Dec 14, 2015

Peace on Earth

It's early in the morning. The lights are glowing on the tree and on the fireplace mantle, a warm and tender reminder of Christmases past. It's quiet in the house now as my three not-so-small boys are still in their slumber. It's Christmas time, a time for joy and peace on earth. I'm attempting to capture the sugar plum fairies dancing around in my head...because something seems a little "off" this year.

Every year is a struggle to scrape and dig past the commercialism and consumerism that has become synonymous with the Christmas season. Somewhere between the green and red plastic trees and the "Santa, Baby" songs is a point. A very fine point that the vast majority misses. Every. Single. Year.

We tend to miss it because it is easy to miss. 

There is nothing in Scripture that commands we honor this Holy Night. There is no instruction to follow that even suggests it. A Christian will truly celebrate Christmas out of the overflow of the heart...out of the love that pours from a swell of the heart that was born in a stable 2,000 years ago. 

But somehow the truth of this story has been buried beneath a mountain of boxes covered in pretty paper and debt to the ceiling. Even Hallmark movies tell us we want Christmas to be about the heart and relationship, but we have to dig it out of the pile first.

This has been an ongoing issue for the believer in this country for decades. But recently, there has been another darker, more suffocating cloud hovering over this time of year. We seek joy and peace on earth, yet we are bombarded by the media of our day. We are immediately made aware of instances of adversity, hostility, lunacy, political failures, et cetera ad nauseam. Rarely do we see thrust before us for our viewing pleasure the soup kitchens serving Christmas dinner to the homeless, families by the hundreds supplying coats, boots, blankets, diapers, and toys for those who have nothing, or food pantries doling out canned goods to those fallen on hard times. Stories of prisoners kneeling by their bedside holding a Bible and a sliver of hope for redemption seldom make the cut for our news sources. These things happen all the time, but their stories are scarce compared to the shocking tales that "sell". We are inundated with the negative and anemic when it comes to anything positive.

There is a song that was released several years ago by Casting Crowns (one of my most favorite groups) and the song is entitled "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." It speaks to the dissonance we experience this time of year in a way that for years now has deeply stirred my heart. If we don't quiet our souls from the noise of our consumerism, we'll never hear the bells.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet, their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

The author is recounting the surface sights and sounds of the season. It looks good and sounds good - we enjoy the decorations and Christmas carols during the last weeks of the year (or most of us do). But in the next verse, we see his conflict - one that, if we will look introspectively, we can all identify with:

And in despair, I bowed my head
"There is no peace on earth," I said.
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

If anything, peace on earth is a treasured, but terribly deficient thing. A cursory glance at the Middle East (particularly in and around Israel) and north Africa, as well as cities like Paris, Chattanooga, Colorado Springs, and San Bernardino will bring home the point. A skim of any major news outlet's headlines will help to solidify the point: men bring almost anything but peace to earth.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
(Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth is not meant to be brought by mere men. We are incapable. Peace on earth and good will toward men...comes from above. Good will toward men is initiated by God in heaven and exemplified by a Baby born from heaven. Peace personified has walked on the earth, and it currently resides in the hearts of those who bend the knee and bow their hearts to the King of kings born humbly in a manger.

Then ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they're ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they're singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we'll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

The bells of Christmas are singing that Peace on earth has indeed come, and until He comes again, we'll hear it only in our hearts. But this also has the desired result for the individual who opens their heart to the song: good will toward his fellow men.

Do you hear the bells they're ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Apr 9, 2015

Pearl of Great Price

A diver descends into the depths and retrieves an ordinary oyster shell.

Kind of drab, really. Earthy colors, no distinct shape, and no particular abilities. It's just a shell. It does have a purpose, though. Its job is to house and protect the vulnerable and tender inside.

Oyster shells are somewhat like people in this respect. They have a hard, nondescript outside, but a soft, delicate inside. Even the Son of God fit this description in human form.

"He didn’t have an impressive form or majesty that we should look at Him, no appearance that we should desire Him." Isaiah 53:2

There is a soft parallel between the oyster and man. An oyster is made of two parts: the inner and the outer. The outer shell is the only part that is ever visibly seen...that is until the death of the organism inside. The tender, inner soft part of the body is likened to our spirit, kept hidden until the breaking of the body.

When a pearl oyster is opened, the organism inside dies, and most likely, a valuable gift is left behind. 

It's important to note that not all oysters make pearls...only the true pearl oysters (genus Pinctada) make them. But how does this happen? 

When a foreign object becomes embedded inside the oyster, the mantle inside secretes nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl, to isolate the irritant. 

Let me say that again: Something that doesn't belong there gets inside the outer shell. As a way to defend the innermost part of the mollusk, the mantle releases a protective material which, in effect, quarantines the invader inside the nacre. The end result of this process is known as a radiant pearl.

It's funny to me, to see myself in this oyster.

Sin invaded the human heart in the Garden of Eden. It's been there since the beginning. That irritant was present in my heart from the time I was born. From the time I became old enough to realize it was there, it was a constant irritant to me. I realized it was there, but I was powerless to do anything about it. 

Then I was reborn. Remade, if you will, into a new creature. And my inmost part became the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. He was then able to apply the loveliest substance to isolate the irritant in my soul - His very own Holy Blood. 

In that single transaction, I was instantly relieved of the unwanted pollution in my soul. Relieved, but not yet free of it. It is still very much there, but it is covered. One cannot adequately express the tremendous difference that is felt in that relief. But oh, how I long to be free of it...and one day lay it at the feet of my King.

Rev. 21:21 describes the Gates of the New Jerusalem (in the future) as each set with a giant pearl. I don't mean to say there is a giant pearl set inside each gate. Oh no. I mean each of the gates are giant and are made from one solid pearl! 

"The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of gold, as pure as transparent glass." Rev. 21:21

The picture here is that entryway into the City of through these trials, this covering of sin.

That pearl that is safely kept in my innermost being is ultimately a benefit to me that came from something painful. It is beauty from ashes. And one day, one glorious day, when this body is mortally broken, there will be a rare gift left behind. One with an indescribably soft inner glow that shines brightest in the Light of the Son.

Lord, I need help remembering that nothing in my life is wasted.

Not. One. Thing.

You are Lord of all. May it serve to glorify You and make me holy, like You.

Feb 5, 2015

Storms of Pomp and Circumstance


We are already a full month into it. So many feelings about heading into this new year.

My time on blogger used to include the liveliness of multiple conversations with blogging friends all over the world who had either gone through or were going through some of the same stages of life. Since most of us have resorted to Facebook for maintaining our interactions, blogger is now morphing into a sort of canvas of words for me. Someplace to not necessarily share with someone as much as for someone. Namely, me.

So I suppose I can use this platform to set out and sort out some of the thoughts, struggles, and sentiments I have going on inside without concern for whether it's something someone else would want to read.

And that's a little freeing for me right now.

This year is bringing so many changes for us, for me, that I almost can't fathom it.

I see these changes staring me in the face, much like a dark, impending storm on the horizon. It's still sunny where I am, but the darkness is coming. I can feel the cool wind of change blowing my hair out of my eyes and causing me to sigh deeply.

The feelings I get from gazing into a storm like that are very similar to what is going on inside me now.

Generally, I love storms. When we lived in Texas, it was impossible to miss the inky thunderhead approaching. You could hear the faint sound of thunder rolling across the sky, a subtle but distinct rumble that causes nervous kids to think of celestial bowling. The peculiar color of the clouds would excite the eyes as you instinctively sensed the energy behind it. These disturbances come upon us much more as a surprise here in Georgia, as they hide themselves behind the hills and trees until they are overhead.

But growing up, you could see it coming. From a level horizon, you could smell it, sense it in the air while it was still miles away. You could see the monstrosity of it before the danger was really present. And it was thrilling.

That's where I am at the beginning of February of this year.

Most of my impending storm is centered around my oldest child. I hesitate to say child because he will be 18 on his birthday this year.

Future me: go back and read that last sentence again.

The boy will be able to vote this year.

He'll be a senior this year.

Lord willing, he'll be taking some of his classes at the local college this year to go toward his high school diploma plus college credit. Not to mention driving himself to said classes a few times per week.

Now, I realize that there are millions who graduate each year in the U.S., and there are mommas with each of them going through the same feelings. But hear me out.

I recall sitting at our school table in his first grade year, with his baby brother playing at my feet. I still see his little face focused on the coloring page before him, going through blend letter flashcards, and singing "Old McDonald" with vowel sounds. I treasure the first time he read a full story to me all by himself. I remember he would do his "seat work" with one foot on top of mine, as if to say, "Don't leave, momma. I need you here."

I think about third grade, when he worked so hard to memorize his multiplication tables before the end of the school year, and then promptly forgot 80% of them over the summer. We never took another full summer off after that. It was Christmas before he had them down again.

I snicker thinking about the poem he wrote for language arts when he was in the fifth grade. Despite his age, he still hasn't let go of his Star Wars fixation. He's only added Doctor Who and Minecraft to it. And guitar and photography. *sigh*

He's not a kid anymore. Sure, he's still my kid, as he'll always be. But he's almost a grown kid. And he's my first one. I'm just trying to process all the changes coming ahead.

We've got SATs, graduation, and college applications looming. We'll be finding a photographer and a professional printer this year for invitations and parties. Soon afterward, we'll participate in a meaningful graduation ceremony at our co-op with speakers and cake and punch, with a table decorated just for him for his friends and family to congratulate him and hug his momma.

cool wind, smell of rain

My involvement in his education has abated over his high school years, but after next year, I will have no place in his education. None. No input in his curricula, no choices in literature, no knowledge of his discussions in classes. Aside from asking how he's doing and seeing grades at the end of each semester, I will be completely severed from his education.

cold sprinkles on my face, thunder rolls

Grappling with purchasing the best language arts curriculum or whether or not we should change math strategies seem so ridiculously shallow to me now in light of this encroaching tempest. But I suppose that in a few more years, even my now unsettled heart will seem minuscule. Compared to, you know, wedding invitations and rehearsal dinner.


Here's what I know about storms: they are indeed ominous when they are approaching, and they can in fact be very dangerous. As if that weren't enough, it is impossible to see beyond or around them until they pass. One never knows what her world will look like beyond the storm.

But with their demonstration of power and might, I know the storms are necessary. They are beneficial. And they will pass. And after the dazzling display of waltzing clouds, electric flashes, and thunderous applause, the sun will shine again and the fields will dry, and there will be peace both within the storm and after it.

Lord, help me to not forget that You are with me. You see what's in my heart, You know what's on my mind, and You care. Infinitely. 

Jan 9, 2015

Looking Back - Discerning the Future

I love looking back in history. I love to allow my mind to imagine what other times were like for those who lived them. People have always been just people.

But every era, every generation has its own experience - its own rhythm, style, and ambiance. When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it seemed difficult to understand how society could become any more advanced. We had already been to the moon, created realistic-looking movies and television (have you seen an 80s movie lately?), utilized cordless phones, developed computers that would fit on a desk instead of taking up an entire room, experimented with virtual reality, and witnessed the birth of the immortal Mac/PC war.

How could it get any better?

But it has. We have the technology now at the beginning of my fourth decade of life that would have left me speechless in my second decade. Phones aren't just phones anymore; they function as cameras, computers, and televisions. They send email, text messages, and Facebook statuses in addition to making (gasp!) old-fashioned phone calls. Our cars are now equipped with touch screens, talking GPS, satellite radio, gyroscopic cup holders and Onstar connection in case of an emergency. Our television sets can surf the Internet, stream movies, and rewind live broadcasts! In the age of VCRs, walkmans, and the Atari Video Game System, who would have thought?

Many of these things are such a great help to both society and individuals alike. Our new gizmos save us time and effort in getting through our daily checklists. The internet has allowed business sales and networking to skyrocket exponentially. People have more opportunities to work from home now. And who could discount the entertainment industry? Movies and games and music, oh my! All at our capable fingertips.

Of course, few would argue with the fact that technological advancement is certainly a double-edged sword. I won't even go into the dangers of the lurking pornographic industry available on the internet or the sale of humans into slavery utilizing the web's runways. This isn't the fault of the internet; it's the abuse of the internet. But that's a whole 'nuther post.

For now, let's just look at what technology has done to change our daily lives. Since we have so many gadgets to help us more efficiently tackle the tasks of the day, look at all the time we've saved! We have more time for other things now: dinner around the table every night, a spontaneous mid-afternoon visit with the neighbor, plenty of rest at night and...wait, what?

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reports that "Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic" in this country. While there is a myriad of reasons for this, our efficiency with our technology is apparently not helping in this area. Forbes reports that 1 in 2 Americans don't know their neighbors' names. Half? Wow. It seems we also don't have time for one another these days.

I was pleasantly surprised when I looked up the frequency that families are eating dinner together recently. It seems some recent studies say that up to 75% of American families say they eat dinner together at least 5 nights a week. That's much higher than I expected to find! But when we examine what many of those families are eating together, it causes me to pause.

I won't get into a rant on processed foods here. Believe me, I could. But hear me out...if we have so many conveniences and time-savers, why do we (as a society) depend so heavily on pre-packaged processed foods? According to the Pew Research Center, 72% of Americans eat fast food at least once per week. Granted, some of these people choose to enjoy eating out, but I wonder how many do this for time's sake?

Now I realize there are other factors involved; the economy is one. Many families cannot think of life with only one income for various reasons. I know some families simply must have two incomes to survive, but I wonder how many of those reasons can be attributed to the need to pay for our more elaborate toys and material possessions?

Materialism is truly an unseen epidemic in this country.

And I'll just leave that there.

But here's the bottom line on our gadgets: I don't think we ought to rid ourselves of technology, but we should think more closely about how and why we use it. And how far we'll pursue to get it.

I was reading an article on Psychology Today website regarding the reasons and effects of materialism in our culture. Care to know this professional's solution to our materialism epidemic?


The website defines gratitude as "an emotion expressing appreciation for  what one has—as opposed to a consumer-oriented emphasis on what one wants or needs." 

And it offers this for guidance: 

"Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition, grateful thinking—and especially expression of it to others—is associated with increased levels of energy, optimism, and empathy."

I have a challenge for you (and me) for this new year. Why not make it a point, that for every negative thought or murmur that comes from our lips, we deliberately speak of something for which we can be grateful. 

"I really hate going into Walmart." (true story)

"BUT, it's close to the house and I'm saving a little money." Out loud.

Every. Single. Time.

"I cannot BELIEVE all this traffic!"

"However, I am still on the road, as opposed to the side of it either in a wreck or getting a ticket."

And what if we created a habit of this?

I'm game if you are. I think my boys will benefit from it too...especially when I keep the thought in, and instead let the gratitude pour from my mouth.