Looking Back

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Another year is nearing an end, and it is common to look back and take stock of what the year has brought to, taken from, or challenged us with…

It can also be a time of regret– things not done, opportunities not taken, mistakes not corrected, hopes and dreams unrealized.

I keep two journals– a daily planner, filled with goals I hope to accomplish and plans I hope to fulfill; and my prayer journal, filled with requests, praises, answers to prayer, and names of people and places I wish to lift up in prayer. I spent some time the other day remembering and reflecting on this past year.

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As I stop to pray over the next/last few days of 2022, I want to remember two things in particular: God knew everything that would happen this year. And God was “there” for everything that happened; not just aware of what was going on, but as close as our own breath–loving, caring, and providing strength and comfort in every moment. He shared our tears and our laughter, and sent us mercies in the form of friends, neighbors, and even strangers– “angels unaware.”

God knew that on January fifth, my mother would fall and break her leg, starting her on a sixth month odyssey of hospitalization, rehabilitation, assisted living, and finally, moving into a new living arrangement near my sister’s house. He knew that my mother-in-law would fall the very next day, breaking her leg and requiring a similar journey through hospitalization, and two nursing homes, before finally being able to return to her home before Christmas.

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God knew that I would be diagnosed with diabetes, and that David would face a challenging wound in his leg this year. Our lives and routines have been altered in ways we could never have predicted.

God knew that our extended family would face divorce, death, illness, job changes, and more. He knew that members of our church family would face cancer, heart disease, and death; just as many others would experience healing, weddings, and new birth.God knew what would happen worldwide– the death of a Queen, the changing of world leaders, war, famine, earthquakes and blizzards and hurricanes.

And God was there for every moment, joyous or terrifying; heart-breaking and uplifting moments, personal triumphs and worldwide tragedies. Miracles and losses, devastating news from the doctor, and joyous answers to prayer.

Looking back can be painful. Dwelling in the past–even on good memories, can be unproductive. But looking back to see how God has provided in our need, given us strength for life’s challenges, and brought unexpected opportunities gives us cause to sing praises and cause to hope for the coming year.

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Thank you God! Thank you for bringing us through another year– hopefully wiser and closer to You. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given, and those you will bring into our lives in the year to come. Prepare us to be patient, hopeful, strong, and kind in the time to come. And help us to share this hope and strength, kindness and endurance to those around us, by pointing them to You. Amen!

Christmas Prayer

Father, this Christmas, I want to

Confess that I have not really comprehended what Christmas really means. There are times throughout this year when I have not made “room in the inn;” I have not welcomed Christ in the “least of these.” I have not followed the star, or listened to the message of the angels. I have not come to the manger with gifts. I have been like the people of Bethlehem– asleep and unaware of the miracles taking place under my nose. I have not acknowledged that you are

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Here. Not just that you came. Not just that you lived, and died, and rose again. But that you are present with me–Now! Every moment! Forever. Here. Not just beside me, but indwelling…living in me and working through me, flawed and cracked vessel that I am. Living in and working through other ordinary people You send into my life (as You send me into theirs).

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Righteous Redeemer, help me to understand better Your Wisdom, Your Power, Your Glory, and Your Holiness. You did not come to rescue us from some failed plan or cosmic mistake. You are altogether perfect in Your plan of Salvation. Even when I cannot understand Your ways, they are higher and better than anything I can imagine. And Christmas, with all its wonder and glory and contradiction was never a surprise to YOU. It wasn’t Plan B. It was timed down to the minute, scripted to the very last detail, and part of the eternal plan of Salvation.

Inspire me again with the wonder of Your Mercy and Grace. Help me to experience the Joy of the Shepherds, the Awe of the Magi, and the Hush of Heaven as You left Your throne to become a little lower than the angels who shouted Your Glory into the darkness.

Send me, as you sent the Shepherds, to make known Your wonders, as you sent the Angels to tell of Your Good News of Great Joy, and as you sent Your Son into the world to make reconciliation. Strengthen me as an instrument of Your Grace, as a Witness of Your Might, and as an Ambassador of Your Love.

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Transform my thinking. Build my Trust in You, that I would spend less time fretting about my daily needs and the unforeseen circumstances of my days, and more time praising You for what you have done, and will do, and are doing. Help me to embrace Your

Might, Your Majesty, and Your mystery. That the same voice that spoke galaxies into being and the same right arm that raised up empires was wrapped up in rags and laid in a Manger, meek and tiny. That Your glory was hidden in a cattle stall in a quiet village of a conquered nation. That Your plan to bring us life involved Your own painful death at the hands of people You had raised up to power That all of Eternity could be changed in a single instant, even as the Earth slept.

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Accept my adoration, incomplete and uncomprehending as it is. And equip me to Act in ways that bring You Glory and Honor. Advance Your Kingdom, and Thank You for making it possible to be reconciled to You.

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Sovereign Savior and Gracious Shepherd, let Christmas be born in me anew this season. Let me grow in Faith and Obedience. Let me shine like that first star– drawing others to worship You.

Amen.

A Prayer for the “Slurpee” Babies

Today is July 11. In certain parts of America, it is known as “Slurpee” Day. “Slurpee” is a brand name for a slushy drink sold at 7-Eleven convenience stores around the country. And since we write our dates with the month, followed by the day, today is “7/11.” Many 7-Eleven stores will be offering specials on their “Slurpee” drinks all day. And on a hot July day, that’s a great deal!

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But today is also the birthday of a very special person in my life. I can still remember the day she was born, and seeing her for the first time. She was beautiful (and still is). She had a full head of thick auburn hair, and seemed delighted to be alive and in the world– and we were all delighted to greet her! I remember commenting that she was a “Slurpee” baby– being born on “Slurpee” day. But shortly after she was born, it became clear that all was not “right” for “Chelsea” (not her real name). Chelsea did not respond to sights and sounds like other babies. And she started having violent seizures. Doctors soon determined that Chelsea had experienced several small strokes when she was in the womb. They also determined that such strokes would continue, and her chances of survival were slim. Immediate brain surgery would be necessary. At one point, the prognosis was very grim– even with surgery, she might be blind, deaf, and unable to control the movement in her limbs–essentially, she would be a vegetable if she survived at all. The first year of her life was a roller-coaster of surgeries and hospital stays, followed by extensive therapy and treatment that continues to this day. But she survived!

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So today, and every July 11, Chelsea, and her friends and family, celebrate her life– her survival, her triumph, and her continuing struggle. Chelsea will be 15 this year! She cannot walk, and she has trouble talking and using one arm. But she excels at school–she loves reading and music (Yes, she can see and hear!) and she loves anything having to do with animals, especially dogs and horses! She loves jokes and riddles, and loves to listen to her Daddy play the guitar, or spend time with her many friends. She even loves cool treats– not necessarily “Slurpees,” but sweet drinks and yogurt parfaits! Her life is not easy. Her parents still have to help her dress and eat, even though she is almost fully grown. She has to use adaptive technology to write and do her schoolwork (and what an incredible blessing that it exists!) She spends most of her days in a motorized chair. And, like most teenagers, she has “moody” days and gets frustrated–her physical limitations add to that frustration. But she loves life, and she inspires those around her to embrace the positive.

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I am writing about “Chelsea” today, because I love her– she is my grand-niece, and my favorite “Slurpee” kid! But I’m also writing because there are many other “Slurpee” children like her who are not alive today, or who are made to feel unwanted and “less than” other children. Chelsea’s health issues were not detected until after she was born. Had they “discovered” the damage she sustained in the womb, chances are very great that her mother would have been encouraged to have an abortion. The early prognosis was so horrific, and the struggle so difficult, that it would have been seen as the “most humane” option. Her “quality of life” would have been weighed in the balance, and her right to experience life– even at it’s most difficult moments– would have been invalidated by those who claimed to “have her best interests at heart.” Her parents could have made the choice to put her in an institution, or give up on her chances to live a purposeful and fulfilling life. Instead, they made numerous personal sacrifices, and have advocated for Chelsea’s well-being. And, if you ask them, it was worth it all!

I’m not here to judge those parents who have had to face this horrible choice, or those who have determined that they could not provide the care needed to raise a child with “special needs.” The needs are very real, very difficult, very expensive, and sometimes heart-rending. Most people I know have never had to face such challenges. And even my nephew and his wife were not called on to decide on Chelsea’s fate until after they had grown to love her for the baby she was. And there are days when they feel overwhelmed by the responsibility to care for a child beyond what they had ever planned. But I have also known Chelsea, and other wonderful children with extreme needs, who make the world a better, richer, more empathetic, and more joyful place– not because they are “special needs”, but because they are uniquely SPECIAL individuals! I also know of parents who have opened their homes and arms to foster and adopt children with special needs. Their courage, love, and sacrifice have made it possible for thousands of lives to reach their incredible potential.

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My prayer today is that Chelsea, and all children who are marginalized because their lives are somehow deemed “less” than someone else’s, will find strength, hope, laughter, and respect. And that those of us who have had a “normal” childhood and family experience would embrace the joy that comes from LIFE itself, and praise the one who gives it– precious, abundant, and eternal life!

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years..

My paternal grandmother was born in Shanghai. But not the Shanghai most people think of. Not a great Eastern city of importance, but a tiny settlement called Shanghai (or Shanghai Corners) in southwestern Michigan. It doesn’t have a post office; it’s not even listed on most maps. And it wasn’t named directly after the great Chinese city– it was named after a breed of chicken (most likely the breed now known as Cochin)!

Jesus wasn’t born in Jerusalem. He wasn’t born in Rome or Athens, or New York City or London or Johannesburg or Tokyo. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It wasn’t as small as Shanghai Corners, Michigan, but it wasn’t a city of great importance, wealth, or industry. And yet, it was the place where history would be reshaped. Our modern calendar divides into what happened before that night in Bethlehem and what came after. More than two thousand years later, no event has been able to displace it as the pivotal event of recorded history.

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And this division wasn’t caused by a revolution, or a series of wars. It wasn’t shaped by disaster or plague, victory or catastrophe. It came silently with the birth of a single baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and placed into a makeshift bed. But all the years revolve around that single birth. All the great triumphs of history– the moon landing, the invention of the printing press, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the building of the Sphinx–all are placed in the context of the arrival of God in human form. God stepped into the limits of human history, and the timeline was permanently altered. Before His appearance, prophets and seers looked forward. After His arrival, history looks back. But His birth is the focal point; the period. The end of the Beginning and the beginning of the End.

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The hopes of all the ancients–shrouded in mists and wonder– were given flesh and bones. The fears– dark and amorphous– were blinded by the light of His Presence.

What hopes and fears are we carrying today? Our hopes have a name– Jesus; Emmanuel! Our fears have nowhere to hide from His power. And this wondrous gift, while it first arrived in the little town of Bethlehem, reaches around the entire Earth– to Shanghai, and Shanghai Corners; New Delhi, and St. Petersburg; Dallas and Buenos Aires; Cairo and Caraballo; Los Angeles and Lagos; and thousands of small towns in between.

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“Oh Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in:
Be born in us today.”

On This Day…

There is a website, On This Day, that can tell you an interesting or important fact about something that happened on any day of the year throughout history.

http://On This Day – Today in History, Film, Music and Sporthttps://www.onthisday.com

Of course, this site only gives you certain facts from certain years and in certain areas of interest. So its focus is limited to one or two events per day from random years. Sometimes, the dates and facts are important events in world history; other times, they are trivial but interesting details about a sporting match, or a film star.

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I don’t have to consult On This Day today. Something very personal, very important, and very tragic happened on September 1, 1998. My father died. I watched him take his last ragged breath in a hospital bed. I held his hand moments before he died, and I wept with my mother and sister as we tried to take in the great loss. There are many days that are etched into my memory– birth days, death days, graduation days, wedding days–that will never make the pages of history books or web sites. There are other days, “ordinary” days, that pass me by without reference to any memories at all. Many days that mean little to me fill others with joy or pain.

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Yet each day is a gift from God to each one of us. My 24 hours today will be different from yours. Somewhere, this day will be a new beginning of life– elsewhere, it will be someone’s last day. Small things will happen on this day– a cheerful greeting, a burnt slice of toast, shared laughter with a friend, a hug, a stubbed toe–things we won’t remember tomorrow, or things we won’t value in the moments when they happen. Big things will happen, too–joyous occasions and tragic events that may shake families, communities, or even the world. This day may be filled with sunshine or rain, happiness or grief, achievements or disappointments.

God sees them all– He not only sees them, but He shares them with us. Every moment–every place– every person!

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On This Day, you can be assured that God is with you. In joyful moments and tragic circumstances. In fearful situations and quiet moments of routine tasks. In crowds of commuters or in lonely corners. On This Day– and every day– God wants to share all that is on your mind and in your heart. On This Day and in this moment, God is as close as your next breath.

(See Deuteronomy 31:8)

Celebrate Life

My husband has celebrated his birthday this week, and it reminded me of some of the many ways we celebrate life. Before a baby is even born, we share special moments of excitement–sonograms, gender reveal parties, baby showers, picking out names, feeling little “kicks” and movements in the womb. We give gifts and blessings when the baby arrives. We take baby photos and commemorate all the “firsts”– first tooth, first steps, first words, etc. And each year, we remember. We send cards and other birthday greetings; we give gifts and have parties with special cakes and songs and party hats. We invite others to celebrate, as well.

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Not everyone celebrates birthdays, and some people make a mockery of their advancing age, but most of us think birthdays are a big deal, and worth celebrating. LIFE is a big deal. Life is a sacred gift, and we should cherish every moment of it. We celebrate the events of life– achievements, milestones, graduations, new jobs, promotions, relocations, marriages, anniversaries, retirements, and much more. Celebrating life is an industry– cards, balloons, T-shirts, reception halls, catering, special clothing (wedding dresses, tuxes, caps and gowns, etc.), special foods, party favors, confetti, gift items– we spend a lot of time, energy, money, and even “life” celebrating our lives.

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And we also celebrate life at its end. Even as we grieve the loss of loved ones, we seek to memorialize their lives. We hold funerals, publish obituaries and memorials, erect tombstones, build monuments, and write tributes and biographies. We celebrate the achievements, memories, and legacies of those who pass on. Their lives mattered. They don’t cease to matter when death comes. For the Christian, there is a special reason to celebrate the end of life– because it is NOT the end! Imagine the celebration of Life that will never end–the celebration of eternity with the Author, Giver, Redeemer, and Sustainer of Life!

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Many people have wished my husband an happy birthday this week, and they’ve offered prayers and good wishes. Today, I will be praying for many people who are celebrating a birthday. I will offer up a thanksgiving for their life, and celebrate the One who created each unique person on today’s list.

We’re going through a journey that has focused on worldwide death– fear of death and disease, despair, anger, desperation, and hopelessness. We shouldn’t ignore the reality of death around us, but we mustn’t let it overwhelm the life that is within us. Life is worth celebrating–ALWAYS!

Holy Infant, So Tender and Mild

It is one of the most popular Christmas Carols– we sing it every year: “Silent Night, Holy Night; All is calm, all is bright; ‘Round yon virgin mother and child– Holy infant, so tender and mild; Sleep in Heavenly Peace– Sleep in Heavenly Peace.”

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Each year, we celebrate the coming of Christ– “Son of God; Love’s Pure Light.” God coming to earth to live among His creation– Emmanuel, God with us. And it becomes familiar, and gets mixed in with stories of Santa Claus and gift-giving, decorated trees and flying reindeer.

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But stop a minute to reconsider the amazing juxtaposition–the very Word of creation became a speechless baby. The ruler of galaxies came to earth naked and needy, hungry and helpless. Holy Infant–fully God and fully human in His frailty.

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God could have come as a ruler of might; He could have stepped out of Heaven in a blinding flash of light, spoken with a voice of thunder, and made the mountains tremble. He could have filled the skies and scattered all the stars and clouds. He could have come in all His Majesty– and someday, that’s how He will return.

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But on that Silent, Holy Night, He came in humility. He came in Heavenly Peace.

What an awesome enigma–the One who would break the power of death came in the weakness of an ordinary birth. The Giver of Life choosing to reside in the womb of an ordinary young woman, gasping for air as He took His first breath as a human. The omniscient one having to learn to sit up, and eat, to speak and to hold His mother’s hand; to stand up and walk.

God SO LOVED us that He went to extravagant lengths to meet us in our humanness. He didn’t need to become human for His sake– He did it for us; that WE could know Him more intimately; so that when we talk to Him, we are talking to one who has known hunger, and pain, and heartbreak, and loss– as one of us.

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It is terrifyingly easy to miss the significance of the incarnation after the fact. As we remember the Advent season, let us reflect on the world before that Holy birth.. a world so fallen that no one could imagine the face of God; no one could imagine walking with Him or sharing a meal or a smile with Him; no one had ever felt His touch on their cheek or heard Him laugh. No one could have imagined that God would bleed, or cry out in agony, or taste death. But He came. He lived and walked among us. He died. And He paid the penalty for your sins and mine, so that we can share life with Him– eternally.

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