How the Light Gets In

Most of us have heard the story about not hiding the cracks in our armor, for it’s by the cracks that “the light gets in.”

As we live in the age of COVID-19, we are physically distant from one another by government mandate.  We are no longer allowed to gather with fellow believers as is our custom.  We must stand in lines to shop for the necessities of life.  Restaurants are closed except for take out orders.  Theaters are silent, their screens darkened.  Malls are shut down.  All but essential workers are home on lock-down.  Schools at every level are shuttered and children are home for the forseeable future.

This is our new normal.  Truth is, as Americans, most of us are not suffering in comparison to our brothers and sisters world wide.  Most of us live lives of great privilege in comfortable homes with running water, bathroom facilities, freezers and safety.  We are rich by world standards.

Even so, these are trying times.  Many of us are worried about the future, our health and that of our loved ones.  We are concerned about our economy with so many out of work.  Some wonder  how their mortgages will be paid when there is no paycheck coming in.  Others are suffering the loss of those who have loved ones hospitalized and pregnant women wonder if their babies will be born in hospitals overrun with this deadly virus.  These are somber times. But the light is still getting in because of the light in hearts around us who are choosing to spread it.

Here’s to the lightbearers who are making us smile!

Sidewalk Artists at Work

Dinner Guests Honoring 6 Foot Rule

Food Provided to our Community by Hope in Action

Hymns of Comfort Online by The Kisakas

Fresh Citrus Delivered By My Friend Tracy

Comfort Food Aplenty

Facebook Prayer With a Dear One

Bible Study Online!

Curbside Books

Bursts of Color in Our Neighborhood

Church Livestream

Communion at Home With My Beloved

Garden Blooms

There is much to be thankful for, even in these dark times.  Be grateful for the light that gets in and gets through.  Then, BE the light.

 

In the Valley and On the Mountain

Everywhere we turn there is alarming news. Well, almost everywhere. At the market as we wait in line, on social media, on the television and in the newspaper. We don’t have to look hard to find it. We are, in fact, regularly assaulted with it.

It Doesn’t Look Good!
The Manhattan Beach Pier
CLOSED
Empty Streets
Empty Shelves
Nevertheless,
The sun still shines
The clouds still form

Joni Eareckson Tada recalls her friend, Steve Estes, once saying to her,

God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

Joni is something of an expert on finding purpose through suffering, having been paralyzed at 17 in a tragic diving accident. (At 70, she is one of my personal heroes. Google her. She’s worth knowing.)

Maybe, in the light of this global pandemic, we should consider exactly what our creator might be endeavoring to accomplish in the midst of it. Surely He hates the suffering this virus has caused, the grief, the pain and the uncertainty. Yet, He loves us. How might He be using these times to bring about good?

All the Time

What if these these times cause us to cease our constant motion, to sit in silence, to consider the paths we are on and the things we esteem so highly?What if He wants to restore our very souls? In order to do so, we may need to realign our thoughts, our attention and our focus. We may need to lean into the truth in ways we’ve never considered before. We may be need to be transformed by the renewing of our very minds.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” -Jesus

To hear God’s truth over the cacophony of the world requires intentionality. We can either choose to listen to all the noise, fear, sarcasm, grumbling or frustration around us, or we can fix our eyes on the author and finisher of our salvation. There is a hope that never fails. There is comfort in the storm. There is strength in our weakness.

We are aliens here. As the old hymn says, “this world is not my home.” We would be wise to consider this as we mourn the losses of the simple comforts we once took for granted as well as the grief we feel at so much suffering around us. While we pass through these unprecedented times, the troubles, challenges and sorrows of this life are inevitable. Valleys will come, but valleys are temporary. Our God is eternal.

What if we decide to say “no?” No to fear, to complaining, to whining, to melancholy and to self-pity. Let’s grieve what must be grieved, but let’s be changed for the good by the challenges before us. Let’s walk through this valley together, heads held high, exuding hope and reaching out to encourage one another. Let’s be salt and light. Hard times don’t last forever. Let us fix our gaze on things eternal. For those who endure there is light ahead.

By His grace, we will stand on mountain tops again.

 

Choose Gratitude Over Fear Then, Give it Away

We have been living in a new normal for nearly three weeks now. What was normal, taken for granted and routine is for the present, absent. COVID-19 has pulled the rug out from us, rendering us homebound, strategizing how to score toilet paper and remain sane. It’s a big job.

Fueled by Fear

Many among us are fearful of what’s to come. The stock market plunges, rises and plunges again. Once bountiful supplies of food and supplies are absent from the stores we shop at. Hoarding abounds. With school and work cancelled (excepting essential workers) students are home and parents are scurrying to both educate their kids and keep up with their own work remotely.

Panic And Hoarding = Fear and Anxiety

Enough of the bad news.

Tensions are running high. The good news is we’re in this together. Ask those not accustomed to being in this quite so together and they may say it’s also the bad news. There are a lot of “what ifs” to think about. And yes, fear abounds. Life is uncertain. Tomorrow is not promised.

ENOUGH WITH THE BAD NEWS

The good news is still good. There is a God in Heaven who loves us and who has not been surprised by the events that have taken our breath away. Seventy-seven years ago, CS Lewis wrote:

Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shutdown business, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”

Jesus: “I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters. I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”

The husband reading our morning scripture to me- a wonderful new normal!

How is this good news? It’s good because God is at work. He is causing us to re-examine our lives which are often so busy we have little time for self-reflection. For most of us, right now we have an abundance of time. Time for the best things, the most important things. Things like prayer, sharing a family meal around our tables and staying in touch with those we love have too often taken a back seat to the things that matter most- the things that ground us- the foundational things. We’re busy with lots of stuff, much of it ostensibly good, things like book clubs, church activities, exercise classes, sporting events, meals with friends, volunteering, deadlines, celebrations and even work commitments. Then there are those other things- the binge watching, social media scrolling, on-line shopping, excessive work, etc,.

We as a culture have fallen prey to what what Charles E. Hummel so eloquently called “The Tyranny of the Urgent.” If you haven’t read it, google it now. It may well change your life. In the meantime, let’s change the tide, starting today.

What if we decided to cease worry and anxiety? What if we decided to change our focus? Let’s begin to fix our eyes on the One who came to bring hope. Let’s remember how much we have to be thankful for. Let’s be intentional about releasing fear and resting in His peace. Let’s take the challenge and walk forward as light to a world stumbling in darkness. In a word, if you have light, shine it.

Be the light that guides someone home.

Begin today. Here are some ways to start:

If you are a person of faith, share it with someone who isn’t. If ever the world was in need of saving, it’s now. If you know the Savior, share the hope that is within you. Give it away.

Pick up your phone and call someone you’ve neglected to maintain contact with in your normal day to day life. Time is a gift. Give it away.

Write a note or card to someone you love and appreciate. Tell them what they mean to you. Pop a stamp on it and leave it out for your mail carrier to send it on. Everyone thrives when they’re shown appreciation. Give some away.

Open your Bible and begin to read the book of Matthew. You’ll come to know Jesus in a more intimate way and you may be amazed at how relevant his words are in the midst of this chaos. Then encourage someone else to do the same. Give it away.

Love in a Bag

My friend Tracy who has an orange tree, picked a bunch of them, sanitized and bagged them up and then delivered them to doorsteps of others. My friend Cindy left little cans full of flowers in her drive way for her neighbors to claim and enjoy at home. Find something, even something small that you can do and do it. Caring for our neighbors is love. Give some away.

Loving Your Neighbor Isn’t So Hard!

Greet everyone with a smile while practicing 6 foot distancing. You may have someone to go home to but they may not. Be a vessel of joy to everyone you meet. Give it awayway.

Just smile!

Remember physical distancing doesn’t have to be social distancing. Stay in touch with others everyday. Call someone who lives alone, someone who is disabled, isolated or anxious. Be a lifeline, make the call, bring cheer. Give it away.

Practice intentional gratitude. Make it your practice to write down at least three things you’re thankful for today and everyday. If you’re fortunate enough to share a meal with your family, also share among yourselves what each is grateful for today. Gratitude isn’t gratitude until it’s shared. Give it away.

A page from my gratitude journal circa 2005
(I’m now up to 1734!)

Finally, if you haven’t already, consider that there is One who created this world and who has a plan. Ponder the possibility that we may have gotten off track thinking our independence is a good thing, that we have things under control and that God’s ways are outdated and unnecessary. I believe that because He loves his creation so much, He will allow us to come to the end of our own ropes waiting patiently to be acknowledged. Cry out to Him, call to Him for help. He is standing ready, to give it away.

"..Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these."

Don't Worry About Tomorrow…

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet, I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

…Jesus (Matthew 6:28-33)

Don't Worry…All is Well

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

…Jesus (Matthew 6:25-27)

PeRsPeCtIvE

It was Christmas morning and I was savoring the quiet of my home, having celebrated with family the night before. The husband was downstairs reading his news and I, nestled under the covers, a cup of coffee in hand and a sleeping dog at my feet, was remembering the long expected news that I awakened to on Christmas Eve. The message read:

A lifelong friend released her beloved mother to her final destination, after five weeks of hospice care at home. She was a neighbor when I was growing up, one of my own mother’s dearest friends and a woman who touched my life significantly. She spent her first Christmas on streets of gold in a new home specifically prepared for her.

John 14:1-2

PERSPECTIVE

Putting the finishing touches on Christmas eve prep’, I discovered an army of ants taking possession of two pies and a package of dinner rolls. When I say an army, I mean hundreds of tiny black ants that have been terrorizing our home for the last several months. They were currently having a picnic at the expense of my sanity. I frantically summoned my husband and sent him on a replacement mission as I contended with eliminating the swarming soldiers that had overrun my laundry room. I was sharply scolding said ants in very stern tones, feeling very sorry for myself, when I was reminded that my friend lost her mother just hours ago.

How it shoulda been

PERSPECTIVE

Three dozen cookies, baked, frosted and artfully drizzled with chocolate, prepared to be gifted to my neighbors and ready to be transferred to the refrigerator, slide out of my hands landing face down on my kitchen floor after hours of labor invested. Peppermint icing and chocolate syrup splashed onto cupboards and floors mocking any thought of delivery to anyone. Woe is me. Then I am reminded that my cupboards are full and my troubles are few.

How it Was

PERSPECTIVE

An hour later we’re walking into Christmas Eve services when I catch site of my dear friend Nancy, she with a scarf wrapped around her head and a mask over her face as she recovers from a recent stem cell transplant. In the interest of limiting the possiblity of infection of any sort, she has been largely unable to leave her home, let alone worship in our large congregation for many, many weeks. The sight of her fills my eyes with grateful tears and heart to overflowing. Great joy.

Day Made

PERSPECTIVE

A friend shares that in the midst of a trying conflict with one of her children, she gets in her car, upset and discouraged at the failure to find peace. She proceeds to back out of her garage when she catches sight of a neighbor whose own child was killed in an act of violence recently. In an instant she was reminded that despite the momentary disharmony in her own home, she still had her child.

PERSPECTIVE

There is great unrest in our world. We hear news that more Christians in Nigeria have been beheaded by representatives of the Islamic State. Daily we are bombarded by reports of our own leaders slinging horrifying accusations at one another and our culture becomes more devisive by the moment. Those who accuse others of hate, speak their own hate. Facebook reports another missing person every day and what was once shamed is celebrated. Even so, the entire world paused to celebrate the birth of a king who came to save us from our sin. There is still hope in this chaos.

PERSPECTIVE

I give little time and attention to politics or our changing culture, except to pray, for our leaders, all of them, that they would be wise, that they would do good, and that they would be used for God’s purposes here on earth. I don’t trouble myself with the details of who said what. Some may say I’m willfully ignorant of what is happening around me. The truth is, I don’t believe our problems are political or even cultural. I believe our problem is spiritual and hence I take the spiritual road to address them. If I look at the condition of our world, the sorrow of death, the frustrations of daily life and allow them to discourage me, I will be without hope. Instead, my hope is firm.

PERSPECTIVE

They say hindsight is 2020. Well, here we are. It’s 2020. Nostalgia is fine in small doses but to immerse oneself in it too deeply or too frequently generally results in rewriting history, smoothing out the rough edges and idealizing what was while missing what is. Right now. Looking back is useful only if we learn from it and repent from behaviors less than stellar. To repent is to make a u-turn. To learn from the past is useful. To live in the present, with perspective is priceless.

EMMANUEL In the Waiting

“He’s in the waiting…” This lyric from Bethel Music and Kristene DiMarco’s song, Take Courage keeps rolling around my head in this season of advent and reminds my heart to take comfort in His presence as I wait. His answers are coming even as we wait for the celebration of the birth of the Christchild.

What are you waiting for? Advent is about waiting for what is to come. In this case, the coming savior/child in a manger, who came as an infant to die on a cross some 33 years later. The entire world is waiting for Christmas right now, for all the gatherings, celebrations and tender moments we can muster.

For the last two hours helicopters have been circling my neighborhood. Sirens have been wailing. Schools are on lockdown. We’re in our home, doors locked and waiting to be told what the heck is going on. We’re all waiting for something aren’t we? And, sometimes the waiting is a little scary. Whether it’s for a healing, a relationship, a promotion, a broken heart to mend, a conflict to be resolved, a fear to subside or something else; waiting is an integral part of living. And, what we do in the waiting says everything about where our hope lies and how content we will be.

If our hope is in our own ability to create, manipulate, manage or control the events of our lives, we will surely grow weary. We will be heart sick.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

If our hope is in the Creator of the universe, the Saviour of the world, we can release our grasp and trust that not only will He deliver every good gift on time, but that He is, indeed, with us as we wait for events to unfold, trusting that He never withholds what is good for us and what will bring Him glory. He who came down from Heaven to walk this earth with us and who will return to gather us to our eternal home, is big enough, powerful enough and loves us more than enough to manage all the things that confound us, worry us and keep us up at night. Emmanuel. God with us.

I’m waiting for friends to be healed from cancer, people I care deeply for struggling with mental illness to have sound minds, loved ones in need of work to find jobs, grieving ones to be comforted, the faithless to find faith in Jesus and for the peace on earth that only He will bring. That’s a lot of waiting, friends. While I may not understand the delay or even the “final answer” in any given situation, my hope is in the God I believe is good. Believing so doesn’t mean we won’t experience sorrow, tears or disappointment, but it does mean that in the end, our hope is in Him and not in our own screenplay of what our life should be. Spoiler alert: His script is far better than anything we might imagine.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… Hebrew 4:15

Whatever you are waiting for, He’s in the waiting. He knows your heart and He is able to carry you through it dear one, so don’t lose hope. We don’t wait alone. He’s right there with us.

Emmanuel. God with us.

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST

A Thanksgiving Manifesto

Thanksgiving. The very word reminds me how much I already have in a culture that constantly seeks to convince us that we need more. In the spirit of true gratitude, please allow me to share some of the tangible and intangible things I’m most thankful for today.

May I never fail to express gratitude for these gifts:

  • A bed to sleep in and blankets to keep me warm
  • Running water from my multiple faucets
  • Electricity that brings light and warmth
  • A home to return to each night
  • The family I was born into and the one I married into
  • Friends God has graciously placed in my life
  • The ability to be in contact with people all over the world via a device that fits in my pocket
  • Wheels to take me where I need to go
  • The beauty of creation all around me
  • Food in my cupboard and a refrigerator to keep it fresh
  • State of the art healthcare
  • Agencies that protect, serve and respond to our needs
  • Access to news, literature and art
  • Freedom to respectfully disagree
  • Good health
  • A sound mind
  • Feet to walk on
  • Eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to work with
  • A place to freely worship with other like minded believers
  • More love, kindness and mercy than I will ever deserve

And, should I be so bold as to ask for more, let it be for this:

  • To be used by God for His purposes
  • More time with those I love
  • Shared meals around my table
  • Experiences that linger long
  • Words that feed my soul
  • Laughter that warms my heart
  • Eyes to see the needs around me
  • Ears to hear the cries of those in need
  • Arms to embrace the hurting
  • Moments of wonder
  • Conversations that nourish
  • Opportunities to bless from my bounty
  • Wisdom to be a vessel of hope and healing
  • A heart to hold it all

I am thankful for your eyes reading this today and for all the good gifts He has given us. My prayer for you is that you, too would “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

What are you thankful for?