A Morning Story

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Confession: I woke up cranky today. I was impatient with my kids, griping about what they had or hadn’t done and short-tempered with inanimate objects like a box of cookies that wouldn’t easily open while I was packing lunches. I was stomping around and sighing deep and bitter sighs over an accidental apple juice spill when the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that it wasn’t my kids’ fault I stayed up too late and then overslept as a result of it. It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I was feeling anxious about spending most of today in a dentist’s chair (). It wasn’t my kids’ fault that I hadn’t gotten my ideal morning routines done, but it certainly was MY fault that I was behaving badly and starting their day off with Grumpy-Mom. He reminded me of gentleness, patience, and self-control. He reminded me that it is my job to teach them what it looks like to reflect Jesus even when emotions don’t measure up and circumstances aren’t perfect.

I stopped fighting with the uncooperative box of Oreos and apologized to my children. Without hesitation, they forgave me. They were sorry I was having a hard day and they wished me a better morning. They loved me so well in their compassion. Their kindness humbled me — and showed me a glimpse of God.

This is His way, to not only forgive – but to forgive with abounding love and mercy, encouraging us to move forward in His grace without condemnation lingering on our hearts. His forgiveness is whole and His redemption power fully covers our sin.

So, all that to say- if you happen to have started today or this week (or even this year!) on the wrong foot — stop. Take a breath. Make the apologies you might need to make, to your people and to the Father. And then move forward in His grace and in the unfailing kindness of His love. Know you are forgiven and it’s the next moment that matters. Leave behind what has been and press on, trusting that He is ever-transforming us into His image if we keep surrendering our hearts, our minds, and even our crankiest of mornings into His keeping.

I am grateful today for mercy. I am thankful for love that keeps on loving, never giving up on us.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.”
-Lamentations 3:22-23

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When Faith is Made Sight

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To remember my childhood is to remember church and family. Those two facets of life were intertwined – a natural result of two grandfathers who pastored churches and a father who was called into ministry at a young age. I’ve had the rare and wonderful gift of hearing the Word of God from these three men in their pulpits and then witnessing how they’ve lived out that Word in their lives.

So most of my earliest memories are of churches and all that went along with them…pulling on frilly socks to match lace-trimmed dresses, puppets in children’s church, potluck lunches after service (where the dessert table was always my favorite), prayer around the altar, running around with cousins, playing with flannel boards in the Sunday school rooms, falling asleep in the car after late-running evening services. Always, there was music. Many times, it would be an aunt or a cousin on the piano, uncles on guitars and drums, my dad’s voice leading the song. I liked being able to pick out the voices I knew so well during the services…and when we were at my grandfather’s church, either for a family event or when Dad would be the speaker for a revival, my Papaw’s booming bass voice was a vibrant thread through it all.

I was always thrilled when Papaw would take the bass line during a song like ‘Let Us Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ – ever since I can remember, his ability to sing out those deepest notes has amazed me. I was just as impressed when he would preach. His carefully chosen words, his powerful voice, his unfolding of Scripture – it all added up to convince me that my Papaw was absolutely one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.

My opinion didn’t change once church was over. It seemed to me that ‘Brother Bailey’, as everyone called him, was usually talking about things of great importance. When I came into his office at home, it was always with huge admiration of the big desk and the full book-shelves. While my mamaw let me (with wonderful patience) freely look through her book-shelves and read through her collection whenever I wanted, Papaw had a system. It seemed, to me, that checking out Papaw’s books was just as formal as checking out a library book. I carried those volumes (books like Corrie Ten Boom’s “In My Father’s House”) with utmost care. I felt pleased that he would trust me with one of his books. He was working to complete his Master’s degree in counseling for several years, and I could only wonder about how much knowledge he actually had in his head. It seemed like he knew everything.

I was awed by some little things that have stuck with me all these years – like the way he would drink his beverage after he finished his food  or the way he would send his coffee back if it wasn’t hot enough. For some reason, that act was bold in my shy little-girl eyes. I found the fact that he hadn’t watched TV until he was seventeen a completely fascinating thing. He told me about pretending to be the Lone Ranger when he was a kid and how he used to get in trouble at school (which was pretty hard for me to imagine!). He told me that he hated collard greens, which – on the other hand – was easy to imagine (because I hated them, too). Time spent at Mamaw and Papaw’s house was usually punctuated by Papaw’s voice calling out – “Julia”- when he wanted Mamaw’s attention, which I loved – because I only heard everyone else call her ‘Sister Bailey’.  Every single Christmas eve, he would read out the lovely words from the Gospel of Luke to make sure that we remembered why we were gathered together to celebrate.

And while I did always see him as quite dignified, Papaw was also a cut-up and loved to laugh. I learned, in later years, that Papaw was mischievous. He had many exploits on his resume…and those exploits continued even to shooting unsuspecting great-grandchildren with a rubber band gun.  There was a certain twinkle that would come into those light blue eyes whenever he was about to prove a point or get to a punch line…and the grin that followed made a person grin right back at him.

I never did change my opinion of Papaw as one of the wisest and greatest men on earth.

As I grew older, my respect only grew. I could see how he gave so much of his life to building the Kingdom of God. I could see how he listened to others and how he cared about what was going on in their hearts. Asking him questions meant getting real-to-the-core answers.

With Papaw, it always felt like he could hear deeper than our words – beyond what we were saying to what we actually meant, or those things we might want to hide. Sometimes, especially in my teenaged-years, I would get nervous if Papaw looked into my eyes for too long – because if there was anything less than honorable in my heart, I just knew he could somehow see it. He didn’t mince words and he didn’t budge on what he believed to be true.

He made me want to be the best person I could be.

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When my Papaw was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, he said his future was in God’s hands.

As a family, we prayed fervently for his healing.

A great friend to my Papaw and to our family, Rev. Matt Gunter, told us this: there are four types of healing in the Scripture. There’s a natural healing, healing through the help of physicians, supernatural healing, and healing through the Lord taking a person into that forever-home of heaven…where they are made completely whole.

On Wednesday, September 16th, Papaw was totally healed when he closed his eyes to this earth and opened them to the glory of Heaven.

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There are moments with my family from these last five months that I will never forget.

My mamaw has always taken care of my papaw. Her love has always been plain in how she gives of herself…she is constantly on the go, ready to do something for someone. The way she has loved so faithfully, even (especially) in this hardest of seasons, is beautiful. I watched her, even as I knew her heart was breaking, support Papaw with a strength that left me amazed. Even though I am, technically, already grown up – I still find myself thinking that I want to be like her when I grow up.

And my dad, my aunt, my uncles (and their spouses)…I watched as they cared for Papaw, speaking for him when he couldn’t, becoming advocates and stepping away from their own lives in order to be there when he needed them. In the way they were there for him, I saw the honor and love they felt…and I saw the Godly character of my papaw and mamaw both shining clear through the lives of their children.

When they led the congregation in worship at the funeral – through the words of one of Papaw’s favorite songs, “Amazing Grace”, I was immeasurably proud of them.

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All along, Papaw held firm to the truth that God is sovereign.

He knew the reality of God’s power to change things. He had seen the sick healed…he had seen the dead given life again.

We can’t fully understand why God’s plan didn’t include healing in the here-and-now and we don’t know why Papaw’s journey on this earth ended in this particular way…because it was such a hard road…

but Papaw trusted his life to God’s purpose and God’s plan, no matter what that meant.

So he continued, even during his illness, to speak truth into the lives of others. He continued to share what he had learned throughout his life…when he attended his church back in July, he said this:

“I look back on my life and I’m thankful. God has been good to me. And along the way, what makes it better is I see people once in a while and they tell me I was a blessing to them. And that makes it all worthwhile. If you’re living for yourself, you’re dead already…in this life, nothing’s worthwhile unless, when you come to where I am, you look back and you can say ‘I helped somebody along the way’…and to know that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. That’s all that matters.”

Papaw lived those words.

As people filed by, shaking our hands at the visitation, I heard countless words about the impact he made on their lives. For over sixty years, Papaw evangelized, counseled, preached, led congregations, and made music for God’s kingdom.

At the funeral service, Rev. Gunter spoke about how Papaw lived as a vessel for God to use – he allowed God to pour into him and then he poured into others. He lived a life of love and service…he lived like the Savior he loved so well, for so long.

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And from here, how do we go on?

I am determined to live out my life in the way Papaw would want – by the Word of God, in service to the Master, loving others, helping somebody.

I have learned – in this hardest of ways – that life is shorter than we think it is. In all of this, the piece of my heart most shattered is the piece that is wishing I’d spent more time with him over my grown-up-with-kids years.  I think he would say that I should learn from that feeling and make the most of my time from here on out.

As usual, he would be right.

We’ve witnessed just some of the effects of Papaw’s life and ministry.  His choices and his willingness to live for the glory of God have made an eternal difference.

This is the legacy he leaves us and it is one we want to honor, one we want to continue.

He still makes me want to be the best person I can be.

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On the night Papaw went before us into our Homeland, the sunset was the most gorgeous I’ve ever seen it. I was driving west toward my family and the sunset was all I could see. My kids were marveling at it from the backseat and, when my sister called me, she had just stepped outside. We couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the sky was, all lit up in red, pink, and orange. I heard her calling other family members outside with her to look at the glory of it…and I believe we were all feeling the same thing – this heavenly beauty must, somehow, be for him.

It was the first thing I thought of a few days later, when I read this in Psalm 19:

“In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course, like a strong man to run its race.

Because, oh – Bernie Roy Bailey ran his course like a champion – he fought the good fight and he kept his faith.

And there is no doubt of the rejoicing that took place when Papaw was greeted as a ‘good and faithful servant’ by the Lord Jesus Christ.

He was absent from his body, but he was present with Christ. (2 Cor. 5:8)

There will come a day when we, all who are the sons and daughters of God, will be together with the Lord…Jesus overcame death and the grave on the cross. He gave us victory and everlasting life through His love.

And this is why, even while our hearts were aching with missing him, Mamaw was able to lead our family into the funeral service with hands raised. This is why we could worship even as we mourned. This is why my dad was able to lead us in a chorus of ‘Have a Little Talk with Jesus’ at the graveside. This is why, even while the pain is present, we have hope.

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It is still hard to believe that my Papaw is no longer here with us. This is a separation that not one of us would have imagined even a year ago.

But death will not separate us forever and it did not – even for one millisecond –  separate him from the love of Jesus – no, it ushered him into that eternal Home given by the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.

There, in that Beulah Land, he no longer sees through a glass darkly but by the beautiful Light of God.  That grin is surely on his face as he walks down the streets of gold…that twinkle is surely sparkling in his brilliant blue eyes as he takes it all in, maybe trades thoughts with those men of old he has read about for so many years.

There, he has fullness of life and joy that we cannot even begin to imagine. There, his faith has been made sight.

All the promises he stood upon during this life have been realized, every hope in Christ Jesus has been fulfilled.

I believe he is with his family, fully known, and worshiping together with them. I believe that bass voice so many loved to hear is now singing ‘holy, holy, holy’ around the throne of God.

This was his purpose all along. He knew that this span of life on earth was not the end of the story, but the beginning. Papaw looked forward ‘to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God’…and it is to that destination we, too, set our course.

One of the wisest and greatest men on this earth – my papaw I’ve loved for my whole life — is now one of the wisest and greatest men in God’s great city…and, one of these days, I will meet him there. I told him that I would see him soon…and, in God’s timetable, I will.

In the meantime, may those of us who knew him in this life and those who know of him now, because of these words, remember what he said… life is worthwhile when we know Jesus as Lord and help somebody along our way.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” –Hebrews 12:1-2

(If you would like to know a little more about my Papaw’s life, here’s a glimpse of our memories…)

(Photo credit/graphic to Babbi Moore, Cami Moore Gunn, and BJ Bailey)

Music Monday (Someone to Trust With Your Heart)

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As a little girl, I ended nearly every night saying these words to my parents – “Goodnight…I love you…check on me!”

I always wanted my mom or dad to come back and make sure that I was still okay. Curled up beneath the covers, giant teddy bear in my arms, something inside of me needed to know that my mom and dad would be back to check on me, to make sure that I was safe. I needed the promise of their presence to comfort me in that dark room. I couldn’t go to sleep until I knew that my parents- bigger, stronger, and wiser than I was – were looking out for me when I couldn’t look out for myself.

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I don’t think that any of us ever outgrow the need to feel secure…to know that there is someone who cares about us and looks out for us.

For many of us, the longing to know that someone bigger, stronger, and wiser is standing with us only grows as we get older and can fully understand that life is full of uncertainty. Because things get shaky, don’t they? Our trust in people or our circumstances or what we think we know can come undone in an instant…in this world, there are so many times when we are not capable of controlling or changing our situations. We can’t always look out for ourselves – and in a world dark, unsettled, and broken by sin, this can be a terrifying feeling.

But in the darkness, we have the promise of God’s presence to comfort us.

People may let us down – things of earth that we try to depend upon will let us down – but He never has and He never will. Jesus came into this world and gave His life for us…when the Enemy would have kept us bound in fear and the death that sin brings to our souls, our Savior came and gave Himself for us. He was looking out for us when we could not look out for ourselves…and He made the way for our hearts to be forever-safe in the Father’s House.

We can trust Him, this Savior who came to bring us life…this Savior who is with us still, ever-interceding for our sake and working all things out for our good.

We do not have to be afraid because, as He says in John 10, He is the Good Shepherd and we are His sheep.

A shepherd stands guard over his flock. The sheep are not capable of taking care of themselves and so the Shepherd takes that burden upon himself – he leads them to the water, to the food that will help them to grow. He protects them from the danger that would encroach – even if it means facing the danger himself. He tends to their injuries, to their pain. If one wanders away, he finds it and brings it home again.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock.  The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.”

 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. – from John 10

Our Good Shepherd is always bigger, stronger, and wiser. He is always faithful – never abandoning us, always looking out for us.

So, tonight, if you are feeling less than brave or less than loved…if you are feeling alone or if your heart is hurting…

You have a Savior – a Shepherd – who will hear your call to Him. He knows your voice…and if you begin to talk to Him and listen, you will know His. There will be hard, impossible-to-understand, frightening moments in this life – but nothing can separate you from His love. Your heart is safe with Him.

Just like that long-ago-little-girl who went to sleep in confidence that she was cared for…unafraid because someone who loved her was looking out for her…you can have peace. You can rest, even if the room is dark…even if the night seems to be going on and on…even if you’re not sure what tomorrow will bring.

Because you, friend, are loved without measure…and the God who brings the sun up in the morning and steadies the moon by night…the God who knows if a sparrow falls and causes the seasons to change…the God who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth…the One who laid the cornerstone of the earth while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy…the One who holds all of creation together in His Wisdom, in His Power, and in His Love – He is holding you, too.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. –Isaiah 40:11

Hope for the Worn-Out & Worried

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Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

-Matthew 11:28-30-

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A few nights ago, my 11-year-old could not sleep because he was so worried about an upcoming test, about forgetting deadlines, about making a wrong move in his next basketball game. He summed it up like this – he was afraid of failing everything. He was, literally, curled up in anxiety, pressed in by all the pressure. It felt like, to him, that the entire world was on his shoulders. He said – I could be practicing trombone right now. I could be reading to complete the book challenge. I could be doing the bonus math questions. There’s so much I need to do!

Oh, yes, I saw myself plain in his anguish.

Because this is me. I get wild-eyed with can-do, must-do, should-do lists. I get so tightly wound-up, domino after domino of what-if falling in my mind. I don’t want to fail in the tasks God has called me to complete. I don’t want to miss anything I am supposed to do. So I get frantic, plan my days out to the minute, get frustrated if anything goes amiss or if my introverted-need-re-charging-nature doesn’t comply with the pace I want to keep. I take on guilt because my bookworm/writing self isn’t keeping the house perfectly clean. I number the ways I must be falling short as a mom. There’s so much I need to do! I could be…I could be…I could be…

….and so I pile the burdens high and heavy with my expectations, my need to control things. I trade the yoke of freedom for one of fear. I stop delighting in the things that would usually bring me joy. I forget to take in the fresh air and sunshine because I’ve gotta’ get to that next thing. I get paralyzed by the details of life. I try so hard that I end up, at the end of the day, exhausted and empty.

Do you ever feel this way? Do you ever forget that the work we do for the Lord can – and should – be done with joy and peace? Do you ever forget that our source of strength is not our own resolute will but the power of the Holy Spirit?

Do you ever get so caught up in results that the process –trusting His faithfulness, finding gladness in His love, and learning more about Him through relationship – goes by the wayside? Do you ever forget that God and God alone controls our outcomes and does not expect us to bear the burden of bringing it all together? Do we forget that He alone is able to redeem, restore, make pathways clear, make all things new?

Do you forget that Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden is light?

For me – the answers to those questions are yes, yes, yes, and yes again.

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Yoke. It’s an old fashioned word. By definition, a yoke is used to help people bear the load on their shoulders. It implies hard labor. It can be a symbol of enslavement, servitude. It’s also used to guide animals, joining two together as they work – often it is to pull equipment of some kind. Man or animal, someone wearing a yoke is not exactly free to go as they please. They must submit to the burden – the heavy load, the duty, the responsibility – on their backs.

I think of Luke 9:23, when Jesus says that we must take up our cross and follow Him, knowing that obeying His commands instead of following our own way will mean sacrifice and hardship in this life. I think of how He asks us to give up our lives in order to let His life shine more fully through us.

These commands don’t exactly bring the word light to mind, do they?

There is no doubt about it – we have good works to do in this world to glorify the Father. We have purpose in His kingdom and a calling to love in an active, tangible way. We are co-laborers with Christ. Doesn’t this mean, sometimes, that we must be willing to work hard for His glory?

Yes, it does. But here’s where the hope of His invitation comes in – with a little change of emphasis, a big change in focus. We are co-laborers with God. (2 Cor. 6:1)

So when we submit to His authority – taking His ‘yoke’ upon us so that He is the one guiding our lives and our work here on this earth – we are obeying a Lord of mercy and grace. Our Master is a Savior who knows our weaknesses and gives us His own strength. Our God speaks peace. Our burdens are made light because He is joined with us. He lives within us! The weight of our work, our struggles, and our hearts are borne on His everlasting arms. So as we pick up our cross, as we give up our lives for His, as we do our good works – and we can carry on in peace. We get to talk to Him, know Him, and hear from Him along the way. We walk in His abundant life, in His joy. Even as we labor – because it is with Him! – our souls are at rest.

And, just like you’d expect, that’s what I told my son he needed on that night — rest. His frantic worrying would not help him do the things that he was responsible for the next day – school and ball practice. Most of what he was worried over was out of his control. Most of what he was worried about were things that seemed enormously important – but, in the long run, won’t affect him all that much. Some of the worries he stressed over were things I could help with, take from his hands – if only he would’ve come to me sooner…if only he would’ve let me help.

I, of course, did not like seeing him feel like this. Because he is my child – he is eleven – and I want him to enjoy being a kid! I don’t want him so paralyzed by the possibility of making mistakes that he can’t be present to his life. I don’t want him to worry about making a mistake in band class – I want him to pick up that trombone and relish every booming note. I want him to feel like he is running faster than the wind down that basketball court, whooping with delight over every basket the team makes – even if he is not the one scoring the point. I want him to study to the best of his ability but to know that his final grade does not define him. I want him to know that we are always here to back him up, always here to help him, and it is a good thing to go to someone wiser and stronger when he is unsure and overwhelmed. I want him to fall into the comfort of his bed at night and sleep without fear, knowing that he is secure and he is loved…knowing that tomorrow, whatever may come, rests in Hands bigger than his own.

Y’all, I don’t want him to miss the joy of being a child. I don’t want him to miss the wonder of this life he has been given.

And I can’t help but think that our Father looks at us and thinks the exact same thing.

He doesn’t want us to miss the delight of belonging to Him, in seeing the beauty and pleasures He has given us in this world. As we live out His purpose for us – in our families, in the work we are called to do, in the regular moments of every-day life – He does not want us to be anxious and overwhelmed, bent under the weight of our burdens.

Jesus said it Himself – He is gentle. He is humble in heart. He loves us. He has such compassion on us that He went to the cross to carry the heaviest burden ever placed on a man – the weight of every sin, every broken piece of this world, every sickness, every shame. He took those on so we would not have to carry them ourselves.

If you are curled up in anxiety, if your work for the Lord has lost its joy, if you can’t remember the last time your soul was able to breathe – if you are feeling wild-eyed and frantic – it’s time to go to Him. Put aside everything – every list and every I could be…

Because what you need is His rest. What you need is Him.

You must make time for this – because even if you get everything on that list done and miss the joy in the process, miss the peace of His presence, then you will be missing the greatest treasure and the point of it all – that we belong to Him.

Every outcome, every long-term result is in His sovereign hand. Our part- obeying Him, loving Him, and living in the fullness of His joy – is a gift of His grace. He paid such a high price for us to have this abundant life, this freedom in Him – He broke every chain and every heavy yoke that was upon us…and there is no need for us to pick them back up again.

So ask Him for that rest. Ask Him to bring back your laughter. Stretch out your hands and surrender the heavy burdens and take on His easy yoke instead…whatever your purpose, whatever your call – be present to this life He has given to you. Be present with Him….and find that strength and joy are in His dwelling place. (1 Chron.16:27)

For the kingdom of God is…righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. –from Romans 14:17

On Watching My Daughter Stand Alone Outside of Her Classroom

At my daughter’s school, it’s a bit of a walk from the drop-off point to her first grade building. Although teachers are posted along the sidewalk from one place to the other, I still have the habit of pulling into a spot near Kailey’s building where I can see her walk up the ramp, across the porch, and through the door into the safety of her classroom. She can’t see me – and doesn’t know that I pull over to watch her little trek – but I can see her. It gives me peace of mind to know that she is where she is supposed to be.

It has been a hard transition for her to go from Christmas break back to the every-day of school. Although she quickly adjusts and enjoys her days at school, the actual separation from home is difficult for her on some days. Yesterday, I had to actually walk her into the classroom – crying – because she didn’t want to get out of the car by herself and she didn’t want to stay at school. She was unhappy about leaving home again this morning, but she made her way out of the car when the time came.

When I pulled around, it took longer than usual for her to make it to the ramp leading to her building. She was walking slowly and when she reached the door, she just stopped. Instead of opening it, she took a step to the side, her head bowed and shoulders slumped. From across the field and the parking lot, this mama’s heart broke. My girl was sad and, for whatever reason, could not find the courage or will to go through that door. She stood there, alone, and didn’t make a move.

I contemplated my options. I knew full well that what was best for her in the long run was giving her the space to make the decision to walk through that door, but I still just wanted to leap from the car in a wild dash to her side so that I could scoop her up and keep her by my side all day long.

But then something wonderful happened. Another little first-grader made their way up the ramp and onto the porch. Instead of rushing by Kailey, that child stopped at her side and began talking to her. I guess I’ll never know what words were said, but after a few moments…Kailey’s classmate opened the door and they went through it, together.

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On Monday, when I was reading about Simeon in the second chapter of Luke, a phrase caught my attention. Luke tells us that Simeon had been waiting for the consolation of Israel. I did a little digging and found that consolation comes from the Greek word of paraklesis.

I already knew that the idea of consolation was one of comfort, but I loved finding out that its root can be described in the simple Greek phrase of para-kletos: a call to one’s side.

When Simeon was waiting on the consolation of Israel, he was waiting for the Messiah to be called to their side, to aid and encourage…to support them and to be their advocate.

The words of Zechariah’s song over his son (and Jesus’ cousin) – bold and passionate John – seem to light up on the page while I am thinking about this Consolation – you will prepare the way for Him, to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. (Luke 1:76-79)

My daughter needed a consolation this morning. She needed someone to come to her side, to encourage her to take the steps she needed to take so that she could make it to the place she belonged. At a moment when she could not make her own way, someone did come along to help her through that door.

And that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. We were standing outside of God’s presence, unable to make it through to where we really belonged.

The Father, there all the time, knew we needed help. He knew we were alone, broken, and home-sick. And although I didn’t have the ability to send someone to Kailey’s aid this morning, God knew exactly who to send to our sides – His own Son. And while He gives us the free will to take those steps toward Him…we have the chance to choose Him because He could not bear to see us remain in our darkness, in our sorrow. He could not bear to see us alone, our hearts home-sick for Him. So He spoke the word and Love leapt down from Heaven in a wild dash to rescue us.

Jesus came to us, “personally alongside us”*. He stopped where we were. He spoke words of encouragement, words of truth about God and about us. He not only held open the door – He became our Door, our Way to the place we were meant to be. He “guided our feet into the path of peace”. He became, in every sense of the wonderful word, our consolation.

And although Jesus is not here, today, in flesh and blood to be by our sides, He told the disciples it was expedient – needed and best – for Him to go away so that He could send the Comforter to them. (John 16:7) Just as the Father sent Jesus to us when we needed Him most, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that we would have an advocate to help us and to be with us forever. (John 14:16) This word- Comforter – for the Holy Spirit has the same background as Consolation – again, it is parakletos. The Holy Spirit is with us, always, as our comfort and our teacher. (John 14:17)

In other words, we are never without the love of our Father, whose tender mercy saw us far away – even when we couldn’t see Him- and brought us close through the blood of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:13)

Whatever you are going through today – if you feel like you are alone and unsure, standing in front of an obstacle that you can’t quite face – please know that you are not standing there alone. You have a Friend right there at your side and He will wait with you. He will strengthen your heart and help you take your next steps. He will go through every door – every circumstance – with you.

Yes, Jesus came to be the consolation of Israel…and today – right now – He is ours, yours and mine – He is the consolation of our hearts. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. –Deut. 31:8

(*this phrase is from a word study on parakletos, found on beyondthepulpit.org)

Carry Me

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Nearly every afternoon, after I’ve picked her up from a full day of kindergarten, my daughter falls asleep in the car. We have to go one town over to pick up my son before returning home, so she has plenty of time to sink deep into slumber. Which means that, once we are finally home, she is quite unhappy to be awoken. There is usually an attempt to ignore the stopped car and my insistent voice. She’ll put her head to the side, eyes still closed, and would probably fall asleep again if I’d let her. But I unbuckle the seat belt and shake her gently, reminding her that we have to go inside if she wants a snack and time to play before homework.

Get your backpack, I tell her, when she finally slides out of her seat.

And then, every time, she slides it onto her back and declares: It’s too heavy! I can’t walk! I’m too tired! Carry me!

So with the bright pink and white Hello Kitty backpack slung over her shoulders, she throws her arms around my neck and I scoop her up into my arms. A few afternoons ago, she smiled as she rested her head on my shoulder and said: I carry my backpack and you carry me!

And her words were mirrors, reflecting a truth I needed to remember – even while we are called to pick up our crosses, even while we sometimes live with problems and the weight of our particular lives – we have a God who holds us firmly in His arms, burdens and all.

We do get tired, though, don’t we? Even the good things we are busy doing can begin to wear us out after a while if we are  drawing our abilities and strength from our own selves, forgetting to let God restore us with His Spirit…and if we are in a time of pain or fear, it can feel like our joy and strength have drained totally away, leaving us exhausted and wanting to just be left alone. We want to close our eyes to whatever comes next because it seems like we just cannot do it. Our shoulders are caving in from the weight of carrying it all and our legs are giving out, too weak to move another step.

And this is when it is time to say to our Father: I can’t do this on my own…this life is too heavy for me. I need Your help. Like Kailey, we can cry it out: Carry me!

Because the same Savior who calls us to carry our cross is the same Savior who says: Cast all your cares upon Me. This is not a contradiction but a beautiful mystery of grace: the work He has called us to do, the responsibilities entrusted to us, the hard times we are asked to endure – we must do all these things with our whole heart and everything within us…but all the while, He is our very present help. He gives us fresh strength. He gives us joy. He gives us His power…2 Peter 1:3 says that He gives us everything we need to live the Godly lives to which He has called us. So in our weakness, we don’t give up – because He comes through and He is strong in us and for us.  When He carried the Cross to Calvary, didn’t He bear all of that weight of the broken world because we could not carry it on our own? Doesn’t He still stretch out His arms for us, holding us and the heaviness of our hearts, so that we can find His yoke easy and His burden light?

We carry what we have been given, faithfully, and He carries us.

If you are weary and don’t feel able to budge another step, it’s time to remember that He is waiting to be your help and your source of strength. There is life ahead of you – a holy calling to live out His love – and so don’t stay put, eyes and ears closed to His beckoning. Reach out to Him and trust that He is able to keep you from falling. Even more than that, when we obey and trust Him, He carries us to the place we need to be: a place of purpose and abundant life, a place of fulfillment and restored hope. It takes talking to Him – surrendering control of what we are holding – and putting our faith in His promises to sustain us and to help us. The Message version of Isaiah 41:10 helps us to plainly hear God’s sure Word to us: Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

That makes me want to say with David, that poet-king – “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens…Praise the Lord; praise God our Savior! For each day He carries us in His arms.” (NIV&NLT)

We can rest in this way, with bold belief in His love and knowing that He will carry us all the way home.

“…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.”~Isaiah 46:3-4

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders…the eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms…He is your shield and helper.” ~from Deuteronomy 33

 

 

Eyes to See

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Sean jumped in the car after school today, threw a paper in my direction, and said “Read this!” As he buckled in, he announced that we needed to go home and find shoes that we don’t need or that don’t fit anymore. His school is participating in a program that will send shoes to countries like Haiti and will fund efforts to provide clean water in those communities.

“That’s awesome,” I said as we pulled out of the pick-up line and onto the road. “We can definitely do that.”

And then he proceeded to open up my eyes.

Here’s the thing: the country of Haiti being involved in this fundraiser caught Sean’s attention. We have the privilege of building a relationship, through Compassion International, with a little girl named Barbara. The kids write to her and are always happy when the mailman delivers the letters and pictures she sends to us. We have used the awesome resources Compassion provides to learn about Haiti and the life that Barbara and so many other kids have there. The kids think about her and pray for her every night.

Which is why Sean said – “See? It’s because of our prayers for Barbara! More people are helping Haiti and we can help them do it!”

I almost had to hit the brakes.

Because when he said Haiti, I was heart-happy that more hope and light were on the way to a country so in need of helping hands. But it did not occur to me that our prayers could have something to do with it…but why not? Doesn’t James 5:16 declare that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective”? Doesn’t Jesus tell us in the gospel of John that if we ask in His name, we will receive so that the Father is glorified in the Son?

If we believe that God hears and honors our prayers, then yes – yes! – the faithful prayers of two boys and their little sister could most certainly be the catalyst for an elementary school in a small southern town sending shoes and clean water to the country they hold close to their hearts.

I wonder how much I miss because I am not watching for God’s answers outside of my expectations. I wonder how much I miss because I don’t realize that He is providing opportunities for me to pitch in and help carry out His plan.

I am so grateful that He sometimes surprises us with a tangible reminder that He is listening. I am so grateful that He has given me these little teachers in my life who sometimes stun me with their faith and with their knowledge that our God is active and present in our lives.

This weekend, may we all have eyes like my child – ready to see the hand of God in the details of our lives. May we remember that He hears us and He answers. May we listen for His voice, from whatever direction He may speak…and may our words speak out of active faith in Him! May we be ready to be a part of the answer to the needs we bring to our Father.

May our hearts be open to the delight and blessing of His presence…may we remember that we are lavishly loved and give of that never-running-out love to everyone around us.