Day 16 of Advent: Christmas for children

“…The child doesn’t have to struggle to get himself in a good position for having a relationship with God; he doesn’t have to craft ingenious ways of explaining his position to Jesus; he doesn’t have to create a pretty face for himself; he doesn’t have to achieve any state of spiritual feeling or intellectual understanding. All he has to do is happily accept the cookies, the gift of the kingdom.” — Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

You don’t have to have children to remember what it was like to be one.

Do you remember those early years of blind trust?

I’m still a bit child-like today, so I can remember clearly, and my heart still gravitates toward those naive, trusting sentiments.

I trust that God takes care of me.

I trust that I don’t have to hide.

And the evidence that God cares deeply for us in our child-like trust is that He sent a child  to us,

a baby to deliver the world.

And that baby grew to be a man,

a man who one day told the people around Him,

“Do you want to see Heaven? Look in the eyes of the children.

Do you want to know what I am about?

I am about them.

I am about their welfare,

their lives,

their hearts.

Do you want to see Heaven?

Be like these little ones,

and the Kingdom is all yours.”

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If God sent a baby to be a man like Jesus,

maybe still today, He honors the child-like.

Still today, He instills peace in us,

teaches us to love and give and be

all things Kingdom.

On Christmas morning, the children will be

giddy by the Christmas tree,

opening presents and remembering

a Savior Babe who did magic here on earth.

Will you be with them?

 

After the Storm: The Saints of Suffering

Without your wounds, where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of the living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. Physician, draw back.” -Thornton Wilder

A few weeks ago I felt like I was choking for days, my breath short and  my thoughts scattered over friends who were hurting and struggling, who had been doing so for years. And I read this Wilder excerpt from a Brennan Manning book, and I understood what it said.

The angel tells the physician to draw back and accept his hurt so that he can serve the hurting.

And then I pulled out Seeds by Thomas Merton and read this:

“The saint is not one who accepts suffering because he likes it, and confesses this preference before God and men in order to win a great reward. He is the one who may well hate suffering as much as anybody else, but who so loves Christ, Whom he does not see, that he will allow his love to be proved by any suffering. And he does this not because he thinks it is an achievement, but because the charity of Christ in his heart demands that it be done.”

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Three years ago a dear friend got married. I sang in the wedding, sent them off, and headed back home from Joplin. As rain fell, we got in the car, and for a split second thought about roaming Academy Sports while the rain subsided. But that Voice told Travis to drive home, to drive away into the blue, clouded sky of Arkansas and away from the swirling gray of Joplin.

A tornado is a dreadful thing.

It’s a dreadful thing.

This morning I woke up and things felt darker around me, the remembrance bearing down reminders of lost apartments and homes, lost lives, lost town, lost, lost, loss.

A few weeks ago in the coffee shop I wrote a song as I thought about my friend who suffers, and I thought about his sainthood.

And the saints of suffering will find their souls on the mountaintops,

The pain of their bones subsiding, leave it and fly, fly to glory.

I thought about the way he sees God.

Who does he see You as? What words do you speak to him, how do You move his heart, what visions and dreams form in him from the breath of Your lips?

And I thought about Thornton Wilder’s story, that with our wounds, there is power. When we are laid bare and naked before one another and before God, the vulnerability of humanness brings us all healing, and we march on.

A saint is “someone acknowledged as holy”– now, don’t our wounds bring us closer to holiness and wholeness? 

Yes, it’s a damn painful thing, but here is reward:

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

And he who searches hearts knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the SAINTS according to the will of God. -Romans 8:26-27

…the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the SAINTS, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe. -Ephesians 1:17-19

We may “well hate suffering” as anyone would, but love is proven in the midst of it, in the healing and in the striving and stretching.

We pray:

O Lord Jesus Christ,

who received the children who came to You,

receive also from me, Your child, this evening prayer.

Shelter me under the shadow of Your wings,

that in peace I may lie down and sleep;

and waken me in due time,

that I may glorify You,

for You alone are righteous and merciful.

Amen.

In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. 

Take your wounds and continue to march on, dear ones. March to mountaintops and fly.

Snapshots: lily pad lake

“Limiting the resurrection either to the past or to the future makes the present risenness of Jesus largely irrelevant, safeguards us from interference with the ordinary rounds and daily routine of our lives, and preempts communion now with Jesus as a living person.” -Brennan Manning

For Mother’s Day we took a late afternoon trip to the lake– a small one tucked near our town, the perfect surface and size for kayaking.

The boys wore white t-shirts and swim shorts, and we had snacks packed for dinner.

Travis sent me into the water first. I had forgotten what the stillness of lake water stirs in me. I kayaked away until Eliot was a little blue speck of boy screaming, “MOM!!”

I paddled a few feet and then stopped, pulled my knees up to my chest and watched the stillness.

This place reminds me of Uganda, of being on the Nile River and not fully understanding its beauty.

And on the water it’s me and it’s Him.

I thanked Him for this town, for these friends. And I asked to see His kingdom around us now, while longing for the wholeness of a new earth. I longed for the wholeness.

I scanned the edge of the lake with my blue kayak, where the trees sunk into the mud and branches sat under the surface of the water, stoic as rapids passed by overhead.

Then I saw them: a tiny sea of lily pads, their faces toward the sun.

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And I approached them with the caution of a curious child, my first thought being, what creatures lurk beneath? will my kayak get stuck here?

Close enough to their edges, I saw the green of their surfaces, and their stems reaching down into the depths of the water.

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And I thought, I want to be like the lily pads. My eyes to the sun, my roots plummeting down into deep sustenance and pure water.

The lily pads had life, have life, will continue with life, and that’s exactly what I want here as we close a 4-year season and open up a 5-year one.

And back at the quilt on the grass under the shade of the tree, Eliot played Christmas songs on the iPod and asked if Bilbo Baggins was riding in a kayak, too. Isaiah curiously dug in the picnic basket for the many treasures it contained, enthralled as only an 8-month old can be.

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These moments are what Manning calls our ordinary rounds and daily routine, our communion with the living person of Jesus.

If I saw Jesus in a lily pad yesterday, what might I see Him in today?