Friday, December 18, 2015

that feeling of Christmas

You know what I'm talking about with the phrase "that feeling of Christmas" right? The warm fuzzies, the cozy by the fireplace picture of a perfect family in matching pajamas opening presents near the glistening tree, mittens and hot cocoa after making a snowman feeling of Christmas. Do you feel it?

Me neither.

I've had that conversation more times this week than ever before. "It just doesn't feel like Christmas." Most people around me are blaming the 60 degree weather. Maybe that's it, but I have other theories.

Maybe it's old age and the magic seems gone.
Maybe it's loss or the memories of loved ones no longer here with us. For my family and so many other people I know, this is especially tough.
Maybe it's the busyness of the season and all the calendar things and lists and chaos.

I don't know what it is, but it just doesn't feel like Christmas.

But I do know this to be true: it's still Christmas, whether we feel it or not.

Jesus still came, even though he didn't come as the people expected. They expected a king, and they got a humble baby who couldn't feed himself much less rule a nation from his cloth diaper. I'm sure some of them didn't feel like He was the king, even when they were told who He was. My guess is that even Mary and Joseph, though they knew what was true, didn't feel like He was their Savior that night after she labored and pushed him out of her very own body. The physical labor had to make it feel so much more like Jesus was her son and not God's.

Isn't it so much like today? I've had the conversation with high school girls numerous times about not feeling close to Jesus, and I've had to explain that our feelings don't dictate what we know to be true. I have to preach this to myself just as well. Just because we don't feel like He is near doesn't mean He isn't. Perhaps it's in those times He's nearer than ever and we let our feelings get in the way.

Just because we don't feel like it's Christmas doesn't mean it isn't. He still came. He's still coming. Maybe it's all the other things we've deemed "Christmas" to be that have taken away our ability to see him or feel his nearness or his coming. This is the very nature of the waiting. The coming.

As we wait, we do in fact feel things, but they aren't always the warm fuzzies. We have feelings, but mine in the past week have been feelings of stress, chaos, frustration, bitterness, anxiety, and everything far from Christmasy. I've also noticed a trend that this happens to me every year at this time. I'm wondering if this is exactly why - so I could recognize this very night that the waiting and the feeling and His coming are all tied together in this crazy, unexpected way that doesn't go with the Norman Rockwell or Thomas Kinkade paintings we have in our minds of snowfall and Santa scenes.

It was a broken world when Jesus came then. It's a broken world that Jesus will come to when He returns. It remains a broken world as we wait until that day, but He is here. And that is as close as He could ever be - here with us.

I hope that will sink in and give us all some warm fuzzy feelings but more importantly the knowledge and peace that comes with His presence even when our feelings cloud our vision.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

On being built...

I drive over the Kennedy bridge (the one in the background) multiple times a day. Many days 2 times, some days 4 times, and even on rare occasions  I will cross 6 times from Kentucky to Indiana, Indiana to Kentucky. It's a pretty necessary part of my life living in one state and working in another. I need it, but I don't know how it got there. I wasn't here to see it being built between 1961-1963.

The bridge in the foreground is the new bridge being built right next to the Kennedy. Eventually one bridge will go northbound while the other will be southbound traffic for I-65. Most of Louisville and southern Indiana residents find it annoying and a constant cause of complaint due to the traffic its construction causes. Traffic routes change constantly, and for anyone passing through that isn't from here: I feel for you...especially if it rains. Heaven help us all with traffic if it rains in Louisville.

As I drive over the Kennedy every day I rarely look at the bridge being built next to it. It seems like just yesterday nothing was there, and now there are giant concrete pillars emerging from the Ohio River. Today it caught me by surprise. 

I know nothing about how bridges are built. It honestly scares me a little if I think about it too much, and I don't know that you could pay me enough to be one of the guys standing on an incomplete bridge pouring concrete (or doing whatever else needs to be done to build a bridge). It's one of those things that I don't really want to know...I'd rather just trust the process and the geniuses who figured out how to build it. And then be thankful when it's complete.

Tonight as the bridge progress caught me by surprise I realized I so rarely think about the "being built" that is happening in my life.

1 Peter 2:5 says this: 
"You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

Ephesians 2:22 says: 
"In him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit."

Most days we don't even notice it, do we? Sometimes we ignore it. Then there are days when you might not see it, but you can't possibly miss it because all you feel are the repercussions of the construction happening in your own heart - life sends you on all kinds of detours, you get rerouted, and things are not as easy as they were the day before. And then the next day you might get sent in another direction altogether.

Construction is hard work. And it can be dangerous. That's why on every construction site you'll see men wearing hard hats and steel-toed boots. When you're building things there are heavy beams of steel and sharp metal rods and plenty of things that might not feel good. And let's be honest--no construction site is pretty. Our ideal picture is not the nails sticking out or half painted walls or a giant hole in the ground.

The finished product is always beautiful, whether it's a new home or a skyscraper or a bridge, but the construction zone is ugly and hard and dangerous. As our hearts are being built into a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit, it is sometimes ugly, hard, and dangerous, but the finished product is going to be beautiful.

Here's what I think we need to know as we are being built: 
  1. We have to have a foundation. Colossians 2:6-7 says: "Just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness." While the building part isn't all our responsibility, it starts with an active choice to "accept Christ Jesus as your Lord" and then "continue to follow him." Any house being built has to have a foundation. If we want to be built, we have to first have a foundation, and that foundation is our faith in Christ. 
  2. We have to know the builder. Who is calling the shots? Is it God, or is it me? If it's me, there's a good chance the building project is going to fail. But if we allow God to do the building, we should also know Him. If I were building a brand new house, I would certainly want to know the builder and I would probably want to know as much as possible about him. Throughout the building project I would probably want to talk to him every day to check on the progress and understand what He was doing. Because I am the house, I want to know the builder as He does his work in me. I want to stay in communication with him as He does his work.
  3. We have to trust His plan. Behind every building project there is a blueprint and behind every blueprint is an architect who drew out the building plan. God is both the builder and the architect, which is an amazing combination. He isn't just carrying out someone else's plan - He's the one who made the plan to begin with, so He knows and sees the bigger picture. While we might just see concrete slabs and nails sticking out, He knows what we are becoming. We can trust that even though it doesn't look pretty right now, He is making us into something beautiful.
It is almost guaranteed that the process will be hard, but if we have a solid foundation, know the builder, and trust His plan, only something beautiful can be the end result. Our hearts will be an incredible dwelling place for the Holy Spirit as we continue to become rooted and established and built up in Him.

I think this is why Paul prayed this prayer for the Ephesians in chapter 3:
 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
I think Paul had an idea about being built. He endured a pretty tough life on earth, but he had a greater vision for the final product. He knew he was being made into a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit and allowed himself to be built up as he endured all kinds of hardship. He had a solid foundation on faith in Christ, knew the builder, and trusted that His plan was perfect. He prayed the same for the Ephesians, and for us, above.

I pray this for you. I pray this for me. I pray that instead of ignoring the process we will be aware of the being built. And as we are being built, would we get to know the builder more and more, so that we can trust Him more and more and allow Him to reveal a better version of us - one that will be made complete and whole on the day when Jesus returns.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Papa Don

Today is my Grandpa Don's 91st birthday. Last year we surprised him with a huge birthday to celebrate the big 9-0, because at his stage in life, we probably need to celebrate each year even moreso, right? Not many people make it to 91 or beyond, but I'm grateful God has given us Papa Don for this long and hopefully more years to come!

I was supposed to be driving home to Illinois for his birthday, my mom's birthday, and a couple other things happening this weekend, but because of the crazy snow in Louisville, I'm still here. Normally on snow days I veg out in my pj's and watch movies and whine a lot about how much I hate winter, but for some reason today I felt like moving. (Don't worry, I didn't get out of my bed until almost noon, so I laid around some!) Once I got moving I decided to shovel all the walkways around my house (which is way more exhausting than I thought) as well as shovel all the snow off of and around my car on the street. And then I thought, "hey, it's a great day to take a walk!" Because who takes walks in the snow? Apparently me. And apparently people who live in the Highlands, including a lady named Victoria, who I met as we both walked and talked down the middle of the street since no cars were out and about. The sun was shining and there were blue skies, and I was meeting a  neighbor (which I've been praying for to happen), and my heart was just at peace! Even in the snow!

Why do I share all of this? Because if you know me, you know that I hate winter and cold weather. I complain about it. A lot. I'm more than ready for spring, but even last night as it snowed buckets in the dark, I walked out into my street and stood there for a minute listening to nothing but the silence and the sound of snowfall. Right there I just decided to be thankful. It was peaceful. Too often I complain about life and circumstances and things like winter that are out of my control. But one thing that is in my control is the choice to be thankful.

I called my Papa Don tonight to wish him a happy birthday and he cried when I hung up the phone, as he often does when I say goodbye to him these days. My Grandpa has endured a lot of hardship. Being 91, he's lived through the Great Depression, war, the loss of his wife (my grandma), the loss of his middle son (my Dad), and the loss of his oldest son (my Uncle) just this past December. As he has aged he has also lost a bit of his hearing and some of his eyesight, taking away his ability to drive or read. And just after my uncle died, he had to move out of the very home that he built with his two hands and into an assisted living apartment so that they could help with daily things like medicines and laundry and things that are just too worrisome for him on his own. He has lost a lot, and he has so many reasons to complain, but he doesn't. He smiles, and he gives, and he loves.

Today I remembered that I have several videos and voice memos I recorded in December as we listened to him share stories about his childhood. I didn't want to forget what he has been through. He shared of growing up in a time when no one was jealous of anyone else because they were all in the same boat. No one had more than you. They had an outhouse for a bathroom that you had to go outside to use - even on snowy days like today! They didn't even have rolled toilet paper but they used old magazine pages. He talked about buying day old jelly donuts on his way to school as he walked every day for a couple miles to get there. You could get 3 for a nickel. He talked about the war and how he lost friends to the Japanese. He still has a hard time talking about that.

So I felt it necessary today to share words that honor my Papa Don and his 91 years of life and how I'm just learning to be thankful. While there are circumstances in my life I'd love to change, I will choose today to not let them take me down. Instead, I will choose to be grateful and make the most of the life God has given me like my Papa Don has.

Over the last few weeks I've fallen into the dreaded winter depression. A very "poor me" kind of attitude, wallowing in silly little things that should not steal even a second of my joy, but I have let them. Jen Hatmaker shared on her facebook status something similar today that I've been feeling:
Onward. Ain't nobody got time to get all squirrely over every little thing. WE GOT STUFF TO DO, right sisters? You squirrely over something? ONWARD I SAY. You're too awesome for nonsense. Drop it like its hot.
AMEN, right? I'm pretty sure I've never said Amen after saying/reading/writing "Drop it like it's hot" but I sure am. Thank you Jen, and Snoop, for those words today.

And thank you Grandpa for reminding me that there is joy in life even in the hard things, and that every life is valuable. 

And thank you Lord for teaching my heart to be at peace today. And I guess, for the snow. :)