comment lit a fire under me. January 1st, I made a decision to get organized AND clean out (two different things). I think what has happened is, I started cleaning out (de-cluttering) and the organization started happening. When the organization began coming back (I was once super organized), I began to feel less stress and ‘free’. I began thinking of setting goals and designating time anew. I began thinking about what to take out of my bucket box and doing something about those ideas, whether they be something to make, do, or to visit.
When I began to think of goals, designating time naturally came into play.
Yesterday I heard a woman say, “I realized that I have spent more time thinking about food than thinking about God.” Shouldn’t that be the other way around (and she was getting to that, I realized as I stood talking to her)?
So, as my life becomes and continues to be reordered, reprioritized, reorganized, I am hoping to get it to look something like this:
~God first in deed, speech, and thought. What does that look like for me? He comes first in my attention and affection. If He truly is the most important, He will get the best of both ~ quantity and quality of time and love. If that is working well, all the other areas of my life seemto work well, no matter the circumstance.
Everyone is a child of God and deserves to be treated as such. There are no exceptions. What does that look like? Forgiveness. Unconditonal love. Random acts of kindness. Phone calls/notes to friends and family. If they matter, it should be obvious. I have a responsibility to love like Jesus. If I truly love Him and follow Him, I’ll act like Him and others won’t ever have to question if I love them or if they matter. My words, my thoughts, and my actions will reflect this.
~De-cluttered. What does that look like for me?
Thoughts can tend to change as the old thoughts are no longer welcome and I let them go. I believe this stems from the desire to put God back in His right place in my life: first place. When I give Him priority in all things, I easily see what needs to go.
Are there material things that you hold on to that are a reminder of past hurt? Emotional memories that keep you from experiencing true freedom and joy? Maybe it’s time to de-clutter our inner lives, too.
~Open the bucket box and take something out. I love new dieas. Something new to try. Going somewhere new. Sometimes, however, I get so distracted with new ideas that they stay just that – ideas. I want to begin to take these ideas out and do something with them, even if it’s to throw them away. After all, what am I going to do with a note that says, “3 clothespins and yellow paper with Josh”? (A note I quickly jotted to remind me of some sort of a craft to do with my youngest son when he was five. What do I do with 3 clothespins, yellow paper, and a five year old?)
What was that quote? I am ready to “cut loose, …dance on the razor’s edge and pry the lid off my bucket box.
A smile. A ‘Hello’. A short question of ‘How are you today?”
Have you ever answered a grocery clerk’s question of ‘How’s your day going?” with a ‘Good’ and followed by a “How’s your day going?”
Have you ever watched their face when you’ve asked that? They look up at you. Right at you. Most have a surprised expression or one of shock. They don’t expect a response. They don’t expect anyone to care how they might be doing.
Questions. Comments. Greetings. They all fall into the same category: a gift of encouragement. I learned how important this was when my husband and I went down to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina’s devastating flood. Hellos weren’t nearly enough. People wanted someone to sit and talk with them, pray with them, listen to them, show compassion to them, listen as they answered the question, “How are you doing today?” Really listen.
A few months ago, I posted an article on my Parkinson’s website about a drug that is life threatening to people with PD. It received a couple of comments, the biggest one being from a man who had just lost his father in-law who had PD and they mistakenly gave him this drug. The son in-law was writing to say thank you for the information and only wished he might have found it sooner.
That comment came at a critical time for me, as I was beginning to question whether what I write really does make a difference. It did for him.
I guess what I’m trying to say is this –
We are all basically the same. We hurt, we feel pain, we feel sad, we get down and we sometimes want our exit from this world to come sooner rather than later. But then – we go to the supermarket and someone says hi or smiles. Or maybe we go home and while we water our flowerbeds a neighbor walks over and asks us how our day is going and actually sticks around to find out. Perhaps we turn on our computers to check our websites and someone has left an encouraging comment on a post we wrote. And most likely, after being greeted, asked how we’re doing, or reading an encouraging comment after a blog post, we begin to feel better. All because someone took time to go a little further to show they really did care.
If just a small gesture can break up the dark clouds in someone’s day, I don’t want to hold back. I want to be saying my hellos, listening to the responses to my ‘”How ‘ya doin’?’’ questions, and leaving a comment when I’ve been encouraged or inspired. It’s not hard to do – you just have to care a little bit.
My family and I were sitting around the dinner table, talking about how our day had gone. My youngest son, then 15, began to tell about an assignment he had been given by his teacher earlier that day.
He was to research a career choice that he was considering after graduating from high school and pursuing college studies in that field. He has held an interest in the medical field and has often talked about becoming a Physicians Assistant. Since this choice had already been taken and couldn’t be duplicated, he was asked what his second choice was, at which he promptly replied, “A Superhero”. At that point, his teacher informed him that he needed to take this assignment more seriously. To that, his response was, “What about all the little kids who need Superheroes?” Needless to say, he ended up doing a report on Lifeguards.
Everyone at the dinner table laughed. Except me. I admit that a slight smile did creep across my face, but given the mood I was in, I silently muttered under my breath, “I need a Superhero.” Within seconds, a small voice from within whispered, “I’ll be your Superhero. ”
A true friend will usually stop what they are presently doing and give us their undivided attention when we need it. Their words of comfort and encouragement can often be all that is needed for us to press on. Their words of advice may be just the key to solve our current dilemma. They can be just the vessel from which the wisdom of God will flow. But how often do we, in our cries of distress, seek out someone who we hope will rescue and save us from the doom and destruction that surrounds and threatens to destroy us? If we hang around long enough, we learn that our friends, our family – they aren’t Superheroes. They can’t remove the darkness. They can’t fill the void that was left by a loved one.
How desperately the creator of our hearts, our minds, and our souls, desires the place in our hearts that we give away so readily to others. When all our other resources have been exhausted, we often have the tendency to turn to the One who knows us best – last. The One who searches us, has examined us, knows us, understands and sees us – He who is intimately accessible – He is the one to whom we should most readily run to in our time of need. The One who sees the beginning from the end, who knows every turn, sees every obstacle. He is the One best able to help.
By the time dinner had ended that evening, I had already gone through my list of help in the last 24 hours. I had enlisted my husband, to whom I poured out my heart. I had confided in a dear friend and cried with my daughter. The darkness lay heavy upon my heart, with no hope of light piercing its clutches. Even my son, the “wanna-be Superhero” tried some counseling techniques on me. It is not until I cried out for a Superhero did I actually find One.
As I sat there, knowing that gentle whisper to be the heart of God, shame quietly filled my soul as I realized in my own efforts, I had sought answers in my own way to help ease the pain that I was experiencing. While thinking about God in the midst of the battle, I hadn’t seriously called upon Him to instruct me. He is a God who sees the smallest details of our lives, sees the beginning from the end, makes the earth shake and the mountains tremble. He has the power to turn every pain into a purpose. Surely – surely – this God, my God, can win this battle for me. Surely my God can zap my foes and turn them around, running for cover. In that moment of truth, as I confessed my sin of having other gods before Him and neglecting to call upon His power first, a supernatural strength empowered me. Hope was restored and peace permeated my heart and destroyed the despair that hung over my head like a raging Godzilla. The demons disappeared. My Superhero had saved me.
Sometimes when we cry out for help, the answers come simply.
Sometimes we learn the answers are not so simple and can be hard to understand.
Sometimes the answers do and will come through the voice of a spouse, a friend, a pastor or even a stranger. It is clear that God places special people in our lives, whom He supernaturally enables to help us through the hard times, but they are there as a catalyst and not as our cure-all. Only God has the power to do such supernatural things. Only He brings the comfort that eases the pain and heals the hurt. It is best to call on Him first and then allow Him to bring to us those who can best be used for His purposes.
I AM. To Moses who floundered in his doubt, he said, “I AM THAT I AM”. He is a shield, our protection from the storm. He is the light in the darkness. He is the Almighty, the great Comforter and Healer. He is all that is needed. He Is.