The wounds cut deep; both physically and figuratively.
Fourteen Decembers ago, I fell down the stairs. People sometimes talk about traumatic events as experienced through a surreal slow motion reality at the time. That would perfectly describe how it played out for me.
Having come back late from a church meeting, I longed for rest. Having just snuggled into my cozy layers of protection for my body , I was awakened by the high pitched voice of my toddler from the top of the stairs son beckoning me. Our bedroom was in the basement in the not completely renovated lower level (read that as concrete stairs), I was concerned about his possible fall. In my half asleep state, I climbed up to grab him and bring him down.
However, as I held him in my arms and attempted to take the trek back down, I realized quickly that something went wrong. Fear erupted as I felt my foot hit air when it should have made an immediate connection with cold cement. In what seemed like a few minutes (but was likely a few seconds), I scrambled to make sense of what was happening and how to resolve it. Fearing that my son would hit the cement floor, I turned my body to soften the hit.
Fortunately, he did not sustain injury. I did.
My broken shoulder commenced a nine month journey into waiting-for physical and emotional restoration. Truthfully, it was painful at times. Waiting for something for which you long but in which you have little control is hard.
It turns out, I also realized that my spirit was in need of attention. I’m not good at waiting. Trusting in God’s character rather than grabbing toward my tendency to a always be in control challenged me.
As I reflected on my experience that happened during Advent, the connections were not lost on me.
Waiting. Longing. Envisioning.
The Israelites knew a bit about these things. The hope of a Messiah. A King. A Deliverer, A Restorer was held up generations deep. God’s promises were embraced as the prophecies were repeated. Hope dangled in front of them as they witnessed God’s presence reminding them that they were never forgotten; through word and action.
But lifetimes went by. Unexpected twists and turns to the vision they held in their minds threatened to detour them toward discouragement.
When will fulfillment take place?
Waiting for something for which you long but in which you have little control is hard. It reminds us of our humanity; broken in body, mind, and spirit. True restoration can only originate from Heaven.
So we hold on to hope-one that is generational deep.
Waiting. Longing. Envisioning.
My shoulder is not completely healed. I lost cartilage that can never be replaced. The amount of movement is limited. I can’t do a backstroke very well but I can live with that. Jesus meets me in my brokenness yet I know that these moments are blips on the journey. Experiencing the fulfillment promised in Jesus will take a lifetime. Actually more than that.
“Know this with all your heart, with everything in you, that not one detail has failed of all the good things God, your God, promised you. It has all happened. Nothing’s left undone—not so much as a word.” Joshua 23:14
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Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
The angels’ proclamation to the shepherds packs a powerful punch.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:10
Their good news communicated the fulfillment of a long anticipated promise.
But. somewhere in the midst of hope lies fear. What if that which we expect doesn’t unfold according to our expectations?
The narratives surrounding the account of Christ’s birth reveal the common human struggle with hope and fear.
These Jewish “chosen ones” longed for the promised Messiah. The hope had been passed down to them just as it had been through previous generations. The prophecies began to flesh out the vision. But did they understand how chosen they were? And there was a cost.
Hope became infused with fear.
Shepherds: ordinary folk from Bethlehem. As men, they were well steeped in knowledge of Jewish theology. The prophecies created a rough draft as to how the Messiah would be made manifest.
Micah 5:2-3[a] But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
Hope grew in their hearts.
And then the angels visit. They are chosen to do a hard thing. The earthly implications are staggering. Who will believe them? How will they manage their sheep if they leave? Do they believe Jesus is enough to meet their hopes and fears?
Mary: Poor Jewish teen. Yet, from the line of David. She is aware of Isaiah’s words “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Hope grows in her heart.
And then the angel visits. She is chosen to do a hard thing. The earthly implications are life threatening. She could be stoned for appearing to break her engagement vows.
Does she believe Jesus is enough to meet her hopes and fears?
Joseph: A carpenter’s son-not a significant identity in terms of social and economic status. Yet, from the line of David. He, too was schooled in the hope of a Messiah. One who would transform the status quo. Perhaps he clung to these words spoken through Isaiah:
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Hope grew in his heart.
And then the angel visits. He is chosen to do a hard thing. His reputation is at stake as well as his love for his fiancee. In addition, he and Mary could both be killed for their alleged violation of Jewish law. Does he believe Jesus will be enough to meet his hopes and fears?
Trusting God with what we can’t grasp is hard. Story after story throughout scripture bear witness to it. It’s a human problem.
Fear is mentioned in the Bible over 500 times!
The angels recognize our humanity which is why their first words are:“Do not be afraid!”
The exhortation itself was nothing new. God’s word to them and us spoken through Isaiah is this: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. “ Isaiah 41:10
But the angels’ announcement to the shepherds and to the world was different. Because this time God wasn’t just telling us no not be afraid. He was coming to earth to transform their fears.
Upon the official announcement of Jesus’ birth, something happens that the shepherds would have recognized but we may not.
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2)
A host of angels appears here. This is significant. The Greek work for “host” is a military term. These are not cute little angels playing harps. An angel army descended to earth to signify that Satan no longer rules it. They are operating at the command of the infant Jesus.
Heaven intersected Earth.
Jesus is enough.
Enough to meet our hopes and fears: for
health, power, relationship, provision, purpose….
“The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight” (From the hymn “O little Town of Bethlehem”)
Our fears are transformed into hope when we surrender them to Jesus.
Do you believe Jesus is enough to meet your hopes and fears? What can you leave in the manger?
*this post originated as a message given by me on Christmas Eve 2017 at Hope Covenant Church. You can listen here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/media.cloversites.com/21/215af0c3-7d17-4960-a142-642d26ec8048/documents/xmaseve.mp3
Today, I am blessed to have Elisabeth Klein, a sister Redbud writer, guest post here. She is sharing a piece from her Advent devotionals. May her words speak freshly into your soul.
I did not want to write today when I saw that the next topic on my list was joy. In fact, I closed the document and went on to do some other tasks and even went for a walk. Anything not to have to write about joy today. Because I am not feeling joyful.
And then I realized, neither are you, more than likely. So, perhaps, when I don’t feel joy is the perfect time to write about joy.
Because joy is not a feeling.
Joy is not based on a circumstance.
Joy is not the same as happiness.
Joy is a choice.
Joy can come in the middle of pain.
Joy can come in the middle of sadness.
Joy can come in the middle of weariness.
Joy comes in the morning.
Today, I am sad and confused. I am struggling to see hope in my future. I so wish this weren’t the case. I wish I were steadier in all things no matter what was going on around me. But this is my reality.
And today, I’m wondering what you are feeling, dear reader? Are you sad? Confused? Is hope evading you? Are your circumstances swirling? Are you unsteady?
Then these are the circumstances in which you are best able to lean into Jesus, which sets the foundation for joy seeping into your soul.
I am a believer that joy comes from gratitude. So, in the midst of your painful situation right now, I want you to pause, and thank Jesus for every single good thing in your life that you can think of, big and little. Nothing is too small to thank him for. He is our good-gift provider. I’ll start you off…
Jesus left heaven for you.
Jesus was born of a virgin for you.
Jesus lived a spotless life for you.
Jesus died on the cross for you.
Jesus came back to life for you.
Jesus hears you.
Jesus sees you.
Jesus holds you.
Jesus created you.
Jesus plans to redeem your pain.
Jesus loves you.
Jesus… (Keep going, sweet one…what else has Jesus done for you?)
Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. –Psalm 30:5–
God, I am lacking joy today. But since you command it, it must be a choice. So today, I thank you for all of your goodness and faithfulness and intimate care. Help me choose joy in my pain. Help me lean into you. Amen.
If this post resonated with you, Holidays for the Hurting: 25 Devotions to Help You Heal would be your companion through this season.
Elisabeth Klein is the grateful wife to Richard and grateful mom and stepmom to five. She writes, speaks and mentors women in difficult marriages, those going through divorce, single moms, those dating post-divorce, and those who are remarried and stepmothers. You can find her at www.elisabethklein.com.
Why would anyone be upset with God when their prayers were answered as they had hoped?
For years, the Israelites served the Egyptians under oppressive conditions . But God was aware of their suffering and the deliverance they longed for was about to take place.
“The Lord said, “I have seen how my people are suffering in Egypt. I have heard them cry out because of their slave drivers. I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to save them from the Egyptians. I will bring them up out of that land…” (Exodus 3:7-8)
Getting what we wish for can be a dangerous thing.
Lately, I find myself resonating with the Israelites’ frustration and perspective. Recently, our family received deliverance. For over a decade, we sought release from financial, work, and medical burdens. It seemed that every time that an impending release appeared possible, another problem arose to counter the feeling of freedom.
Finally, we entered into a new place. After years of praying for respite from a continuous string of unexpected stresses, we felt rescued and embraced the peace found within it.
For the first few months, we rejoiced. We knew it was God’s hand that brought this blessing. It’s not that we didn’t thank God for anything during the previous years, but this dramatic transition brought physical awareness for where we had come. Truthfully, some of the sources of worry had disappeared. Health had stabilized. Financial issues were resolved. My husband was released from a long difficult job experience. Celebration commenced.
When the Israelites were finally released from captivity, they too praised God. There had been many close calls that seemed to threaten the fulfillment of God’s promise to them.
“They said to Moses,’Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 14:11-12)
When it happened, they celebrated. They sang, danced, and relished in the gift of a respite.
““I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my might,[a]
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him…”(Exodus 15:1-2)
But, unbeknownst to them, the release was not without it’s own set of challenges. They were not done moving.
Our expectations of how God will work and preconceived notions of God’s character can result in disappointment. We look at our narrative unfolding through human eyes.
“ The Israelites said to them, “We wish the Lord had put us to death in Egypt. There we sat around pots of meat. We ate all the food we wanted. But you have brought us out into this desert. You must want this entire community to die of hunger.” (Exodus 16:3)
God was moving them to a better place. But the in-between space did not match what they envisioned.
Couldn’t the comfort have lasted a little longer?
Currently, we are moving toward a new place again. Not a new home but new jobs. Our transition doesn’t feel as euphoric as it did in the beginning. God’s hand doesn’t seem to be moving as quickly as we wished. The feast has ended. The provision is appearing in forms different than what we planned. Our bodies are growing weary.
The journey seems long and, at times, discouraging. But we know that God never forgot the Israelites. And we are not forgotten either.
We are aware that the vision we hold is not complete. And we will keep trusting (clinging at times) to the promises given to the Israelites along their way.
Because God always wants to lead us to a better place than we were in before. Even if we don’t understand the stops along the way.
I cannot pinpoint the exact moment, but at some mile marker along the road, I realized life is hard.
It did not resonate with my childhood expectations. I had not yet developed a full vision of the life that lay before me or an expanded worldview of the lives of others beyond my neighborhood. Despite the painful experiences that led me to my epiphany, I find blessings peeking through them.
My story is part of a bigger road map. God’s hand in my life really began long ago. Understanding that my life connects to those who came before me, those with whom I breathe the same air now and those who will come after me when I have exhaled for the last time shapes my identity.
Though we are individually created (Psalm 139:13-14), we are bound to one another. Our lives connect us. Literally.
Author Ann VosKamp refers to this joining together as “breaking into” each other. In her book, The Broken Way, she writes, “Koinonia is the breaking in, the willing participation, the fellowship of all things-and indwelling can’t help but weave its way through all the atoms of the world. The whole Earth is full of His indwelling. The broken way illumniates the whole material world, everything breaking into everything else. This is what love means: we live within each other, we inhabit each other…”
Life is hard-for everyone. Through all, times and all places. That reality doesn’t give me a free pass to shirk “breaking into” another. Actually, our own identities in this world are shaped as we live into other’s stories.The breadth of God’s character is revealed as we are illuminated by His work in each other.
We can even be broken into by those who came before us. It happens because we are all broken and we share the same Creator. Life has always been hard but hope has always been peeking through.
As I’ve navigated through various seasons, I am amazed at the different walking partners from scripture who have joined my side.
Hannah encouraged me as I waited on God for a child. Every month of a negative pregnancy test brought grief. Does God hear my prayers? Jealousy enveloped my heart as friends announced their happy news. Don’t they understand my longing to join their “club?” I pondered why my God and my body had betrayed me.
Hannah understood me. She longed for a child; enduring public judgement along the way. Privately, she mourned. Yet, hope poked through those clouds overhead. She recognized God held her hope and her identity .
Who would have thought Esther could relate to my circumstances? Besides the fact that she may not have actually lived, the pinnacle of her story takes place in a castle? (That alone would appear to separates us). How could being thrust into the position of a Queen compare to a calling as a stocker at Target? We were both placed by God for “such a time as this.”
There are many others who came alongside and whose steps broke into mine…Mary, Sarah, Ruth…Currently, Peter is my companion. My gaze lifts. I no longer focus on the steps left until my own designated finish line. Instead, my eyes focus on Jesus whose presence leads me to where I need to be.
The author of Hebrews exhorts us with these words of encouragement, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, LET US also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and LET US run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 [a]fixing our eyes on Jesus, the [b]author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Feel alone? Ashamed? Imperfect? Find comfort in the legacies of those with whom we are connected. Plunge yourself into the narratives of Hebrews 11.
Because of their faith, we find hope peeking through in the hard. Hope that propels us forward in such a way that we can run (not walk). Hope that motivates us to cast aside anything keeping us from reaching our destinations.
LET US run with endurance the race set before us.
With whom are you running?
Only a week ago, a weekend full of multi-sensory worship began the “annual” reflection of Jesus’ resurrection. As a pastor, I am familiar with the challenge of trying to bring the message found in the resurrection to those in our midst in fresh ways. Truth is Truth. Yet, in a culture that is surrounded by plenty to veil the raw implication of Jesus’ invitation to Kingdom living, the truth loses its urgency. Reframing the account of Jesus’ resurrection gives us new perspectives.
Traditionally, the Holy week observances exhort us to reflect on events of Jesus’ last days. Typically, we recognize and recount Jesus’ death and resurrection.
But what about Saturday? Why, as Christians, do we brush off that “extra” day? The Jews recognize Saturday as the Sabbath day. However; for those of us who follow Christ, the Sabbath transitioned to Sunday. Perhaps the implications of what that in-between day meant to those closest to him do not even cross our minds. We know what happened on Sunday. But I’m guessing they were left:
Reeling from the gut wrenching events witnessed the day before. Had the words uttered by Jesus as they lived under his leadership adequately prepared them for the reality of his crucifixion? How do you set aside the images captured in your mind? On what do you draw in order to move your legs forward from their state of “paralysis?”
Pondering why they felt compelled to risk everything to follow this man who claimed to be the Messiah. Certainly others had claimed the same title in the past. Yet, what were the convincing characteristics of Jesus? Peter, in his second letter, reflects on what his eyes observed.
16For we did not follow cleverly devised fables when we made known to you the power andcoming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we wereeyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice from the Majestic Glory said to Him, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”…
Hoping: that Jesus was right. “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.” (John 15:18-20)
Believing: All the promises poured over them by Jesus including: “I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught.” (John 15:25-27)
Can we not empathize with the disciples as they wrestled with the tension of faith in the face of dreams unfulfilled? It points to our humanity. One that cannot grasp the unfathomable character of God.
In visiting my great nephew a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the stage of human development when the existence of objects (and people) within a baby’s sphere, only claim existence if they are seen. Anxiety appears in the wide eyes of a five month old when the mind realizes the person in view is not the parent. Their sustainer, provider, source of life. The mouth begins to quiver, the eyebrows furrow and tears form in the pockets of the lid….until a rotation of the body points to the one whom for whom they long.
Perhaps, like an infant, our eyes and mind, and heart often find themselves disconnected. Have you ever heard the Holy Spirit speak to you a word about your future but later find your ability to see it waning? Dreams planted in your heart that seem to have failed to bear fruit?
Like the disciples, we are left wondering and seeking Jesus. Though our hearts bear evidence of an undeniable connection, our eyes fail to sense him. We haven’t rotated our view. We are looking at the place we expect him to show up. But he hasn’t moved. We’ve been consumed with waiting for Jesus to appear according to our assumptions.
If we are still, we will live into that moment of transition from quivering lips and teary eyes to abundant rejoicing at the reunion. And the reminder that our perspectives fail us. He is always here.
Where have you been expecting to see Jesus? How can you rotate your view?
” Do you want to be made well?”
The question posed to the man in John 5:5-9 appears rhetorical. We do not know if he was born with a disability or his physical limitations are the result of an injury. Regardless, he is accustomed to his place near the pool of Bethesda. He has resided in that spot for 38 years! He knows the perceptions of how he got there. Surely his parents must have sinned greatly in order for God’s blessing to be withheld. Whispers and stares abound. He watches those whom wear the badge of “blessed” murmur as they pass his way daily. His life appears anything but abundant; however, it has become his norm.
And then he encounters Jesus although it wasn’t intentional. Yet, Jesus approaches the man.
Who, would not embrace the offer to be healed? After all, multitudes clamored to be healed through Jesus’ mysterious yet miraculous touch.
Simple Question, Complex Implications
Three years ago, my son became sick. Originally struggling with a chronic upset stomach, epilepsy presented suddenly. Our lives became caught up in a whirlwind of questioning, troubleshooting and despair. Thankfully, God’s mercies held us tight during that year. However, reeling out of that trauma, my son struggled with being made well. As I walked with him in that journey, I reflected on moments in my own life when I too feared “being well,” The voices spoken both audibly and echoing in our heads, appear to hold power and keep us from breaking free.
Restoration changes our perceived identity
Is it no wonder that the man in John 5 became accustomed to his socially appointed lot in life? We develop into creatures of habit-even if the routine subtly and deceptively keeps us from being restored-fully whole in communion with God..
My son’s visit to Mayo Clinic included a visit with a psychologist who only sees adolescents with chronic illnesses. Why? Because narrowing one’s identity to fit around the illness becomes tempting. Doctors exhorted my son to not let his epilepsy define him.
Our own identities may be informed by life changing parts of our narratives, illness, injury,sinful actions committed against us or sinful areas with which we struggle. Regardless, Jesus has promised us abundant life Healing may or may not happen here on Earth but restoration is always possible.
How would my son recognize his purpose now? What would it take for him to break through the perception that he is no longer dependent on others for basic needs? How would he establish autonomy?
Restoration Places Us Out of our Comfort Zones.
When he returned to high school for his Junior year, following the previous year of illness, I anticipated that he would welcome the fresh start. However, anxiety filled him as he began. I felt completely blindsided. Why would apprehension fill his heart? He had become accustomed to his lot. Sympathetic teachers. A force of people supporting him. Extra time at home.
As my writer friend Emily Conrad wrote in response to one of my posts, “I finally got something I’ve been longing for for years and now I find myself on the other side of a situation I had grown comfortable with. I had accepted it. And now that Jesus spoke and I’m moving on, I feel a little wobbly on these legs.” Transitioning to a posture of empowerment demands walking forward. Even if the ground feels shaky at first.
Restoration expands our view of God’s character.
Believe it or not, grasping who God is can cause one to feel a bit unsettled. Humanity has always yearned for the predictable. Comfort is found in explanation. Uncertainty sends our hearts and minds stirring. We simply find difficulty in grasping God’s words through Isaiah”
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8-9
Doesn’t it seem easier in a chronic situation to adapt and accept that God is not capable of Forgiveness? Mercy? Delivery? Healing?
“Do you want to be made well?”
Jesus heals the man in a way that the man never expected. Not in the pool but simply out of Jesus’ authoritative word: “Rise. take up your pallet and walk.” Later, Jesus finds the man to complete the process of restoration. “Go and sin no more.”
daily rhythm of life changed. Walking forward demands trusting our sovereign God in our new steps. Acknowledging that we can balance on one leg as we move the other in front in order to stride toward the longed for but unfamiliar horizon.
It’s possible. because of Jesus
Jesus, who desires my wholeness so much to encounter me when I wasn’t looking for restoration.
Jesus, who believes that I am so much more than what I think of myself.
What must you surrender to Jesus so that you might be “made well?”
Every year, the pastor of our church brings the humorous, yet truthful, reminder that our home nativity scenes should not include the wisemen until after Christmas. Continue reading