Category Archives: simple

forgotten in the Nativity…

St Joseph and Baby Jesus (www.jasonjenick.com)

“mama, I cannot find Joseph. I have Mary and baby Jesus and shepherds and wise men. but I cannot find Joseph.”

“just use a shepherd, sweet pea.”

shoved in the background. mistaken for a shepherd. lost in the ages-old narrative. lost in history.

and yet, in the most important places, not lost at all.

we know, and regularly hear, of Mary’s pure heart, of how she allowed herself to be used in bringing Messiah to us, to carry and give birth to Immanuel.

but what of Joseph?

we can assume he was a man of integrity. he did, after all, listen to the angel. he obeyed precisely, despite the damage to his own reputation. we can only imagine the whispers in Nazareth, flung around carelessly and without heed to those involved.

he was not chosen on accident. he was not an incidental player in Jesus’ life, or in Mary’s. he was their main caretaker. when Herod was after Jesus, Joseph protected his family, and again, obeyed the angel’s instruction.

God does not move carelessly. He is patient and precise. In His omnipotence, He would have known Mary and watched her heart’s leaning toward Him. Joseph, too, would have been taken into account. they came as a couple, a new family. history has divided them and cut him out. but God intended this family for His Son. He intended this particular man to love and care for Mary, to nurture Jesus, to help him walk and run and talk, and yes, to be a carpenter. He trusted Joseph’s heart enough to place a tiny baby in his home, to know this was the man who would teach a young boy of Himself. under his leadership, the Torah would be taught and memorized, the Law followed, and the feasts observed.

there is precious little to know of Joseph. we know he was still alive when Jesus was twelve. and then he is gone. much speculation enters the picture at that point. but it is just that–speculation.

we do know he was:

spiritual (in the best ways possible)

steadfast

a man of integrity

obedient and open to God’s leading

the leader of their home

and I would assume he was also:

loving

caring

well-rounded and sure of himself as husband and father

a help to Mary when life overwhelmed her

strong in mind, body, soul, and spirit

a partner in raising Jesus and their other children

wondering when another angel might appear and uproot his life and family again

and probably overwhelmed by the task of raising God’s Son and the future ahead of them all.

he intrigues me in so many ways. when I get to Heaven, he is on my short list of people to track down and have some honest conversation together. his step-son (understandably and with good reason!) and wife have gotten all the attention through the last few millennia. he’s had a lot of time to do some pondering of his own. I wonder where it has led him. I wonder what he learned from the baby he helped raise.

he was not an incidental character in a time-honored narrative. he was intentionally placed by a loving and careful God. and he deserves better than to be mistaken for a shepherd.

(photo by jason jenick)

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the sweet and bitter…

friends holding hands

they are still best friends. and when you are four-almost-five, a year or two together is quite a significant portion of life. a year of separation, due to a family move, has not dimmed their friendship. two mother-hearts are torn when they mention missing one another.

she loves surprises, this sweet daughter-gift of ours. and we love giving them! this time it was a few precious hours, shared with others, but a chance to eat pizza and giggle and dance and just be friends together again. a time to renew and reaffirm the depth of childhood friendship. a time to forget the separation and miles and hours now required to enjoy what they once took for granted.

the inevitable tears came. copious tears. a child’s sorrow is hard for all to bear. the deep, unchecked emotion of childhood. the great joy replaced by grief.

as I tucked the still-sorrowing girl into bed, we talked about the roller coaster emotions of the day. was it worth having those precious few hours together when it made her so terribly sad now? “oh yes, mommy. I would rather see her for a little and be sad than not see her at all. she is my friend and I love her. even if I am sad now.”

I left her room with the refrain of Psalm 84 running through  my head, with its modern adaptation:

Better is one day in your courts

Better is one day in your house

Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere

how amazing! better is one afternoon with a dear friend than not being together at all. better is one day in God’s presence, in His courts, than a thousand without Him.

even more amazing is that, unlike leaving a friend and feeling bereft of their presence, we have the gift, not only in the here and now, but into the infinite future, to live each day with God, to be in relationship with Him continually.

there is no bitterness of separation, only the sweetness of days, of life, together.

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the artistry of God

the artistry of God

she loves waving out the front window when someone leaves our home. and she loves it when we wave as she departs for school.

as she ran to her friend’s car, and buckled into the seat belt, I gathered the puppy so we could wave from the front window and blow kisses. imagine my surprise and delight to find deeply intricate frost patterns gracing the glass. multiple patterns, different and overlapping, added to the beauty. the camera was quickly found to capture the rare moment.

over the weekend, as part of a group study, I had been challenged to look for God and His hand in the details of life. a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the sparkle of the snow, some kind intervention to a bump in life’s road, or some such detail was anticipated. the miniature masterpiece gracing the front window took my breath away. it had me wondering how such different frost flakes could form on the same piece of glass, and in the same place.

God IS in the details. having been challenged to look for His hand in them is meant to keep us focused and look at His varied work in the world and our lives. some days He feels far away, silent, and seemingly uninterested. but He is close, perhaps offering a new challenge, a deeper lesson. and if He cares about details as small as the frost across a window pane, how much more about us, His made-in-Our-image creation?

the season for frost is nearly over. but there will be new masterpieces, new details, as the breath of spring begins to blow. and I pray my heart and eyes are open to see Him and His handiwork, to let Him do the careful detail work my soul needs, to allow Him the intricate steps that lead me to deeper Christ-likeness.

if He can create a fairy-dance across glass with such beauty, what can He do with a willing heart in His hand?

may I be willing enough to find out!

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to borrow words from another…

listening friend

I usually have plenty to say. and I would probably broach this subject myself, but Sarah does so beautifully and honestly. it is an experience we’ve all had at one time or another. a heart hurt, making its way up the throat, over the vocal chords, and finding voice. the words seem received. compassion seems to be birthed. but the one we’ve trusted with this pain suddenly says, “I know exactly what you mean…” or in some similar way cuts across our pain and inserts their own.

our stories are so very different, but at the core, in the painful places, Sarah says it so much better…

http://www.sarahmarkley.com/2011/02/twisting-your-pain-to-fit-me/

oh, that we would give each other the grace and compassion to meet in the pain and walk it together, holding, instead of hurting one another with careless words, inserting ourselves into their pain, allowing it to remain theirs and become instead, partners on the journey…

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of saints and vegetables…

(photo credit: the St. Nicholas Center)

she is three years old, this daughter-gift of ours.

old enough to start understanding what is going on around her, the bits and pieces of Christmas and Advent and all the hype and even the character set.

Jesus. Santa. Mary. Joseph. Frosty. wisemen and shepherds. elves. bell-ringers.

all mix together in a tapestry of fact and fiction, of reality and story.

sorting it is difficult. being a parent sorting it and shaping your child’s understanding of a most important day and season can be daunting. allow some childhood fantasy? or burst the bubble from the beginning, telling her there is no Santa Claus, knowing that her honest little heart will inadvertently burst another child’s fantasy?

the Christ-child is real, of that there is no question. bringing the season together, sifting the spiritual and commercial, was overwhelming.

until we stumbled on a simple tale told by vegetables. it is no unusual thing to find a Veggie Tales show or movie playing any given day in our home. but I was not expecting this particular tale to grab my attention and heart, shifting the focus of Christmas squarely back to Christ.

Nicholas was a Christian man of some means, orphaned early, and raised by his uncle. he shared his wealth and resources with others in Christ’s name, resting firmly in the knowledge that all he had came from, and subsequently was, God’s. along the way he became the Bishop of Myra, and eventually a saint and pop culture icon.

cuddling our daughter-gift through this story, Christ began a new, or refreshed an old, work in my heart. what if my own giving was influenced by an overflow of gratitude for what God has given? what if I gave because He had?

the shift was almost palpable. the frenetic schedule of the season slowed. the pressure released. what if?

the gift lists changed. the reasoning was different. additional gifts were added. others removed. where might encouragement lie? where might He be asking me to give, to give beyond my list on paper?

a handmade gift or two found its way under the tree, bits that would be treasured for memories evoked and new ones made.

the grace of Christ, His compassion and mercy, to me and each person I come into contact with, was overwhelming.

Nicholas gave because he could not ignore the source of his resource. He gave out of gratitude and love.

the grip of commercialism slipped a bit this year. and I am glad. praying it continues, really.

as for our daughter-gift, there is no longer a discussion of allowing a few years of childhood fantasy with Santa Claus. that also shifted as we watched the vegetable telling of this biography. her earliest teachings about Santa are steeped in reality. and they are taking hold in beautiful ways.

she asks for money to drop into red kettles. toy boxes are culled for bits others might enjoy. a goose figure for a friend with a farm set. a teapot for daddy because he has none of his own. an elf doll for me, its silly smile meant to bring cheer and make me laugh. simple gifts, given from her own bounty. because Jesus and mommy and daddy love her.

there are smiles and waves as she spies the mall Santa or a yard decoration. it makes sense in her world that Baby Jesus and Santa reside on the same lawn. and in a way, she is right. strip the commercial Santa away and Nicholas remains, a man who continually pointed others to the Christ-child and His ultimate Gift.

may we do the same.

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Filed under abiding, being, daughter-gift, gratitude, John 15, life lesson, simple, spiritual formation

strength and perseverance

it has been a windy season. most days our daughter-gift wakes up and asks if it is another windy day. or more likely, she makes a statement of it.

when we lived in southern California, it was news when the winds blew. sometimes Santa Ana winds, and other times from storms coming through the area. it always puzzled us how often downed trees made the news, downed by strong, but not devastating winds. I remember a co-worker once stating that her son had not slept all night because he was afraid of the wind.

in this land of four very distinct seasons the wind is not a headline-grabber by any stretch of the imagination. tornadoes, blizzards, thunderstorms, and severe weather in general, are part of life. we do talk about the weather here, and for good reason. it shapes us in ways we do not expect. a beautiful day, no matter the season, is cause to stop and enjoy, if only for a moment. a windy day, in our understated manner, will be called gusty. bitingly cold wind might be described as blustery. rarely do we consider our trees and worry about them toppling.

this difference between the stalwart northern trees and those of our California friends is striking. many of the trees making their way into the news were the same as the sturdy ones “back home.” so we researched. and talked to some who might understand our confusion. what we found was fascinating. and has implications on our spiritual lives.

for a tree, life in California is easy. lots of sun. a relatively temperate climate. few storms. it seems trees have little reason to work at sending their roots deep, so they spread wide. and trees topple in seemingly innocuous winds. the root system cannot tolerate much abuse and a strong gust will take a large tree down.

to survive the extreme seasons of the north, a tree must send its roots deep and wide. they must be strong. and they must persevere through the ever-changing weather. their wood is different, stronger, than an untested tree. a northern forest gives a wonderful picture of this strength and tenacity. the outer rim of a forest boasts the strongest trees, standing strong and mighty, facing the storms and protecting those in deeper. those inside, the protected ones, are not as strong. they will topple, much like those in California. their fortress of protection, when removed, leaves them vulnerable to the elements.

how like the trees we can be! how we often long for the easy California tree life! we pray God saves us from trial and testing, grateful for uneventful days, and breathing relief when tragedy is averted.

but in the trials, the windy, stormy times, He grows us. our roots in Him go deeper.

it is easy to feel abandoned to the storm. to wonder if He is punishing us or has forgotten our suffering.

maybe the better thought, the better question, is to ask which roots He is wanting to grow, where He might be strengthening our faith.

He does not send the storm to punish, but instead to protect. in those times we are not forgotten, as we might feel, but instead remembered, cared for, and nurtured.

even, and especially, in the storm.

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defining question…

there is a question that should be asked of everyone.

your answer to this one question, if honest, reveals more than almost any other.

I ask it frequently.

I wish someone had asked me more often.

how are you and Jesus?

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