Wrapped Gifts

Last night ties, suits, heels, sparkling jewelry, plaid shirts and carefully combed hair hustled through church doors and the Christmas Eve Haven was filled to overflowing. Even the windowsills in the auditorium were lined with families crunched together, young ones perched enthusiastically on knees, for an hour of Sacred Eve.

Minutes earlier, I had left my friends at a long-term care facility. They were spending Christmas Eve in a quaint dining room, most of them parked on four wheels with little ability to move. I had stretched Lindor Christmas chocolates to hands too weary and worn and feeble to clutch the sweet and soothing pieces being offered.

Milton Crum writes, “Almost any suffering is bearable if it serves a good purpose.” What if we can’t see purpose?

As I offered the shiny wrapped wonders, most of the residents’ eyes couldn’t recognize the candies – before slowly receiving the gift – they asked, “What is it?”

What is it? What is the purpose of this? … How often we ask …

In the desert, the Israelites wondered for years – they ate manna – Ann Voskamp writes, “Manna literally means ‘What is it?’”

They asked, and they chose to eat. And God was not angry with their asking.

At the Christmas Eve Service, the Advent candles danced with blazing fire. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. Christ.

Just as the residents believed I was offering something good, when we choose to see the presence of God infusing each moment, when we believe every wrapped instant is from His Good Hand– every imperfect moment and unforeseen instant is transformed – it is wrapped in Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.

Timothy J. Keller writes, “Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.” – Timothy J. Keller

And at that Christmas Eve service, with almost a thousand lives squashed together, the fire touched the wicks. One at a time, light spread. Light spread to all – to the wee ones and aged, to the hurting and happy, to the weak and robust. The fire burned every wick and every life and every voice chimed of Joy coming to Earth.

Light changes everything. The wicks burned unquenchable. And even though there was no fire in that quaint dining room, His light lived there too. Especially there. In the unlikely lifting of weathered struggling hands to receive the wrapped gifts.The unshakable choice to receive God into your imperfect moments, even when you are asking, “What is this?” allows for hope, peace, Joy Love and Light to flood. And the Light of the world changes everything for every outstretched hand. Merry Christmas to all, God is with us.

Feeling the Meaning

This week I was honoured to sing the hymn requested by my Aunt at her funeral. The song was called, “It is no secret what God can do” and is stuffed with familiar God lines:

“With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you”

“You’ll never walk along”

“You’ll always feel at home wherever you may roam”

“There is no power can conquer you”

“God is on your side”

Sometimes, when I hear “church songs”, I unintentionally separate the meaning of the words from the song. I grew up with hymns and choruses and although I still love them – the power of the words can lose their punch and become commonplace. However, as I drove to Vera’s funeral, the expressions of the song unlocked the commonplace-I’ve heard it before-familiar fog that can prevent me from feeling the meaning … As I drove, I understood these words with clarity, and I could see them in Vera.

The line, “You’ll always feel at home wherever you may roam” reveals the uncommon beauty of Vera’s life and her authentic relationship with God. Too often, when I walk into new rooms or spaces, I feel fear or insecurity – and this prevents me from loving others freely. Vera was one of the most secure women I have ever met. Her security was entrenched in the love of God, and she lived drenched in it – with more than enough to give away.

Vera thrived on the celebration of others. She walked with photos of people in her purse so she could tell stories – vividly highlighting their strengths – she would pass out these pictures so all could esteem them. She told the stories of dance competitions, music festivals and various sports players with expression and life! Everyone mattered to her.

Vera walked with her head held high – She felt the Holy beams of light and love God purchased on the cross for her – and she radiated this light liberally. Vera walked in this rare joy that was fuelled by the promotions, achievements and the growth of others. This made her one of the most attractive, hope-spilling people I have ever met.

She did not need to get ahead. (Although, she usually was ahead because of her speed walk and quick talk)

She did not need to be the center of attention.

She was not easily offended.

Her sense of self was secure in God.

She was brave beyond boundaries. (Setting out on the roads in storms or sitting in -40 degree weather to catch the good old hockey game)

She lived with nothing to prove and one to please.

She did not need to strive to be accepted.

She lived accepted by God, and then could accept all.

She did not need to be complimented.

She was too busy generously spewing her admiration for others.

Yes, to my fun, spontaneous, adventurous, courage-sopping, joy emanating, pet-name-calling Aunt Vera, many are waking up missing you deeply this morning – myself included.

We miss how you always felt at home.

We miss how you made us feel at home.

But we know that you are more “at home” now than we can imagine. See you soon, cherished friend.

Hope meets Helpless

Car accidents are terrifying. I will never forget the helpless feeling that flooded me as I glanced down at my ipod and felt the wheels of my red sunfire spin out of control.

Sometimes, life spins out of control. Last night – I watched hot tears burn the faces of friends going through difficulties during this Christmas season. A helpless feeling.

This week, I made so many “mistakes” I can’t count them- from teaching, to unnecessary comments, to time management, and thoughtless choices. This too – is a helpless feeling.

In God, hope meets helpless.

I remember my car flying and flipping and the thud against the telephone pole. I remember crawling out and bawling alone in the farmers summer fallow. I was so upset with myself for glancing at the Ipod, I just kept crying and repeating, God you are so good. You are so good. I’m sorry, God. I remember God impressing in my mind the words, “What if you couldn’t crawl out – would I still be good?”

God’s goodness doesn’t depend on your circumstances or your choices.

The thunder was ripping loud and I remember walking on the dirt road to get help – rain mixing with tears on my cheeks. When a van stopped and a cell phone was offered I dialed my dad. At his voice – my tears started again, I wasn’t sure if he would be angry at my irresponsibility… His voice was calming, slow, kind and love. He didn’t care about the car, or my ipod glance – He cared about me.

Even when you do make mistakes, and you will …

He is the best Dad. He is not distant, far off or burning with anger towards you when you take a misstep. Jesus paid for your every mistake so that each moment can be a new beginning with God. He doesn’t hold grudges. He is never trying to tease or trick you – He is far more fervent for you to enjoy abundant life with Him than you could ever be.

He is trust-worthy.

Whether it is tough stuff you are walking through or your own mistakes that may cause you to forget the kindness of God – be reminded: Truth doesn’t change depending on your feelings or perspective. Truth is Truth – and the cross says you are accepted, free and wildly loved – should you have the courage to receive it.

“The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in mercy and loving-kindness.” Psalm 145:8 (AMP)

Expect the Best

This week, the twisting of a calendar page offered a clean slate to all. White Space. The empty December boxes provide possibilities – and possibilities give birth to excitement and expectations.Yesterday, a co-worker mentioned the relief that tip toed into her body, soul and mind as she displayed a fresh December page on her wall. For teachers, students and many families, a break is on the way – It’s coming.

Expect it.

This December, as you take a moment to consider your December white space, hold you calendar, your days, your time – your sacred December moments – and stand convinced that God who travelled the birth canal, who slipped under the currents of the Jordan, who crafted the cosmos, bounced upon a stinking donkey through noisy hosanna palm branches, and poured blood stains down the same streets as he travelled to skull hill one week later … God who died – to offer you a white heart slate … God who came back days later on the Galilean shores to announce fish breakfast to the disciples…Fish breakfast of all things! This Father-God-Spirit-Son promises to sojourn with you through your December white space. Present. Emmanuel.

You will find him in the moments. The moments of choosing deep joy and connection. Here, your expectations will meet experience and possibilities will become present moments pregnant with life. Mary was pregnant with life. She carried the Sacred Savor in the most real I-need-a-body-pillow-to-sleep kind of a way. Sometimes the most sacred moments are utterly spiceless. Don’t let disappoints convince you He has diverted His attention from you. He has not. He continues on the journey with you, always.

In Israel, weeks ago, I gazed at what many Christians refer to as, “The Golden Gate.” This is the threshold some believe God-man Christ will erupt through when he returns to restore all things fully. In the stable, he brought His presence – One day He will finish His work on Earth.

Expect it.

Men, women, children, elderly and sick, young and energetic – let the expectation of December expand in you to full term. The moments of discomfort and those of radiant joy – choose to enter into all of it with expectation. Approach with unwavering certainty that He is enough in all your white space, the sweet moments and the salty tearstains, to usher you into the best – The very presence of God Himself.