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This week one day as I visited our son’s family to welcome our newest grandson into the family, our oldest grandson snuggled on my lap while I had a conversation with someone else.  At one point I felt him looking at me and when I looked at him he smiled and hugged me.  Then he whispered in my ear, “Grandma, you smell like your house.”  Now the way he was tucking his nose into my neck I could only assume that was a good thing in his eyes, but the unexpected comment and whole episode continues to hover in my mind.

Whether by choice or chance, we carry an aroma with us always.  Most all of us enjoy being around a pleasant aroma, but avoid as much as possible an unpleasant one.  And many times an aroma ‘takes us back’ to another place and time—as my odor made my grandson think of our home.

As I’ve been thinking about this these past couple of days since the incident, II Corinthians 2 has been in the forefront of my thoughts.  Verses 14-16 read this way in the NIV:  “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.  For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.  And who is equal to such a task?”

Honestly, smelling good all the time is a challenge.  After a morning doing yard work in the heat of summer, or even heavy housecleaning, I do not want to be remembered for the way I smell!  And so, I intentionally shower as soon as possible and take care of any offensive odor immediately.  When I was in my early teens, my mother took me aside and had “THE” talk with me which included a gift of a fragrant container of deodorant.  She explained that with my body changes would come issues of odor, and the importance of keeping myself clean and smelling pleasant.  That little talk has always remained with me in that I try to be very careful not to offend in any way, but especially in the way I smell.

Fragrance is a gift.  A good smell can be relaxing and welcoming.  A bad smell can repulse us and keep us away from whatever or whoever is causing the offense.  A friend once told me that her memories of Indiana was from one time when they were driving through and apparently it was spring and the fields had just been spread with manure.  That smell is part of my memory growing up there as well, but for me, growing up there I knew that it was a short-lived offensive smell that would produce some of the best crops grown anywhere and the sweetest sweet corn in the world.  But the important thing is that the smell is what triggers a memory in our hearts.

Such is our reflection of Christ by the ‘fragrance’ we give off (our behavior, actions, reactions, etc.).  Just as my grandson thinks of my home when he smells me, I want my actions to be the ‘aroma of Christ’ to those around me.  I’m far from perfect and have erred much in my lifetime, but I pray those things can be tucked away as I do the smell of manure on an Indiana field, and the resulting maturity and forgiveness in me be seen as a good thing, creating the very fragrance of Christ to the world around me.

I’m an admitted worrier.  Typically not about circumstances, but almost always about doing things wrong.  What if I hurt someone’s feelings?  What if I should have said…what if someone misunderstood my intentions?  What if what I said was understood to mean something entirely different than what I intended?  What if I should have done…?  What if, what if, what if???

And so, I have made a New Year’s resolution that I have every intention of keeping until it becomes my very lifestyle!  I want to learn to become a forgetter!  Oh, not the car keys and where I put my purse last, but things that I’ve done or said.  My nature is to worry and worry about the possibility of being misunderstood, or of unintentionally having hurt someone.  From now on, I’m leaving that in my Father’s hands!  God knows my heart, and finally I’m going to trust HIM with it!  I still have every intention of being careful of my words and actions, but then I’m letting go!  I will trust the results in God’s hands.  It might seem a bit naïve, but I know my God is capable of making good come from all that I say and do—especially when it’s done and said in His name!

Now this may seem like a no-brainer to you.  But for as long as I can remember, when I wake in the night I suddenly begin re-enacting the day just past, or sometimes things that are in the distant past, and wish I could re-do things I did, re-state things I said, even undo some of the actions I’ve committed.  But the fact is, I can’t!  And stewing about it only makes it bigger and puts wedges between me and others.  It makes me feel insecure and even worthless.

When I feel insecure and worthless, I am of no value to anyone.  I can’t think straight and I can’t and won’t do the things I should.  I just want to hide.  And so…I am refusing to re-think anything.  If I catch myself thinking of something I said or did I will remind myself that I’m forgiven and I plan to immediately put it out of my mind and think about something good that happened TO me.  I’m not even going to think about something good that I did, because that, also, begins to grow out of proportion and a good deed turns into vanity and self-righteousness and pride.  (Oh, Satan is SO subtle!)  No, my New Year’s resolution is to spend my thought-life on things I can do that will help, encourage or uplift, or on God and His goodness to me.  If my mind wanders into these negative waters that I know will quickly become deep and dangerous, I will intentionally change my thoughts.  It makes me think of Philippians 4:8 which says:  “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”  If we could all put this verse into practice in our lives, a lot of psychiatrists would be out of work!

Yes, “Whatever a man thinks, that he becomes” is true and puts the ball in our own court.  It’s our choice!  Do we want to become maudlin and morose?  Or do we want to be happy and content?  For me, I choose the latter, and starting today, I’m taking control of my mind!  From now on I choose to be intentionally naïve!

The new year is well underway with scrubbed-white skies and mostly stark houses with the Christmas decorations tucked away for another year and gardens yet a dream to come.  Our house is still glowing with the Christmas just past still quite evident, and I loathe the very idea of putting the decorations away this year.  What has changed in me?

Thankfully, I still have one last Christmas tea happening here this afternoon, so I’ve a good reason to keep things ‘merry and bright’ around the house for a bit, but my heart knows the glow will have to go soon.

P1010979I have delightful memories of the merry season.  It has truly been just that for us with grandchildren-a-plenty delighting us with fun memories and lots of guests stopping in for a few hours or days, travels to unfamiliar places to exploP1010995re Christmas in history, and even an hour tucked here and there to sip a hot chocolate and rest and meditate on God’s greatest gift of all.

One of the very fun things that happened this year was a visit from some dear friends for a couple of days over New Year’s Eve P1010990and New Year’s day.  What fun it was for us to spend time with the Brandles, catching up on the past 6 years of their lives, enjoying their talents (Christina was actually my violin teacher in Upland, IN, and Stefan was our boys’ dearlyP1010999-loved computer professor at Taylor University), and simply praising God together for the years past and the years to come and for Who He is.

And so, this morning as I work around the house and feel the quiet once more surrounding me, I gather the warm memories together and cling to them with smiles.  I look at the glowing ChP1010985ristmas trees, the nativity, the greeting cards and pictures and know they must be tucked away soon, but the joy will last.  The memories will filP1010982l my soul with warmth and I’ll face the year ahead with anticipation of many more blessings to come.  God is SO good!

Just now as I listened to my Christmas station on Pandora while doing some desk work, I heard a song that I’ve heard many times, but apparently never really listened to the meaning behind the words.  Or maybe as we are expecting the birth of a granddaughter any moment, the very anticipation shaded the song a new color for me.  I believe the singer was Michael W. Smith, but I’m not even certain of that.  At any rate, the words that grabbed me were something like this:  “Go to sleep my…little one?”  Shoot!  I can’t even recall the exact words, but it was basically saying, “Go to sleep my little one and rest.  I know You are God Almighty, but for just this moment, just be my little baby.”

Suddenly I saw Mary in a whole new light.  Even though it makes a sweet song, the truth is that even for one moment as a newborn baby, Jesus was NEVER less than GOD!  He did not become God as He grew, or even on the cross.  He was never just an innocent tiny baby to be nurtured and loved as a normal child—not even for that moment.  How Mary must have ached with this knowledge.  He was never really hers to teach and to train and to love.  Yes, He was a child to be fed and clothed, but from the moment of conception He was different.  He was, and still is, GOD!

Every mother that holds her newborn child in her arms knows that precious being is filled with potential, even potential to change the world around it.  But Mary held her child knowing He would not only change the world and mankind, He had created the world!  I cannot fathom that.  And I wonder, did she know how much He would suffer?  Did she comprehend the sacrifice He would make?

Christmas has always been a joyful yet solemn day for me, but suddenly today it took on new meaning.  It’s as though my mother-heart has been filled with a new gift.  I suddenly don’t just enjoy and honor this day as the birthday of our Lord and Savior—it is also a day of honoring Mary’s huge sacrifice.

When Mary visited her relative, Elizabeth, she responded to Elizabeth’s greeting with these words:  “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.  From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.”  (Luke 1:46b-49 NIV)

My question is this:  Do we truly reverence Mary as the mother of God?  Do we give her the homage and honor she so deserves?  Are we calling her ‘blessed’?  I confess that I have been very lax in this area.  But as of today, that will change.  As I stand before my little crèche and see the representation of that holy night, I will thank God for Mary’s servant heart.  And pray that my own heart will be touched by hers.

Thank you, ‘blessed’ Mary!P1010917

As I sit toP1010915 write this little essay, I find myself being very hesitant to make myself this vulnerable.  But the Lord has been nudging me for a couple of weeks now and I have put it off for one reason or another and finally admit I will have no peace until it is said.  So if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share my opinion—on the ‘Christmas Season issue’.

To me, Christmas is the MOST glorioP1010913us season and holiday of the whole year!  Yes, Easter is blessed and holy also, but none is as glorious as the birthday of our Savior and Lord.  Yes, I know that many people have exploited the Holy Day by encouraging us to change it into a Santa holiday, but…it’s our own choice to make it what WE want it to be.  I personally have never seen how Santa fits into it at P1010912all, so that little myth has no place in our family’s celebrations.  In fact, when our oldest son was a small child a lady pointed to a Santa figurine and said, “Look, Nathan!  Who’s that?”  My small son looked at the funny plump fellow in his furry red suit a bit, then looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, do I know that man?’  I have to admit that she and I were both a bit shocked at his ignorance, but it made me realize how unimportant the whole Santa concept is.  We’ve always enjoyed Christmas immensely, and Santa has no part of our celebration.P1010911

However, Christ does!  He’s what it’s all about.  And the point of this little article is this:  Why, oh why, do we feel it is so important to keep Christmas confined to a single day or week or even month?  Why do we feel we have to keep Thanksgiving and Christmas so segregated?  When I think of Thanksgiving, I absolutely LOVE that it is so close to Christmas that it can be combined into the Christmas season.  I know many godly folk want to make Thanksgiving a time of thanking God for our material blessings more than our spiritual ones, but not me!  Out of every gift God has ever given me, I am the most thankful for the gift of His Son!  And for forgiveness!  And for hope!  Yes, I’m thankful for my healthP1010910 and for food and for a roof over my head and many, many material things.  But I thank Him for all of those things every day of my life.  At Thanksgiving I like to center my thankfulness on the gift of His Son—and of salvation!

And because Christmas is such a very special part of our Thanksgiving, I love to have our home decked out as early in November as I can get to it!  While many are looking at dead leaves and rotting pumpkins, our home is glowing with the magical look of this most holy season.  And if it offends you, I’m truly sorry.  But if it helps you to understand those of us who have our homes lit up and glowing, then I’m truly glad!  Happy Thanksgiving and merry, merry Christmas to you all!P1010917

Perfect Gift

Sometimes I get discouraged by my many, many failures and shortcomings.  Sometimes I feel that nothing I can possibly offer to the Lord is nearly good enough.  Satan, the enemy of my soul, encourages me often in such negative thoughts and tempts me to stop trying at all.  But last evening was a huge ‘step up the ladder’ for me!

It seemed to be just a fun evening planned with good friends, good food and drink and a long evening to enjoy the gift of friendship.  Because our friends love the Lord as we do, our conversations cannot possibly be void of God’s influence in our lives, and so as the conversation flowed suddenly there was an amazing moment of truth for me.

I don’t even remember what our conversation was up to that point.  Everything seemed to leave my memory except for the very special message God had for me to hear.  It seemed so casual, but for me it was exactly what I needed to hear.  Doug and Ginnie told this little story:

“A child was playing in the field and saw all the lovely wildflowers and so, heart filled with love for his father, he gathered a huge armful of ‘beautiful flowers’ to take to his father.  His mother saw him coming with the armful of wildness and said, ‘What do we have here?’

‘It’s a bouquet of flowers for Father.  I think he’ll love them, don’t you?’

‘Sure!’ said the loving Mother.  ‘But why don’t I put them into a lovely vase for you?  Then I’ll give them to your father for you.’

‘Oh, yes!’ said the child placing the offering into her arms, and then ran off to play again.

The Mother lovingly removed all the weeds and poison ivy, trimmed off the dead branches and leaves, filled a jar with water and arranged the remaining wildflowers into a lovely bouquet.  Then she presented the perfect gift to the father.”

This is what Christ does for us!  Everything I have to offer is imperfect.  No matter how hard I try, it is impossible for me to get it completely right.  But my simple offerings always go through Christ who cleans them up and perfects them for me before he presents them to the Father on my behalf!

This simple little story lifted my spirits completely!  I don’t have to do things perfectly!  If I will do my best, and trust Jesus with the rest, by the time my Loving Father sees my gift it will be perfectly beautiful!

So…let’s don’t grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up!  (Gal. 6:9 NIV – paraphrased slightly by Judi)

Jesus Wept

John 11:35 is one of the most confusing verses in the Bible to me.  For most of us who were raised in the church and in Christian homes, it was probably the first verse we could quote, since it is notoriously the shortest verse in the Bible.  But for me, it is a very difficult verse to explain.

I’ve heard preachers speak of Jesus’ great compassion and his deep love for Lazarus that he would weep for him.  But my question is this:  WHY would he weep for Lazarus?  Did Jesus not know He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead?  Was Jesus weeping for His loss, even though He knew Lazarus’ resurrection was imminent?

Or was He actually weeping for all those friends of Lazarus that just wasn’t getting it?  Was he actually weeping for Mary, whom he loved deeply, when He saw her great suffering and loss?  But if so, why?  If He knew He was about to resurrect Lazarus, why did He not say to her, “Stop crying!  I’m here and all is well! Start rejoicing!”?

Could it even be that He wept from sheer weariness?  He had traveled a distance to be there, and must have been exhausted.  Could that have been the reason for his tears?

Or, might this have been a culmination of His ministry and He knew what was just ahead?  Was He weeping for all those around Him that still did not understand Who He was and what His mission was?  Even Mary was scolding Him instead of rejoicing that He had come.  Did no one understand?

I don’t know that any of us can really know the reason for His weeping.  But one thing I do know.  Jesus knew emotion and experienced tears.  Jesus knows compassion, and He sees each tear we shed.  And He understands the ‘why’ behind our tears, even when we don’t.

And one thing’s for sure.  This is going to be one of the first questions I ask when I meet Him face to face:  “Jesus, why did you cry?  What did it mean?”  And I can hardly wait for the explanation!