Christmas Present

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…

Philippians 1:29

It’s that time of the year when peppermint and pine have staged a coup and sent all things pumpkin spice into an ignoble retreat to the clearance shelves.

The North Pole has launched its annual penetration into American homes as well. All over social media, parents are documenting their complicity with the greatest stalker of our age, the Great Elf Himself (you know who I mean – the man in the red suit), by positioning his elvish spy network in various locations throughout their homes. Evidently this is how he sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake…

But of course, all of this martial festivity is a feint to disguise the main offensive which targets our contentment and will lay siege to bank accounts and credit lines for the month of December: the tantalizing lure of the perfect gift.

Ah, Christmas!

Is it just me who sees the irony in all the smiling faces and twinkling lights when the first Christmas was celebrated in the murky stink of a stable? When the first Gift was born to be raised up as the Lamb of God who would be slaughtered to take away the sins of the world?

Perhaps this is why Paul told the Philippian church it had been granted to them to suffer for Christ.

Being a nerd, I had to peek into the original Greek and research the word translated granted. That word, transliterated echaristhe, carries the connotation of doing a favor, graciously bestowing, or giving freely.

Think about this: the Philippian church had been favored with suffering for Christ’s sake.

If you’ve read this blog for long, you’ll know that I have written about the unusual blessing of chronic migraine and what my God has done in me through pain. But I can hardly say I’ve suffered for His sake; I’ve just learned – or rather, am learning – to suffer well for His glory.

But meditating on this verse lately has changed the way I pray for my kids.

Like most parents, I’ve wanted to give my kids good gifts. I’ve longed for them to learn from my mistakes and spare themselves the hardship of self-imposed suffering. I’ve sincerely desired for them to have a better life than mine; to make better choices and live with less difficulty.

But by praying for them to be spared hardship, struggle, and suffering, am I praying to deny them a wonderful, God-given favor?

As I look back over my life, I see suffering that I had no control over, but I see more well-deserved suffering brought on by stubborn attempts to live for myself.

I’ve no right to complain about any suffering, really, when I consider that my Creator chose to join in human suffering despite never engaging in human sin. But I have zero reason to complain when I brought pain down on my own head simply because I refused to obey God – or at one point, refused to acknowledge Him at all.

Yet in His astonishing grace, even the harrowing consequences of my crimes are redeemed. Once I surrendered myself utterly to the Lord, He even turned the most awful, negative consequences of my sin into a glorious gift.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Romans 8:28-29

And He really does. In the economy of my Sovereign, truly nothing is wasted!

And so, I no longer pray that my young people will be spared suffering.

Instead, I have begun to pray that no matter how or why they suffer in this life – whether brought on by their choices or thrust upon them by others – God will give them the grace to suffer well.

By suffering, I pray they will be drawn closer and ever closer to the redemptive, compassionate heart of God. That they will choose to suffer for Him for a little while so they can rejoice together with Him for all eternity.

And when I think of suffering in the terms of eternity, what gracious favor is offered to us – embrace suffering for few paltry decades with the promise of everlasting joy to look forward to when it’s done.

What a gift, indeed!

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

This prayer was originally published on my old blog in 2012. It’s no less true today. Happy Thanksgiving!

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Father, Provider,Comforter, Deliverer, I have much to thank You for today. You have given me so many blessings, and for many such as food, shelter, clothing, and health I have expressed my gratitude numerous times. Yet there are blessings I have neglected to thank You for, in part because I have only recently recognized some elements of my life as blessings.

Betsie Ten Boom once thanked You for the fleas in the filthy concentration camp barracks she was imprisoned in, only later to discover that it was the fleas that enabled Your word to be spread and shared without interference from the guards. She was wiser than I and recognized that Your blessings do not always come dressed in a package the human mind appreciates. I have neglected to thank You for the “fleas” in my life, and today I intend to do so.

Lord, thank You for long, friendless spans of time in my pre-Christ life. Those periods of separation, though they chafed at the time, prepared me to walk the narrow path unaccompanied at times when I find that it is necessary to choose between walking alone or forsaking Your way. Thank You that feeling rejected then has galvanized me against being rejected now, for the zeal I now have for You and Your Word is not always readily embraced, and I again find myself categorized as a freak, albeit for better reasons this time around!

 Thank You that the same loneliness left me with a tremendous ache that was oh, so ready to be soothed by Your love. My heart had been seared by suppressed anger, by fear and rejection, and by my own bad choices, and it was calloused and numb. The shock of meeting You, the realness of You, pierced through and made a start from which You began Your patient work of pruning. It hurt, but I knew somehow even then that it was worth it–that You were worth it. Thank You for carefully debriding and then healing the fathomless wounds of my heart.

 Thank You for bringing me away from my hometown, for causing every friend I thought I had to desert me, for showing me the intense suffering of a young person dying of cancer, and for bringing me to the point of questioning every worldly philosophy my non-believing self had embraced. Without being confronted with death, I may have never found life. Without that sobering morbidity thrust into my directionless, bar-hopping lifestyle, I may have continued in my flippant attitude about death, life, and all things Christian. Thank You for forgiving me of the disrespectful manner towards You that was my custom at the time. Thank You, also, that in those small acts of betrayal and desertion, in the agonies I witnessed, and in the death of self I experienced, I am not alone. Jesus, too, experienced those things, and so I know my Redeemer can also empathize.

Thank You for the headaches and other pains of aging today that are a constant reminder that the outer man is wasting away but the inner man is being renewed day by day. Thank You, too, for the increasing slips of my mind and waning of physical strength that remind me that Your power is perfected in weakness. In the relentless decay of self, I find that apart from You I truly can do nothing.

Thank You for allowing me to walk through times of darkness and despair in my Christian life, for in those bleak spells I have learned that You truly are with me wherever I go even through the valley of the shadow of death. Thank You, also, that in those times of desolation You have stripped away all the consolations of religious feeling, all my pride, and even the sense of gratification that comes of service to others or to You. You have utterly flayed my soul until all of me was raw and naked, weeping before You.

Painful as that those times were, in them I have found that at last I know where my allegiance honestly lies and it is no longer to myself. With my spirit laid bare and bereft even of the longing for You and the satisfaction of knowing You, You gave me the blessing at last of utter assurance in this: I cannot be separated from You. When You asked me, “Would you, also, like to leave Me?”  I can now echo Peter in saying, “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life!”

 Thank You for the times of financial crisis my husband and I have been through. I thank You specifically for the time when we had a single car, single income, both a baby and a mother-in-law to support, a tiny duplex where we all lived, no television, basic phone service, no Internet, and no cell phones. Though it did not make sense, we chose to forsake my income and obey Your voice that I should stay home with our infant and our future children. We learned so much: That You truly provide for our needs always, that there is a very distinct difference in what we need and what we want, that You bless obedience even when obedience does not make human sense.

We are in a different stage of life now, Lord, and we have so much that I sometimes take it for granted. I find I am now feeling that my needs have increased  when in fact it is only my wants that have increased. Lord, forgive me for presuming upon Your provision and thank You for the lessons You taught me in poverty. Should You choose to remove all the material gifts You have lavished on us, I will still follow You. You are my God. You are my Portion. You are my Reward.

And I am Yours, wholly Yours. Thank You for all the blessings of pain, irritation, and desolation that have brought me to this conclusion. Thank You for the fleas–every last one of them

Attitude

Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Colossians 4:2, HCSB

I know I’ve said it before, but we really are a funny people.

It’s ironic that my country celebrates a national holiday devoted to giving thanks for what we have, then finishes the day off with a commercial holiday in which many retail businesses sell enough merchandise to shift their financial ledgers from red to black (from loss to profit).

“Black Friday” doesn’t even start on Friday anymore, people! Let that one sink in a moment. Evidently, in this nation of wealth and abundance, we can’t even spend nine or ten daylight hours in a state of gratitude and contentment.

I could pick on the fact that, if you were to create a linear graph, you’d probably find the increasing secularization of the good old USA has follows an inverse linear curve to the gradual encroachment of retail sales into Thanksgiving day. I suppose if you’re offering gratitude to an ambiguous nothingness as opposed to acknowledging God as the Provider to Whom we give thanks, there’s really less of a reason to devote an entire day… but I won’t pick on this one.

Instead, I’ll pick on me.

In a recent reading of Colossians in my late Pappaw’s NASB Bible, chapter 4 verse 2 in the NASB grabbed me by the throat. It hasn’t really let go since.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…

Colossians 4:2, NASB

Devote yourselves to prayer… with an attitude of thanksgiving.

As a sinner saved by the unmerited grace of the God I once denounced and by the sacrifice of Yeshua Messiah whom I formerly laughed off as a fable, my whole being really should resonate with thanksgiving. I’ve been forgiven for denying the One who loved me enough to take the death sentence I deserve for my crimes!

For this alone, I ought to have gratitude to God in all circumstances. All of them. Period. After all, no matter what happens to me in the 80-odd years (give or take) I spend on this atmosphere-cushioned ball of rock and water, I’ve been granted an eternal life that I don’t deserve during which I will forever revel in the joy of the King of kings!

But beyond that unimaginable gift, my King has also granted me food, shelter, healthy kids, a loving husband… and the list goes on and on and on. Recently, He has answered a few prayers in overwhelming ways – some of them quickly!!

Yet I’ve realized that when I pray, what I focus on is not the hundreds of granted requests, but the handful I still wait to see. My heart is weighed down by the list of lost people or bleak situations who show no glimmers of interest in the Lord, no hopeful sparks of light.

I focus, not on the abundance God has lavished on me, but on the concerns I’ve yet to see resolved.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of walking with a long-time close friend, and she mentioned how we are both seeing God at work now in both people and situations we fervently prayed together over for years.

During some of the darkest times we shared with each other, lifting up our families in prayer, we never even saw so much as the twitch of God’s finger. His hands remained – almost maddeningly – still.

But now… Yesterday, we both walked and gave thanks together for the many ways we’ve recently seen Him moving in those very same situations.

And so, my friends, not only this week, but from here on out, I am resolved to keep track of the ways I see my God at work, both in the large and the small ways.

I am resolved (Lord help me to keep this commitment!!) to devote myself to prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving, looking forward with gratitude to see how my King is mighty to redeem even the most damaged, hardened, and imprisoned heart.

Will you join me?

Book Review: The End of the Magi

After Yeshua was born in Beit-Lechem in the land of Y’hudah during the time when Herod was king, Magi from the east came to Yerushalayim and asked, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:1-2, CJB

I discovered Patrick W. Carr quite by accident while browsing through my library’s catalog. The Shock of Night‘s back cover description promised to fulfill the vague “something different” I’d been looking for, and the story well-satisfied it’s promise.

I devoured the entire Darkwater Saga and followed it up with the Staff and the Sword series before I decided to research the author. To my delight, his website offered the opportunity to help promote his newest book, The End of the Magi. I jumped at the chance.

The End of the Magi is a different genre for Mr. Carr – historical fiction rather than fantasy – but it did not disappoint.

The book tells the story of a young club-footed Persian man, Myrad, whose adopted Jewish father is one of the magi in Ctesiphon, the ancient capital city of the Persian empire. Myrad dreams of a strange star and wakes to find his father has had the same dream.

On the very day Myrad’s father decides to seek the youth’s promotion from apprentice to full magus, Musa, the Roman concubine of King Phraates sets a bloody trap for the magi who oppose her aspirations to become queen.

In the resulting chaos, Myrad’s life is thrust into an unexpected trajectory, though he continues his father’s work on an ancient calendar marking the days until the fulfillment of ancient prophecies of the Jewish Messiah – a day that may occur during Myrad’s lifetime!

I love this book for many reasons. I thoroughly enjoy that the main character, Myrad, is not a typical, flawless storyland hero but a man with a club foot who overcomes obstacles through tenacity and determination. Mr. Carr touches nicely on the Biblical story of Jesus from an interesting perspective – that of the magi who the Bible tells us “saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”

Mr. Carr does a fantastic job speculating on what little is known about the magi and combining it with some historical facts that are known about the region and time period. It’s a unique look at some of the lesser-known empires and on what life may have been like in the midst of the constant conflict between Rome and those lands she had yet to conquer.

There are some wonderful twists in the story that kept me engaged. I want you to read it for yourself, so I won’t spoil them here! However, I would like to say that I also adore that this is not just another Christmas story ending with the birth of Yeshua (Jesus). Mr. Carr looks beyond that one extraordinary event to an even more extraordinary one which stretches the understanding of Myrad and the rest of the wise men.

The End of the Magi is one man’s search for truth and purpose in a world filled with conflict and competing worldviews. In a modern setting, it could be my story. It could even be yours.

Either way, like Myrad, we are all faced with the choice of what to do with the knowledge of Yeshua. Some will choose to reject it, scoffing. Others will acknowledge it but venture no further. Still others will embrace it and structure their lives around it.

Read this book to find out Myrad’s choice. Then give some thought to your own decision. What will you do about the Jewish Messiah?

My Little Psalm

I am doing a Bible study with a friend entitled Promised Land; Living for God Where Culture Is Influenced. As a part of the work, we were challenged to write our own psalm, committing ourselves to make God known to the world and to offer it as testimony and a prayer of thankfulness. Here is my feeble attempt to express the inexpressible joy of being loved by God:

When Your power, I flat denied;
Wrapped in darkness, tried to hide;
Still You never left my side;
Oh my King, my everything...
When in grief, my anger burned;
Fury unleashed toward You, unearned;
You never left me, though I spurned
You, my King, my everything...
When confusion throttled me;
Choking chaos, I could not see;
Gently, softly called to me,
The mighty King, my everything...
Then my grief I tried to drown;
In the bottle, played the clown;
Still You never did back down;
My patient King, my everything...
Yet I, in stubborn pride did flee;
A hedonist, thought myself free;
But pleasure still eluded me;
Still waits my King, my everything...
Then intellect became my god;
But over hollow ground I trod;
Each footstep cracked the grand facade;
All wise, this King, owns everything...
Sweet cup of bliss raised to my lips;
But bitter down my throat, it slips.
Denial to frustration, tips -
I won't submit! There is no king...
What looked like freedom, in truth chains;
Weighed down, fear spikes, fury reigns;
Rage overflows, no thought constrains
Me now. Poised to spring, a feral thing...
Frenzied anger, too long pent
Grapples with the King 'til spent;
Then sobbing, clinging, soul's lament
Poured out to the King, my everything...
Blessed surrender, great irony;
The One I fought now sets me free!
All I am belongs to Thee,
My gracious King, my everything!
I live for Him. For Him, I'd die.
No longer lost and lonely, I
Cherish Yahweh, God Most High,
The one true King, my everything.

Thoughts on Halloween

***This is a partial re-write of an old post…

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

Confession: I am a Halloween scrooge.

For one thing, I’ve always suspected a group of economists plotting to stimulate the economy in lagging months are behind certain holidays, of which Halloween is one.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than happy to part with my scant dollars to help someone in need, though I prefer not to leave my name attached to said dollars. But when it comes to forking over cash for extravagant costumes, ghoulish decorations, or mountains of sugar-laden junk, I’m less than eager.

Still, the main reason I dislike October 31 runs a bit deeper.

If you enjoy the ghastly and the macabre, riding through zombie-infested forests or being startled by creaky floors and hideous visages in darkened houses, that’s fine by me. You do you. It’s just that I do not find any pleasure in these things.

For me, Halloween is an annual reminder of the old me; a day which recalls pre-Christ fascinations of which I am now ashamed. As a atheistic teenager, I had a morbid interest in the occult.

In the days before the internet and smart phones existed, I would visit the restricted section of my high school library (yes, we really had one) and read up on the wicca. I made my own Oiuja board and toyed with it, and I listened to dark, sinister bands like Danzig.

In truth, I didn’t really believe in such things, but I had an interest in the possibility of a spiritual realm beyond what I could see. In retrospect, I know now that God has set eternity in our hearts, but since I had convinced myself He wasn’t real, my enemy slipped in and harnessed the reality of my heart-longing for his own nefarious purposes.

But God had a plan for me even then, and He answered the prayers of those who faithfully interceded for me during those dark years.

A handful of experiences left me convinced the things I explored were more than myth. One in particular shook me. At my fast-food job, a man approached the counter with a terrifying grin and a knowing look in his eye. He handed me his card – that of a wiccan high priest, and either told me I’d be able to find them or the message was written on the card. That portion of the memory is unclear, but I do recall the message.

Keep in mind this transpired before internet search history even existed. I’d read actual, paper books and used a home made Ouija board. There was nothing tangible anyone could have used to track my interest. It spooked me.

Between this and a handful of other bizarre occurrences, the mask of this world slipped and I saw there was a very real, very present spiritual element behind the shiny surface of the American dream.

Fortunately for me, God had other plans. Rather than drawing me in, these events terrified me and caused me to reject the darkness vehemently. It was one step in the process which eventually opened my eyes and heart to my Lord Christ. I cannot claim any merit of my own for this, only that the Lord had designs on my life and used my youthful interest to awaken me to a greater reality.

This is why, when I finally came to Christ on my knees and broken that I had ever dabbled in things so vile, I had absolutely no trouble accepting the fact that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness…”  

For me, this passage is not a poetic description but a gritty reality. I had seen those spiritual forces of wickedness, faces leering at me, smug in their certainty that I would come as they beckoned. But I did not.

The fact is, there is an actual evil stalking this world today. It can be seen murdering babies in the womb in the name of convenience and in the “you deserve it” mentality of self-gratification. It is found in children’s programming that champions disrespectful and selfish attitudes and in adult programs that endorse negative thinking towards spouses or children.

Evil is evident as sexual and physical abuse, in the modern slave trade, and it lurks behind the refusal to accept responsibility for sin. It lulls human beings into an entertainment-glutted stupor. It gnaws the face off a homeless man, and it quietly swindles elderly widows, sometimes even in the name of Jesus Christ. Evil is both brutal and subtle, shocking and silent. It displays itself brazenly in hideous, revolting ways and it dazzles and confounds with a sly and handsome facade.

 Evil is a reality, and I simply do not wish to parody or play with it in any way, nor do I wish my children to be desensitized to it in even a small degree. For me, Halloween is a reminder of the greater spiritual battle that we face each morning both out in the world and within our own hearts.

It makes me sorrowful for all those who are yet deceived as I once was, lulled into complacency and unaware of the spiritual battle that rages around them. It reminds me that I am the chief of sinners, once rejecting and mocking the King who died as a substitute for me. I am humbled and grateful at the extent of His forgiveness, and because of it I have no wish to revisit in even the most playful or lighthearted way the darkness of my past.

 I want to be clear: I cast no judgement upon others who find enjoyment in haunted houses and zombie makeup. Perhaps it is simply that my faith is too small for me to enjoy these things. . . I am fine with admitting that, for I have yet to move even a small hill or caused so much as a blade of grass to uproot and plant itself in the sea.

There is nothing in my life to point to a mighty or an earth-shaking faith, and I certainly do not think more highly of myself because I choose not to participate in the October 31 festivities. I simply do not need reminders of the evil in this world.

I would much prefer to avoid all that is fearsome and ghoulish and keep my mind fixed instead on all that is good and just and pure and holy–on the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Only enveloped in His presence do I find hope, joy, and peace. And that, my friends, is precisely where I want to be.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Ephesians 6:12-13

Migraine and Forgetfulness

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

It’s been a very long time since I wrote a migraine post, so today’s the day. My migraine journey is intertwined with my walk with the Lord, so I can’t really write about one without the other.

Things have been better. One of the newer anti-CGRP prevention medications, Emgality, has cut my headache days down to half or less. What’s more, it also helps with the other, non-headache symptoms such as dizziness, brain fog, and the like.

You see, migraine is not just a really bad headache. It’s actually a neurological illness. Because of this, migraine is a full-body experience that begins before there’s even a slight twinge of pain and ends long after the pain has faded into oblivion (often taking your ability to cognate with it!).

It isn’t just the head and brain that are affected, however. The GI system is often in play, and some people experience numbness or tingling on one side of their body or in their limbs. You can click this link to find out more information.

Lately for me, dizziness has been one of the most alarming warnings of an impending migraine attack. It’s getting bad enough that I no longer climb up on stools or high places without good support because I never know when a dizzy spell will strike.

Thankfully, like I said earlier, Emgality has cut my headache days down to about half. It’s also made my rescue meds actually work much of the time (they weren’t even working before), and has decreased the aphasia and some of the brain fog.

However, half of 30 days is still 15. I’m a long way from well, but you’d be surprised how exciting it is to just have those 15 days back! Even if a good portion of them is still occupied with the prodromal or postdromal phase of a migraine, at least I have more functionality than I have in years past.

Recently, I was tested for celiac disease, which meant I had to eat wheat for several days before the blood draw. The addition of wheat to my diet brought back the persistent daily headache, so I am keenly reminded of how unpleasant the constant, nagging pain can be. It made me so much more thankful for where I am now!

My prayer, though, is that if the migraine situation should continue to improve and the attacks become less and less frequent, I pray I will never forget the lesson. I especially pray that I will never forget my utter dependence on God.

We humans do have a tendency to forget Him when things are humming along nicely.

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land … with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deuteronomy 6:10-12

And yet, it’s when things are humming along nicely that we should be praising Him louder, filled to bursting with gratitude.

That’s what He has been working in me lately. Gratitude. Entering His courts with thanksgiving. Setting my mind on Him and not on earthly things – whether good or bad. And again, thanksgiving and gratitude and praise.

For migraine or no, good times or bad, God is good, and He is worthy of all our praise!

Lord and Father, teach our hearts to love You more and more. When things of this life are good, let us set our minds on You and not forget You. When life throws us a curveball or even pelts us with clod of dirt, teach us to set our minds on You still, always giving thanks in every circumstance for the glorious hope we have in Christ Jesus our Savoir, amen.