Simply for the Joy of It

The other evening, I was playing with my two-year-old grandson. What began as a simple “twirl” in my arms in his front yard, soon found us “flying circles” around the house together. I lost count of the number of times I extended my arms and “flew” across the grass, following energetic, little boy legs amidst full-out giggles and silly remarks. We swooped and scurried, circling trees and fire pits along the way, only to come back to the front of the house where Reuben would look at me before breathlessly saying, “Let’s do that again!” And with the resolve of a completely smitten grandma, I’d join him for yet another “flight.”

This game continued for what must have been at least fifty trips around the house, but I seriously would have gone fifty more with that little fellla if time permitted. Although assured by his mother and others that I could stop at any moment, that I needn’t feel obligated to continue the game any longer than I desired, the fact is I desired to continue it as long as my grandson did. I would even sometimes purposefully stop at the front of the house, simply for the joy of having Reuben pause to look back at me and say, “Grandma, let’s do that again!” Although others may have thought our game exhausting, at that moment there was nothing bringing me greater joy than knowing I was bringing joy to my grandson simply by sharing in his adventures.

This whole scenario got me pondering how easily I can be deceived into thinking my antics exhaust my heavenly Father. From an outsider’s point of view, God most certainly must grow weary by the simpleness of my life. I mean seriously, He who created the ends of the universe and everything in between lowers Himself to become a faithful Companion in my everyday life? How simplistic I must be in comparison to Him! At my most complex and highest-functioning moments, I remain akin to a unicellular fungus in comparison to the Most High, and even that is likely rewarding me more credit than I deserve. Shouldn’t God be above consorting with the likes of me?

It’s easy for me to be tricked into believing He is merely “tolerating” my presence if I forget one simple truth: My Father God delights in me.

Oh, He may not always approve of my actions, but His love for me never decreases even when I’m in the full-fledged throes of a childish tantrum.

He may want more and better for me than my selfish choices afford, but God never once falters in loving me.

Unconditionally.

Without limits.

And with great delight.

When I look at the much smaller scale of my love for my grandson, I can only surmise it to be a pittance when compared to God’s perfect love for me. Though others may have wearied in following a little boy in circles time and again, I wanted nothing more than to continue the play as long as his heart desired. In truth, I would have remained on the journey with Reuben for as long as his little legs allowed, and then I would have carried him in circles if He had asked. Simply for the joy it brought him . . . and me.

When I’m struggling to believe God is tireless in His care and love toward me, I need only read the following words from Matthew 7:11: If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!

My grandson Reuben has my heart, and he didn’t do one thing to earn it. He has my heart simply because He is my grandson. And if I, being a sinful and selfish person, know how to give good things to him . . . well, then why is it so hard for me to believe my heavenly Father wouldn’t do more than the same for me?

Although I am fully aware I can be exhausting to some folks, fortunately God is not on that list. My Father not only loves me, He delights in me and enjoys spending time with me . . .  even when it’s as simplistic as running loop after loop in the same pattern, over and over and over.

And you know what? I’ll bet God even pauses at times, just so He can capture my attention and hear me speak the words, “Hey Dad, let’s do that again!”

© 2017 MereWhispers.wordpress.com

The Shunning of Christ (A Re-post from Christmas Past): An Advent Devotional – Day Eleven

The other day, my daughter and I decorated the Christmas tree. This long-standing tradition also included the setting up of nativity scenes. Yes, that IS plural. Somewhere along the line, we have accumulated THREE of these treasured creches. Which is actually a good thing, considering the fascination my children have had with nativity sets throughout the years.

While some folks have beautiful figurines of great value, mine are of cheap ceramic, which means they have offered many years of “Baby Jesus and the manger” playtime. The largest set takes primary placement beneath the Christmas tree, while the other two are positioned in locations at the discretion of the chosen manger caregiver (aka: whoever gets to the boxes first). To be sure, there is much rearranging that takes place throughout the weeks leading up to the actual celebration of said manger baby’s birth.

This year’s placement was not nearly as dramatic since there was no one fighting over – I mean, attempting to carefully place – the beloved figurines. In fact, in my haste to complete the decorating task, I rather unceremoniously emptied the contents of Nativity Set #2 with instructions for my daughter to arrange them as she pleased. Considering to whom I was giving such unreserved rights, I should not have been surprised by the arrangement that was chosen. But still, I was caught off guard when I glanced at the set and saw Mary and Joseph with their backs firmly turned toward Baby Jesus. When I asked my daughter what on earth she was doing, she smiled and answered, “They’re shunning Him.”

IMG_2518While I could not help but smile at my daughter’s sense of humor, I had to admit her arrangement seemed much more appropriate considering the reality of how the Christmas season often appears to be celebrated. For while we all say that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, sadly, our actions seldom align themselves in accordance with our declaration. In a bit of holiday silliness, the two of us came up with what we considered would be an even more appropriate rendition of the celebration of Christmas in America.

Perhaps our nativity set would appear more fitting as the following:

IMG_2516When my husband noticed our circle of gift-worshipers, he suggested we keep it that way in order to make a statement… or perhaps simply to serve as a reminder of the true meaning versus our true actions. Regardless, this simple act has spoken volumes to my heart and is challenging me to resist getting carried away with the world’s twist of all things godly. Instead, I am determined to keep my focus firmly fixed on Jesus this year.

While it’s tempting to shun the Christ Child amidst all the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, I pray we will never find ourselves glorifying anything or anyone more highly than the Most High. Instead of shunning Jesus, may we determine to set our hearts and our minds on things above and not on the things of this earth.

May we shun shunning even as we turn our faces to meet and accept the greatest Gift of all — the Savior who has come to deliver us from our sins.

IMG_2517FOR REFLECTION
Do you fight the temptation to turn from the true meaning of Christmas as you’re tugged toward the glow of tinsel and lights? What are some practical ways you can keep Jesus as the center of your Christmas celebration? It may be as simple as taking time to read Scripture and encourage yourself in its truths, or it may mean you need to cut back on the gift-giving and spend your efforts and your dollars on things that pour love into the lives of others less fortunate than yourself. Regardless of how you readjust your position, may you find yourself forever facing the steady glow of manger’s light.

Let Your Little Child Lead

“As a mature Christian, I had somehow stepped over the phase of being a child with my heavenly Father.”
– Laura Bower

As I pondered the above statement, I had to give a nod of acquiescence to the reality of these words holding true in my own life. Time and again, I’ve forgotten the importance of being a child with God.

Instead of skipping through my days with wonder, I’ve rushed to grow up, developing and maturing, so I could take control of my life and fulfill my duties in the Christian realm. Seeking to please by performing, I’ve often raced right past Father’s open arms waiting to draw me near. I’ve neglected to learn how to trust in His presence simply by spending time there.

In God’s upside-down Kingdom, a little child shall lead them. Skipping and giggling, hand glued to Father’s own. Secure. Fully known. Forever loved. Delighting to work and play alongside Daddy. Eager to help and eagerly received, even when all she can do is make mudpies and pick dandelions. It is enough for Daddy.

God really doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. He’s far more capable than we are of keeping the universe in motion. He doesn’t need our timid acts of service — He wants our hearts. He wants to grasp our grubby, little hands in His own and spin us wildly in circles of grace before tumbling into the grass together in fits of laughter.

Because here is where we learn His love. In the presence of a King who not only rises to show us compassion and save us from damnation, but in the arms of a Father who delights to draw us near and sing lullabies to quiet our souls.

This is where we begin. This is where we mature. This is where we stay and to where we return again and again, to learn and relearn His ways.

We grow in His presence. Emulating His character, mimicking His movements, and yes, fulfilling the work He has called us to complete. But not on our own. Not because of some irrational need for approval. Not in our ill-equipped independence.

We work at His side because this is where love develops, swinging hammer in sync with His own as we pound out this new ancient way. Here in His presence, the work becomes more like play as we converse and laugh in a closeness that grows as we stay by His side. Asking questions, following His example, noticing the things that tug at Father’s heart. And believing we are valuable just because we’re His.

This is where we mature as Christians – day after day abandoning ourselves to the child inside and allowing her to lead us to Him.

www.hdnicewallpapers.comThrough the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. – Psalm 8:2

 

 

Those Awkward Passions

This week I’ve found myself pondering what keeps folks from pursuing their passions, and I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps our greatest enemy is simply fear.

How many of us fail to engage our passions because we’re afraid of what that might look like? Of what we might look like when we’re still awkwardly developing, learning to flow smoothly with grace and finesse.

When my son Joshua was a young boy, he discovered he had a knack for the game of basketball. While there was no denying his natural ability to jump high and to get that ball through the hoop, his style while doing so was awkward. He was often all flailing arms and jerky movements, but he was good at the game. He might not have had the polished moves, but he got the job done, and he loved every minute of it.

The unsure preadolescent became a confident force to be reckoned with on the basketball court. He quickly drew attention with his enthusiasm and skill, and he developed confidence as he played, so much so that he came out grand champion of a few summer camp competitions. He pressed in and worked hard, not to perfect his technique, but to accomplish the goal of scoring the points. He learned to handle the ball with practiced control, even though he looked on the verge of losing it sometimes. And he did it all with a smile (and the perpetual tongue sticking out like Michael Jordan’s).

For a few years, basketball was Joshua’s passion, and he pursued it with gusto.

But what if he hadn’t? What if Joshua never chased after his passion for basketball because he was concerned his style might appear more reckless than another boy’s? What if he would have allowed his awkwardness to keep him from playing the game? From doing something he loved?

He would have missed out on a wonderful opportunity to grow and to become even better at a talent with which he was naturally gifted.

What about us?

What if, instead of being paralyzed by fear, we stepped out to practice our purpose? What if we dared to try something we love, even though we might look a bit awkward in our start-up?

What if we stopped neglecting that desire to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the purpose that’s been tugging on our heartstrings? To stop “piddling’ and actually begin to pursue with devotion that thing others keep telling us we’re so good at?

I stumbled across an online article entitled The NBA’S 15 Smoothest Players, but some of its contents could just as easily be written for our own version of Christianity’s Smoothest Ministry Workers: ..being smooth is an all-around characteristic. These players rarely play out of their pace, never look fazed and are unflappable in clutch moments. There’s a graceful flow and elasticity that makes everything they do on the court seem natural.”

Yep, I know a few of those people. Everything they do appears effortless from beginning to end; the result of their endeavors is appealing to a myriad of folks; and to make it all the worse – they look good while doing it. Unfazed and unflappable in clutch moments.

I, on the other hand, often have sweat running down my face and endless piles of “first draft” attempts scattered on the floor next to the trash can. (Unlike my son’s, my aim is definitely off.) I generally feel awkward and flailing, totally flapping instead of unflappable, and clutching for sure footing during clutch moments.

BUT… again relying upon words from our Smoothest Players article: “That’s not to say those who don’t fit that description and aren’t included on this list are inferior, because production comes in very different styles.”

Production comes in very different styles. Your strengths might not match up against your neighbor’s, but that doesn’t make you somehow ineffective in getting the job done. It just means your style and approach is uniquely your own. Uniquely as God created it to be.

It’s time to get beyond our fears of not making the “smoothest” list and start releasing the passions within us. Regardless of how they line up against the passions of others. Comparison is a false measuring tool, my friend, and a fearful trap meant to keep us from ever sharing those unique gifts we have been given to grace this world.

So instead of leaning hard upon a particular form or a flawless style, how about we all lean hard upon the Lord? Let’s trust our passions to the One who placed them within us, and trust Him just as much to pull them forth at just the right moment, in just the right way, to be used to bless just the right person, at just the right time.

It’s even okay if you need to stick out your tongue to get the job done.

66436_10200214311501179_475180793_nAnd that basketball-loving son of mine? Well, he’s all grown up and is seldom seen on a basketball court nowadays. Instead, he’s allowed God to turn the desires of his heart and lead him to the other side of the world where he travels through remote mountain villages sharing the name of Jesus with those who have never heard. Still awkward and imperfect at times, yet still passionate. Filled with the love of a different game – to carry the promise of God’s kingdom come to dwell within the hearts of men. A worthy passion, indeed.

CAUTION: WORDS – Please Use Wisely

When my son was small, his response to hurtful words showed the depth of his softness toward verbal attacks. One day his older brother spoke something that hurt his feelings, and when told (still in the midst of the confrontation),  “It’s not like I broke your arm,” his tearful response nearly broke my heart.

I wish you would have just broken my arm instead; that would have hurt less.

My young son understood the power of words. And in this scenario, he experienced the pain of their cutting power.

Sometimes words hurt. Even more than broken bones.

Because words have the power to break something much more fragile than bone and marrow. Words have the power to crush relationships. They have the strength to derail another’s purpose. They have the force to turn hearts toward self-loathing. They even have the power to destroy the most fearsome of warriors. Don’t believe me? I daresay the most dreaded words on the front lines of battle are not always the commanding officer’s issue to Advance as much as they are the dread of receiving letters from back home that begin with the words Dear John, …

I wish you would have just broken my arm instead; that would have hurt less.

Every human being needs to believe that he is valuable. Every wife longs to feel cherished by her husband. Every husband wants to be respected by his wife. Every child needs the assurance of a parent’s love. Every person desires to know that they matter. And when words are spoken that tell them otherwise, eventually they will come to believe it.

Eventually those hurtful words will transform hearts, and not for the better.

Because words are powerful like that.

Broken bones can be set in casts or fused in repair to become strong once more. Bones will mend. But hearts are much more fragile. More tender. More easily torn and less easily repaired.

So great is the influence of the spoken word.

The Bible reminds us of the  power words hold.

Words are powerful enough

… to speak the universe into existence.

… to forgive sins.

… to silence demons.

… to bring sight to blind eyes.

… to sway the hearts of men.

But words can also be spoken with evil intent.

Words can

… crush the spirit of men.

… lead us to believe lies.

… destroy relationships.

… disintegrate hope.

I wish you would have just broken my arm instead; that would have hurt less.

The next time we find ourselves tempted to speak words that would better be left unsaid, let’s turn to the WORD and apply His words of advice as we remember:

Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, so choose your words wisely.

May they be a source of healing and restoration for all who are within hearing.

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Chalkdust and Butterflies

One evening while I was pulling weeds from the flower beds, my youngest daughter pulled out the sidewalk chalk and began to sketch designs upon the cement patio. “What should I draw?” she asked.

“Oh, I don’t know,” I replied, “How about a rainbow?”

With that small incentive, she began to color across the rough canvas. Soon a small rainbow took shape with a stick-figure family standing beneath it. As I finished my work, I walked over to join her. Sitting down beside her, I picked out a few pieces of colored chalk and began to draw a large butterfly. Our imaginations and hands worked together as we filled the cement canvas with bumblebees and dragonflies, flowers and a giraffe; we even made a pond complete with cattails and a duck. For the better part of two hours we shared in conversation and creativity.

As the evening drew to a close, the gray dullness was filled with bright splashes of color and design, and our hearts were full from spending “girl time” together. It mattered not that our mural was obviously the work of amateurs (as best exemplified by the dolphin turned sea monster). To the two of us, it was a venue of shared laughter and love.

During the night, the rains came.

The next morning, there was no sign of our artwork; not one stroke of color remained. All was wet and gray.

But my heart was still filled with rainbows and butterflies and the sound of my daughter’s giggles and words of encouragement as I very “un-artistically” sketched and colored beside her.

Although the cement canvas is now bare and empty, the mural of my heart remains full of color and life from the memories made that evening, and therein lies the true beauty of it all.

For life is found in coloring the moments as they come. Filling the blank canvas of our days with splashes of brilliant hues. Adding rainbows of promise to the seemingly hopeless situations as we remind each other that our Father is Lord over all. Scattering butterflies of belief into the hearts of friends who need a dash of color or a sprinkling of faith.

The true joy of living should not be judged by how artistically or gracefully one maneuvers through life, but rather, by how blatantly carefree one is in splashing color upon another’s soul. Unaware of fingers smudged with chalkdust. Oblivious to each other’s less-than-perfect sketching abilities. Not confining ourselves to the grayness of a present situation, but instead, inviting others to join us in transforming the gray hardness into a softened and colorful world… in spite of it all.

Regardless of rains that may fall in the night.

For tomorrow, another opportunity will present itself. Another day will stretch before us, inviting us to fill its canvas with the wonder of living the moments.

So let’s face each day with a bucket of chalk and a heart set to delight in filling it with color and love. But mostly, let’s delight in the joy of companionship that makes it all worth living.

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With Hearts Poured Out

I was thrilled to have my adult daughter home for a visit during the recent Christmas holidays. This morning, before preparing to return to her own home several states away, she took a few moments to sort through some of her items still stored in a cedar chest at our house. In her searching, she stumbled upon some diaries from her early childhood (by early, I’m referring to her life as an 8-10 year old). Through smiles and tears, she read aloud line after line of scribblings from a young girl’s heart poured upon diary pages. The range of emotions disclosed were as random as the thoughts being shared:

My brother is a pain. I mean it.

My friend’s birthday is in two weeks and I haven’t heard anything about her birthday party. I wonder if I’ll be invited. Good grief!

 … I’m going to a birthday party today. I was invited!

My little sister is lying in bed beside me. She said “kitty” today. 

Nobody fills my heart like Jesus.

Today me and Lisa made pretzels at Grandma Pat’s house. They had icing with sprinkles.

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We went to my brother’s ballgame and I made a new friend.

I just got home. Lydia hit me. Micah pushed me. And I had to get a bath.

My best friends are mad at me and I don’t know why.

As much as I hate to see my grandma in pain, I know she hates to see me in tears.

I went on a day out with Mom. I had so much fun. We rode up and down on the escalators. I like days out with Mom.

Grandma looks like she won’t live to tomorrow. I love my grandma. I keep asking God to help her, but I think He wants to bring her home.

We went to visit Grandma. She was lying in her bed. I watched as she suffered. Then I crawled up in bed with her. Her eyes started to close and she made a weird noise, then she went to be with God. I love her and I miss her very much. But deep down, I’m happy for her because she has seen God.

I’m spending the night at my great aunt’s house with my grandpa. We went in a canoe on the lake. Grandpa is sitting up in the chair late at night. I think he does that a lot.

The Lord is my strength and my salvation.

I love Jesus. Jesus is Lord.

As we sat together on the bedroom floor, we laughed at the silliness of her comments and the now-funny irritations with her siblings. We cried together as she struggled to read through the grief-filled thoughts of a ten-year-old granddaughter praying for her dying grandma. And we wiped those tears as we saw the script “Jesus is Lord” written as the final words on the inside cover of a little girl’s diary.

As I watched my daughter climb into her car and drive away, I couldn’t help but smile at the treasure she had shared with me from her diaries of long ago. The memories that she stirred have stayed with me throughout the day and have prompted me to dwell upon the past – both the blessings and the sorrows. And I found my thoughts turning toward this reminder from Psalm 62:8.

Trust in Him at all times, you people;

Pour out your heart before Him;

God is a refuge for us.

As much as I enjoyed hearing the thoughts of my daughter’s heart shared from long ago, I can only imagine how God wants us to come to Him much like that once 8-year-old girl approached her diary. No secrets could not be shared. No thoughts could not be penned. They simply poured out like water upon the pages.

I love the psalmist’s idea of pouring out my heart like water before my heavenly Father. Allowing myself to be so softened by His grace that whatever is within me flows out easily as a liquid, not clogging or catching with hard flecks of bitter sediments. All my emotions, with their sorrows and their joys; my desires, those that are mere wishes and others that are true callings; my prayers for myself, for loved ones, and for strangers; my hopes and dreams of things to come; my frustrations and pain over private history that has already occurred and has been received as less than desirable in my life.

Pouring out my heart to God while holding nothing back can be hard. Because it requires trust. It requires that I have a trust in Him to receive my offerings and to sort through my thoughts, storing up those that are worthy while discarding or refining those that are so much less than what they should be. In trusting God, I am also entrusting Him with everything that is in me. Sharing those deep, abyss-like secrets that I withhold from all others. Pouring out the good, the bad, and the downright horrid. Casting myself before a love that knows no bounds as I confront the issues within myself and fling them before the mercy seat of the Most High.

Trusting, always trusting that there is nothing that can not be made known to my Father. No thought too appalling to expose, no longings too deep to be shared, no sorrow too heavy that it cannot be borne by the Lover of my soul.

Indeed, God is a refuge for us. For one. For all.
But He is so much more than just a refuge – He is all the refuge that we need.

As we approach this New Year of 2013, may we do so with liquid hearts. Hearts soft enough to pour out before the One who already knows everything that is within them. Hearts strong enough to trust that our Father will receive those thoughts that we treasure and those pains that we process. But most of all, may we have hearts determined to love Him through it all – from the smallest of cares to the greatest of needs. May we repeat the childlike refrain from hands that penned these words of truth, “I love Jesus. Jesus is Lord.”

No matter what tomorrow holds, we can trust that He holds our tomorrows.

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