The Joys and Pains of Mother’s Day

I don’t envy pastors trying to prepare messages for Mother’s Day that celebrate, honor, and encourage moms while being sensitive to those for whom Mother’s day might be painful.

On one hand, it’s good to honor mothers. The Bible does. Motherhood has taken a beating by society over the last several years. Moms have a heavy load, often unseen and unappreciated. They need all the encouragement and support they can get.

On the other hand, some dearly want to be mothers, yet God has not granted that request. Mother’s Day only adds to their pain. I appreciate Wendy Alsup’s thought that “God uses both the presence and the absence of children in the lives of His daughters as a primary tool of conforming us to Christ.”

Some moms downplay the hoopla. They would rather have their family appreciate them year-round, not just on a certain designated day. And, true, it doesn’t make sense to disrespect someone every other day and then buy them flowers and a card on Mother’s day. But I always look at special days in the same vein as Thanksgiving. Yes, we’re supposed to be thankful every day, but Thanksgiving reminds us of all we have to be thankful for. Jesus’ resurrection impacts our lives every day, but it receives special focus at Easter. So Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or someone’s birthday are just opportunities to tell someone you love that you appreciate them. Some do have a lot of hoopla; others prefer low-key observances.

Some moms grieve that their families don’t acknowledge this day at all, and they feel more taken for granted than ever.

I am very blessed that my family goes to a lot of effort to make me feel special on Mother’s Day. But I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that Mother’s Day isn’t about expecting that honor, as much as I love and appreciate it. Mother’s Day was established to promote honor of our own mothers. I wrote a couple of years ago about honoring the moms in my life, women who have influenced me or nurtured me in some way. Still, I do admit it would hurt if no one in my family observed Mother’s Day at all. Erin has some good thoughts along this line.

For others, Mother’s Day is profoundly sad. Some grieve the death of their children, estranged children, mothers who are still here physically but far away mentally or emotionally, mothers who rarely, if ever, showed love, mothers who abandoned them, mothers who have died.

My beloved mother passed away nearly fourteen years ago. My husband’s mother just passed away in January. The lady who was like a second or spiritual mom to me is about to meet her Savior face to face any moment now. Even though I can’t “do” for these special ladies any more, I honor them in my heart, remember their examples, and hold on to the good memories.

For those whose families show their love this day, I wish you joy.

For those who feel like failures, may you be uplifted once again by His grace.

For those who feel abandoned or unloved by parents, may you truly know “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).

For those who sorrow, I pray for the peace that passes understanding. May His merciful kindness be for your comfort, according to His word unto you (Psalm 119:76).

See also:

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Wise Woman, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

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Happy Easter!

Happy-Easter-Resized-Blog

The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst: Alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell! Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee,
From death’s dread sting Thy servants free,
That we may live, and sing to Thee: Alleluia!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

~ Author unknown, translated by Francis Potts

(Graphic courtesy of Jenn at Clean and Scentsible)

Praying to love more

Valentine’s Day vies with Christmas as my favorite holiday. I’ve shared before why I think it’s worth celebrating and compiled a list of some of my favorite quotes, songs, etc. for Valentine’s Day.

Of course, everyone is free to celebrate or not celebrate the day according to their own preferences. And though I love the fun and even silly aspects of the day, today I want to take a different tack.

One of my ongoing struggles in my Christian life is learning to love as Jesus did, and my biggest obstacle is my own selfishness.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:12-13

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 14:4-7

Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

Let brotherly love continue. Hebrews 13:1

 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart. 1 Peter 1:22

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. 1 John 2:5

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:2-3 (This might be a surprising one to some, but Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we love someone we don’t disregard their words: we take heed and try to keep them. He also said all the law and the prophets hang on to the command to love God and our neighbor.)

I was just discussing with a friend earlier this week how we often hear that Christian love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling: rather, as one professor used to put it, it’s a “self-sacrificing desire to meet the needs of the cherished person.” I think of a mother being awakened at 2 a.m. by her baby’s cries. She might not feel lovey-dovey right at first: in fact she might feel a little irritable. But she knows her baby needs her, and often, some time during their nocturnal meeting, that warm, loving feeling rises up again.

However, the opening of the great love chapter in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, warns us that we can make substantial sacrifices without doing so in love.

In my ongoing quest to understand what Christian love is and to grow in it, I compiled Bible verses which specifically spoke of praying to love. I sometimes use them for my own prayers.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19. (It’s interesting to note that right after this prayer comes Paul’s’ declaration, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think . . . “)

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Of course, it helps to remember that love is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and I can only be filled with love as I am filled with Him.

And since we’re to love as God does did, it helps to meditate on how He showed love to us. That would take more study and a different post, but here are a few ways:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 1 John 3:16

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Those verses don’t enlighten me as to the “feeling” part of love, but they show that God loved first, He loved people who were enemies to Him, and He made every provision, at the highest cost to Himself, to redeem them.

The more I think about the myriad ways He has shown His love to me, the more His love will fill me and overflow to others.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. John 15:9

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(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

Happy New Year!

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(Graphic from crosscards.com)

A New Year’s Prayer

May God make your year a happy one!
Not by shielding you from all sorrows and pain,
But by strengthening you to bear it, as it comes;
Not by making your path easy,
But by making you sturdy to travel any path;
Not by taking hardships from you,
But by taking fear from your heart;
Not by granting you unbroken sunshine,
But by keeping your face bright, even in the shadows;
Not by making your life always pleasant,
But by showing you when people and their causes need you most,
and by making you anxious to be there to help.
God’s love, peace, hope and joy to you for the year ahead.

~ Author Unknown

Wishing you all God’s best this year!

Wishing you a Happy Christmas!

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I hope you have a wonderful time reflecting on God’s great gift to us and the love of people He puts in our lives.

I’ll leave you with my favorite Christmas song:

Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swift are winging angels singing, noels ringing, tidings bringing:
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.

Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new
Saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a Gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the Babe was born for you.
Christ the Babe was born for you.

Tra­di­tion­al carol, trans­lat­ed from Po­lish to Eng­lish by Edith M. Reed, 1921.

Book Review: Finding Christ in Christmas

Tozer ChristmasTozer wrote the words contained in Finding Christ in Christmas, but he didn’t actually write the book. Someone pulled together quotes relating to Christmas and the Advent season from Tozer’s other writings. Thus there’s no flow of logical thought from one entry to the next, (at least, I didn’t pick up on it if it was there). Each is taken out of context, and some leave the reader hanging a bit. Whoever compiled these did not note what writings each of the entries comes from, so there is not a way to look up the context of the entry unless you google a phrase and find a reference online.

Despite those failings, the book contains some nuggets worthy of consideration. I’ve never found Tozer to be a warm, cozy devotional speaker. Rather, he makes us think with his incisive rhetoric. And that, to me, is what gives this book value.

Here are just a few samples:

Thousands each year find their desire for salvation and holiness becoming too acute to bear, and turn to the One who was born in a manger to die on a cross. Then the fleeting beauty that is Christmas enters their hearts to dwell there forever. For who is it that imparts such beauty to the Christmas story? It is none other than Jesus, the Altogether Lovely.

He sacrificed many pure enjoyments to give Himself to the holy work of moral rescue…He pleased not Himself but lived for the emergency; and as He was so are we in this world.

The Law was given by Moses, but that was all that Moses could do. He could only “command” righteousness. In contrast, only Jesus Christ produces righteousness. All that Moses could do was to forbid us to sin. In contrast, Jesus Christ came to save us from sin. Moses could not save anyone, but Jesus Christ is both Savior and Lord.

[On Isaiah 53:2 portraying the Messiah being “a root out of dry ground] Had Israel been like a young woman at the peak of her reproductive powers, the rising of such a prodigy as Jesus from within her might have had some logic in it; but He was born of Israel when her powers had waned and her strength had withered. By no stretch of fancy could anyone who knew Israel in that day have visioned Jesus as her offspring. Israel was dry ground —politically, morally and spiritually effete.

The theology of Christmas too easily gets lost under the gay wrappings, yet apart from its theological meaning it really has none at all.

Though we are keenly aware of the abuses that have grown up around the holiday season, we are still not willing to surrender this ancient and loved Christmas Day to the enemy.

Man is lost but not abandoned. Had men not been lost, no Savior would have been required. Had they been abandoned no Savior would have come.

In our mad materialism we have turned beauty into ashes, prostituted every normal emotion and made merchandise of the holiest gift the world ever knew. Christ came to bring peace and we celebrate His coming by making peace impossible for six weeks of each year. Not peace but tension, fatigue and irritation rule the Christmas season. He came to free us of debt and many respond by going deep into debt each year to buy enervating luxuries for people who do not appreciate them. He came to help the poor and we heap gifts upon those who do not need them. The simple token given out of love has been displaced by expensive presents given because we have been caught in a squeeze and don’t know how to back out of it. Not the beauty of the Lord our God is found in such a situation, but the ugliness and deformity of human sin.

The editors ended the compilation with the last quote, which, though convicting, ends the book on a note of condemnation. I wish they had ended with a quote of hope.

There are readings for December 1 – 25, and each day’s reading ranges from just a paragraph to little more than a page. So the selections are easily readable.

Despite the frustrations I mentioned, I found the book highly beneficial.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Christmas Grief, Christmas Hope, Christmas Joy

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December’s festivities are tempered with sorrow for some. My mother passed away December 10, my father December 12, and my grandmother Christmas Eve, each in different years. In more recent years a college friend and our only family dog died on December 21. My brother once commented that he just wanted to cancel the whole month.

The death of a loved any any time of year can shadow the whole Christmas season as we miss our normal interactions with that loved one. Grief begins as a flood but slowly transforms into a stream that occasionally overflows its banks. Even several years after a loss, it’s not abnormal to be caught off guard by a memory or a longing leading to a good crying jag.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there is no one right way to celebrate Christmas. That’s true not only among different families or individuals, but even within the same hearts in different years.

When someone is grieving over the holidays, they may not want to participate in some of the “normal” happy pastimes. It’s not that they don’t ever laugh or enjoy gatherings. But as Sherry said, “I am enjoying the traditional holiday celebrations, and at the same time they move me to tears, sad tears for things that have been lost this year. I am singing the music, and yet I’m tired of the froth of jingling bells and pa-rumpumpum.” I remember almost wishing that we still observed periods of mourning with wearing black or some sign of “Grief in progress” — not to rain on anyone else’s good time, but just to let people know there was woundedness under the surface. Just as physical wounds need tenderness while healing, so do emotional ones.

Other events can cast a pall over Christmas: illness, job loss, a family estrangement, etc. One Christmas we were all sick as dogs, and my father-in-law had just had a major health crisis and wanted us to come up from SC to ID to visit. There was just no way we could drag ourselves onto a plane until antibiotics had kicked in. But a few days later we did go, and if I remember correctly, that was the last time any of us except my husband saw him alive. In retrospect we were glad we went, though it wasn’t the merriest of Christmases. A good friend grieved over “ruining” her family’s Christmas by being in the hospital with a severe kidney infection. Lizzie wrote about visiting her husband in prison for Christmas. Quilly commented about being homeless one Christmas.

If you’re grieving this Christmas, don’t feel guilty if you’re not quite into the “froth” this year.  Give yourself time to heal. It’s ok to pull back and have a quieter Christmas. There may be times to go through with some holiday festivities for family’s sake — and, truly, those times can help keep you from the doldrums.

Perhaps a new tradition commemorating your loved one might help. My step-father and sisters who live near my mother’s grave go out together as a family to put up a little Christmas tree there. I’m too far away to join them, but every year on the anniversary of my mom’s death, I have a private little moment of remembrance. A family we used to know whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver requested that their church host a special service in December for those who have lost loved ones in that way. Some men from our former church participated in a biking event together in memory of our pastor who died of liver cancer.

On the other hand, don’t feel guilty for enjoying Christmas. Experiencing joy shows no disrespect to your loved one or your circumstances. Your loved one would want to be remembered but would also want you to be happy. Sherry shared how making a list of reasons to celebrate Christmas helped. Look for the good things to rejoice in. My two friends mentioned above, Lizzie and Quilly, mentioned reasons for rejoicing in the midst visiting prison and homelessness. E-mom left a valuable comment that we can treasure up the memories of good Christmases to tide us over the not so good ones, and then look forward to better things ahead.

As I mentioned before, the first Christmas was not all about the froth, either. It was messy, lonely, and painful, yet out of it was born the Savior of the world and the hope of mankind.

If it weren’t for the hope that Christmas represents, I wouldn’t be able to endure the losses. The Christmas carol “O Holy Night” shares “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” comforts, “Now ye hear of endless bliss: Joy! Joy! Jesus Christ was born for this!…Now ye need not fear the grave: Peace! Peace! Jesus Christ was born to save.”

The baby in the manger didn’t stay a baby.  He was no ordinary child: the only begotten Son of the Father came to earth for a special mission. “Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give us second birth.” He taught, He healed, He lived as an example, but His main purpose in coming was to take sin away by bearing it Himself on the cross some 33 years after His birth, so that all who believe in Him could have their sins forgiven and live with Him in heaven some day. I have the hope of eternal life and the hope of seeing my loved ones again. Biblical hope isn’t tremulous: it’s a confident expectation.

But eternal life doesn’t begin at death: it begins the moment God’s gift of faith is received. We have hope not only for life after death, but for joy and peace in the midst of sorrow, for help, grace, strength, love in this life as well. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”

Rejoice in that hope and promise. Draw near to Him who has borne our griefs and carries our sorrows until grief and sorrow are done away forever.

(This post is a blending of a previous post from the archives and a newspaper article published in 2011.)

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Not the Messiah They Were Looking For

As a young Christian, I wondered why Jesus came incognito, so to speak. Why didn’t He go on a hilltop or to the temple and proclaim Himself: “I am the Messiah you’ve been waiting for all these years!”

There may be a variety of reasons. But in my current I-don’t-know-how-many-eth time through the Bible, I happen to be in John after having read the other three gospels. I’ve enjoyed going over all of Christ’s life on earth during the month of December, not just the “Christmas” portions. I’m using the ESV Study Bible, and its notes often remark that Jesus did not declare Himself openly because most of the Jews at that time were expecting a military ruler who would throw off Roman oppression. Several times in the gospels Jesus had to get away from the crowds because they wanted to make Him king immediately. Some, Jesus said, followed Him because of the loaves of bread He miraculously reproduced in the feeding of the 5,000.

There is a sense in which Jesus does fulfill all those roles already. He is the King of Kings, and some day the whole world will be under His righteous rule. Someday the crooked will be made straight and rights will be wronged. But these roles will be fully manifested at His second coming.

And there is a sense in which we do depend on Jesus for our daily bread and all other needs. But, as He told the crowds then:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:26-29, ESV).

Before He could declare Himself openly, He had to teach them the true nature of the Messiah. By many signs (miracles), by His claims (“I am the bread of Life,” “I am the light of the world,” etc.), by His declarations and teachings, bit by bit He showed them exactly who He was and what He was about. And some understood and accepted Him for who He was. They came to understand that His kingdom is a spiritual one.

But some left Him when he started to share “hard things.” Others realized He didn’t fit their image of what the Messiah would be and do, they rejected Him and sought to destroy Him.

Don’t people still do that today? Instead of learning from God’s Word the true nature of the Savior, they’ve imagined their own version of what a Savior would be like. He wouldn’t let evil happen. He’d take care of the bad guys. He’d answer every prayer just the way they want Him to. And when He doesn’t perform according to expectations, well, then, who needs Him?

We all need Him. But we need Him as He truly is, not as we think He should be. Even those of us who are Christians, even those of us who have been for a long time, still have to continually “renew our minds” and adjust our thinking according to truth. We come to know Him as Savior and Lord, but then we spend the rest of our lives getting to know Him better and adjusting ourselves away from our preconceived notions and expectations and toward who He really is. And we’re not disappointed, because in the end He’s a much better Savior than we could ever have imagined.

Do you know Him today as He truly is? Get to know Him through His Word. If you’re new to the Bible, start reading the gospel of John. See what He does and what He says about Himself.

And if you’ve known Him for years, keep getting to know Him better. Keep learning more and more what a wonderful Savior He is.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

Veterans in Watership Down

I listened to Watership Down at the end of last year. It’s quite an interesting story about rabbits searching for a new home, figuring out problems, and fighting through dangers. The author, Richard Adams, was careful to have the rabbits act like rabbits, not humans, except for the ability to talk and think, which naturally led to a rabbit history and mythology.

Part of their mythology revolved around a folk hero rabbit, El-ahrairah, clever, cunning, strong and brave. In one of their stories, El-ahrairah has just finished a long, harrowing battle at great personal sacrifice to protect the warren. I took him three months to get back because he had to stop and rest and heal. This is the scene when he returns:

They made their way along the hedgerow, but could not altogether get their
bearings, because apparently the warren had grown bigger and there were more
holes than before, both in the bank and in the field. They stopped to speak to a
group of smart young bucks and does sitting under the elder bloom.

“We want to find Loosestrife,” said Rabscuttle. “Can you tell us where his
burrow is?”

“I never heard of him,” answered one of the bucks. “Are you sure he’s in this
warren?”

“Unless he’s dead,” said Rabscuttle. “But surely you must have heard of Captain
Loosestrife? He was an officer of the Owsla in the fighting.”

“What fighting?” asked another buck.

“The fighting against King Darzin,” replied Rabscuttle.

“Here, do me a favor, old fellow, will you?” said the buck. “That fighting — I
wasn’t born when it finished.”

“But surely you know the Owsla captains who were?” said Rabscuttle.

“I wouldn’t be seen dead with them”‘ said the buck. “What, that whitewhiskered
old bunch? What do we want to know about them?”

“What they did,” said Rabscuttle.

“That war lark, old fellow?” said the first buck. “That’s all finished now. That’s
got nothing to do with us.”

“If this Loosestrife fought King What’s-His-Name, that’s his business,” said
one of the does. “It’s not our business, is it?”

“It was all a very wicked thing,” said another doe. “Shameful, really. If nobody
fought in wars, there wouldn’t be any, would there? But you can’t get old rabbits
to see that.”

“My father was in it,” said the second buck. “He gets on about it sometimes. I
always go out quick. ‘They did this and then we did that’ and all that caper.
Makes you curl up, honest. Poor old geezer, you’d think he’d want to forget about
it. I reckon he makes half of it up. And where did it get him, tell me that?”

“If you don’t mind waiting a little while, sir,” said a buck to El-ahrairah, “I’ll go
and see if I can find Captain Loosestrife for you. I don’t actually know him myself,
but then it’s rather a big warren.”

“That’s good of you,” said El-ahrairah, “but I think I’ve got my bearings now
and I can manage by myself.”

El-ahrairah went along the hedgerow to the wood and sat alone under a nut
bush, looking out across the fields. As the light began to fail, he suddenly realized
that Lord Frith was close beside him, among the leaves.

“Are you angry, El-ahrairah?” asked Lord Frith.

“No, my lord,” replied El-ahrairah, “I am not angry. But I have learned that
with creatures one loves, suffering is not the only thing for which one may pity
them. A rabbit who does not know when a gift has made him safe is poorer than a
slug, even though he may think otherwise himself.”

I fear too many of us are like those young rabbits who had no knowledge or appreciation of the sacrifices made for them, of what could have happened to them without those who fought for them. Whether we agree with certain wars or not, we can appreciate those who serve their country – who serve us – at great cost to themselves.

To all our veterans…Thank you.

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(Sharing With Literary Musing Monday)