This year, I made myself a promise that I would buy 95 percent of Christmas gifts before Thanksgiving. I’ve even managed to ship a few care packages and boxes of presents already. I think I learned from previous years that if I want a peaceful, Christ-focused Advent season, I have to be organized, planned, and efficient.
Two years ago, my father passed away on December 2. Advent was a blur. I don’t even remember if I shopped. This is a difficult time of year for that and other reasons, and I am choosing to spend December reading about shepherds watching their flocks by night, singing worship carols, and focusing on Immanuel, God with us. I want to create more family time, play board games, do a jigsaw puzzle, watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, The Christmas Story, and Elf. I can’t wait to cuddle my dogs on cold nights and breathe in Christmas candles and essential oils diffusing in every room. I look forward to my daughter baking cookies and filling the house with the delightful smells of Christmas.
I want to be expectant in my heart and soul, like Mary, mother of the Christ, my heart trusting in my God.
Luke 1:46-50, ESV
And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”
What about you? Did you anticipate the fun or the stress of last-minute grocery runs for the cranberry sauce, post-Thanksgiving cleanup, Black Friday shopping, crowds, traffic, and the tensions that can be both beautiful and stretch us taut when around extra family during the holidays? Did you put up your Christmas tree? Lights?
Is there anticipation in the air—or just weariness?
Whatever season you are in, wherever the needle on your stress gauge is at the moment: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: advent, call me blessed, Christ, Christ child, expectant, finding advent, God with us, holiday peace, holiday stress, holiday weariness, humble estate of his servant, humility, immaculate conception, immanuel, Jesus, live peaceably with all, living peaceably, living peacefully, Luke 1:46, Magnificat, mary mother of christ, peace, rejoice in hope, romans 12, soul magnifies the Lord, weary
Stress has been piling up in my house of late. College application deadlines. New braces. Another (brief) parking lot accident. And add to that every major road leading out of my town is currently under construction. Yes, massive stress bubbling under the surface. It’s the kind of pressure that leads to hypervigilance.
Deadlines do this to me, especially life-course-determining ones. Anxiety used to be my roommate. I kicked her out a while ago and changed the locks, but once in a while she slips in through an unlocked back door. That girl knows no boundaries, I tell ya!
In the middle of one of those days, I took my son and husband to the airport for college visits (landing in rush hour traffic both to and from Boston) and made it home in time to get my daughter to dance, throw a nicer shirt on, and attempt to manage back-to-school night at the high school jumping between the schedules of a freshman and a senior on a massive campus. It felt like an episode of a teen sitcom as I rushed around trying to slide into each class before the bell rang.
So it was in my great hurry to arrive at the last class that I cut a corner down a hallway, and, to my great surprise, there was a low-to-the-ground, black end table next to a couch in the loft area between halls. I imagine high school students gather and are aware of the furniture there—but not me. I was not aware. It simply was not in my line of vision. I had Algebra I, Part 2 (whatever that is) to get to, where my friend teaches the class. What a nice way to end the long day, except for this: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: angst, anxiety, be still, busy schedule, busyness, college applications, counting blessings, entitlement, face plant, forget not his benefits, Hebrews 10:24, hurry, hypervigilance, martyr syndrome, Matthew 14, pressure, pride, Psalm 103:2, Psalm 37:7, seat at the table for God, stress, stress junkie, therapy, wait patiently for God, walks on water
Earlier today I found myself standing with my toes in the sand staring out on the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean from the vantage point of Duck, North Carolina (Outer Banks). My cousins had generously shared their vacation with me, and my husband committed to the intense job of Mr. Mom in addition to his many other duties all week.
Considering we are in the throes of college application deadlines in our home, I couldn’t run for that airport terminal quickly enough! I left three kids, two dogs, two tree frogs, and three caterpillars behind. Begrudgingly, my husband took on frog duty, and I am happy to say that within two days, they captured his heart as he watched them hunt crickets and their little throats vibrate. (If you have not witnessed this, it should go on your bucket list!)
Our view is oceanside. With the sliding door set to screen, we can hear the waves crash to the shore. After days of high winds, we finally made it out to the beach.
With toes dipped in the water alongside my cousin, she offered me a precious memory of her mother, my late aunt, in the waves one summer. I thought about my children playing in the waves on many a beach escape. And if I really went deeper, I knew the waves knew so many of my secrets, dreams, memories, and emotions.
As the ocean water surged to a crest and then spilled over to crash, it looked as if it was responding to a hidden nod that it was time to bend and roll, with a delayed reaction in parts of the line but otherwise mastering uniformity in the landing. An invisible agreement. A knowing.
And I thought about what the waves would speak of, if they could speak about my own life, and what they had witnessed: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 9/11, boundary for the sea, deep calls to deep, Duck NC, fear of the Lord, foam of their own shame, God's boundaries, God's power, God's presence, I placed the sand, Isaiah 51:15, Jeremiah 5:22, Jesus calms the storm, Jonah, ocean, out of the pit, outer banks, peace of God, pismo beach, presence of God, Prince Edward Island, psalm 89:9, Psalm`42:7, raging of the sea, revelation 5:11, shame, stirs up the sea, to him who sits on the throne, vandenberg AFB, waves, waves roar, waves toss
Knock, knock, knock. Send her an email.
Really, God, we’ve been through this for years. I get the idea, I ask if it’s time, and You say, “Not yet.”
And so it was, that still, small voice telling me what I already knew He would want me to do: I needed to reconcile with someone I had hurt and been wounded by—three years ago. Outcome didn’t matter. A response from the other party wasn’t the point. It was about who I am in Christ. If I truly am reconciled to God through His Son the Christ, then I must be a reconciler. There isn’t any gray area there.
Consider what the Apostle Paul says in one of his letters to the Corinthians.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21, ESV
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Paul makes it very clear that when God made us a new creation, He “gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
It’s not a choice or an option, really. Once we are new creations, it’s part of the deal.
And let’s be honest: That is wicked uncomfortable in theory, but God is with us(Immanuel) in practice. When it was time, after three years of healing and asking God to confirm it, it was as natural as sliding on my flip-flops.
Why is that? Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 2 Corinthians 5, ambassadors for Christ, be reconciled to God, began a good work, bowing low, conflict resolution, God making His appeal, godly counsel, grace, healthy relationships, humility, make his appeal, mercy, message of reonciliation, new creation, new has come, Philippians 1:6, reconcile, reconciliation, reconciling, righteousness of God, the old has passed away
I watched them approach the shrine, bow, ring the bell, toss a coin, and clap. Somewhere in there, they made a request—a wish, really—for a good medical test result, getting into the right school, a worry about one of their children. I was struck by how much my Western mind and heart did not connect with how they offered their pleas. I understood the heart behind it—but not the actions.
But I wasn’t raised in Japanese culture.
My host family and I had many conversations about this around the dinner table. I wanted to understand at which point their “faith” held on, tangibly grabbed belief, and grew expectant. Twenty-four years and two degrees in Asian languages and culture later, and I’m still not sure. But I do know that it opened a door to rich conversations and some understanding between us, and I came to learn that rituals and gestures at the shrine were more about respect than faith. Ringing the bell was to get the attention of the god of that shrine.
Why is Jesus not found at a shrine?
Do we not have rituals we must perform, like money and hand gestures, to conjure His attention?
And, what on earth do you mean, ふいつげらるど-さん (Fitzgerald-san, or Miss Fitzgerald, my maiden name) about talking to God in your bath water?
Bath water? In Japan, Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: approaching God, baptism, Buddhist temple, cleanse us from all unrighteousness, conversation with God, dirty bath water, eternal security, faith, forgive us our sins, guidance of Holy Spirit, hearing God, Holy Trinity, imputed righteousness, japan, japanese bath, japanese spirituality, ofuro, peace of Christ, places of worship, prayer, propitiation, propitiation of sins, purified soul, repentance, respect, seeking holiness, Shinto shrine, shrine, shrine clapping, sin, summoning God, transformed mind, triune God
Many of God’s creatures like to create life in my aboveground pool. We’ve had tadpole rescue sessions (before the pool was shocked for the summer), and a few months ago, I discovered many eggs (larvae?) half-hatching from what looked to be flying ants. Yeah, so fun. Welcome to mating season. Come one, come all to what has been mistaken as a “love pond” in my backyard.
I was having such a lovely float around my pool one day for a good half hour. Slowly I drifted round and round to the steady pulse of the pool pump. I stared at the tall trees, prayed for dear ones, and marveled at the fact that my children are no longer the ages I am interrupted every few minutes. It was glorious. GLORIOUS!
When my youngest son came out with goggles on and the jumping-in-pool determination of an 11 year old set on a good swim, he made it through one quick pool-bottom-floor lap before surfacing with a shout:
“Ew! A dead frog! There is a dead frog on the bottom of the pool!”
Still not wanting my peace disturbed, I replied: “Are you sure he’s dead?”
My son, lover of all animal life and greatly saddened that an amphibian friend met its demise in our pool, exclaimed: “It was belly-up, Mom. And not moving.”
With that, we both scrambled out of the pool in search of a net to extract the remains to give it a proper burial (before my dogs thought it made a nice chew toy).
My son, Little Man, completed Operation Dead Frog Retrieval and put him down on the grass at my feet. Yup. Dead. Froggy had suffered his last supper with a side dish of chlorine.
He simply couldn’t jump out. His legs could only take him so far. He never made it out of the solar cover and over the side of the pool into the bushes.
I then thought about the five tadpoles we had rescued a few weeks before Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 2 timothy 1:7, encouragement, encouraging, froglets, frogs, grow in faith, joy of the LORD is your strength, jump in faith, Nehemiah 8:10, personal growth, Romans 8:11, spirit of fear, Spirit of God, spiritual warfare, stir up one another to love and good works, strong in faith, tadpoles
I look at my French bulletin board hanging over my kitchen table, filled with Christmas card photos from many years and places we have lived. Along with graduations, births, weddings, and celebrations, I see broken hearts, unraveled marriages, cancer, loss, abandonment, children with developmental struggles, addiction, etc.
But you know what else I see?
Jesus. The grace of Christ in so many lives. The calling out to Him from the depths of messy life—and the answering.
It was about nine years ago that I sat on a cement bench on a small island beach in the South Pacific. It was night, and I was squeaking out a desperate prayer in a tiny voice. The weight inside my heart was holding down so much pain that if it had bubbled up full force, it would surely have broken the sound barrier. Instead, like the slow leak of a balloon, only low-energy pleas came out. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: anxiety, as the deer pants, broken hearts, communion with God, cry out to God, deep calls to deep, depression, desperate cry, devastation, grace of Christ, heart's cry, hope in God, in the deep, mourning, presence of God, psalm 42, Psalm 42:7, relationship with God, sons of Korah, steadfast love, suicidal thoughts, tears have been my food, where is God, why are you downcast
No, that is not a misspelling. And yes, I meant “Son.”
You see, years ago my husband and I made a promise to our now-17 year old son that we would drive to the path of totality to see the solar eclipse this year—a “bucket list” item for him before he left the nest for college.
And so it was. We headed to Kentucky, meeting up with some family in the Midwest along the way. From where we were staying, we drove three hours to stand in a parking lot in Hopkinsville, KY, that afternoon in time to see, through ISO-certified glasses, the eclipse begin and end.
It took some coaxing for my anxious younger son, 11 years old, to trust us that the glasses would do their job to protect his eyes. Once he overcame that obstacle, he was amazed like the rest of us at the show God put in the sky that Monday afternoon. It was worth tolerating 12 hours of gridlock on the way back to the hotel.
As the sun moved behind the moon (from our vantage point, anyway) to where it was safe to remove our glasses for two minutes, we noted so many observations, among them:
- The temperature dropped.
- The sun set around us panoramically 360 degrees.
- The light never went fully out.
Even with the moon in front of it, a ring of light still haloed from the sun. The light could not be fully turned off. And really, the moon only had just over two minutes of blocking time. The sun then continued its determined glide back into full view.
It was surely magnificent. No doubt about it. But it did not completely darken my world. It did not shut off the lights.
It struck me (as I had 12 hours to reflect on the way home!) how true this is of Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 2 corinthians 4:6, Ark Encounter, author of light, Colossians 1:13, creation, darkness has not overcome it, defeated darkness, eclipse, eternal light, God is light, God lightens my darkness, in him is no darkness, Job, John 12:46, John 15, John 8:12, light from darkness, light of life, light of the world, Micah 7:8, Noah's ark, solar eclipse, the Lord will be a light, walk through darkness
It was 2 AM. I had to use the bathroom, and we were dry camping—in our own yard.
Yeah, that’s a long story. It involved many delays in picking up our travel trailer and a Ford F-150 transmission blowing in the middle of trying to back the trailer into our yard—the day before we were to leave. Fun times.
So the younger kids and I camped overnight in the trailer until the watermelon seltzer I chugged before bed hit my bladder. Then into the woodsy yard I went, in the pitch dark, where foxes, deer, and the occasional bear or fisher cat roam. Needless to say, I wasn’t wanting to take my time getting there.
The back door was locked. I knocked, and the dogs started barking. Surely, my husband would hear me then.
Then I banged on the door. More barking.
Realizing the futility of that after about three minutes, I walked around to the garage door, put in the code, and assumed an unlocked inside door.
More knocking and banging. No response.
Finally, I went around to the front door and rang the doorbell. Over and over again without stop.
I knocked and banged and called my husband’s cell phone.
I finally called my son’s cell phone—the same son who inherited my penchant for not answering the phone.
And there it was—my son actually answered!
“Mom, is that you? Hold on. I’m coming.”
In the fifteen minutes outside brainstorming new ways to communicate my need to sleeping family members inside the house, fear had started to trickle in. It was dark, and in my mind, every noise was the local bear deciding that moment was the one to descend upon my lawn.
My imagination ran wild.
What if a criminal drives by right now to see me in my nightie? What if the police are on patrol and decide I’m breaking in? What if my neighbor is looking out his window at the scene I am making at 2 AM in my own yard?
Darkness makes everything seem impossible, insurmountable, even dangerous.
But is it? Is it really?
What is the truth about darkness?
1. There is a Light. God the Father provided it through His Son Jesus. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 Peter 2:9, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, 2 corinthians 4:6, a great light, afraid of the dark, armor of light, called out of darkness, children of light, children of the light, come to light, exposing darkness, eye is the lamp of the body, fear, God is light, hatred, in him is no darkness, Isaiah 9:2, John 15, John 3:19, let your light shine, light has come into the world, light of the knowledge of the glory of God, light of the world, light shines in the darkness, Luke 8:17, Matthew 5:16, Matthew 6:22, spiritual vision, spiritual warfare, the darkness has not overcome it, walk in darkness
I was happily driving my daughter back from camp in Keene, NH. We “processed” the week, reminding the younger brother to not interrupt during this time, and by the time I pulled up to the traffic light at the end of the ramp to my exit, my mind was on unpacking, tadpoles going AWOL upon reaching froglet status in my house, and dinner. I pulled to a complete stop, waiting for that green left turn arrow. And there it was.
Awesome. Just a few miles to go. I entered the intersection gradually, only to hear my youngest son, Little Man, make a comment to get my attention as we both saw the sedan speeding toward us on our left, running the traffic light.
I remember crying out to Jesus. And waiting for a secondary crash that never happened. When the airbags went off around me and my daughter who was sitting in the front, I detected the classic burning smell as well as other fluids now leaking out of the car at a fast rate. I asked the kids to exit the car if they were able.
But then my own door wouldn’t open. Airbags trapped me. My brain was in slow motion. I remember the kids in view as they exited the vehicle, and then it registered that I was physically able to crawl across the debris to get out the passenger side.
For what seemed like forever, I stood there mumbling over and over again that there was a green arrow. My kids told me later that I repeated that many times as I trembled and tried to find more words. It was a full hour, an ambulance ride, and a few x-rays among us later before I could speak in full sentences. But we were okay.
Bruised, stiff, sore, shaken, grateful.
A few more inches into that intersection, and the speeding car would have hit my driver’s side door more directly.
My Honda Odyssey did exactly what we trusted it to do in this accident. It bubbled us with airbags to ease the impact. Had my daughter been incorrectly sitting in the front passenger seat, had she not weighed what was necessary for the airbag sensor, it would have been a completely different story. I shudder to think of it, especially when I see the totaled van and the items within it tossed and shattered.
So, let me ask you something right now: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: afflictions of the righteous, air bag, airbags, auto accident, car accident, car crash, collision, defense, fear of the Lord, Isaiah 25:4, keep your life, life collisions, lift my eyes up to the hills, Lord is your keeper, mountains quake, Nahum 1:7, name of the Lord, not forsaken, Proverbs 14:26, Proverbs 18:10, psalm 121, Psalm 121:7, Psalm 34:19, Psalm 46:1, refuge, righteous, safety, shade on your right hand, strong confidence, strong tower, stronghold in the day of trouble, very present help, will not fear, will not slumber