Feeling dried up, worn out, deadened? We have hope.

Feeling dried up, worn out, deadened? We have hope.
“Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”
Ezekiel 37:12-14, NIV

 

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The Rose of Jericho, the Resurrection Fern, has an amazing capacity for survival. In times of drought, it dries out and shrivels up, looking dead, but hides a surprising secret. When given a long slow drink, that dead-looking fern resurrects and becomes lush and green and full of life again. If you’re a special needs parent, I bet you’ve got that same capacity for survival. We go through periods that are so hard, so exhausting, physically and emotionally taxing, that we feel pretty dead and dried up inside. I have days when I feel that way, don’t you? Worn out until there really isn’t much left. Just like that fern can live again, there is hope for you, and there is hope for me, too!

There is a pretty special prophet named Ezekiel who we read about in the Old Testament. I love the story of Ezekiel because he never intended to become a prophet. Ezekiel trained his entire life to be a priest. A priest had social standing, was respected, and admired. It was an honor to be a priest! But just as he was about to step into his role as priest and fulfill his duties, God called him to something entirely different – to be a prophet. Nobody really likes a prophet. They were looked down upon, disliked, and viewed with suspicion. But God used prophets to bring his stubborn people back to Him, so a prophet’s job was just as important as a priest’s. Few people desire to be a special needs parent, it’s something that often is thrust upon us, and leaves us feeling kind of isolated and at odds with the world, but it’s just as important and rewarding, isn’t it?

Well, God’s people seemed a lot like that dried up old fern – they were hurting, feeling alone, abandoned because they had rejected God. Have you ever felt alone and hurting? Isolated? It was Ezekiel’s job to bring them back to God. And God gave him an incredible vision, the Valley of the Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

In the passage, God takes Ezekiel to this valley of bones, old, dead bones. Because that’s how Israel felt, like wasted old bones. And Ezekiel was probably pretty horrified by those bones – because a priest would never touch a dead body! But God told Ezekiel to speak to the bones, and he obeyed. And the bones grew flesh, and became bodies. And God told Ezekiel to speak to those bones again, and he obeyed. And those bones were given the breath of life and became a vast army of living breathing people. This vision sounds more like something from the Walking Dead rather than a Bible story, so what does that mean for us?

It means that God sees us and hears us when we feel like we are dried up, wasting away, cut off, and abandoned. And it means that God wants to breathe new life in us! He wants to restore our weary souls, energize our lifeless bodies, and help us stand to our feet, ready to face another day. Just like that Resurrection Fern comes back to life with just a bit of water, God wants to breathe new life into our hurting, dead places.

Maybe you never planned on being a special needs parent, but now, somehow, you are. And it’s hard, and it can be isolating. It’s exhausting. And just as you are breathing life and love into your special needs child or children, God wants to breathe life and love into you. Breathe in, my friend, breathe in God’s Spirit and let God give you new life.

Dear God,

We cry out to You with our hurts, our loneliness, our isolation.
We cry out to You in our deadness, our dryness, our weariness.

We give you the dry places,
the hidden places,
the hurting places
so You can resurrect them.

Fill us, Lord, with Your Breath,
fill us with Your Spirit,
and give us strength to stand,
strength to fight, and
strength to thrive.

Give us Your infinite love
so we have love to give to those around us.

In the name of Jesus,

Amen

-Amanda Furbeck

This post originally published at Comfort in the Midst of Chaos on August 4, 2016.

He calls you Loved.

 

 

God doesn’t want to be a stranger.

He doesn’t condescend our failures, He descended to our places.  He walked our dusty paths and traveled well-worn roads to meet us.

He’ll come and meet you, right where you are.

God is not unknowable.

He doesn’t stand aloft, aloof; He waits patiently for invitation.

He wants you to cry out to Him, call on Him, count on Him.

He is not mad and overbearing; You cannot sin more than He can forgive.

You cannot make more mistakes than He can use.

There is no tear He cannot comfort, no trial He will not walk you through.

He doesn’t want you to be afraid.

 

God doesn’t want to stand off at a distance, watching, waiting.

He’ll reward you if you seek.

He has plans for you, he has hope for you, he has a future and you are in it.

He has wisdom for you, if you want it. He gives it freely when you ask.

He has strength for you, when you are weak in the knees, and He has rest when you are weary. He has perfect peace when all you’ve got is turmoil.

He knows your needs before you ask, your heartaches, your sorrows, the little things that delight your heart.

He has meaning for your life, and purpose.

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God doesn’t want to keep you at arms length; He isn’t far away.

God wants to wrap you in His loving arms.

He heals your broken heart, he bandages your wounds.

He takes away your tears, and seals them up in a bottle.

He washes away the dust and stink of your dirty feet.

He wants you to know and hear and heed the whisper of His voice.

He sings for joy because of you.

He calls you friend, He calls you child, He calls you firstborn.
He calls you Loved.

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Romans 5:11, NLT So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

I am Plan B.

They are my Plan A.

I always wanted them. Never for a second did I have to hesitate, to wonder if they were the wrong ones for me.

In that moment, I chose to give them my love and never ever take it back. When I received that call from the social worker requesting a placement, I chose yes. I chose them. In that moment, I had the privilege of choice and I am so glad I could choose to make them my Plan A. In that moment, I would do it all over again.

In that moment, they were never given that choice. They didn’t get to choose the house they live in. They didn’t get to choose who would fill that role as mom and dad. In that moment, they didn’t get to choose what their future would be like. And in that moment, they would never have chosen me. I was their Plan B. And I’m ok with that because they didn’t have the chance to chose, didn’t have the wisdom to choose, didn’t have the years to know if they even needed to choose. They didn’t get to choose at all.

They didn’t get to choose to leave the only home they ever knew.  They didn’t get to choose to leave the only people they ever though of as Mom and Dad. They didn’t get to choose to stay with sights and sounds and smells that were familiar. They didn’t get to keep their bed or their sofa or their favorite chair. They weren’t given choice at all. But they wouldn’t have chosen me, a stranger, unfamiliar, different. They didn’t choose Plan B. They would have chosen their Plan A, but they didn’t get to choose.

And so they grieve. In that moment, their grief is strong and hard and they do not have the words to tell it. They grieve the things they cannot understand, they grieve for missing lovies, and lost dollies, and left-behind toys and they grieve the world they left behind. They grieve for familiarity and family and foods and friends; they grieve their pets and their people, they grieve for things that maybe weren’t so good for them but they were the only things they may have had. Their grief is real and there really is no way to get around it. You cannot placate grief with lollipops or lessen pain with popsicles. You cannot make it ever go away, as each new stage and each new age brings new understanding of loss and gain and grief. And so they grieve on and on, in different ways on different days.

But time goes on, and we practice sharing the light and love and grace of Jesus and we practice giving hope and help and most of all we practice Love. And unfamiliarity gives way to comfortable and comfortable unfolds gently, softly, sweetly, into love. And Plan A and Plan B come together, somehow, someway, sometime, and make something so new and beautiful and shared and I am so grateful for it all. And every bit of laughter, every lasting hug, or late night talk; every meal and moment shared, every booboo kissed and every homework assignment completed together, and every holiday and every bit of help and hope lead to healing and healing leads to joy that is immeasurable. And the heavy weight of grief begins to lighten as we learn how to carry that load, together.

 

God’s not done

IMG_8904I like to have a plan. And I like it when my plan goes as planned. When everything fits into a neat little box and the day goes just as I wanted it to and I finish everything that I listed on my “To Do” list and no one is late and nothing goes wrong and everything happens just as I thought it would. And I like the next day and the next and the next to go as planned, too, with no bumps in the road and no falling short of the plan and no interruptions or changes or anything other than the plan and the future going just as I planned. I don’t what surprises in my future or bumps in my road or anything that isn’t supposed to be in the plan. Unless it is surprises of chocolate or coffee or flowers or chickens, I just want my future to go forward as planned.

And I don’t really like that so much of my future is already in my past and so many of the days earmarked for me have already passed me by and I haven’t accomplished nearly what I though I would or what I think I should by this many years. And I had plans from the time I was just tiny and small and had most of my days ahead of me and I just thought life would go as planned, and don’t we all think that? That when we are small and life seems so possible and the future so big and so long and so far away so we dive into our plans until one day we realized nothing went as we had planned because the future brought us so many bumps in our roadway and surprises that weren’t really chocolate or coffee but surprises that brought us ups and downs and good and bad and a lot of growth that got in the way of all of our plans.

But there is a goodness that comes from having so many years behind instead of in front because you learned from all of those surprises that God’s just not done, no matter how many breaths you’ve taken and how many more you have left God hasn’t stopped working and He’s just not done with you yet. And you learn that when surprises come and you have to put a pause on those glorious, hard sought plans that sometimes, new plans, better plans, than you ever thought possible come about. And when you’ve had so many years that have had a bunch of bad days, you see that no matter how bad those days were you kinda made it through somehow, someway, and if you did it before you can do it again. So now you’ve got this big bump in your road and it looks like a mountain and you think it has stopped all of the plans you had dreamed about and lived for and focused on and now you wonder if you will ever be able to make plans again. You can look back on all of those years and all of those breaths and all of those times you thought you wouldn’t get to make a plan or walk that path and you remind yourself that God is just not done and if there are more breaths to take then there are more plans to make. And God will take those broken plans and fashion and form and grow you and suit you to a new and a bigger and a better plan.

IMG_2590And we worry and fret and fear because we can’t see the future on the other side of that bump or that mountain that’s blocking our path but Jesus said don’t fear and Jesus said don’t worry and Jesus said He loves you so take another breath because you’re not running out of them right at this time and if there are more breaths to take there are more plans to make and when the future is uncertain and surprises and bumps come and go remind yourself, from all those years that God’s just not done and the future isn’t gone and you can climb that mountain or scale that cliff or jump that bump.  Hurdle that fear and hurdle that bump and hurdle the idea that you can’t make new plans and take that big breath and take the first step. God knows the future and God knows the plans and God knows the days and the breaths that we have left and when we’re surprised by it all God is not ever surprised or caught off guard.

And the future will pause and the plans will crumble or come to a halt, and maybe you’ll falter and maybe you’ll fall but God doesn’t fail and God won’t forget and God’s just not done yet.

 

A zombie apocalypse of biblical proportions

Are you a believer? In zombies, I mean. In that utterly fascinated, can’t turn away but totally can’t bear to look, peeking out from behind your fingers at the gory, horrifying images kind of believer. My seminary profs labeled it ‘fascination with abomination’ – when the horrors of this life, the frightening, the gory, the abhorred and abhorring, the terrified and the terrifying- capture our attention and we cannot break away, cannot escape its grasp.

Zombies are in the Bible.  Yes, zombies. In the very Bible. You probably didn’t read that story in Sunday School, did you?

Well, maybe they aren’t exactly called zombies, but the Bible has some remarkably similar imagery. I’m not gonna lie, there is some stuff in the Bible that even Stephen King couldn’t have dreamed up. God has a pretty amazing imagination and I’m pretty sure He can imagine anything He wants, zombies or not.  (If you like zombies and horror movies, you can read more about some of the imagery here, in this nifty article by Michael Gilmour). We don’t talk about in church much, but it’s there. Right there, in this Bible of ours.

There is this crazy, horrifying, can’t-turn-away zombie-esque story in the Bible that speaks to me. It hits me in the gut, in hits me in the heart, and leaves a mark on my soul. You might know it from an cliche of a children’s song, but the prophet Ezekiel experienced it as a kind of zombie apocalypse, a frightening, gory, can’t turn away, can’t get away kind of a vision – and it was all God’s idea.

I cannot bear to watch horror movies. I hid under the covers when my husband watched Kujo. I still have nightmares of Freddie, and Sweeney Todd turned my stomach sour in the first five minutes. But this story – this little piece of history that is just one small part of His Story, I cannot break away from. It’s the Valley of Dry Bones.

IMG_7754I love this story because it shows me that God doesn’t always do as He’s told; He doesn’t always fit that mold we made for Him- He is an imaginative cinematographer, a detailed Creator, a hope-instiller. Ezekiel trained His whole life to be a priest so he could serve God. And in that apportionment of history, in that little time-lapsed view we see what an honor this was for Ezekiel and His family. And when he was just about 30 years old, when Ezekiel was just about to step into that honorable position of serving God as a priest, God gave him a new assignment. Ezekiel was to be a prophet instead. Ezekiel kissed his honor goodbye and stepped into the unpopular role God had been designing for him all along. Isn’t that just like God? To do something surprising to us but something  He had planned all along, something beyond our imaginations.

IMG_0201Fast forward a bit, to a time when the nation of Israel felt utterly hopeless. A whole nation of people without hope. Feeling alone. Feeling abandoned and rejected by God.  But God was up to something, and he showed Ezekiel what He was up to through a horrifying, can’t-turn-away zombie kind of a story. God showed Ezekiel a valley of dried up old bones.  Maybe you’ve watched enough horror movies that a valley full of old, sun-bleached, dried up bones wouldn’t make you a bat a pretty little eye. But to Ezekiel, who was taught his whole life that he, a dignified, ceremonially clean priest-to-be, must never come in contact with a dead body, it was the worst. It was stomach-souring, hide under the covers, peek behind his fingers, vomitous stench, kind of awful. And then God told Ezekiel to talk to those bones, to tell them to get up. And then those bones did the unthinkable, the ultimate, silent-screaming-inducing kind of a thing that only an old skeleton could do. Those old dead bones got up.  And they grew muscles. And veins and arteries and tendons and organs and everything else that makes the difference between a skeleton and person. Those dead bones became living, breathing, hoping people. And this entire, horrifying, stomach-souring show was so Ezekiel would know without any kind of question that there was HOPE for his nation, that God was going to bring that dead and deathly ill nation back to life. Ezekiel became far more than just a priest that day, he became a hope-instiller for an entire nation that needed to reconnect with God.

I hate to admit that I have a few dead bones around – dried up dreams, hopes that fell by the wayside. Plans that went wrong, horribly wrong. There’s a few spots in my life that have felt abandoned, rejected, dead. There are skeletons of failures tucked away in a few dusty closets, buried beneath smelly old shoes and lost mittens. But God is the hope-instiller, the breather-of-new-life into dead bones. The resurrector of people and broken plans and dead dreams. And this story is exactly what I needed, this gory, horror movie created by a loving God to show me that nothing is too dead and old for Him to imagebreathe into it new life.

God, the instiller of hope, the imaginative designer of our stories,  is breathing new life into some of my old dead and zombied dreams in surprising ways. What old bones, and dreams, and zombies, and plans, are you hiding away that need new life?

Never a false hope


There was that hard time,  when my son was tiny, and frail, and his IMG_0201premature 2 1/2 pounds of life didn’t come with any sort of a lifetime guarantee, and I didn’t know how his desperate lungs could fill themselves with air even just one more time. It was hard to find my hope because I thought my hope was lost. And I needed that nurse who offered me her hope that he was going to be just fine.  She propped me up with all of the hope that was her own so I could be every bit of mommy that his tiny body, heart, lungs, and soul could need to get him through that one very hard day in a series of hard, hard days. Her hope was never false – it was everything I needed to hang on to in that moment, on that one very hard day. And today he is just fine and 8 years strong and smart and full of love and life and a beacon of hope beyond anything we could have ever even hoped for.

IMG_0180And I want to be a hope bearer, too. I want to bring hope to someone else because I’ve been in that place and I know that feeling, that one singular desperate ache, the emptiness, the lonely need, to find someone else who can possibly ever hope on my behalf when I’ve just plum ran out of every bit of hope that I ever thought I had. I know what it is when you try to muster up all the hope that you can find and come up with none to get you through that really hard day in a series of hard, hard days.


May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 5:13, NIV 


Sometimes, its easy to see hope in every little place; sometimes, hope is elusive. We know it’s out there, somewhere, but we can’t quite get a grasp of it. And if we catch it by the tailfeathers, maybe we’re afraid to hang on to it for dear life, because, what if that thing we caught is not really a hope at all, but a forgery of falseness that leads us daringly away from our tenuous reality only to dash us on the rocks below.

But I say hope is hope, and if it gives you something to cling to tightly, something to grasp even if it is no more than a handle to pull yourself out of the deepening water, then it cannot possibly be false hope because it is real and it is tangible and it is giving you what you need to make it through that hard moment on that hard day. And I say Jesus doesn’t want you not to hope because the Bible says that our God is the God of hope and He wants you to overflow with hope so that you have enough for you and enough to prop up the person next to you, too. And I want to be that hope-bearer, too.

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And sometimes, sometimes, I hear a tiny chirp of hope in the peeping of the baby chicks nestled safely in my library. And some moments, some days, I watch it grow before my eyes as tiny shoots of kale and broccoli break out of plump little dollops of dirt. And some days, some weeks, I smell a hint of hope in the air as winter’s gasping fades away into the sweet sweet baby breath of spring. My burgeoning homestead shows me there is hope, reminds me when I lose my hope, that Jesus is all of the hope.

It is the possibility of a better, healthier future. It is the summer harvest coming soon, with an unending supply of sun-warmed tomatoes, and delicious zucchinis, and melons snuggled in the dirt. It is the gleam in the eyes of my aging house kitty, invigorated by the joys of spring air seeping in through opened windows. It is the sound of laughter as my children roll haphazardly down the clovered hill, landing willy nilly, belly up, and head over feet trying to find the bottom fastest.

My sweet little baby homestead shows me my hope because it is the footprint of a Creator who came to give us all Hope in the form of a baby, born to suffer, and die, and raise again so He can be our everlasting hope, our one true hope, our greatest, our only Hope. And I have precious little to offer you, friend, but I can walk alongside you on my little patch of dirt and offer you what hope I have. And I can hand you baby chicks to cuddle in your empty arms or playful children needing to be tagged in the warmth of the sun. And I can pass you the freshest eggs, and maybe they will be help you find your hope and show you there is hope so you can remember all of the baby miracles and great big miracles that the God of Hope can do.

But I can do a little better, I can help you plant some seeds in a pot, or a mug, or an old egg carton filled with dirt. And I can introduce you to the One who really is our Hope, and IMG_0209together we can water those teeny tiny seeds of hope and place them in just so, so that as the sun shines on those little seeds and creates a miracle that makes them grow, His love can shine bright right on that broken heart you carry and make a miracle of hope to grow, right there, right here, right when you need it most on this day, this hard day in a series of hard, hard days.

I want to be a hope-bearer, too.


 

“Hope” is the thing with feathersimage

BY EMILY DICKINSON

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

 

I’ll come to you.

“I know right where you are and I’ll come to you,” echoed my new 1147603_10201900890624407_1866935575_ohusband in my ear. The tow truck driver hollered these words to him to pass on to me. I was stranded on the side of the highway, barely out of the path of cars whizzing by in their rush to get home.

It was frigid and my car was dead. Not even a click when I turned the key. It was so dark no one could  see that I was inside the smokey blue Dodge Colt, stranded and alone. I locked my doors and huddled under an old blanket, shivering in the 10 degree weather. The car shook from the passing traffic and I couldn’t see who might be out there in the darkness. Not a soul, not one, stopped to help. Maybe that was better, safer. I climbed into the passenger side, furthest from the wildness of the traffic, praising God for 1 thing – my very first cell phone, purchased the day before, at the insistence of my groom. The phone I didn’t really want.

557048_4218347977465_104829219_nHe’s coming to me, echoed in my head.  He must have broken the laws of man and nature to get to me so quickly, because the tow truck driver, who I had seen only a few times before in my small town, arrived within a half an hour. He saw me shaking, and with compassion in his eyes helped me into the cab of his truck. “I said I’d be here; let’s get you warm.” And he cranked up the heat and loaded my little car onto his big truck.

He knew right where I was, and he came to me. Yes, the tow truck driver.

Yes, Jesus. Jesus knew right where I was, and He came to me.

I find so much comfort in that statement – he knew right where I was. It5311_10200880558236735_1400010509_n was going to be ok.  Nothing would stop him from getting me home safely. He meets us right where we are. Just like the woman at the well (John 4). Just like Mary and Martha (Luke:10-38-42) Just like Lazarus (John 11:43). And just like the women bewildered by the empty tomb (Matthew 28). He came to us, each one of us, right where we are. He didn’t wait until we knew the answer, or had it all together. Jesus knows us right where are – in the cold, in the dark, afraid, alone, He knows. He knows when we are alone in a car or a tomb or even near the tomb; when we are dying or living, working or not working, Jesus knows just where we are and He comes to us to warm us with His love.

23924_1385760284543_4829787_nDo you remember how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? It’s such a well-known Bible story that we don’t think about it too deeply, do we? But Lazarus was dead. And Jesus came to him, and met his greatest need.

Then there were the women near the empty tomb. Jesus, Savior, Messiah, King, the Word, God, defeated sin and death in this most incredible amazing victory – the event that changed the entire course of the world forever and ever – He could have gone anywhere, or done anything. But He met those women in their greatest need, right where they were. He met them by His tomb. What a stark picture of the life giving Jesus meeting us in our places of death and despair, offering us hope, resurrection, life.

There is never a place where we are too far for Jesus to come us, no place too dark, or cold, or alone. There is no death that can prevent Him from coming to us. There is nothing that will stand in Jesu11990476_10207840579712922_8025513724316635598_ns’ way. He knows where you are and He is coming to you.

This week, this Holy Week, where we remember Jesus’ suffering, and His death, and His ultimate resurrection, we remember how Jesus gave everything because He knew right where we would be. He wasn’t afraid to join us in the cold, in the dark, in the fear, or in the pain, or even in death. Jesus knows right where we are because He’s been where we are. And He is coming to us.

Hope at the homestead: when God got His hands dirty

imageLife gets a little too heavy sometimes, when the bills roll in faster than the paychecks do, and the babies aren’t sleeping at night because of stuffed up little noses, and I can’t control the hurt that’s haunting my heart over the pain my loved ones bravely face, and then the laundry mounds up high and it’s just the last straw in an overwhelming pile of straws after staying up late drawing puppies for a 2nd grade diorama, and I stop and wonder, where is God in all of this? Where is He when I can’t keep up with the life that I created and the circumstances that I didn’t? Oh, in my head, I definitely, pridefully, know the answer.  He’s right here. He never left. And He never will. But sometimes it takes my soul a little longer to catch on to when my head once learned all the right answers in Sunday School, so I squirm in my spot and whine about life and finally, finally, seek out ways that help me feel closer to Him.

And I start to remember that all of us here in the northern hemisphere are pretty Vitamin D deficient, which leads to fatigue, and fatigue to overeating, and overeating to a bit of depression when the winter gets deep and dark. And it’s no wonder that all we want to do is sit on our sofas eating cookies and dozing off when the heaviness of life gets a little to weighty to bear and makes me feel far away from God.

So instead of reaching for the choimagecolate I reach for a doorknob and step out into the sunshine so I can look for signs of life in the outdoors, signs of hope, signs of lighter and brighter days. And it is there that I relearn my favorite life lesson that God has revealed Himself through His incredible undeniable creation. And I start to see His hand in a freshly budded leaf, and hear His voice in the delicate song of a robin, and He whispers to me softly through the whispering of the woods and my soul starts to catch on that God is with me and I was simply looking in the wrong place.

cropped-IMG_7754.jpgAnd I remember that when God created this earth, He spoke and made it out of nothing. From nothing, not from dirt or mass or matter or even so much as an atom or electron, from nothing His words brought forth life, the life that now tentatively pokes its way up and out of the frozen ground, and flits about snatching worms out of muddy spots, and shows that winter doesn’t last forever. It’s just a season and if God can create everything we have ever known from absolutely nothing, ex nihilo, nothing at all, than surely He can help fresh, new life poke through my frozen heart and refresh the staleness that has been my spirit in the harshness of the winter days.

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And that is what I love the most about my budding homestead, that every inch of every acre reveals a little bit of God’s unfathomable creativity, His mindfulness of every detail, His penchant for variety, His love of life and newness and spring after the winter and most of all, His love and His nearness for me. And every blistered hand from raking and every aching back from sowing, and every tiny squeal of delight from tiny humans gathering eggs or chasing chickens is an opportunity, a possibility, and the unbelievable ability to work alongside of our Creator to bring forth life where there wasn’t life before; it is the means to tend, and nurture, and experience miracles that are tiny and miracles we’ve never seen before, and a way in which we can learn to love and adore and learn to be loved and adored as we hear His whispers in the woods and feel His nearness in the sun and sense His breath breathe new life into our very souls.

And it doesn’t matter if you’re in the city or the country or in the in between, if you feel like God is far away I can promise you He’s not. I know it in my prideful head from Sunday School but I am daily learning it in my soul that God is close even when I worry that He is not, and we can learn this daily lesson together, one tentative step, one chicken egg, one blooming budding growing stem at a time.

And maybe you don’t have an acre, maybe it’s just a backyard spot, or a sun speckled window with a little room for a bowl or even just a potato where you can plant a seed and call it a homestead of your very own. And as the seed pokes it’s tender stem through the ground of that pot that is your very own homestead you can see and learn and know that the very same God who spoke into life lacey soft petals and stormy weather strong trunks of trees and green and plush blades of grass and singing birds and chicken eggs is the very same God that got down in the dirt of the earth and fashioned you with His very own hand (Genesis 2). And that my friend is hope and joy and love and closeness and may we never forget the holy God who got His hands dirty in the earth- for us.

And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

Hebrews 11:6, NLT

 

Emmanuel, God with Us

 

Advent – that glorious time of year where everything sparkles and shines and smells of cinnamon and spruce. That time of year when we hustle around, surviving on coffee and spurts of shopping-frenzied adrenaline and perhaps a sticky bun or two, and squooshing and squeezing in one more thing before we have to be at that next one. When, now more than ever, we are beckoned, courted, and teased by all manner of delightful, stuck-in-your-head-forever Target ads, provoking us to empty our wallets for all those lovely, sparkling trinkets that our beloved little people simply cannot be without.  Advent – the time of waiting, seems to be the time when we are never still, but instead, constantly juggling the added responsibilities of pageant practice, and children’s choirs, and school programs, and Christmas parties and all of the fun and all of the mundane that takes up our every spare second. Advent – the time of year when we stuff our homes to the brim with hidden gifts, waiting for the opportune moment to be given.

This season of Advent is also the time when the church lays aside it’s typical worship music for something of a more traditional fare, carols steeped in nostalgia and restyled for the new styles. Where typical Advent sermons, I find, are heavily laden with sincere, heart-warming, stories, practical advice, and Scriptural helps to keep us keeping Christ first  and in the forefront at Christmas. And we need this!  More than ever our hearts long to be tugged by anecdotes, like the often recounted account of the widow who surprisingly received a puppy for Christmas from her late husband, giving her a reason to celebrate the season when she thought she had none. The time of year when we are taught and groomed and reasoned into putting our focus on the Christ-child, the baby born in a manger. Emmanuel, God with us. And it never, ever gets old, no matter how old we get, because the baby in the manger was born for each and every one of us. And we who believe will never forget the joy of the earth in that moment. We can’t forget, we shouldn’t forget the moment that Peace came to earth to be our Emmanuel. But as I reflect on the Christmas story, I think maybe we did forget something. Or at least, maybe I did.

At Christmas, we seem to forget that baby isn’t in the manger anymore. That tiny baby, God with Us, that gave up the glories of heaven to be with us in a whole new way isn’t just a baby all wrapped up and tucked in the hay. That God who became flesh isn’t helpless, or frail, or even new. The baby that we celebrate grew into the God-Man that walked among us. That healed us. That forgave our sins. That baby was crucified and rose again – not as a baby, but as our Savior and King. And He did it all to restore a broken world – to restore a broken me and a broken you – to redeem every mess we ever made, to reshape our bottomed out hearts and breathe new life into our tired, weary existence. He became a baby because He loved us. But He didn’t stay in the manger.

This Advent, don’t forget God with Us. The baby doesn’t lay still as a tiny wooden idol beneath our sparkling trees, or tucked neatly into manger scenes dressing up our altar tables. He’s not just the God with us, He is the God who is STILL with us. He is the God who is with us when we are hustling and bustling, and shopping and serving, and cooking and cleaning. He is our Emmanuel our God with us when we feel Grinchy or giving. He is the God who is always with us when we are singing Christmas carols and sweeping up Christmas cookie crumbs and when we are weeping for Christmases and souls gone on.

Don’t just put the baby first this Christmas. Put the baby who became our Savior first this Christmas. Jesus Christ, our Messiah, our Healer, our Hope. Our Friend, our King, and our Savior is with us. And we need Him.