The Day After

Long have I despised the day after Christmas. All the hype, expectation, and anticipation ends even before midnight on Christmas, because soon we understand that the magic of the season is over.

This is the attitude about the days following Christmas I grew up with. Often as a family we would take down and put away all the Christmas decorations the day after. If I’m not mistaken, there was even a year we began on Christmas night.

As an adult in my own house with my own family (of three) and my own traditions, I keep up the decorations as long as socially acceptable, which for me is right before I go back to work as a teacher, or even the weekend after that. It’s an act that has rebellious roots, and it’s an external way for me to keep the spirit and warm and fuzzy feelings of Christmas alive in light of my childhood traditions and the after-Christmas sales.

The truth is, the wisemen were still searching. Purportedly, it could have taken them up to two years to finally visit Jesus. In a cursory search about this, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding the length of the wisemen’s journey. What I take away from it is that after Jesus’ birth, they were still searching. The story wasn’t over.

Another external observation that helps me not fall into a post-holiday depression is that the days are now becoming longer, if only by a couple minutes. This year the winter solstice really meant something to me. The longest night of the year was far from the darkest: there was a full moon. In another cursory search (I’m ashamedly a fan of these quick Google searches…), it’s believed that the sun dies and is reborn. In fact, in .many cultures, a god or goddess of sun is born.

So on the day after Christmas, I’m still pondering what it means that God was incarnated onto the Earth in the form of Jesus. It brings all of Advent, and quite frankly, this whole crazy year of 2018 into perspective.

Catalyst

I went through a few years playing faith and going through the motions. I felt I really had no viable option otherwise. I hadn’t lost my faith but I didn’t feel connected either. The time after my first grandma died was also the time I was initially grieving children we would never have, and for its entirety I felt like I was watching faith and religion be played on the big screen after I had given away my ticket to the show.

I prayed, most definitely I prayed. I felt God’s presence, but more as an obvious thing, like the fact that on a sunny day the sky will also show itself to be blue. I believed, but believing in Jesus was believing the sky is blue.. an obvious fact without depth.

About these references to the blue sky. I spent, and do spend, a lot of time viewing, admiring, and analyzing the sky – particularly sunrises and sunsets. On summer days I was convinced that the sky was just not as poignantly blue as it was in El Paso.

And then I’d start to reminisce about El Paso and begin to miss it. But not the physical city itself.. the feeling of belonging and home. In a city where I was the minority for once, I still made sure to make it my home. Inevitably in my mind I’d get off on a tangent about what am I doing in Maryland anyway. What is my life amounting to. What’s the purpose of my life anyway.

That thought of purpose brought me back to sitting on Mimi’s deathbed with a fuzzy blanket. A literal bed where her death occurred. There have been very few times in my life where God has revealed himself to me. But in those last hours before we left her, God was there. Just as He was there when she came into the world as she left it: alone. He was orchestrating the entire event. And before my heart had broken with the finality of her loss he’d already begun to mend it.

To be completely honest I had no other option, and He knew that I think. It was all or nothing at that point for me, and I needed a catalyst to not be a wallflower to my faith, or my life, anymore.

Lose

Lose your life. Gain your life in Christ. The full meaning of that verse has always alluded me. I get that my life must be surrendered to Christ, but what does that look like? Really? In my day to day life?

It’s definitely something to pray about especially in this season of somber reflection. I think I will start with my attitudes, which are definitely not in tune with Christ on a daily basis. However, I am a reflective person by nature and that can serve me well in this endeavor. I also have good people around me who can reflect back some of what I exude.

So here’s to reflecting on those attitudes that may not help me become more like Christ.

March 23 | Grief

Grief

How appropriate that today’s word is ‘grief.’ I took a little hiatus from my daily posts (but not from Bible reading) because life got a little topsy-turvy after my grandmother died two weeks ago today. I went to Illinois for the funeral and time with family and then when I got back, we had family from my husband’s side visit for the week. They left this morning, so before I travel out to Seattle to see one of my sisters, I have a couple days to regroup and gather thoughts (and do laundry).

My grandmother Jane was a lovely lady. I know this, and my family knows this, but what I found out by standing in the receiving line at the visitation is that everyone who knew her knows this. For almost two hours I introduced (and re-introduced) myself as ‘the oldest granddaughter Elizabeth’ to people who played cards with her and my grandpa, people who attended to church with her, people who cooked with her in the church kitchen, people who worked their land, and I’m pretty sure that her entire floor of the retirement home came to pay their respects. I wish I could have recorded all the nice things people said about her in that line.

Her full name was Eleanor Jane, but she always went by Jane. Eleanor and Jane mean respectively ‘bright shining one’ and ‘God’s gracious gift,’ and let me tell you, she embodied her name. My husband and I had our children’s names picked out for years, but I told him the day of the funeral that if we ever had a girl, we would name her Eleanor Jane in place of the name we’d picked out. He said he wouldn’t even argue with that. I lightheartedly told him that was a good decision.

My grandmother left an amazing legacy of faith that was quietly and steadfastly lived out. During the memorial service the pastor read her statement of faith that she wrote in a Bible study class, and in it she said that when she was a young girl, she went to church when she could, with family members, with the neighbors. She loved to be in church. She always encouraged my faith, and I tried to go to church with her when I was in town, especially after my grandfather passed away.

She didn’t suffer. I’m happy for that. I’m also overjoyed for her present victory, but so overwhelmed at times with grief that this world (and I) lost a bright, loving, giving soul. God gave her an earthly vessel for 87 years. That, coupled with heartache, loss, and joy, makes for a long full life. I can only hope to come close to that.

I’m grieving still. My family is grieving. My dad has now lost both of his parents. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. It’s especially hard when I want to call her to tell her about our recent visit with family, or about my upcoming trip to the West Coast. My heart aches when I realize that I can no longer speak with her.

But I don’t think I’ve ever understood our eternal destiny in Jesus more until she passed. I have never had such a sense of the truth and power of the Resurrection, nor have I ever had such a concrete moment in life attached to the Lenten season.

The message at church this past Sunday talked about how disciples suffer with Jesus. Our pastor, just hours before church began, lost his brother to a long battle with cancer. In the midst of that, he spoke about how we can’t have light without darkness. We can’t have the true and full joy of the Resurrection on Sunday without the tragic and sometimes infuriating events of this holy week. The timing of all these events is not happenstance; it’s the mysterious workings of God, perhaps to remind us where we’ve come from and where we’re going, and what our purpose is while we’re here. There is darkness, death, grief, and sin in this world. But Jesus has already overcome it. We can have freedom and resurrection with Him.

“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, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the 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.” Hebrews 12:1-2

Legacy of faith

—————————

“I believe in God, the Almighty, Jesus his

son, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus was

born in human form and lived and died as a human.

Jesus was crucified and gave his life for us.

He was sinnless and God raise him from death

to be the only Judge of us.

Jesus preached to all — good, bad, poor, sick

believers and non-believers. He heald the sick

and forgave sinners.

He believed all people equal, men, women, and all

races and creeds.

He asks us to live in peace + love each other as

He loves us all.

He asks us to pray for ourselves, other who stray,

for the sick, for him to have mercy on us all.

He asks us to live our lives serving him +

the Trinity.

God is the director of our lives and all that we do.

By our free acts, we need to be obedient in our worship

and service to him.

His life, as supported by the Old Testament writings,

is recorded by the New Testament witnesses of the

Apostles.

By his gift of Grace we will be forgiven of our sins

and be made whole

thru salvation and Faith we will be made acceptable

for the life hereafter — eternal life.

In God’s Name! — Amen! R A Little

—————————

This is a copy of my grandpa’s statement of faith read at the memorial service. I will be framing this and hanging it in my house. He has certainly entered into his eternal rest, for which I am so grateful, though it hurts to have lost his presence here on earth.

The crucified life

I’m on Day 3 of Week 1 of “Living Beyond Yourself”… let’s just say I’m still working on the whole time and study with God thing. Anyway, today’s lesson was especially pertinent because of the time of year. Sunday is Palm Sunday and the following Sunday is Easter. I’ve heard the story of the last weeks of Jesus’ life over and over throughout my near 26 years of existence. Every time I hear or read it, it gets to me in the best way possible.

In today’s lesson, Beth (yes, we’re on a first name basis) outlined the ten characteristics of living a crucified life, based on lots of Scripture but Galatians 2:20 being the basis of it.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Here are the ten characteristics, which are not the easiest to digest. We have a lot to lay down for the One who laid it all down for us.

1.     Few will understand.
2.     You must abandon your own will and your own agenda.
3.     Your intimate spiritual companions will be few.
4.     Intense times of aloneness with God are required.
5.     You will be constantly on the witness stand.
6.     You must go “outside the camp”.
7.     There will be times when your dignity is forfeited.
8.     You must forego your rights.
9.     You must accept that death is painful.
10.   Because He was forsaken, you never will be.

That’s a lot to take in. I know what’s going to be on my mind in the coming days…

A work in progress

Our theme for 2012 at Harvest is “Get it done”, based on Ephesians 2:10, which says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Works do not earn us salvation, rather they should be a product of salvation. In the shuffle of every day stresses, I get so consumed in my little bubble and how I’m going to get everything done.

I want to be focused on the eternal, but I cannot do it in my natural state. I’m selfish, arrogant, prideful. I get worried, anxious, and needy. I need a sanctifying work. 1 Thessalonians 5:23:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

When I first got saved, and even years later I turned a lot of people off to Jesus. Heck, maybe I still do. I’ve made mistakes and taken wrong turns. I disguised myself from behind a mask of “miss goody two shoes straight A’s virgin church girl”. At least that’s how I perceived myself. When you make mistakes, you learn from them and I think I’ve learned to be more like Jesus and just love people.

This blog post by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary put things into perspective. I love  her blog because she’s just so real. I think she says what a lot of Christians are afraid to say. She cusses. She admits her failures. Publicly. No sin will ever get dealt with if it’s kept hidden. [Believe me, I know from experience.]

I want to love Jesus and love people, but I also don’t want to go off the other deep end and be all about loving and not about salvation or discipleship. We don’t need to be from the world to be relevant in the world.

To be honest, I’ve been doubtful lately. Gasp. What?! Doubting?! You mean, you haven’t been 100% walking in faith? Who woulda thought.

I’ve been wondering why bad things have to happen to good people. I found out this week one of my friends is starting chemo treatments… and it’s just not fair.

I’ve been wondering how people who did walk in the faith could be the furthest thing from it.

I’ve been wondering how to share Jesus with people without sounding preachy. Is being their friend enough? What’s the point of having “friendships” if it’s just a “missionary friendship”? Sorry, but I refuse to befriend people with the sole purpose of sharing Jesus with them. I want to actually like my friends, spend time with them doing things we like to do together, and just be friends.

I wonder how the Church has gotten so so so far from who the real Jesus was. The Jesus who talked to strangers, whores, lepers, preachers, tax collectors, fishermen. He never asked any of them to change who they were before they started following Him. He only asked for an undivided heart… so… what is with this judging and labeling homosexuals, potheads, divorcees, big wigs, abortionists, etc who don’t even claim to be Christians?! Who says that’s the “Christian” thing to do? It pisses me off.

I think God has done some sanctification in my life thus far. I’ve let him change my attitudes towards nonbelievers and believers alike. I still have a lot of bad attitudes to work through, and cussing up a storm is not the way to do it.

I’m sick of my inner dialogue being about myself and how I feel about things. It’s all about me, me, me. More than once in the past week I’ve felt on the verge of an anxiety attack… it’s a throwback to life four to five years ago.. and I thought I got through it.

Thinking on all the things that I need to be sanctified for or from can be overwhelming and depressing…. however, I am thankful for a Savior who loves me for me, Elizabeth, the Elizabeth that talks behind her boss’s back, the Elizabeth that lusts after attractive actors (it must be their fault, right?!), the Elizabeth that doesn’t pray or study the Word nearly enough, and the Elizabeth that picks fights with her husband.

There is so much that God’s planned for me to do, so with my undivided heart and His willingness to pursue and purify, we can get it done.

Committed…

…to a  life of following the Lord wherever He leads.

…to selling our possessions and going across continents and oceans.

…to giving generously of our finances in order to further His kingdom and show our obedience.

…to raising and educating our children to love people in a foreign land if we are so called.

…to adopting children from a foreign land if we are so called.

…to being content with what we have.

…to being thankful when we have what we need, even if it’s not in excess.

…to storing our treasures in heaven, because then our hearts will follow.

…to literally dying for the Truth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I won’t say that we know for sure that we’ve received “the call”. What I will say is that we are willing to put aside the American dream-life that we’ve been planning for our family so that we can pick up and move halfway around the world. I won’t say that we know that we will be ministering to Muslims… but we are willing to take the Gospel there because there is a huge harvest waiting to be brought in. There are so many people in so many places who have little to no access for the Gospel.

I feel the way we are living life right now is in the center of God’s will. It’s seriously is the best place to be… physically, emotionally, spiritually, matrimonially. We are giving generously and sacrificially… we are content with what we’ve been blessed with… and we are working hard to pay off our debt.

We know that having some savings is important, but we’re not interested in building so much wealth that we don’t know what to do with it. What is the point of being a millionaire, really? Sure, your kids have a great inheritance and you can enjoy whatever material pleasures you want… but I only want to accumulate wealth so that I can bless others. I’m not saying this to sound “holier-than-thou” or whatever.. it’s just where my heart is right now.

Waiting to have children is really hard for me. I admit it. I go in stages of either being really happy for people or really jealous of people when I hear of their pregnancies. I’m in a continual stage of surrender. I know that our time will come someday, and I am committed to caring for whatever children God gives us, whether biological or adoptive. We’ve talked about having both… we’ve also talked about adopting all of our children. Really, I want to prepare my heart for whatever happens.

We’re committed to living dead. John 12:24: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone.” We must die to self, to selfish desires, fabricated plans, everything, in order to follow Christ fully.

Being a servant

I look at my recent posts and I’m surprised, and not surprised, that I’ve posted about once a week. What is that?! Usually I have a lot more to say.

But as it stands, I’ve been learning a big lesson on how to be a servant. I can thank my current job for that.

I know I’ve been called to my job right now for a reason. I know positive changes are being made. But the only way to gain real respect and trust is to be a servant. I try to compliment “my” teachers (I say “my”, since I’m kind of a boss… or something.) If someone shows frustration, I try to get to the bottom of it and fix the problem.

Pastor Lee’s sermons recently from The Sermon on the Mount really have me thinking about what it’s like to be a servant.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

As a peacemaker, amateur as I may be, I’m supposed to be bringing God’s peace into situations, and living it out in my life. I should not sacrifice integrity for peacemaking, but I think I’m good at not doing that. I’m the kind of person where if I know I’ve wronged someone, or even think I might have wronged someone, I have to make it right otherwise I can’t sleep at night. (I didn’t always used to be like this! Ask my family…)

At work I’ve really been focusing on having a good attitude, not getting stressed over anything, even if it’s big, and being consistent. I think the last thing there is key to gaining respect… being consistent. People can then see my commitment, that I’m all in.

I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I was jumping up and down when I was offered this promotion. In fact, my heart sank. But I know I’m there for a reason, and slowly things are improving. I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to use my God-given gift of teaching… I have been dealing quite a lot with educational issues. I’ve also been able to continue teaching some students. And I can guarantee you that when I have my own classroom again, I won’t be nervous to talk to parents!

On a different note, if you want your faith to be stretched, your soul to be refined, or you want to learn how to be a servant… get married. Aaron and I have been doing very well lately with communication. In the midst of things happening in marriages around us, we are thankful for what we have. Couple that with being apart for two years (five total in our relationship) and you have a strong bond! I get emotional with him, he gets impatient with me, but we work through it and talk it out. Communicating our fears and weaknesses is one of the hardest things to do, I think.

And I don’t mean that when you get married you become that person’s slave. You serve them with your attitude, your listening abilities, your willingness to work through things, your blatant refusal to be selfish. If you want to add in some dishes or laundry, you can do that too. 🙂 In a true relationship of mutual servanthood, it won’t go unnoticed.

It will flood into other areas of your life, too. Before you know it, you’re being a servant to your friends and family… by praying for them, listening to them, offering a shoulder to cry on or a sounding board for venting… it’s pretty cool how it all works out!

I just love the Beatitudes… (and I did not know this but Wikipedia taught me that “Beatitudes” comes from the Latin adjective beatus which means blissful, happy, or fortunate.)

Matthew 5

 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
4 Blessed are those who mourn, 
   for they will be comforted. 
5 Blessed are the meek, 
   for they will inherit the earth. 
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, 
   for they will be filled. 
7 Blessed are the merciful, 
   for they will be shown mercy. 
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, 
   for they will see God. 
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, 
   for they will be called children of God. 
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, 
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 

12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,

for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Gospel Challenge: Matthew 1-4

Like I mentioned in a previous post, I said I was going to take the challenge from our pastor to read through the Gospels. I don’t know if it was a formal challenge, but it sounded like a good idea… I’ve heard most of these stories in some form or another my whole life (remember those felt boards with the paper Bible characters??) and I feel like I need a fresh and more objective perspective.

So… starting with Matthew (and I’m primarily reading from the New American Standard Bible), I’m just going to put down the chapter and verse and an observation. Posting this on my blog also makes me be accountable for actually, ya know, reading the Bible. I want to live like Jesus really wants us to, not by some contrived doctrine, customs, or rules that were made up by men (not saying all traditions/expectations are wrong.. just wanting to get to the source). Maybe I’ll add some commentary later. For now, I just want to ponder.

Feel free to discuss!

Matthew

1:18 Joseph was obedient and took Mary as his wife even though she was already found to be with child.

3:8 John the Baptist spoke to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance.” In verse 10, he goes on to say, “And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

3:11 John baptized with water for repentance, but Jesus baptizes with Holy Spirit and fire.

4:7 In temptation, the devil even knew Scripture, but Jesus knew more.

4:10 The devil left Him when He rebuked Him with Scripture.

4:13 Jesus did not begin preaching in His hometown (He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum).

4:18 He called ordinary but obedient people to be His disciples.

4:23 He preached the Gospel and healed every disease and sickness.