Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hey mountain, Jesus Christ is born!

Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere. Go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.


While shepherds kept their watching over silent flocks by night that behold throughout the heavens there shone God's Holy light.
Go tell it to your mountain, over your hills and everywhere. Go, tell it to your mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

The shepherds feared and trembled when lo, above the earth there rang out the angel's chorus that hailed the Savior's birth.
Go tell it to your suffering, over your aches and every pain. Go, tell it to your suffering that Jesus Christ is born.

Down in a lowly manger our humble Christ was born and God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morning. 
Go tell it to your struggles, over your troubles and every trial. Go, tell it to your struggles that Jesus Christ is born.

When I am a seeker, I seek both night and day; I seek the Lord to help me, and He shows me the way:
So that I can go tell it to my sorrow, over my sadness and every distress. Go, tell it to my sorrow that Jesus Christ is born

He made me a watchman upon the city wall and if I am a Christian, I am the least of all.
Forever I will go and tell my ailing spirit, over my heart and all my soul. I will go and tell my ailing spirit that Jesus Christ, the Savior, is born.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

December 9, 2008

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook's "On This Day" feature.  Love because "On This Day" remembers beautiful, cherished memories I might otherwise forget. When I click on the events of this day years ago I nearly always find an encouraging picture or quote. I may have forgotten it but "On This Day" never forgets.
And that's partly the trouble.
"On This Day" never forgets one single day's posting. It flawlessly recalls not only my good days but every dark, sad day filled with pathetic musings. "On This Day"  reminds me of pieces of my past I'd rather forget. Even the people I'd rather not revisit are not off-limits.
"On This Day" doesn't have a filter or sensor to shield me from the memories I don't want to remember. It displays in living color the good, the bad and the ugly. And on December 9, 2008 it displayed something very ugly indeed.
On December ninth nine years ago to the day I was eighteen years old and a freshman away at college. It was just a week before finals and I was feeling terrible. A trip the school nurse confirmed my fears. I was diagnosed with mononucleosis.
When she broke the news I remember telling her it couldn't be true. I hadn't kissed anyone so how could I have the "kissing disease"? When the nurse suspected I had shared a straw I admitted to being guilty as charged. 
These memories wouldn't have come to mind on this particular day but for Facebook's "On This Day" feature. It is all thanks to my social media account's memory that I was reminded of this day in my history and and how significantly it changed my life.
Since this day nine years ago when the school nurse delivered her diagnosis my health has never been the same. I have never been fully healthy again. Brewing in my body were infections and their co-infections. Symptoms were developing and disease was spreading but I was blissfully unaware of the suffering to come.
Now as I look back on this day nine years ago I can see the crossroads I came to in my life on that cold Tuesday morning. It was alone on the nurse's examination table that I was told for the very first time that I was in ill health. But it wouldn't be the last. For the past nine years my life has been full of troubling health reports. Everyone from doctors and nurses to health gurus and complete strangers have made bleak pronouncements about my body's physical condition. It all began nine years ago with mono on December 9, 2008, a watershed moment that changed my life.

As I look back to those many years ago it makes me wonder, what is happening right now that will be significant later? What Facebook post will prove life changing nine years in the future?
The mystery of God's design for life is that it doesn't come with an "On This Day" in the future feature. My understanding can only look back on the past and see a sliver of how it has impacted the present. I cannot even begin to see the magnitude of significance the present will have on the future. God alone knows the true importance of this day. He alone knows the part it will play in shaping my tomorrow and my life nine years in the future.
All God tells me about the future is not to worry about it. My only duty is to live surrendered to Christ and united with His righteousness in the here and now. Today, on this very day, I am instructed to make decisions that are pleasing to God. He will take care of my future as I follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The show must go on

The isle of blue cushioned auditorium seats ran in a slight descent from the back of the theater right down to the orchestra pit and center stage. I grew up dreaming of being on that stage, standing in the center of the spot light, performing to a captivated audience. In my imagination I could see myself acting out scenes in my favorite musical productions so when the auditions for Annie came around I put on my best performance for the directors, hoping to land a spot on the stage.
I left the audition with optimism, convinced this was the show I would finally land a speaking role. On the day the cast was announced I eagerly approached the posting displayed on the theater's front door and checked for my name. Then I checked twice. My name wasn't on the list.
The list absent my name crushed my center stage Annie dreams. I was disappointed and discouraged but my love of the theater wasn't defeated. Determined to find a way to be part of the production I took a position as part of the back stage crew assisting with the moving of set pieces and setting of props. The role of stage crew didn't come with a costume or speaking part but at least I would be "on" the stage. Even if it was hidden behind the curtains.

Just a few nights before the first public performance I stood in the back of the theater behind the long isle of cushioned auditorium seats. I was imagining the thrill of opening night when the director's voice boomed through the speakers and impatiently announced it was past time for places. I had lost all track of time and now I was late to get back stage. In a hurry, I leapt into action and quickly moved down the isle towards the stage ignoring the theater's "no running" policy. In a rush, I ran.
And that's when tragedy struck.
When the gradual descent of the theater floor met with my two left feet I was sent flying forward. I cascaded downward until my head first fall was broken by row J's arm rest. I hit the ground in a state of shock.
Every voice in the theater went silent and every onlooker in the room joined in a collective gasp. But it is what happened next that was truly shocking.
I hopped right back up again.
As if I were a cartoon character and the arm rest were a trampoline, I sprang back up and into action. Instead of being leveled by the impact I was catapulted forward. The force that by all accounts should have knocked me out miraculously lifted me up.
Back on my feet again I set of running. Without a moment's hesitation I bounded up the stage steps and disappeared behind the curtain to take my place with the crew. The show had to go on.
Within hours of my big fall I had a big black and blue bruise covering my eye. I looked as if I had been in a bar fight that row J had won. Not even stage make-up could hide the damage.

It took weeks for my beaten and battered eye to finally heal but the lessons I learned from that big fall have lasted much longer. I assure you I most certainly learned why the director had a "no running" policy in the theater but I learned something else, too. I learned that I'm far more resilient than I ever imagined.
Despite having a black, puffy eye that obstructed my vision and caused a pounding headache I still performed my stage crew duties setting props and moving set pieces. The catastrophic blow to my eye couldn't keep me from fulfilling my role behind the Grand Curtain.
From that great theater fall I learned that no matter how black and blue the eye or how hard the hit, the show must go on and it can go on. Just because I have been knocked down does not mean I have been knocked out.

Since the day of my great fall in the theater I have taken countless falls in life. Physically, I've taken illness falls that have sent me cascading face forward onto the ground. Lyme and its infections have beaten me black and blue, inside and out. But by God's healing hand, the show has always gone on.
In my spirit I've fallen, too. I've broken God's "no running" policy and run when He's said "walk." I've disobeyed. I've tripped and fallen. But by the power of God's forgiveness, the show always goes on. 
Every time I have taken a great big fall and ended up flat on my face God has lifted my body and soul back up with shocking resiliency. He has never - not once - left me sprawled out on the floor without providing a way to bounce back up.
At the bottom of my life's greatest falls I have experienced the softest trampolines cushioned with God's grace and redemption. When I've hit the ground, or row J, God has always met me there and raised me back to life again. He is always faithful to transform my shades of black and blue into hues of His resiliency and grace.
By the power of God's Almighty hand, in accordance with His unfailing will, His everlasting show goes on. It always does. It always can. And it always will.



Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bare and Beautiful

The leaves have all fallen off of the trees. Well, most of the leaves. It happens every year when fall transitions into winter. Sometimes the seasonal transformation takes place in one night. All it takes is one storm and the trees are beaten bare.
The departure of fall always catches me by surprise and makes me a little sad. Bare branches look sickly without their leafy covering. I always miss the golden hues and lush foliage. Without the colors of fall the landscape looks gray. The world is draped in gloom when vibrant shades of red and orange aren't painted on the tress.
When the foliage fades into crumbled piles of leaves all shriveled up and devoid of color, I miss fall's colorful display of beauty. I've never liked the look of sticks without leaves. To me the bare branches have never been worthy of the name "beautiful." Until this year.
This year fall faded into winter so suddenly I don't even remember hearing the winds whip and I don't recall a single storm. One day I woke up and it seemed that the whole earth had been transformed into a palate of gray, lifeless branches. The only remaining remnants of foliage were scattered across lawns, destined to be bagged or burned or turned into someone's compost.
When I first looked at the bare branches I saw nothing but a lifeless silhouette and the memory of departed beauty. But then I looked closer and I saw something else. I saw leaves.
There were just a few of them and they were crumbled up and brown but they were still stuck to the branches. They were still hanging on.
In those hardy leaves that would not let go of their branch I saw the beauty of persevering. On the surface it might not look beautiful. Persevering can be ravaging. Like the leaves that endured the storm, the one who perseveres might look a little worse for wear, beaten to a pulp and weakened by the storm. But look closer. There is beauty in the determination to hang on and endure. There is determination and a will that is awe-inspiring.
The bare branches of winter have taught me how to see unexpected beauty in all sorts of places. Not just in nature, but in my own life, too. Like the leaves, I have been ravaged and beaten to a pulp. My life has been through storms that have stripped me of everything I once considered beautiful. From my appearance to the vitality and fullness of life I once enjoyed, so much has been snatched away from me in the winds of disease and sickness. I am bare, shriveled up and devoid of color.
But I am still hanging on. I am still enduring. And I am still beautiful.
You see, what I see in those branches is what God sees in me. He looks at me and He sees that I am still remaining sure and secured in Him. I have not been blown away. I may have lost my color and my physical health but I have not lost my faith. I am still attached to my life-blood and my salvation. Although my body has taken a beating and is worse for the wear, my spirit is still full of life. I am still enduring and in the eyes of God that is truly beautiful.
No matter the storm or the severity of life's winter, as long as I remain attached to God and one with Christ I will always remain beautiful. United with my Savior I can be bare and beaten, ravaged and ruined, and still I can endure by the power of His cross and the indwelling of His Spirit. And I can always and forever be truly, eternally beautiful.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hang On - A Maple Leaf Story



Yesterday I awoke tangled in a web of emotional upset and inescapable stomach pain. I was on the edge of a break down and I knew it. I did my best to soften the crash but my attempts were futile. The physical distress caused by my latest round of Lyme treatments hit me with such a powerful force, ravaging my gut so severely, my emotional stability didn't stand a chance.
After a morning spent in fits of anger and tears, I found myself behind the wheel of my car eager to drive away from my pain. I knew I wouldn't find relief on the road but I was desperate so before I put the car in drive, I put my head on the steering wheel and prayed.
What proceeded from my mouth was far from eloquent but it was sincere. First I begged God to relieve my stomach's pain. "Right here, right now, God. Touch me and make me well!" I petitioned for a miraculous, instantaneous healing and then I paused, waiting for Him to act.
When I didn't feel a hand or hear a rumble of thunder I went back to my prayer. Picking up where I'd left off I proceeded to plead with God. "If you won't heal me, at least give me a sign! God, give me hope!"
This time I didn't pause to hear God's response and I didn't linger in His silence. I lifted my head and put the car in drive. When I opened my eyes I noticed something stuck to the windshield of my car. It was a little yellow maple tree leaf.
The leaf was all alone, the only remnant of fall stuck to the glass, and it was perfectly positioned in the center of my line of vision. As I began to accelerate the car's engine I expected the fragile leaf to blow away in the wind. There was no storm or rain to pound the leaf into the glass. Nothing held the leaf yet it didn't budge. Even when I I sped up and slowed down the hardy little leaf stayed stuck.
And that's when I saw it. That little leaf was my sign. That little leaf was me!
Filled with hope, I threw my car into park at the first red light, jumped out of my seat and grabbed the leaf off of my windshield and put it on my dashboard as a keepsake of God's promises. The leaf would be my covenant of God's healing, reassuring me that He would keep me secure and deliver my body from anguish. In the leaf God reminded me to, "Hang on. Your healing is imminent." 
For the rest of the day my heart held the message of the leaf long after I held it in my hand. Even when hours passed without any change in my physical condition I refused to release the hope I received in the maple leaf. When evening came and a miraculous change didn't transpire, I reclaimed God's promise and went to sleep full of hope, convinced renewed restoration and alleviated pain would come in the morning.
But then morning came and my gut dealt my spirit a most devastating blow. The excruciating pain announced that my healing hadn't been delivered.
Hopeless and crushed I called out to God. "Why have you abandoned me?...Why have you left me in this debilitating condition?..."
Without healing, my heart turned hard. I couldn't even bring myself to ask for a sign. 
Hours passed in tears and anger and I didn't remember the little yellow leaf or God's promises. I didn't want to remember. I felt too abandoned, neglected and doomed to let my mind hope for healing or claim restoration.
It was hours later when, without a petition or pathetic prayer, God delivered His sign with a mysterious and miraculous crash. 
A display case slid off a nearby table and fell to the ground, scattering a stack of papers across the floor. For a moment I hesitated, too defeated to clean up the mess. But then a little voice inside my head called out and insisted I rise up and help clean up.
And that's when I saw it. My sign. 
It was the only paper of its kind in the whole stack and it was laying on top, glowing in golden hues. Printed on the special paper was a design of little yellow maple leaves. I picked it up and held it in my hand, overwhelmed by awe and wonder. This paper featured the very same shape, size and color of the maple leaf I had found stuck to the windshield of my car. The message it delivered was the very same too.
"I have no abandoned you. Hang on. I am doing a new thing. Your healing is STILL imminent." 
Hours have passed since I found that paper and I still have it in my pocket and, although I still have the pain in my stomach, more powerful than the pain is God's promise of hope I have in my heart.
The promises of God endure no matter the evidence of healing or the state of my physical condition. In the maple leaf God has reassured me that no matter what my circumstances or what trials befall my body or soul, He will not abandon me. He will remain forever true to His word. He will never cease His work of healing, renewing and making all things new.
Come what may, my hope is in God's truth and my health is in His hands so I will hang on and cling to His promises because I know the Lord my God is doing a new thing in me.
 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Trot or no Trot

 

It was Thanksgiving 2013 and it was cold, especially down along the lake, which is where I found myself at 8:00 am that morning. I was signed up to run the annual Turkey Trot, a 5K that gathers hundreds of runners together each Thanksgiving morning. Some runners were dressed as turkeys and pilgrims. I even saw a few dogs take part in the festivities.
I remember taking my place among the 9 minute mile group. It was an accomplishment to be standing anywhere in the lineup, especially given my health history. In 2013 I was three years into inexplicable symptoms that had relapsed and remitted at random. I had already gone through one cycle of unintentional weight loss followed by some weight gain. Unbeknownst to me on that Thanksgiving morning a relapse was on the horizon and I was on my way back down the scale but standing in the turkey trotting crowd I was unaware of the future to come. I believed I was on the mend once and for all. I thought I had been healed. I was confident that my body had been restored and was on the path to regaining full health.
Oh, how little I knew.
That year I ran the Turkey Trot without any trouble, beating my anticipated time. I felt alive and full of vitality. I had flush cheeks and an invigorated heart. When I crossed the finish line I did it with victory, proclaiming healing and vowing to return again next year.
And I did. I ran again in 2014 and 2015 but each year I returned with less weight and less speed than I had the year before. I ran but I couldn't cross the finish line proclaiming healing. Instead I crossed the finish line proclaiming the sufficiency of God and His ability to physically sustain me.

In just a few short days it will be Thanksgiving and runners will line up along the lake for the annual Turkey Trot but I won't be in attendance. I wasn't there last year, either because, last year, I had to face the tough reality that my body can no longer run three miles. In fact, it can no longer run one mile. At least not today. Not this year.
When this year's online Turkey Trot registration opened I contemplated entering as a walker. I imagined myself naming and claiming future healing by walking the 3.2 miles, vowing to return again next year at a faster pace.
When I completed the registration, one click away from being added to the list of participants, a hand guided my mouse away from "submit" and hoovered over "cancel" instead. Then a little voice spoke and stopped me in my trotting tracks.  
You don't need to enter a race. You're already winning one. 
At that moment I realized that I don't need to make a great proclamation of healing or make claims about my future physical restoration. God has my health in His hands and His timing under His control.
I don't know when my body will put on weight again or pick up speed again. I don't know if I will ever enter a Turkey Trot again. And I don't need to because God knows.
God knows my physical condition. He knows how weak and fragile I am. He is fully aware of every symptom that plagues me. God knows what is head on my long journey back to health.
Instead of claims about the future, God wants my faith for today. I know this is true because He tells me not to worry about tomorrow, it will take care of itself. He doesn't need me to make a great 3.2 walk to claim His healing. He needs me to wake up every morning, trot or no trot, and proclaim His sufficiency and provision even when my body feels weak and evidence of physical restoration is no where to be found on a scale or a scan. He desires my trust whether I am lacing up my sneakers or retiring my running shoes. God commands that I believe in His power to heal even when my weight is slipping and my pace is slowing.
I can't claim to know what God has in store for my body because claims for the future are not mine to make. But I can claim to have faith in whatever the future holds, trot or no trot, because I know who holds it. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Delivered



It was while driving home along the interstate late one Sunday night that I saw the brightly shining Fed Ex sign and a message illuminated in fluorescent light. Glowing in purple and orange, the Word declared, "I am delivering you."
Announced boldly on the mountain side my eyes beheld a great display of God's promises and the darkness of my car's cabin was filled with His light. He opened His mouth and out of it He spoke glorious words of truth.

By my power I am delivering you. 
Not by doctors. 
Not by man's design. 
But by my mighty hand you are being, YOU HAVE BEEN, delivered." 

His message stunned and shocked me with news too good to comprehend. Immediately, I thought I understood the meaning of His message. At the sound of triumph's trumpets I assumed the war was won. I believed a victory won against disease declared my days of battles and suffering done and over.
Little did I know, healing would bring a struggle of its own.
Now I see the folly in my comprehension and the flaw in my understanding. Now I see that the message all at once declared the victory one and the days of struggle just beginning.
The message was all together true. I most certainly have been delivered and disease is most assuredly dead. The truth is I have been rescued by the mighty Hand of God. 
But my days of suffering are not over. United with Jesus, they never will be. To be one with Jesus in His victory is to be one with Him in His suffering. To live is Christ. To die is gain. To one day join Christ Jesus in His heavenly life requires joining the journey of His earthly life.
Healing is a battle all its own. It is the battle to rebuild from scratch. It is the labor to replant the fields after they have been ravaged and trampled bare. It is from nothing that healing begins and everything new is built. With a glory greater than before, dedicated hands of restoration do a work on the desolate land.
The work is long and tiring. The ground is hard and dry but God is faithful and patient. He will not abandon the fight. He will not forget the fields. The same God who won death's victory will deliver the healing and reign triumphant in its new life.
By His mighty hand and the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Lord my God is delivering me, has delivered me, my every victory.