God Created…


For the Beauty of the Earth
The United Methodist Hymnal Number 092
Text: Folliot S. Pierpoint 
Music: Conrad Kocher; Arr. by W.H. Monk 
Tune: DIX, Meter: 77.77.77

1. For the beauty of the earth, 
for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 
over and around us lies; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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2. For the beauty of each hour 
of the day and of the night, 
hill and vale, and tree and flower, 
sun and moon, and stars of light; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 




3. For the joy of ear and eye, 
for the heart and mind’s delight, 
for the mystic harmony, 
linking sense to sound and sight; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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4. For the joy of human love, 
brother, sister, parent, child, 
friends on earth and friends above, 
for all gentle thoughts and mild; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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5. For thy church, that evermore 
lifteth holy hands above, 
offering up on every shore 
her pure sacrifice of love; 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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6. For thyself, best Gift Divine, 
to the world so freely given, 
for that great, great love of thine, 
peace on earth, and joy in heaven: 
Lord of all, to thee we raise 
this our hymn of grateful praise. 

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This week, may we raise hymns of grateful praise to the creator of all the beauty of the earth.

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all tings were created by him and for him. 

Colossians 1:16


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

St. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

Praying for the Pulpit

October is Pastor Appreciation Month.  I have mixed feelings about such designations.  I’m glad to appreciate my pastors, past and present; to honor their service, their wisdom, their heart for God and their flocks, and their selfless devotion to both.  And I believe that pastors are some of the most under-appreciated, over-worked, overlooked people in our world today.  One way we can show appreciation is to pray for our pastors, their families, and our churches.  And not just during a single month of the year.  But for the remainder of this month,  let’s make a point of praying faithfully for pastors.  Here are a few reasons why, beyond just showing appreciation:

The raw data…

Reasons many pastors are leaving the ministry..

Pastors under personal attack (Christianity Today)

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How can we pray for pastors?

  • Remember their basic daily needs (health, family, finances, emotions, wisdom, etc.) as well as spiritual needs
  • Remember they are sinners saved by grace, just like the rest of us– pray for grace and wisdom to show encouragement and acceptance
  • Ask them how you can pray for them!  It is surprising how many in the congregation are willing to share their needs but NEVER ask how they can lift up their pastors.
  • Ask God to show you ways to appreciate, encourage, and (genuinely) help your pastor(s).

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  • Be grateful–Thank God for your pastor–Thank Him for your pastor’s strengths, and for the ways your pastor has shown growth and humility.  Thank God for your pastor’s family and for those who come alongside to help him/her in ministry.  Thank God if you live in an area where pastors can preach freely, openly, and honestly from God’s Word.
  • Be honest–(see above)  Being grateful for our pastor doesn’t mean that s/he is flawless, or that we don’t care about differences of opinion, or even questionable practices.  Giving grace doesn’t mean ignoring sin; but it also means looking honestly and prayerfully at a situation.  Often the “fault” we see lies in ourselves; we don’t like the sermons because they hit too close to home, or because are expecting great oratory and have no patience for simple homilies.  But occasionally, the fault is something that requires talking with or even confronting the pastor.  Pray for wisdom and humility, grace and strength.

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  • Be wise.  Satan likes nothing better than to get us thinking about, discussing, and even bringing to God every little fault about our pastor (and our neighbor, our spouse, our in-laws, and even ourselves!)  Satan also thrives on half-truths, rumors, misinformation and assumption.  Pray that God will keep your pastor safe from ugly rumors, lies, and false accusations; pray also that God will keep your pastor accountable and your congregation open to following Biblical principles for confrontation, punishment, repentance, and restoration for all.

Faithful, God-fearing, loving, wise pastors are priceless gifts from our Heavenly Father.  Let’s be sure to pray for them, pray WITH them, and speak words of encouragement and gratitude.

And it wouldn’t hurt if you sent them a card or gift, or offered to take them out for coffee or dinner– just a thought…

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All of Nothing is Still All

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe, gratitude, requests, confession, what’s on my mind, my heart…there are many things I can lay on the altar.  But what do I bring God that doesn’t originate with Him?  What do I bring that has value independent of God? Nothing.

My relationship with God is completely uneven.  God is the provider of everything I need.  I owe Him everything, and have nothing to give that can begin to “repay” Him.  What a blow to my pride, my self-sufficiency!  What is the point of pretending I have anything to bring before an all-knowing and all-powerful God?  All of nothing is still nothing.

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But wait…

What do I bring before God when I pray?  Awe for the beauty and power that inspires and uplifts me; gratitude for the blessings He has poured out so lavishly– life, health, family, joy, peace, grace, love…  I bring requests, not idly, spewing them out to the wind or to random passers-by, but purposefully, to a God who hears.  Confession, not coerced through torture, not met with unbearable punishment, but given freely in the knowledge that there is forgiveness and restoration on the other side of confession and repentance.  I can bring thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, joys, pains, disappointments, and frustrations and lay them on the altar–not as a reluctant sacrifice of a servant, but as the outpouring of love from a child to her beloved Father.

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I can’t out-give God.  But that’s not a fault or a lack.  Instead, it is the mind-blowing reality that God is able to GIVE abundantly above all that I can hope or imagine.  And even though He needs nothing, He eagerly desires to share with me all the awe and wonder, all the beauty and grace, all the majesty and power of who He is, and to accept from me the joy and humble acceptance of His gifts–nothing more, and nothing less.

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I could give God nothing– no time, no credit, no joy, no love.  Instead, I want to choose to give all.  Because even all of nothing is still ALL, thanks be to God!

Sixteen Little Things

If you are reading this blog, you have at least sixteen things for which to be thankful.  Some of them may seem like minor things, but they can form the beginning of a much longer list.

  • First, (and this is NOT one of the smaller things) you are alive to read this.  You woke up this morning (or afternoon, or whenever), and you have an opportunity to be thankful.  Not everyone who was here yesterday can say that!  Life is a precious commodity, and one that should cause us to be grateful.

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  • I am (or was a few hours ago– hopefully I still am) alive to write this!  You may or may not be very thankful for this fact, depending on whether or not you agree with me, or enjoy the blog, but I am very grateful…
  • You can see to read this.  Close your eyes and imagine, or just look up from your screen to see all the other wonders within your sight!

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  • You can access this blog to read it.  We take for granted the availability of information and access to writings, graphics, and sound in the cyber age in which we live, but even 50 years ago it would have been impossible for a private person to share photos, writings, or videos to a global audience in real time.  And the time may come when such sharing is tightly regulated, restricted, or forbidden.  (Indeed, in certain areas, you may taking a risk to view this even now.)
  • You can read this.  Worldwide, the literacy rate is estimated at 86.3% See wikipedia chart here You may think this is a small thing to point out, but in many countries–perhaps even the one you live in–this percentage is much smaller.  And, if you look at historical accounts, literacy rates have exploded in just the last 100 years, especially for women.
    • You may be especially thankful if you are reading this in a second or third language, or if your computer is translating this into your native tongue.
    • You may not be reading this directly– if not, be grateful for whoever is able to read it to you, and is willing to do so.

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  • If you have access to this blog, you probably have access to other modern conveniences — electricity, a cell phone or computer, indoor plumbing, etc.  Even if your access is limited, sporadic, or expensive, it is still something many of our great-great-grandparents did not know.
  • Chances are that you have been the beneficiary of medical advances of which you are not even consciously aware…vaccinations, inoculations, surgery, better nutritional practices, and more– most of us living in the world today have never had to face the ravages of Polio; Smallpox, once a dreaded disease, was deemed to be eradicated within the last 50 years.  It seems like such a small thing to be grateful for something you have never had, until you talk to someone or read about someone who DID have it.
  • You are completely unique and one-of-a-kind!  Even if you are an “identical” sibling, you are not the same as anyone else living or anyone else who has ever lived!  In all the world, throughout all time, there has never been or ever will be anyone exactly like you!

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  • Conversely, you are part of a 7+ billion-member global family of humans who share the same commonalities– laughter, tears, hopes, disappointments, bad hair days (or no hair days), love, loss, hunger, and, sometimes, rest.  We all have thoughts and feelings, and a purpose.
  • God LOVES YOU– in fact, He adores you.  He loves you to death– and He died (and rose again) to prove it!  The Father, Son and Holy Spirit look on you and love you–want the best for you throughout all eternity, and want to have a deep and powerfully transformative relationship with you– forever!
  • I am praying for you– perhaps not simultaneous to your reading this, but I pray for readers.  I may not know your name, or where you are, or when you are reading this, but God does, and I’m praying to Him on your behalf.  I’m also praying as I write each entry that God will be glorified and that what I write will glorify Him and help others.

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  • God is even more readily accessible than anything I will ever send out– more than anything that can pop up in your news feed, nearer than your next door neighbor.  God is available–whoever you are, however you feel, wherever you may be, whatever your circumstances, and whenever you call.  Every moment of every day is an opportunity to pursue Him and interact with Him through prayer!
  • God is not just accessible, He has revealed Himself– through His creation, through His words, through prophecies, visions, and miracles, through the life and ministry of Jesus, and through the examples and lives of those who follow Him.

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  • If you have reached this point, you may be scratching your head…I thought there were sixteen things…what’s left?  Well, if you count the smaller bullet points above, this is number sixteen, and the fact that you are still counting means that you are counting your blessings– that’s a small thing, maybe, but I think it means that you want to be grateful– and THAT is another thing to celebrate!

The Birds of the Air Have Fled…

The air is different.
Cooler
Scented with readiness…
Waiting

The birds are restless of wing;
Apples hang heavy
As people and days
Move a little faster.

Anticipating the season;
Bringing in the harvest
Preparing to face
The cold gray of winter.

This short burst of color–
This cacophony of bird chatter
And swinging scythes–
Will give way to moaning winds
And skeletal branches reaching out
To empty skies.

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Autumn is coming– you can feel it in the air and start to see it on the trees here.  It’s coming on to “sweater” weather.  Football, the smell of vineyards heavy with grapes and orchards filled with apples and pears.  Gardeners and farmers are tripping over pumpkins and squash, and preparing to bring in the corn, wheat, and beans.  Squirrels are starting to zip about and look for nuts  and seeds to store.

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There is a sense of urgency about this time of year– the harvest is ready to bring in; it will not wait for a more convenient moment.  Preparations for the coming winter must be completed while the good weather holds.

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There is also a sense of completion and evaluation.  We look back at the summer with longing–did we make the most of sunny days and delayed sunsets?  Did we bring in a bumper crop?  And we look forward with a little anxiety– are we ready to weather the biting winds and bleak days ahead?

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God has given us seasons– where I live, there are dramatic changes from summer to autumn– in other regions, there are changes from rainy season to dry season.  Each change gives us time to pause and notice where we have been and where we are headed.

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The same is true in our personal lives– we go through seasons of change.  Children grow to adulthood; young parents become empty-nesters (eventually); hectic days at the office give way to days at the doctor’s office; bank accounts and circles of friends grow or shrink.

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In every season, we should give thanks– for health, youth, and wisdom, as well as trials that refine us, and discipline that shapes us.

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Why Being “Nice” Matters

I spent the day with my granddaughter today.  We went to the bakery, the bank, the grocery, and the library.  Some days we visit the post office or a local cafe.  We live downtown, so we walk everywhere, and say hello to people we meet along the way.  At each stop, we thank the people behind the counter or desk.  My granddaughter is learning manners– how to be polite in public.  Her parents do a wonderful job of this, and it’s very easy for me to bask in the proud glow of people remarking on how cute and polite and engaging she is.  (I may be a little biased, but they DO say such things…)

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Years ago, when I worked at a library, there were always families who came in and practiced good manners– “Please” and “Thank You,” “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” and “May I?”  Often, the children were prompted, especially when they were young.  Sometimes, they didn’t understand why they were being told to say such things.  A couple of times, I had other parents roll their eyes and comment negatively on such practices.  “They don’t even understand what they’re saying.”  “I’ll bet they don’t say any of those things at home– what hypocrites.  They’re just trying to make people think they’re better than everybody else.”  “You shouldn’t force kids to say such things.  They’ll just resent you for it later.”

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There are actually parenting articles about forcing children to say “I’m sorry.”  They are well-intentioned, and some are helpful about explaining what the issues are (here’s a link to one of the articles) .  Other articles advise parents not to prompt children to say, “Thank You.” (Here’s another link.)  I don’t disagree with these authors.  In fact, I think they make a valid point about teaching our kids “shallow” manners and neglecting the deeper values of gratitude and empathy.  But I think children need both.

Manners (especially as they reflect deeper values) are important.  We live in a society where manners are becoming relics–laughable reminders of a quaint culture we have long outgrown.  There are pockets of the country (and the larger world) where politeness is almost an obsession.  It is not polite or helpful to be facetiously “nice” or sarcastically “nice”.  But what happens when we no longer dare to show gratitude or empathy without inviting ridicule and contempt?  What happens when saying “Please” and “Thank you” make you a target for mockery? When and how did this happen to our culture?

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With all due respect to the recent spate of articles, I think something gets lost in the hyperbolic headlines and fascination with “feelings”–manners should originate, not with feelings, but with the acknowledgement of some basic truths:

  • I am not the center of the universe!
  • Other people– all other people–have value, worth, and dignity.
  • I need other people, and they need me–I am not an island.
  • There is a God who is kind, forgiving, loving, and wise.

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I am polite to others, not because I feel “nice”, but because I recognize that God created all people; He loves us all equally, and I have a duty to treat others with dignity, respect, and kindness– even if I don’t “feel” it; even if they don’t respond in kind.  Do I always remember and acknowledge this, even as an adult?  Sadly, no.  But I practice politeness as a discipline and a reminder that this should be so.  I teach it for the same reason.  And the amazing thing is that it makes a huge difference.  Maybe not in the moment, with all my emotions running wild…but in the quiet aftermath of knowing that I said “Thank you” instead of the hurtful and sarcastic comment.  I said “I’m sorry” instead of holding on to my pride and bitterness.  And I may never know the difference it made to the harried waitress, or lonely shopper, or tired mechanic to hear two or three kind words– “Thank You” (You are noticed– you matter).  “I’m so sorry” (you have dignity–you are worthy of kindness) “Please” (you have value–your time, skill, or service is special)

I’m not a “nice” person– I am often hateful and stubborn and impatient.  But God has been abundantly gracious and merciful to me when I don’t deserve it.  Being polite is such a small thing in light of God’s eternal and boundless love toward us.

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What Might Have Been…

One of my favorite movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  No matter how many times I watch it, it never gets old for me.

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Oh, I know it’s in black and white, and it’s out-of-date.  It’s politically incorrect on numerous levels, and it’s theologically incorrect, as well.  But for all that, I think it has a deep wisdom we are sorely lacking, and I think what it says about the power of prayer cannot be dismissed.

Much of the movie is spent tracing the less-than-wonderful things that happen to George Bailey.  George Bailey is the quintessential “nice-guy” who always seems to miss out–as a boy, he leaps into an icy river to save his brother’s life.  His brother is saved, but George ends up losing the hearing in one ear.  While his friends go off to college, George has to stay behind; when he finally saves enough money to enroll, he ends up having to give up his college plans to save the family business after the sudden death of his father.  He loses out on business opportunities, and keeps losing skirmishes with his nemesis, the  “scurvy spider” local magnate, Mr. Potter.  Finally, on Christmas Eve, George has had enough.  The weight of always doing “the right thing,” and watching others get ahead while he falls further behind, has taken its toll.  When his absent-minded uncle loses $8000, George faces scandal and prison after all his years of frustrating hard work in a job he hates.  After uncharacteristic angry outbursts and a short drinking binge, George is in utter meltdown.  In desperation, he prays.  It’s not an eloquent prayer, or an angry outburst.  It’s a wimpy, doubtful, squeak of a prayer, “Dear Father in Heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me, show me the way…show me the way.”

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What the viewer knows, but George doesn’t, is that dozens of people he knows have all been praying for him.  We get to hear the voices of his wife, his children, his friends and neighbors, all praying simple and heartfelt prayers.  And we also know that God is at work– preparing to send an angel to help George.  But in the bar, at the end of George’s tearful and tremulous prayer, God is silent.

Not only is God silent, but George’s downward spiral continues after his prayer.  He gets punched in the jaw by a man he was arguing with earlier in the evening, and he doesn’t even have enough money to pay his bar tab.  Driving away, drunk, he runs into a tree and gets yelled at.  Reeling down the road and onto the bridge, where he intends to jump to his death, he almost gets hit by a truck.

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While I like the sappy, happy ending of the movie, the incredible darkness and despair leading up to George’s encounter with Clarence, and the even darker “alternate universe” that George experiences are what keep me coming back to this movie– not because I’m a glutton for emotional wringers, but because George’s story is only wonderful when he gets to see it from God’s point of view.  Mr. Potter tells George that he is worth more dead than alive.  But Clarence shows George the true worth of his life, not as it might have been, but as it might NOT have been.

 

And so it is with our lives–all the “might have been”s and broken dreams and failures that weigh us down– God is NOT (as we so often picture Him) shaking His head and grumbling about our wasted potential and weakness.  And often, the people we most fear to disappoint, our family and friends, are rooting for us to stay the course– to finish the race. God wants to wipe away all the seeming failures; all the “what-if”s and the “what might have been”s and replace them with the bigger picture of “what is happening around you”, “what really IS”, and “what can be.”

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There was never anything wrong with George’s dreams of traveling the world and becoming a successful builder of skyscrapers “a hundred stories tall.”  George’s desire to have nice things for himself and his family was not evil, and, in fact, his ambition to do great things was not that different than Mr. Potter’s.  But George’s choices, while “right” were not  in his own immediate best interest.  What Clarence showed George was not “what might have been” had George made other choices in his life.  What he showed George was indeed far more wonderful– the ultimate IMPACT of George’s choices!  God didn’t “take away” George’s dreams or ruin his life.  But neither did He prevent him from making selfish choices or getting what he wanted in the moment.  George’s life wasn’t wonderful because of what happened to him– though the ending is miraculous, and George gets toasted by his hero brother as “the richest man in town.”  But what really made George’s life wonderful was that he was THERE– there to save his brother; there to fall in love with Mary; there to help and influence so many people; there to tuck his daughter into bed and “paste” the petals of her flower; even there to stand up to Mr. Potter when no one else did.*

God answered George’s prayer.  And He answered the prayers of his friends and family.  But He didn’t answer in the way we would expect.  In fact, George jokes with Clarence that the answer to his prayer was getting slugged in the jaw.  But God’s answer came in the form of a childlike “angel” who struggles and questions his ability to make a difference– much like George himself.  God didn’t answer the superficial aspect of George’s prayer– He didn’t show him the way to get $8,000.  He didn’t show him the way to defeat Mr. Potter, or suddenly become more successful.  But He did show George the way to look for “what is” and “what can be”, instead of the “what might have been.”

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  • For anyone who has lost a friend or family member to suicide–my prayer is that we too, would find comfort  and hope in the lives our loved ones lived, and not in the manner of their death.  God is gracious and loving above all that we can imagine.  Part of the hope and message of this movie for me is that, even if George had jumped at the end, his life was still wonderful in God’s eyes, just as it was to all who knew and loved him..

 

All Creation Sings His Praise

Tigers and turtles; flamingos and fleas; whales and warthogs; skinks and skunks; rocks and rosebuds; Eskimos and Ecuadorians–God’s world is filled with variety.  Chirping birds and thundering herds; roaring seas and buzzing bees.  Colors, sounds, smells, and sensations– we are surrounded by glimpses of glory, echoes of eternity, and hints of Heaven.

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Often, we take for granted the beauty of God’s creation– we don’t stop seeing it, we just stop marveling at it.  Instead of drinking it in, we drown it out.  We criticize, analyze, and theorize…why did God make rats?  how does He exist outside of time?  when will He change the seasons this year (will we have spring?  how long will winter last)?  what is the purpose of dust?  why are some animals (or rocks or plants) colorful, or noisy, or deadly, or smelly, or slow?   And we miss the forest for the trees– we get caught up in the amazing details and infinite variety in creation, and miss the majesty of the creator– His sense of the ridiculous in things like tumbleweeds and walking sticks, dust devils and platypuses, or His artistry in butterfly wings, dew on spiderwebs, and cascading waterfalls– in geodes and dimples and mewling kittens.  We miss the elegant design in a bees knees, or galaxies, or a banyan tree.

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God creates– it is an element of His character.  And we are made in His image– we long to create.  From drafting sentences to making a pie to shaping a piece of wood into something sturdy and useful– we long to produce, to concoct, to cause growth, to heal, to nurture, and to effect change.  We are also created with a deep appreciation of creation– the wisdom and the work it takes to set planets spinning, and ecosystems cooperating, and to unfold a new sunrise every morning.

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If you haven’t already, take a few minutes asking God to open your eyes and ears to the song and dance of creation today–from dandelions to darting dragonflies to the amazing variety of people dodging traffic or making conversation around you.  Join in!

When “Mother’s Day” Hurts

Mother’s Day can be a wonderful day of celebration.  But it can also be one of the most painful days of the year.  Millions of women each year face acute heartbreak on this day– instead of celebration, they face the haunting memories of abandonment or separation, infertility, miscarriage, infant deaths, broken relationships, missed opportunities, regrets, suicide, and the loss of their own mothers.  There are no cheery greeting cards or perky flower baskets that can erase that kind of gut-wrenching pain– no pithy words or consolation gift that makes this day easy or comfortable.

I have an amazing mom, an awesome mother-in-law, the world’s best sister, world-class sisters-in-law, a remarkable step-daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughters, and a host of other wonderful women in my life (as well as a step-son, grandsons, nieces, nephews, etc.).  I love that I am still in touch with former students and story hour kids, Sunday School and Bible School attendees, and others I have had the honor to mentor.  So I celebrate Mother’s Day and honor those people and all the ways their lives have impacted mine, and (hopefully) my life has connected with theirs.

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But none of that chases away the ache of never having a child of my own– never knowing the joy of tucking my own child into bed; never being able to kiss away a boo-boo or a bad dream and say the words, “Mommy loves you.”

Maybe because of my own experience, I’m more attuned to it, but I see and hear a lot of pain around this time each year.  My heart goes out to all of the women with empty arms– the women who had to bury a huge chunk of their heart along with a child they can never hold; the women who had to say goodbye to the only one who could ever reassure them that, “Mommy loves you.”

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My prayer today is that you would know that even in those moments when your heart is crushed, and your arms ache to hold or be held, that you are not alone; you are not forgotten.  God knows the aching loss of seeing his only son on the cross as he took his last gasping breath before he died.  Jesus experienced the sting of rejection from the people who should have called him brother, and “Father.”  Throughout the Bible, God gave us examples of women (Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth, Mary and others) who knew the ache of barrenness, rejection, strife, and loss of children.  God saw their pain; he heard their cries of distress and their prayers.  He sees you too.  He hears you.  He loves you beyond anything you can imagine, and beyond where any grief, guilt, or despair can take you.

More than this, he has promised to be close to the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the broken-hearted, and to those who need rest and comfort.  He promises his presence, and he promises to turn our mourning into joy and bring us peace.  He is eager to restore us, to renew our strength, and to reassure us that we are loved with an everlasting love.  God created us in his image– and that includes the image of a mother hen gathering chicks, It includes the image of Mary who wrapped the God of the Universe in swaddling cloths and tucked him into a manger of hay, and who watched as that same God of the Universe died for her.

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God knows the passion, the pain, and the pure love of a woman’s heart– even when “Mother’s Day” hurts.

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