Tuesday, December 31, 2013

WORDS--NEW YEAR'S BLUSTERY GOAL

dailymail.co.uk
The answers to my new year resolutions are all wrapped around this one word:   WORD.

The statement is gigantically simple.    On the cusp of the eve of a new year, blurred frames are becoming clearer for this new year's blustery goals.  And this is a simple word to start what is clearly fuzzy: 


  "Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known." 
--Winnie the Pooh (A.A.Milne)

I too trust the quiet moment alone with the Divine.  WORDS absorbed...and...WORDS spoken...and Words refrained...and WORDS reflected.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

WHEN YOU WANT TO BE BORN IN A STABLE

Oh, the secret life of Cherie Roberson ponders the heart of Christ at Christmas.

Christmas day celebrates the birth of all He was to become...all the days that He would walk this slippery quicksand of earthly life and not sink below the pressure of it...

all the days of constant travel toward the end of His earthly life that birthed a promise for me of a spiritual life ever after...

all the days that He included Himself in the heartaches of life so that I would let His heart carry mine one day... 

all the days that He would live as ALL in ALL so that He could consume ALL of my heart.

Perhaps Christ was first born in a STABLE to show us what it is to have a STABLE love: a love that faithfully endures the trials time tests us with and a love that is devoted to others despite the daily disasters that dare to destroy our love. 

Perhaps, Christ was first born in a STABLE that I might know the full measure of His humble heart. 

Perhaps, Christ is then born in my heart that my life might become His STABLE. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

PONDERING OUR HEART'S TREASURE

Every Christmas, as I place Mary within the nativity scene, this deep painful emotion overwhelms anew of the life Mary must have endured. The mother of Jesus stands gazing at Jesus, treasuring and pondering who she has birthed and what He will be to this world. Should she stand to the left or to the right of baby Jesus? Should she be kneeling nearby or standing? I don't want to make some arbitrary placement,  I want to situate Mary in the right place.

I wonder why Mary isn't holding Jesus in her arms in all these scenes?  I always proudly held my children tightly in my arms for portraits which I knew would be posted for eternity. Why this distance created in the manger scenes between Mary and her newborn babe?  Why this formality?  It always makes me feel the gap we have in understanding this woman and makes me ache every Christmas for this young teen that God blessed with His physical presence.



And so  I want to place Mary accurately in the scene as Jesus' earthly mother. I dare to try to understand her thoughts, but they are so limited by my here and now, my culture, my interpretation, my experiences, and my lack of scriptural understanding.  I lean hard on my feelings as a mother to understand Mary.  I have tried to find comparisons to understand this God chosen young woman.

And this year, God has poured over me to reveal Mary's character when He showed her response to all that He was doing: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). I was so thankful to see that I shared something in common with this revered woman, Mary the mother of Jesus. She too was a ponderer, a thinker, a quiet and careful reflector, a ruminator, a thought flipper, a look at this from all angles, a puzzler, a person of weighted thought, a wonder what this means questioner, a let's give this a second and third and fourth consideration person (secretly I wish she were a writer so I could read her thoughts on paper).

God revealed His mercy for my constant ponderings about life in showing me that Mary and I had something in common-- we are ponderers, wonderers.   My awesome pondering about the Christmas story this season is that He used a very typical girl to birth His "Wonderful" new life,  Emmanuel.  And Jewish women's hospitality still reverently ushered in a King from the line of David among the most common of situations. Jesus was not born into sad deprivation that the western world likes to paint, but rather He was born into a life of humble beginnings, a life of humility.  This was Christ's all access pass!  From the beginning, he made a way for the weak and the meek to walk the path of reverence, a path that ends with you and me being able to kneel before Him at His throne, too.

God literally TOOK her ordinary life and at the same time GAVE her extraordinary life. What plans she had arranged for her life suddenly were transfixed to God's plans. Her life was altered magnanimously. I know my world became fuzzy even at the dream of our first child.  Our plans imminently shifted upon expecting our first child. Then when our first babe was born, my heart leaped within as if in need to exchange my life for his, for I would have given anything that his life would be all that I had hoped for him.

So the question is always why was this young teen, Mary, ordained as the mother of Jesus? Scholars have weighed in on this so my ponderings will be nothing but that: ponderings of a common sojourner. I see Mary as unassuming.  Her response was not one of regal pride and owed fancy upon this knowledge of carrying a soon coming King.  The Angel Gabriel reveals Mary's fear when he assured her that she shouldn't be afraid. Isn't it interesting that God choose to speak to the common girl, not to her priest. Isn't it interesting that he revealed himself to common shepherds in the dark of night.   When God breathed to birth a dream that was seemingly thousands of years old within her, He knew that Mary's response, even with her very vague comprehension of scriptures' prophecy, would be one of fearful acceptance because He had given her assurance.

Great credence is given to the idea that Mary said "YES."  Did she have the option of NO?  or a THANKS BUT NO THANKS?   God had already had His Way with her.  God chose Mary because He knew her heart could bear the weight of the significance of  bearing the life of His child.  And her quiet heart strength is the emotion that overwhelms me.



God knew His plans could be accomplished through one such as Mary who pondered and treasured thoughts in her heart. It isn't that Mary didn't probably question God, for she certainly didn't fully understand. I frequently ask God questions about this life. I don't always get answers.  Mary's questions and ponderings didn't inhibit God's work. In her doubt, she didn't cry "impossible" but rather pondered, "I don't know  me, but I know about YOU."  He knew her strength, that she would be willing to take the journey and let it be revealed to her in HIS time. He knew she would begin with the limited knowledge of the scriptures. He didn't need to wait to begin His work in her for a YES because he knew her character. She was a person who treasured, and held on, and would abide, and she would need to do this despite the upcoming ugly days.

This twenty-first century woman would scream inside: "Help! I cannot do this. People will judge me.  My life will be ruined."  Mary's ponderings may have included these rants, but her will to trust was stronger than her dare to doubt, for Mary was "highly favored."  In other words, she was given much grace.

He favored her because her heart and mind continuously cradled the plan of God as she pondered His purposes and plan.  She could have declared the doom of "IF," but instead she asked God "how will this be?" HOW will he accomplish this not IF?  With limited answers and understanding and perhaps learning to live with even fewer expectations, Mary was blessed to be able to ponder with the assurance that God would work His best plan in her life despite the pain of watching the plan unfold.

And just like mothers today, Mary was never guaranteed at the start to know what her earthly child's life would look like. She understood its promise but probably not its execution.   Mary certainly would have known and perhaps clung to the hopeful promises that the scriptures from Isaiah 9: 1-7  foretold. Those of "no more distress" and "enlarging the nation and increasing their joy" and "every warrior's boot...and garment" would be no longer needed and "of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end" which all would be accomplished by the "zeal of the Lord Almighty."

And we are all  common girls that are "highly favored" when God chooses to accomplish His work within us. When we ponder how God's will is graciously being revealed, do we push hard to persist in expecting His miraculous work in cold dark stables? Mary who pondered must have had to lean hard on God's word not to doubt His decisions as she followed Jesus' 33 years.

In our ponderings, we wrestle with the question of how our lives are unfolding. Is my life really meant to be this difficult?  What can I possibly be doing wrong? How often do  we inaccurately resolve that  pain and suffering are the antithesis of God's presence and work in our lives?   Mary followed God as He took Jesus from birth, through blessings,  and then into blood. Perhaps, we too, like many of old,  have confused the cross for the crown.

And this is the pondering life and character of Mary that God shows births the King of Kings, a life that seeks answers long after they are short and bleeds sacrifice instead of demanding understanding and accepts the giving and the taking from God and positions herself to patiently ponder through the pain.

This pondering Mary is treasured as the one God chose to birth our Savior because she worshiped God while she held Jesus long in the womb through perilous terrain of land and mind and still remained with God's plan despite the seeming unraveling of the world's acceptance, despite the world's sin being laid bare and heavy on His back.  She carried, birthed, and followed him all the way to the cross, pondering as she watched him carry the weight of the world to birth a new hope for each of us.  She cried, she knelt, and she knew only as God allowed her to understand.

And this is the tender Mary that I ponder and  honor by kneeling her at the feet of Jesus, her heart's treasure.



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

ON BECOMING "REAL"

Self-righteous: Confident of one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others. (dictionary.com)

It is probably a rare moment to be called self-righteous because few really want to enrage a person by calling her out on her behavior and listen to the irate person's forthcoming tirade defending her behavior.
sodahead.com
And what does it mean to have this annoying personality trait? And why do I make people feel this way? Looking inside, the best definition of this term is that it is a measurement of my behavior, attitude, and responses as compared to the person's who calls me this. I appear to think I  am superior, holier-than-thou, play by the rules better, stay in line more, manage a situation more appropriately, respond better, and only care what someone thinks if he is going to take my advice.  All of this means that I discount the value of others opinions, ideas, and ways of doing things that are different than my own. 

Ouch! That sounds quite narcissistic. I am not sure if that is a measure or low self-esteem or esteeming myself too highly.  By definition, it would appear I compare myself often to others and find myself looking really good and end up making those around me feel "less than." 

And how do I respond when someone tags me with this label? Initially, being called anything unkind will sound the alarm for my defensive walls to go up. But mostly I have to find a quiet retreat; one where my pain can be released and then humble introspection can follow, for humility is understanding how egotistical I really am. This claim quiets any desire to refute or discuss positions and feelings because, after all, that appears to be paradoxically self-righteous and ends up in a finger pointing show-down, now doesn't it? 

It seems cracks have developed in my desire to live authentically: one where I am real because I realize I am flawed. I will return to the lessons of authenticity and vulnerability from The Velveteen Rabbit and grow in removing these hindrances to this life, this arrogance, so that my motives and intentions to be "real" are what are revealed.  

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“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit. 

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.' 

'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?' 

'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” 
― Margery WilliamsThe Velveteen Rabbit



inthefray.org
And so I express a genuine "sorry" for my self-righteousness and vow to continue the process of living well. The grace and love afforded to me and others will be what rubs me real so that others will see my empathy instead of my arrogance. 


“For the believer, humility is honesty about one's greatest flaws to a degree in which he is fearless about truly appearing less righteous than another.” 
― Criss JamiSalomé: In Every Inch In Every Mile

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

ABOUT WHEN WE LOST JESUS IN THE BOX

I am quietly elated when my artistic and analytic son agrees to empty the boxes of seasonal decorations. As he unravels the protective newspaper layers and styrofoam from the boxes, the Bethlehem creche pieces are randomly displayed and I hear my voice ask, "Can you make sense of this mess?"


For we cannot keep God in the box. I think about Jesus who was never purposed to be stored in a  box to be set out later on a single celebratory occasion for display. This Messiah who was born into an unraveling mess was never purposed  "for display only." Certainly, there is no limit to God's  grandeur. He is to be adored and revered and praised, but He desires commune in both our delight and our distress.  

His life was designed for all generation's and all people's messy history.   His life was Divinely destined to be used and spent and broken and bruised that we could make sense of this gift of life we are boxed in.  He is the gift of the beat up box and the antique family heirloom box and  the eloquently wrapped new box. He is gift wrapped in swaddling clothes for the downcast and the destitute, the hungry and the  privileged, the babe and the elderly, the lost and the sure.


But we cannot keep God in a box.  When my son sets the scene of the birth...the gate, shepherds, animals, wisemen, gifts, an inn... history emerges.   

A busy Bethlehem bustles with sojourners sharing rooms on mats, with merchants selling silks, cheese, olives, grapes, tea, and fish.,  with servants working to wash clothes, wash feet, and bake bread,  and with a Savior to be born near a not so silent town. Finally, the story begins to unfold as we search the box for the  the baby Jesus we will set at his birth in Bethlehem.  

How to make sense of the mess of our days, of our busy, bustling Bethlehem days? And what inn have I boxed Jesus?  Am I the sojourner whose head lies on a crowded room's mats in search of a night's rest who misses the Promise of the birth of Shalom?  Am I the merchant that sells the fish to men but misses the birth of the Fisher of Men. Am I the lowly servant whose heart has missed the birth of the Hope it longs for?   What box have I tightly wrapped Jesus within? 

I view my son's most  accurate portrayal of the Luke scene. But HARK his mother cries as I realize we are missing the most important part of this scene!   BABY JESUS IS NOT THERE. JESUS IS LOST!  HE WAS NOT IN THE BOX!

My son can't imagine this could be true and hunts to find him. We laugh at the irony of the scene
set before us. We joke that the placement of the wise men outside the city will definitely have to remain that way if we cannot find Jesus. Nothing of this scene can move forward without his birth.

And this night is about his birth and our birth and His birth within us. We sense the precious and fragile.

We agree that we have time to find Jesus before Christmas. And we joke that Jesus probably wasn't really born in December, but probably more like September around all the other feasts and festivals. That could leave us a lot of time! We exchange excuses for why we have time to leave Jesus out of our Bethlehem. What will we do? WILL WE FIND HIM BEFORE CHRISTMAS?



And it all feels so urgent!  We must seek the King wherever He may be found.  And then suddenly it is.  He is not where we supposed Him to be.  He is not in the box we intended Him to be. We must look carefully around and search  places overlooked before. 

The proposal begins to form around the edges of my mind?  Can I leave Jesus out of our Christmas scene? My heart  falls to my knees because I know the times I have found excuses to leave Jesus out of my chaotic world.  I have placed Him in a box and lost Him.  I have set Him on display and called upon Him as the occasions need. Have I grasped the full truth of the scene of  Jesus' birth with eyes that see beyond this simple display stored in a box? 

As Western culture translates the account, on the night that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, they were rejected by a local hotel that had its “No Vacancy” sign turned on. But His birth didn't occur on the day of their arrival.  There was time to prepare for His coming!  

I too have lived full and missed the vacancy  that allows Jesus room to move and speak. People didn't leave Mary  to deliver Jesus alone as I depict in my mind.  

She would have been assisted by others waiting and preparing. There will be no excuses for not wandering  ready and awake anticipating what Jesus births. His delivery is precious and fragile and expected.

Mary and Joseph were  cared for days in advance of the birth probably at Zachariah and

Elizabeth's or a private home who let them in the family living quarters. And with the business of the days, the owners of the home would have given guests the upstairs chamber and then sacrificed their space in the family area.  And the valuable animals were also content and calm there on the first floor where people ate on cloths on the floor. And Jesus would be content, calm, guarded , and warm in a clean stall where feed for animals of travelers was placed. The picture painted of a world that left Jesus to be born among animals, isn't accurate. There was genuine hospitality. 


Is the box I placed Jesus in accurate?   This giving and joy of service demonstrates the true meaning of Christmas. Have I carried the cares of others in my arms?  Have I sacrificed my comfort for His way of service and peace? Have I offered to use even my meager means to serve the needs of those around me? Have I kept guard over ones that cannot defend themselves? Has the shalom of the birth of forgiveness been birthed in the chambers of my heart?

Christ was sent and birthed into this mess to become the Messiah in a most unusual way.Jesus was not born into a home where people closed their hearts and doors, but He was born into one of giving and sharing and helping and sacrificing of space.  Christ doesn't need a scene of poor circumstances that make His life seem demeaned and sad. He was born into life to die; His life a gift to give away  

 It is the birth of the extraordinary among common circumstances.   The true spirit of Christmas is that He was born into these common and usual celebratory circumstances.   And it is the birth of an extraordinary God displayed in my life and heart and not within the box I try to keep Him that shines light in the world. 


It is the about the conception of the inconceivable, the "word made flesh" for today and tomorrow,  that we shout. Jesus came and gave, and He comes and gives. Shepherds sharing the extraordinary announcement of His birth by angels made His life extraordinary news.


And so my son and I joke about how we lost Jesus in a box. When we find Jesus, we may not find Him in His usual box this Christmas. Thinking back to the beginning of the unraveling of this scene of the request of my son, "Can you make sense of this mess?"  I realize the lost Jesus from the box was meant for me to be found anew within my heart this Christmas.