Friday, December 29, 2017

Snowmageddon 2017

I watched the world outside my window turn white on Christmas Day. By the end of December 26th snow fall totals were record breaking, earning the title Snowmaggedon 2017. Never before in the entire state of Pennsylvania had so much snow fallen in such a short period of time. Roads were closed and interstates were shut down during the storm. Drivers were warned to stay off the streets and stay safe at home.
The Christmas day snow storm grounded every flight leaving the airport and disrupted holiday travel plans. Plows worked overtime clearing streets, creating mountains of piled snow in the process.
The sixty inches of white fluffy flakes caused tree limbs to snap and porches to collapse. The wall of white blocked doorways from opening and barricaded driveways, trapping cars in cases of snow and ice. Authorities declared the historic barrage of winter a "state of emergency." Even the national news made the storm their top story.
In under forty eight hours Snowmageddon had successfully shut down the entire town by snowing in all of its residents.
Yet, when I looked out my window from inside my cozy house, the storm didn't appear to be such a catastrophe. When I looked outside my eyes took in the scene of a snow globe come to life. Every where I looked trees were blanketed in inches of white fluff. Every branch glittered. The whole landscape was transformed into a picture perfect winter wonderland.
On Christmas day, looking out my window I couldn't see the burden in the storm. I could only see the beauty in the snow.
Snowmageddon 2017 isn't my first run in with a storm, snow or otherwise. I've lived in Erie nearly my whole life and I've seen plenty of snow but it isn't a meteorological storm that has most devastated my life.
For nearly a decade I have endured a sickness storm of historical, record breaking proportions. Sickmageddon has barricaded my life with debilitating ailments and inexplicable maladies. The accumulation of symptoms has been so great I can't even open my front door let alone pull out of my driveway. Seemingly overnight, this inescapable storm dumped mountains of ill health and crushing pain on my life. Ever since the skies of my physical condition shifted my will has been grounded. My future plans shut down until further notice.
The magnitude of Sickmageddon has been so overwhelming that I have hesitated to even look outside. The burden outside my window pane taunts me with a mountainous road to recovery and deep, thick layers of illness still in need of shoveling. In my weakness, I wonder how I will ever dig out.
But God's faithful love always draws me back to look at the world in the light of His Son. He pulls me back to the window pane of Christ and opens the blinds wide to reveal the beauty in the storm: the everlasting glory of His redemptive grace.
Fixated on Jesus Christ's everlasting life, I take hold of a scene so stunning and beautiful it takes my breath away. In the flakes of illness that have barricaded my life, I see God's goodness and mercy transforming the landscape of my heart. I see how He has sent the snow of sickness to blanket me in the glittering love of Christ that covers me in tender compassion. Looking through God's window I behold the Savior overwhelming me with rest and peace.
As I behold the vision of God's perfect Son,my world is transformed and I can no longer see the burden in my storm of sickness.
I can only see the beauty in its snow.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Silent & Holy Night

I woke up on the morning of Christmas Eve without a voice, dashing my remaining dreams of singing a solo during the Christmas Eve church service. The final score was in and the cold/flu virus had won.
With no voice and only hours till the service, I made a quick edit to my Christmas list. Miraculous cold/flu recovery took the top spot. I even detailed my wish list by narrowing "quick" down to two or three hours - tops.
Well, one hour and then two hours passed and my voice did not return. I tried sipping tea and gargling salt water to revive my lifeless vocal chords but nothing helped. The best sound I could produce was a squeak and that was painful for everyone involved - both squeaker and listener alike. When the clock ticked past noon and my wish wasn't fulfilled I conceded to my Christmas Eve fate. It was destined to be a very silent night and, as I soon discovered, a very holy one, too.
It was after willingly conceding to a voiceless fate on a snowy Christmas Eve that God fulfilled my Christmas wish with a gift I never thought to ask for.
Without a voice to speak I became silent, truly silent. Silent enough to hear God speak to me with a new message of Christmas, one I hadn't been quiet enough to hear.
His message said, "Stop...."
Stop trying to be your own salvation. Stop trying to make all of your plans succeed. Stop trying to be the one who is bright....Stop your worrying. Stop your fretting. Stop your mind from wandering to your concerns....Just stop and behold the new born King....Stop and see that Emmanuel has come! Stop and bow low before the Savior of the world who is with you in your midst.

This Christmas Eve God gave me a gift of a stilled voice and quieted soul in order that I stop, fall down and worship before Emmanuel, my Lord and Savior, the new born King.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Down on antlers but not out of Christmas spirit

This Christmas season I took my car festive. It was a last minute spark of reindeer spirit that inspired me to purchase a "Car Costume" for my vehicle. Online I found a holiday car ensemble that included antlers wrapped in ribbons and bells and, of course, the classic Rudolph red nose. With only two weeks till Christmas I wasted no time making my one-click purchase and, two days later, Amazon Prime delivered.
When my package arrived I immediately unwrapped it and held up the contents of the bag: two brown antlers and one big round, red ball. But there were no instructions. How would this red nose stay on the grill of my car, I wondered?  How would the antlers stay affixed to my window when driving against the wind? The manufacturers instructions, or lack there of, didn't answer any of my questions. I suppose they figured dressing up your car should be self explanatory. Given where this story is going, I can assure you it is not.
Despite the lack of costume clarity, I was determined that my car would be festive this Christmas. With further inspection I figured out how to affix the antlers. The trick? Crack the driver's and passenger's windows.
After my car was officially a reindeer I picked up the perplexing red nose with my sites set on Rudolph. Unfortunately, further inspection did not reveal a red nosed trick. After minutes of frustration and failure, I gave up on my vehicle becoming Rudolph and settled on Dancer instead. After all, not all of Santa's reindeer have red noses.
Since my car put on its costume my driving experience has been enhanced. Since my vehicle became Dancer my travel has been as merry as a Christmas Eve ride on a one horse open sleigh.
Or should I say, was as merry as a Christmas Eve ride on a one horse open sleigh. Driving Dancer was a joy and a delight until Dancer lost her antlers.
It happened one at a time. The first antler annexation occurred during heavy rains. It all happened so quickly I didn't even get to say goodbye. The window was barely cracked, just enough to let in a little fresh air when the car, I mean sleigh, got stuffy. But that's all it took for the wind to carry Dancer's poor left antler away.
Down one antler and still without a nose, my car's ensemble went from sparse to silly but I refused to give up my festive reindeer spirit. Who's to say Dancer didn't have only one antler? If Rudolph could have a red nose, why couldn't Dancer have one antler? In my version of Santa's sleigh Dancer was down an antler but she wasn't out.
So for days I drove my one-antlered Dancer with just as much Christmas spirit as two-antlered Dancer had delivered.
But then tragedy struck. Or, should I say, snow struck. It all happened so quickly. There was rain and then suddenly it turned to snow. My windows began to fog up immediately. Desperate to see I cracked my right window and that's when it happened. I heard the "swoosh" of bells on antler ears as the wind took the last piece of my car's festivities up, up, and away.
Now, with two days till Christmas, my vehicle has lost of its festive spirit. My days of driving Dancer are over. With both antlers gone and a red nose still perplexing me from its packaging, my vehicle is done pretending to be a one horse open sleigh. It's just a little black SUV with really powerful heated seats.

Sometimes Christmas festivities don't end up like we think they should. Sometimes the package is delivered and its contents don't fit quite right. Sometimes it feels like the instructions are missing, assembly is confusing and everything is just plain frustrating.
Sometimes the holidays don't feel as jolly as a one horse upon sleigh. They may not look the least bit merry or bright.
But if you're December is down a few antlers and missing one Santa approved red nose, remember that your Christmas joy is not out because the real reason for the season is still dashing through the snow.
True Christmas spirit is not contingent on a car costume or any package that arrives by Amazon Prime. True Christmas spirit is found in the birth of God's Son, Jesus Christ. The baby born in Bethlehem is the cause of all merriness and the source of all light. The little Lord who was laid in a manger and slept in the hay is the cause of the celebration in December and all year long.
Whether you have two antlers and a red nose or your Christmas costume is a bit lacking this year, you can wear the most festive ensemble of all this holiday season. You can wear the joy of the Lord who has come to earth to bring good will to all and peace to the world.
Because God sent His Son to be born for the salvation of the world in the bleak mid winter of a Christmas long, long ago, you and I can be filled with a festive heart now and forevermore.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Ms. Pac-Man kinda life

Ms. Pac-Man and I have a lot in common.
In the arcade game life of Ms. Pac Man, her mission is to traverse random mazes lined with pellets and power-pellets, frantically accumulating as many as she can. In my life, the paths I travel are lined with material possessions and personal fulfillment and, just like Ms. Pac Man, I frantically try to accumulate as much as I can.
On her arcade journey, Ms. Pac-Man aims to devour as much fruit as possible. When she discovers a treasure such as an apple or cherry her point total increases. When I discover a fruit of God's Spirit such as gentleness or joy, my unity with Christ is strengthened.
Ms. Pac-Man and I also share a very similar struggle in life. We are constantly on the run from a mysterious nemesis. On every screen and stage of Ms. Pac Man's arcade life, ghosts come out of their contained box to seek and destroy her quest for advancement. As she outruns them, advancing to the next level, the ghosts pick up speed. With eyes bugging out of their brightly colored bodies, the ghosts pursue Ms. Pac-Man with relentless passion, threatening to end her pellet and fruit eating days.
And so it is in the maze of my life.
My enemy chases me at every level, pursuing me with frustration and fear. On every screen I frantically attempt to outrun my ghosts of sickness and pain while eating the pellet's of God's goodness along the way.The moment I think I've conquered my enemy, eaten all the good fruit ther e is to be had and consumed every possible pellet, the screen shifts and opens to a new maze filled with new obstacles. At every level my enemy changes tactics and picks up speed, taunting me with ultimate defeat, threatening to once and for all end my days of eating luscious fruit.
So many of the similarities between Ms. Pac Man and I are downright troubling and discouraging. Both of us are doomed to a fate of never-ending running from an inescapable enemy. But the good news is that Ms. Pac Man and I share a similar blessing along our maze's path - the blessing of "power pellets."
Power pellets are miraculous energizers along Ms. Pac-Man's computerized path. When consumed the pellets transform her ghostly nemesis into blue fuel, adding points to her score and power to her position in the game. When Ms. Pac-Man has a power pellet she dominates and every ghost flees from her presence.
And so it is in the maze of my life.
At every level God has the power pellets of Christ's overcoming life along my path. When I eat of His mighty victory I become invincible in His Spirit. Filled with God's holiness every one of my ghostly enemies is sent running away in fear. Not a single foe stands a chance when the Lord, my soul's energizer, is infusing me with the conquering power and strength of Heaven.
Playing Ms. Pac-Man I never made it to a very high level. The ghosts always did me in. But as I run with God through His maze of life, I have the confidence of His promises and eternal assurance that the ghosts will never win. Because of Jesus Christ, not a single ghost on earth can keep me from His final level. By the power of His indwelling Spirit and the victory of His salvation, I know how this game of Ms. Pac-Man ends: with a crown in Heaven and my name in the King's eternal record book.

Monday, December 18, 2017

A Hallmark Happy Ending

My writers dream is to author Christian devotional books but if that career never takes off I have a back up plan.
Hallmark Christmas Movie Writer.
I think I'd be a great fit for the position. My writing never uses profanity and the content is clean. When it comes to suspense, I prefer a loving approach free from the use of murder and gore. Even my interior design style fits with the Hallmark brand, favoring classic decor and little white lights.
But my most valuable qualification for the Hallmark movie writer position is my keen ability to watch the same romantic comedies and never grow tired of the story line. This quality alone should make me a shoe-in for a Hallmark channel position. After all, that's all the channel does all December long. They play the same romantic comedy on repeat. Twenty four hours a day; seven days a week. The names and places change but the plot is always the same - and so is the home decor.
Hallmark Channel Christmas movies follow a very precise formula and I'm quite sure I've cracked the code. The secret is writing backwards.
Here is how it works. The author formulates in their mind the very most perfect ending. They ask themselves, what is the most miraculous way I can picture this story coming to a close? And that is what they write down. Then the author writes backwards.
Using the turbulence and turmoil of everyday life, the author pens a tale of reluctant lovers overcoming unlikely obstacles to live out a fairy tale romance.The characters are always reluctant to give in to the perfection at hand. The girl's past hurts and brokenness paralyze her from loving again. The guy is madly in love with her but too shy to profess his affection and risk rejection.
But, working backwards, the author has already written the happy end.
The key to the Hallmark channel formula is that it begins with the answer. The author doesn't have to contemplate how the story ends, it is already assured. All that remains for the author to do is throw in some classic romantic turmoil and farfetched fantasy scenarios. Set all of that to a background of festive twinkle lights and, viola, the Hallmark Original Christmas Movie is complete.

Cracking the Hallmark Christmas Movie code wasn't any great investigative feat. It was remarkably simple. I just looked in God's Word and read how He writes man's life story. His perfect stories are written backwards, beginning at the most perfect ending.
God always writes His stories of life knowing how each tale comes to a close. God writes the ending of Heaven while we, His beloved characters, still feel the hell of earth's turmoil and trials.
While we live out scenes of brokenness, hurt and fear, God sees how our story will resolve in Christ's overcoming victory. At the end of every plot twist, regardless of the reluctantly of the characters, the fate of God's final line is always assured.
In His perfect love He has authored for every believer a perfect conclusion to the story, always ending in the location of Heaven and eternity in His presence. The story on earth is set against every imaginable scenery and home decor, but, for those who trust in the ending purchased by the resurrected Christ, the story always comes to a close with joy and never ending life.
God, the Author and Perfecter of the Hallmark happy ending, always writes the best stories that always end with His precious children living forever and always in the victory of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A bubble of a blessing

From a deep sleep I awoke up in a painful panic. Something was wrong with my left eye. It couldn't open. I felt the thin, translucent skin protecting my delicate eye and that's when I discovered that on my lid there was growing a gigantic bubble.
Minutes passed slowly as the troubling obtrusion grew. Every time I tried to open my left eye a pounding headache ensued. When I opened only my right eye dizziness soon followed. For quite some time I laid in my bed, paralyzed to move, afraid that even the slightest disturbance might burst my lid's bubble.
I passed the time praying for a miraculous resolution to my growing problem but I didn't receive instantaneous healing. Instead I received miraculous, instantaneous resolve. All at once a burst of will overcame my fear and pain, practically catapulting me from bed. I rose with determination to take on my day, with or without my left eye.
The growing bubble rendered my left eye useless so I decided to look at the world through my right eye. It didn't take but a moment to realize that tactic wouldn't work. Looking at the world through one eye made the room all distorted and made my head spin so I quickly shut that eye, too.
Now I was down two eye. But I wasn't out. With both eyes closed I began my journey across the room, relying on my memory and the feeling of my toes to guide the way. I started out slowly at first and made my way to the hall without incident. I groped for doorways and held fast to the banister when I made it to the steps.
As I maneuvered the house without the use of my eyes I became more comfortable. Even though I couldn't see I soon discovered that I could still live.
And live I did.
I made my bed, washed dishes and made breakfast. I even managed to completed an entire yoga exercise video following the sound of the instructor's voice.
All the while the world around me began to fade away, off into the distance. Without vision to see it, the reality of my surroundings drifted into obscurity. In the absence of my physical sight the vision of God's presence overwhelmed me. Radiant rays of God's goodness cast upon my shut eyes. The clarity and calm of His peace surrounded me. God even silenced the sound freeing me to fixate solely on the brilliance of His presence.
Without my physical vision stealing away my attention I found rest in the nearness of God.
With my lids shut I became still and comfortable in the company of Christ.

Days have passed since the troubling bubble on my eye lid first arrived and the bump is still very much an obstruction to my vision. But today I am sending a "thank you" to the Lord above for giving my eye lid such a blessed bubble that has healed me with miraculously enhanced spiritual vision that sees more clearly the presence of God's everlasting, brilliant light.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A SON Shining Day

A little ditty to sing when you're down and think you might be out. Go ahead and hum this tune to declare that, in Christ, you will have a SON shining day.

I can't see clearly now because the rain isn't gone. 
I can barely see the troubling obstacles that are to come my way.
But even so, these dark clouds can not make me blind. 
Because of Christ it is going to be a bright, Son shining day. 

I don't know how I'll make it because the pain isn't gone. 
I haven't seen all of my bad feelings disappear. 
Yet even so, there is a rainbow, a covenant answer to my prayer. 
In Christ, it is going to be a bright, Son shining day. 

Look all around. Do you see any blue skies?
Look straight up and ahead. Christ is making a way into blue skies. 

Christ sees clearly now and forever, His eternal rain is gone. 
Christ sees all obstacles in my way.  
There is no darkness that can make me blind. 
Because in Christ I see, it is going to be a bright and Son shining day.

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.