surprised by something

Celebrate That! Part Four

I love a good mystery.  Give me a movie with a puzzling storyline or a big twist delivered right at a crucial point and I’m hooked. The unexpected fascinates me. The story in this fourth and final post of the “Celebrate That!” series, does not disappoint.

Maybe you know the Christmas story? The virgin Mary conceives a Baby by the Spirit of God. Her fiance decides to stay with her because he has bought into the idea that angels give out assignments and unscripted events change life plans. Now we are in the final scene.  Joseph and Mary were hunkered down in some obscure place. Then the Baby comes.

In the very next moment we are out in a distant field with shepherds and their flocks. (Read about it here.)

fullsizerender

Plot twist.

What? Where did they come from? What do they have to do with anything?

The main event was back in a crowded place and now we are outside of the city, in a field, at night. There were a lot of predators in the area who would love to come and nab one of the sheep for a midnight snack. So the shepherds had keep a careful watch to make sure that didn’t happen. It was another day at the office for them. They were used to this.  It was part of the job. They were on the lookout for signs of trouble.

Until then.

Suddenly the sky and fields were transformed. Ok, it doesn’t really say that but it must of happened.  An angel shows up, remember, angels always come at Christmastime. This time he comes with glory. Whatever glory is, it was everywhere.  The exact words are, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them. So I’m pretty sure it was spectacular and unsettling. The things of God usually are.

The shepherds were afraid. I can’t imagine what the flocks did?  The angel said he had good news that will cause great joy for all people. He tells them about the Baby that was born back in the city. I imagine there was more than one baby born that day so the angel describes where to find the Baby of good news.

Heaven came down and put on a show.

Right as he was talking a huge gathering of heavenly beings appeared. They were singing.  An outdoor concert. The night sky, a holy cathedral.

Sacred sounds.

Glory dancing.

The moon and stars paled in comparison. Ordinary night becomes extraordinary. Mundane to exquisite. No longer mere shepherds doing their job but mesmerized, frightened souls coming undone by what was happening.

Christmas had come and made them human. Christmas had come and showed them they were more than a job. Christmas had come and told them their one life held a bigger story.

Christmas had come! 
sing choir

These shepherds and their flocks were in the right place at the right time. Of course they were.

And that’s the thing. The angel knew where to find them. A dark and ordinary night in a field; at a temple where a priest was praying, in the dream of an anxious groom-to-be and before a young girl.  Heaven always knows where to find us.

Shepherds and their flocks pushed into the wilderness looking for food. Fearing the danger. No one goes there because they really want to. Some wildernesses really can’t be avoided. But there they are. The place God decides to be discovered.

Sometimes I wonder if God pushes me into the wilderness?

Sometimes I wonder if the wilderness is the place He wants me to discover Him?

Sometimes I wonder if the wilderness teaches me how to move on, with God?

Wilderness Christmas.

And isn’t that Christmas? God knowing where we are and coming to be with us? Coming to tell us we are wonderfully human and make us so? Coming to move us from our fields?

It had to be the shepherds and their flocks. They are us.

Everyday people living everyday lives. In a divine twist and the story takes a turn.  The story is for us. Christmas tearing open the dark and scary night to let heavens light in.

Christmas is not exclusive. It’s inclusive. We are the reason Christmas comes at all.

Earthly people intermingling with the Holy and all that it means. Miracle Baby born as God had decided long ago because we had moved so far from Him that He would not stand for it. Christmas was coming whether humanity wanted it or not. Jesus comes whether humanity wants Him to or not.  God does not forget His promises.

And isn’t that grace? Unmerited favor?

It’s always Christmas. Christmas is a new kind of story. It’s meant for us.

If you look closely today you can see the dazzling display of glory in the night sky. Filling the air with sacred sounds telling us that Christmas is here. Christmas is always here. Here for the everyday people living everyday lives.

I don’t know what Christmas is for you?  The celebrations, gatherings and presents are a lot of fun and honestly they do represent the spirit of Christmas if we let them. But Christmas comes to us, it comes for us.  It’s the twist in our story where things take a turn.

Do you have a Christmas in your story?

May we this season be curious about this Baby and they crazy way He came to us.  May we long to have our dark scary nights break open to let heavens light in.  May we find contentment in becoming human as God first had hoped for us.  May we discover Emmanuel, Jesus with us, through the up and down storyline of our everyday ordinary lives. O come O come Emmanuel.

When Jesus was born, God sent the sheep into the fields.

Celebrate That!

Diamonds and Other Precious Things

I’m just going to be real honest here.  I love treasure hunting. Not in the way you’re probably thinking.  I’m not talking about garage sale-ing or shopping for clearance.  I’m talking hard core treasure hunting; like searching for gold, buried treasure and stuff like that.

Now another confession moment, I’ve never actually been on a treasure hunt, unless you consider an afternoon on the beach with a less than cooperative metal detector, or riffling through old houses at an estate sale.  But I really want to go on one.  It’s a bucket list kind of a thing.

I recently discovered a state park in Arkansas where you can actually search for diamonds in the rubble of a diamond bearing volcanic crater.  If you find a diamond,  you can keep it.

Seriously.

You can find a diamond and take it home.

Who doesn’t want to do that?  Well, ok, so maybe that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine but it does mine.  I have something in me that wants to push through the dirt, rubble and obstacles to find something of great worth.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.32.34 PM

When I looked at the pictures of the diamonds people were finding in the park I was surprised. They didn’t look like what I thought they would. I didn’t know they came in so many colors

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 1.32.01 PM

The diamonds I have mainly seen are white.  These seem to be the gem of choice for jewelry.  Diamonds typically have been a symbol of wealth and status, opulence and beauty.  Many women prefer a diamond for an engagement ring because it reflects that she has been valued beyond the worlds most desirable gemstone.

But looking at the diamonds from the Arkansas park opens up an entirely new conversation. Does a diamond in the rough have the same value as those that have been polished and cut? Are they not just as much of a diamond?  Is a rough diamond as worthy of a pursuit as a perfectly crafted one?

It seems the diamond of great popularity is the perfectly crafted stone displayed in all its’ glory.  The image of beauty and distinction. Anything less won’t do.

We are all diamonds.

Oh, I would like to reflect the most desirable diamond, however. The one that is cut at the right angle to complement my shape.  The one that fits perfectly into a setting that sparkles and catches everyones admiring eye.  I don’t want to be the diamond of many colors, sizes or shapes.  I don’t want to be clear on one side and cloudy on the other as many diamonds are.

Truth be told, I am that diamond. I have many facets to my personality, experiences, preferences and presence.  You do too.  But why is it that we only find a certain attribute, a perfectly cut diamond, to be the one we want to be esteemed above all else?  Why are we afraid? Why are we uncomfortable with ourselves?  Why is it that we feel an image is something we have to “keep up”?

We are so much more than an image.

Jesus met a woman once while traveling. (Check out John 4) This woman had an image.  It was the only image that fit her at the time and she wore it well. She was a woman who appeared to not be very well liked, to have made mistakes and perhaps gotten herself into situations that she was being judged for.  She couldn’t keep up with images of the honorable women of her day so she succumbed to pressure by staying away from her community. She had no choice but to embrace being a woman with the image of dishonor. An image that wasn’t truly who she was. In feeling unworthy, I wonder if the colors, shapes and cloudiness of her life seemed to disqualify her from being loved and accepted?

We are afraid of being disqualified.

Holding up an image always put us on the defensive, never knowing if someone will pull back the curtain and see the real us is something we protect ourselves against.

Let’s be honest. Sometimes the real us isn’t what the world wants to see anyway.  At times, it’s not what our closest loved one wants to see. They want the perfectly shaped and cut diamond. They don’t want the one that takes the work.  Ouch, but true.

I wonder how often I disqualify the ones that I love because they aren’t as I want them to be or even as I need them to be?

Am I willing to accept the uncut diamonds for their implicit value not for the value of what they bring once they are all fixed up?

Jesus didn’t buy into what the woman was selling. He begins to talk to her not as the devalued, disavowed woman that she believes herself to be, but as a person of worth.  He starts out simple.  He asks her for a drink of water.

Jesus always starts out simple.

He pursues conversation. One of the purest ways to value another human being is to simple engage.  Jesus gives her His time. She is caught off guard by this. No one wants to talk to her but Jesus does. Oh He sees that she isn’t like the other women.  She has taken an alternative path in life, one that has probably come with heartache, disdain and conflict but this doesn’t disqualify her. There are not limits to unconditional love. There are no social, political or religious positions to defend with Jesus. He’s not trying to convince her of anything.  He’s just being Jesus, loving Lord.

Jesus shows there is more than meets the eye.

As their conversation unfolds it’s obvious that this woman is informed and smart.  Jesus has a way of revealing our intelligence to us when we didn’t think we had any. They discuss spiritual matters. Then they discuss real world matters.  It’s obvious that this woman is raw but brave.  Jesus has a way of revealing our bravery to us when we didn’t think have courage. He shows her who she is, not who she has believed herself to be, not as who she wanted the world to see her as, albeit a controversial or cast off.

She is a diamond in the rough and Jesus loves her for it.

There is so much more to people than meet the eye.  Too often I allow boundary lines, color lines, preference lines and battle lines keep me from seeing the diamonds in my midst.

I am guilty. I often only see what people aren’t not what they are.

So I want to go to Arkansas.  I want to go on my treasure hunt.  I want to find diamonds, all kinds of them.  I need to go.  I need to see diamonds as they really are, not as I want them to be.

I want to be a treasure hunter, like Jesus. He helps me know that a diamond in the rough is worth digging for. He would  know.

Three Surprising Invitations

So recently I was reading the very beginning of the Bible. I don’t normally write about the specific things I learn directly from my reading but today I decided to share a surprising discovery.  I hope you enjoy it and that it gives you food for thought.Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 12.50.22 PM

If you know the creation story from the book of Genesis in the Bible, you have read that God created the earth and heavens.  But you might not know that in between the words of the story, there are three surprising invitations.

It took God 6 days to create everything. The Bible also records that 6 times God looked around.  HE SAW.  Then He called it all good.  I’ve never really noticed before that before God called it good, He saw.

God invites us to see.

In the middle of all His work God stopped, looked around and took inventory. He remarked about the good work He created.  We are invited to stop and look around in the middle of our work.  Find what is good and note it.  Become familiar with recognizing good.  It reminds us that God is near. Sometimes you cannot find what it is you are looking for if you don’t stop and see.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 1.03.21 PM

The text then says God completed His creating.  His work had an end.  Everything came to a stop.

God invites us to stop.

It doesn’t mean that He was done creating.  The Bible is very clear that God continues to do a new work. But He was done with His work for the week.  Enough was enough. He knew when to put down His pencil. We too are invited to stop.  We are nudged to relax the grip of control over our affairs, knowing there is more to be done but yet saying, “Enough, it will wait for another day”. Our work is not meant to be the essence of our lives. It has an on and off switch.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 1.04.41 PM

Once God was done creating Genesis records that He rested.  He literally ceased working**.  His seventh day was different from the previous six.  He didn’t work.  He rested.

God invites us into a rest.

God invites us to have a time in our week that looks different; where we enter into a “rest”. A stretch of time that isn’t like the other days.  Moments to walk away from the work. This rest is halting our regular gig in order to experience a break from it. (How that pans out for each one of us looks different.) To “rest” is to admit that God occupies the throne of all creation and He is the One who keeps your world spinning, not you.

These invitations opened up a host of questions inside my head.

  • Do I regularly look around and see the good in my life?
  • Do I acknowledge God?
  • Am I familiar with noticing good things in my work or am I negative or critical?
  • How comfortable am I with stopping?
  • Do I know when to stop? Stop striving, stop worrying, stop thinking, stop talking..?
  • How hard is it for me to stop….anything?
  • Do I enter into intentional rest?  (Not the same thing as being lazy.)
  • My mind may be working even if I’m not, how well am I disconnecting?
  • Do I rest from work and remember I don’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders?

These invitations from God surprised me.  I didn’t know in the re-telling of creation, was also an invitation to see God, to experience freedom from pressure and to rest in the knowledge that the same God who is capable of creating EVERYTHING is capable of handling my “creating”.

Sure, God created it all. But through it He invites you and I to continually experience awe, relief, and renewal.  I don’t know about you but that is appealing to me.

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. ~ Colossians 1:16

**Quick side note.  For me the meaning of “work” or “creating” is anything that we may generate in order for our lives to move forward; being fruitful or productive.  It’s our 9-5 work, it’s the care for family needs, it’s the volunteerism we engage in.  That’s my take on it.

Ready, Set, Go

The other day while driving I noticed a young boy waiting to cross a very busy intersection.  This boy was young; probably no older than 6. School had let out and he was a good 1/4 of a mile away from the elementary school.  There were no crossing guards this far away.

I thought to myself, I would never let my child cross this street alone.  He’s too little to be doing this.  Where are his parents?

Stopped at the stop light I felt anxious inside as I watched him press the cross walk button insessantly trying to make the light go faster.  Not only was this boy young but he was small. Very easy for a driver to not see him, whether or not he had the right of way to walk.

All of my maternal instincts were in high alert watching this boy.  Then the light turned.

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 9.07.24 AM

Instead of bolting to run this little boy looked in all directions making sure there were no cars coming his way.  He looked several times and then began to run across the crosswalk.  The entire time he was looking about for an unsuspecting car. As he reached the other side he skipped along toward home.

He was ready.

I was impressed. Someone had fully prepared him for the journey and he was capable of handling it.  I thought they must have rehearsed this so many times before they were confident he could manage on his own. My first inclination was to place blame on the parents for not being around for this little guy.  He seemed so vulnerable.  But he wasn’t. He was ready.

Maybe this boy’s parents or grandparents were not able to walk down to the school to walk with him?  Maybe he didn’t have any siblings or older neighbors to accompany him? Maybe there was no other choice but for him to go by himself?

It dawned on me…

Even the smallest and most vulnerable of us can be ready to do big things.

To be ready is to be teachable.

I often feel too small to cross the preverbal cross walks in my life. I feel unequipped or incapable.  I focus on how busy the road is forgetting that I’ve been given eyes to see, legs to run and a brain to discern information.  The problem isn’t that I have to cross a busy road, it’s that I have to be teachable.  I can still learn.  I can still become ready to cross the road ahead where there are no crossing guards.

Life becomes stagnant when we stop learning.

Learning shrivels when we don’t want to cross busy streets anymore.

Right now I’m looking to cross a few busy roads.  Lately I’ve been praying that I wake each day with a teachable attitude.  Learning is uncomfortable for me sometimes.  I have to put myself in the student’s chair and become humble before others. I have to face the things I don’t know or the things I can’t do.  Learning requires getting outside myself. Growth always involves some kind of stretching. Stretching hurts. But like that little boy, I want to be ready and get set to go.

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. ~Matthew 8:2-4

12 Things I Learned From Giving Up

A while back I challenged myself to create something new everyday.  It could be a music, art or writing.  The only catch was that I couldn’t give up.  I was giving up, giving up.

Wow!  It was harder than I thought.  Creating something new sounded exciting and freeing.  It thought I’d have an endless flow of artistry that would be like a never ending road.

I was wrong.

But I learned a few things along the way.  Here are 12 of them.

  1. Not giving up is harder than quitting.
  2. Not giving up reveals that somedays I have absolutely nothing to contribute.
  3. Not giving up teaches me that creativity is a shifting river.
  4. Not giving up makes me embarrassed at my inabilities.
  5. Not giving up makes me stare down my fears like playing a game of chicken.
  6. Not giving up makes my eyes search for something new.
  7. Not giving up always benefits more than just me.
  8. Not giving up is a cousin of discipline.
  9. Not giving up sometimes means doing something you don’t have the energy or inspiration to do.
  10. Not giving up opens you up to more.
  11. Not giving up is like someone who overstays their welcome.  You have to accommodate and host them anyway.
  12. Not giving up is an accomplishment all its’ own.

There is something to be said about enduring and how it changes you from the inside out.  I can honestly say that this lesson was very powerful in my life.  After I was done I was surprised to learn that the lesson I sought to learn wasn’t about creating art but about creating something new in me.  To not give up on a task showed me things, revealing things, curious things and good things.

To push through a plateau or a stagnant place showed me there is more to me than I knew.  There is more to God than I knew.  He is the Author of not giving up after all.  Scripture uses words like unfailing, faithful, enduring, almighty and never ending to describe Him.

Hidden Colors

Hidden Colors

Do you need to not give up on something in your life?  Have these 12 things reminded you that even though it’s hard to keep going, you can keep going.  Even if all you can do is something small like waking up and breathing a simple, “Hallelujah God”.  If you’ve done than than you’ve done more than most.