Happy Birthday, Jesus

When I was younger, every year on my birthday, my mom would look at the clock and tell me exactly what she was doing at that time on the day of my birth.

“Eight years ago right now, Dr. Anstey was making me walk up and down the stairs to induce labor.”

“Fourteen years ago right now, I was seeing your face for the very first time.”

I imagine that Mary, the mother of Jesus, would do the same thing every year on his birthday.

“Eleven years ago right now, a bunch of strange shepherds burst into our little room telling us amazing stories about how angels came and sang about your birth.  They came to see you, because you are the one we’ve all waited centuries for.  You, my sweet, growing baby, are the hope of this world.”

Maybe she still makes her way over to Jesus in Heaven and whispers in his ear, “2012 years ago right now, the inn keeper found some extra space in his stable.  Joseph made a nice bed of hay for me to lay in as you prepared to enter this world.  It smelled of donkeys, but I’m so thankful that we had a place to stay.”

I wrote this last year, trying to bring reality to the story I’d heard so many times.  Here is the story of Jesus’ birth as I imagine it may have really happened:

God had promised centuries before that he would send a savior; a king to save his people.  Prophets spoke about him and gave very specific instructions about who this king would be.  I’m sure for years and years, people waited in eager expectation of their savior.  They probably had high hopes for every son born in the city of David for years and years, but the reality of the situation was this:  He did not come and God and his prophets were silent for 400 years.   People probably lost hope over the centuries.  They probably stopped expecting each new boy to be Him long ago.

Then one day God approached an angel.  “Gabriel,” He said, “it’s time.” Gabriel’s heart started pounding.  Did He really mean that NOW was the time that he would send his son to save the world?!  This was the moment the universe had been waiting for for thousands of years.  Since the day that Eve gave the fruit to Adam and they both disobeyed their Adonai.

Gabriel was sent to visit a teenage girl and she was given the shocking and exciting news.  Still they had to wait another 9 months.  The angels in heaven were taking polls and guessing when the baby would come.  They knew it wouldn’t be until Mary and her betrothed took their trip to Bethlehem.  But the wheels were set in motion.  Joseph and Mary set off on their journey.  They took their time and arrived about seven days later.  There was no room in the inn, but they found room for this couple.

Sometime while they were there Mary had her first painful contraction.  The angels waited with eager expectation.  They timed her contractions and as they became closer and closer together, from the heights of Heaven they cheered her on.  “Breathe,” they chanted.  “Push!” they yelled. It was about time to celebrate!!!

After much labor, He was born.  He was here.  God was on earth.  It was done.  Jesus gave up his crown and came to earth to be born of a poor carpenter’s young wife.  He would be beaten and bruised.  Mocked and tempted. He would have acne and colds and the stomach virus.  He would have to work hard and study harder.  He would have to feast and fast.  He would have to suffer in this life like we all do, and suffer like no one in all of eternity has or will with the weight of all of our sin on his shoulders.  But first, he would have to eat, sleep, cry and get dirty like every other human born on this earth as a baby.  As he entered the light, the tiny baby, God himself, took his first breath and let out a gurgling wail.

The angels cheered!  God, in heaven, wept over the beauty that is new life.  Over the knowledge of how his son will live and die.  Over the pride he had in his newborn baby.

Suddenly a bright star appeared in the night.  Even the rocks and gases of this universe exploded in celebration.  Wise men hundreds of miles away saw the star and knew that this was huge.  Something big just happened.  The One that people had prophesied for years about was here.  The new King.  And they set off for years on a journey to find that king.

Shepherds who were watching their flock at night were startled as a light shone above them.  It was a being of some sort.  Too bright to see clearly but speaking to them.  They were terrified!  What was going on?  The sheep were probably terrified as well and there was a second where everyone was running around trying to make sense out of what was happening when the angel spoke.  He could hardly keep his cool he was so excited.  He had to spread the good news!!!

“Calm down, don’t be afraid.  Shh, shh.  Listen up!  I just have some great news I HAVE to share with you!  You’ll want to hear this it will bring you great joy. Everybody, PEACE!”  The shepherds stopped, stunned.  The sheep calmed, too.  They all listened intently to what this being had to say.  “Today, just now… He’s here!!!”  The angel grabbed his head still in disbelief.  “The baby, The Savior was born tonight in Bethlehem!  He’s the One we’ve all been waiting for.  He’s the Messiah, the LORD!  Go, find him!  He’s lying in a manger and wrapped in strips of cloth.  GO!”

ANGELS-IN-PRAISE

An army of angels were watching the whole conversation but they couldn’t contain themselves any longer.  They appeared and rejoiced and whooped and hollered and started singing and dancing.  I assure you they did not stand still like a choir.  The shepherds, still dumbfounded started laughing at the excitement in the angels.  They watched in awe as the angels continued the celebration.  Then as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone; off to celebrate somewhere that smelled better than the sheep stenched fields.

The shepherds stood in silence.  They looked at each other, not sure if they had just awoken from a dream.  “What just happened?” they asked each other.  “Apparently the Messiah was born tonight in Bethlehem,” the smart one said.  They decided they should check it out just to reassure themselves that they weren’t going crazy.  They left the sheep where they were and started running towards town.

Then they found it.  I don’t know how they found the place where a baby was lying in cloths in a manger, and I don’t think they knew how they found it either, but there they were.  And there He was.  “So, it’s true?  This is the One?  This is the Messiah, here to save us all?”

Mary looked down at her precious baby, “Yes, this is Him.  This is God’s son.  He will save us all”

The shepherds could hardly believe their eyes.  What an amazing night.  Centuries they had been waiting for this moment and it was here!!!  They ran out of the house and told everyone they saw on the streets.  They went home and told their mothers who asked where the sheep were and who was watching them.  They spread the news until there was no one left to tell and they went back to the room where the Messiah was sleeping.  They fell to their knees and started crying.  “Adonai, God, you have fulfilled your promise.  You said that He would come and he is here.  You sent angels to announce his birth and they told us where to find him and it’s just as they said.  You told me.  You let me be a part of this night.  I will never forget this.  I will tell my children and they will tell their children and my family will be blessed because you invited me into your story.  May this baby boy grow up to be strong enough to save us all.  May it be as you said.  Thank you!”

Baby-Jesus-mary

And Mary, the mother of God’s son, just took it all in.  She didn’t get any sleep that night.  The shepherds were there and people from the street started peeking in to see if what the shepherds had said was true.  She dried her eyes and prayed with the shepherds, “Thank you,” and took it all in and kept it in her heart.  For thirty three years, and even longer, every year on this day she told her son the story of his birth, unlike any other birth in history.  A long anticipated night, celebrated by the heavens and earth.  It. Was. Huge.

 

May God remind you on this Christmas Eve of the amazing things he’s done to save you.  And may you and yours be blessed this Christmas season as you celebrate Jesus’ birth.

Stars

There was a meteor shower on Thursday night.  I stayed up later than the rest of the family in hopes to get a glimpse of the amazing night sky in motion.

I’ve always been attracted to the stars.  They twinkle as if winking in acknowledgment of me.  There are more than I will ever be able to count, up to 1 septillion stars and the Bible says that God knows them each by name.

As a child, I would wish on the “first star I see tonight” and every shooting star I would get a glimpse of.  But my wishes have always been more than just hopes.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed in a God who hears our every thought, so my wishes have always been more of prayers to someone who can actually make a difference.

For over a decade, whenever I would see a star, I would be reminded to pray for a friend of mine who was battling his own demons.  It seems that prayer has now been answered positively.  So my “wishes” are now always for my boys.

I know God hears my thoughts and prayers, but it seems I still look for visible signs that he hears me.   People can make their own signs, but we can’t make rocks fall through the sky, catching fire as they tip in and out of our atmosphere. So I look to the sky with my prayers, asking God for a sign that I am heard, that I am loved.

Thursday night, I walked out onto my back deck having a conversation with God.  God show me a shooting star.  Show me you love me.  Change my heart for my boys.  Help me to love them better.  Help me to be more patient.  Help them to grow strong in their love for you and others.

I caught a flash in my peripheral vision.  Was that it?  Was that a sign?  Was that a meteor?  Or did my eyes deceive me?  “Ok, God, I’m going to need another one to be sure that it was from you,” I told him.  I’m so thankful that God lets me demand things from him.  Who am I to ask anything of the God who controls the universe?!

I stared long and hard at the stars.  I looked to the brightest stars and tried to remember where the news said to look for the meteors.  The harder I looked for a sign, the more I saw a million “falling stars”.  Or more likely, my eyes just started playing tricks on me.

I started to get cold.  I gave God an ultimatum.  Okay God, three minutes.  You have three minutes then I’m going inside.  In those three minutes I saw a hundred faint lights arch through the sky, but none bright enough for me to know for sure that it wasn’t just my imagination.

I backed into the house, not taking my eyes off of the sky.  I closed the glass door and waited.  Okay, God last chance.  Reveal something to me.  Give me a sign that you’re out there.  That you care about me.  I leaned my head against the cold glass and my breath fogged up the window.

I started trying to explain God’s motives of making me wait on him.  It’s all an analogy for life isn’t it?  I can never really tell if God is speaking to me.  When I do get visible assurance that he’s asking me to move, I question it.  Was that really from Him or just my eyes playing tricks on me?

I sucked back in some of my warm breath.  The glass cleared just in time for me to see a meteor fall into our atmosphere, fall out, and back in again leaving two short trails of sparkling light behind it.

I smiled.  Thank you, God.

I walked back in through a pitch black house, but somehow, being in the dark, my eyes had adjusted and I could clearly see all around me.  Maybe hanging out with God for a while does help you to see things more clearly.

Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.

Isaiah 40:26

In the days since the horrific Newtown shooting I’ve heard so many people question “Where was God in all of this?”  Extremists from one side say that this is proof there is no God, and if there is one, he is either not all powerful, or he is absolutely not the loving God people claim he is.  On the opposite side, I’ve heard people say, this is a consequence, in direct relation to us pushing God out of schools.  Because we banned prayer and the ten commandments out of schools, God let this evil enter in.

Both answers make me sick to my stomach.  I know there is a God.  The stars themselves proclaim that there is something bigger than us out there, bigger than human laws and buildings. I know that looking for a “sign from God” after watching the news and knowing that the Geminid Meteor Shower is coming won’t convince anyone as proof of his existence.  But I’ve tested him.  I’ve lived life with him. And moving through this life with God has made a world of a difference.

I also know that God allows us to make our own choices.  If he intervened in every horrible decision, we’d not have free will.  We’d not really have life.  But I don’t think that is to say that he doesn’t intervene in some bad decisions.  I feel he has intervened in my life on multiple occasions.

Just last year, I was driving one of my youth girls and her little sister to the Magic House to play with a bunch of kiddos with special needs.  We were driving on highway 40 at a pretty good speed.  As I approached the top of a hill, I saw a huge line of traffic at a complete stop on the other side.  So I slowed to a stop.  The semi-truck behind me couldn’t foresee the traffic on the other side of the hill and didn’t have enough time to stop before hitting me.  So by the time I realized what could have happened.  I looked to my right and saw a huge semi truck screeching to a complete stop on the shoulder right next to my car.  That would have crushed me and two young girls to death.  I say, God intervened in that case.

So who are we to try to understand when God intervenes and why sometimes he doesn’t?  Who are we to try to understand the motives of the One who held the oceans in his hand; the One who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?

How can you say that God does not see your troubles?  How can you say he ignores your rights?  Haven’t you heard?

God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And he knows everything, inside and out.

Isaiah 40:28

And he loves us.  He loves you.  He loves those in such desperate heartache.  He loves those who are honestly questioning him and seeking after him.  He loves all.  He IS love.  He is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed (Psalm 34:18).  Try living life with him.  You won’t be disappointed.  Look at the stars.  If God cares enough to name a septillion balls of burning gas, you can believe that he cares about a person who was created in his own image.  May those stars remind you that there is a great and powerful God who loves you and wants to be close to you.

Waiting

The Stomach Bug visited our house earlier this week.  He seems to always proceed Santa. Maybe he’s the jealous Heat Miser in disguise. Or Krampus?  I told my boys they better be nice.  Oh well…

Isaac played normally all day after school.  He had dinner at a friends house and when he came home, he went straight to the bathroom.  He never mentioned that his stomach hurt or anything, just called my name to tell me that he had thrown up a few minutes later.

You know what it’s like when someone in your house gets sick?  In our house, we all just wait.  Wait for Isaac’s round two.  Wait to see who’s going down next.

I hate waiting.  I’m not a super impatient person, I don’t mind lines or traffic THAT much.  But the anticipation of what is unknown: not my favorite.

I lay in my bed that night, my ears on ultrasonic mode, listening for any movement in the house.  While I lay there, this idea of waiting ran through my head.

Last Friday in between posts about gun control and hugging kids tighter, I saw many posts that said something like, “Jesus, come quickly.”

Many of us are in this waiting period still.  When our hearts are hurting, when we see how completely broken this world is, we wait.  We wait, not so patiently, for God to come and make it right again.

In the middle of this Christmas season, I’m still filled with hope.  People waited centuries for someone they would never meet to come and rescue them.  Millions of people never knew the name of their rescuer, though they had faith that he would come.  Centuries before, they called him Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.  They didn’t know the name his earthly father would obediently give him: Jesus.

It was a simpler time, but few would say a better time. God’s chosen people had been persecuted for centuries, as long as anyone could remember.  But they remembered God’s promise, the word of the prophesies, that God would send a Messiah to save them all.  They lived, day in and day out with the hope of the One.

But we know his name.  We are waiting for him to come again, but we’re not waiting just in hopes.  He has given us himself…

Heartbroken Part 2

“Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.”

                                  President Obama

What do you do when such tragedy strikes?  How do you go on living after such devastation?

I remember when the Columbine shooting happened in Littleton, Colorado.  I was so thankful that I wasn’t there at that time.  Because I can’t understand how life goes on after something like that.  How do you close your eyes and see anything but haunting visions of that day?  How do you hear anything but the echos of the noise of trauma?  I didn’t know. I still don’t know.

I can only imagine the thoughts and questions that consume someone after they have experienced something so tragic as witnessing a mass murder of children and their protectors.

No. I’m sure I can’t fathom the grief families are experiencing right now in Connecticut.

The hint of loss I experienced when my boys found out the truth about Santa is nothing compared to the loss of innocence in these children.  A loss their parents probably can’t even relate to.  Oh, how this puts things into perspective.

My heart goes out to them all.

God, I have to thank you first and foremost for my children.  For all children.  They teach us how to love, how to be humble, how to be better people. I don’t pretend to understand why you let things like this happen.  But I also can’t comprehend the amount of tragedy that you do prevent.  The amount of lives and innocence that you choose to save on a daily basis.  I know your character is good.  I know you can be trusted.  I know there is a party of innocent little children in heaven with you right now.  They have been saved from having to live through this disaster, and I believe that’s a blessing.  I pray boldly now, for comfort to consume the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  I pray that the children in that area will not live in fear.  Give them the ability to grieve in the way that they need to, but give them an otherworldly hope as well.  It’s so hard to see how you can make good come out of this situation, but I pray that you do.  Protect those kids.  Comfort their parents and families. May life after these deaths turn people to you.  One more time, thank you God, THANK YOU GOD for my babies. Bless the people of Newtown, CT beyond what they think is possible tonight and in this season.

Singing

There’s something about singing carols together at Christmastime.  Everyone knows the Christmas songs.  Everyone sings them aloud.  I sat with my grandmother the other day listening to Christmas music on the radio.  Her memory is sadly declining.  Her brain can’t remember what she was saying at the beginning of each sentence just four words earlier.  But she sang along to White Christmas.  She was able to remember some of the words, but when they left her, she hummed in perfect harmony with Bing Crosby.  I loved it!

I stood in a crowd of about 60 high schoolers and adults last night as we sang old familiar carols together.  The music was soft, and the instruments even dropped out all together at the end of a couple of the songs and we could all hear each other.  In moments like those I get choked up.

There’s something about singing that brings unity.

It’s not every day that you get to sing with a group of people.  The average person, with no particular talent, doesn’t sing together as a family.  I have a family of exceptional talent and we don’t sing together either.

I can remember one holiday in my life when my grandma asked her talented kids to sing together.  We all sat around the piano as their voices blended perfectly, as if they were made to be used that way.  I sat and listened and tried so hard not to cry.  But that kind of beauty always brings me to tears.  I think it runs in my family.

I’ll never forget the Christmas my cousin made up a song about Randall.  It was funny and irreverent and completely made up.  Sean got out his guitar and sang about a youth minister who accidentally dropped the f bomb.  And my grandma (the same one as above) had tears in her eyes.  “Why don’t you do this more often?” she asked him.  She wanted him to use his creativity and talent more often, not necessarily sing about cussing.  We laughed so hard about that.

Every once in a while, Randall will get out his guitar and sing with the boys.  They make up funny songs and the boys always want to play along.  We haven’t done that in a long time.

I wonder why we don’t sing more often, together.  It’s one of those awkward things to do outside of certain situations.  But I can’t think of a single moment when a spontaneous sing-a-long did not make me smile.

If you decide to incorporate more singing in your holiday season or not, enjoy the moments of song this month.  Sing in the car.  Go caroling!  Pay attention to the feeling of unity; being one of many as you sing in a congregation each weekend.

May God bless you with moments of unity, harmony, and song this Christmas season!

Silent Night

I was thinking about the carol Silent Night the other day.  It’s a beautiful lullaby that you might sing to your brand new infant son on the night of his birth, but I’m not sure how true to life it is to the real story of Jesus’ birth.

If you read the story of Jesus’ birth according to the gospel of Luke, it sounds like it was anything but a silent night.

I had a baby once or twice.  Twice.  You don’t forget those experiences.  I had doctors and medicine and anything I could need.  Mary was giving birth under less than optimal circumstances.  I don’t know if she had her mother with her.  I don’t know if they called in a midwife.  But I do know that very few people have ever gone through labor in silence.

Once the baby is born, if they are healthy, they take their first breath and test their lungs with a scream of protest to the cold evening air.

Then there is the multitude of visitors that come in and ooo and aaah over the precious baby’s cheeks.

In Mary’s case, there are heavenly hosts singing and smelly strangers stopping by and then running off to invite the whole town over to see the newborn king.

It’s just hard for me to believe that there was anything calm or silent about this tremendous event.

But when the baby is all clean and tightly wrapped in a blanket and the visitors are all gone.  You do get a small moment before exhaustion sets in of peace and quiet.  It’s in that moment that you hold that baby close.  You breathe in the scent of his precious head and thank God for a healthy baby.

You pray ardently for God’s wisdom and blessing to follow you as parents as the sweet baby grows into the man he will become. In those silent, calm moments of the night, you sing your baby to sleep with a lullaby like Silent Night.  Praying he’ll sleep in heavenly peace (for at least 6 hours).

Because Mary was a real life person I can only imagine that the day Jesus was born was similar to the birth stories I’ve heard and experienced myself.  But maybe her story mirrors our experience of the holiday season.

Christmas is such a spectacular event you want to celebrate!  You fill every waking moment with Christmas music and festivities.  It’s a season you look forward to all year long, but it’s anything but calm and silent.

I pray that there are moments in this season where you can find peace and quiet.  After the  house is clean and decorated, the cookies are baked and cooled, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree, I pray that you hold your babies close and kiss their sweet heads.  Pray for peace and wisdom to follow you throughout the year.  And remember a baby that was born over 2,000 years ago; Son of God, love’s pure light.  Thank God for the dawn of redeeming grace and coming new year.  And sleep in heavenly peace.

Santa Update

Here’s a quick update on how life has been since the Santa Reveal of 2012.

I’ve had some positive feedback from people saying that their kids found out early too.  I’ve had some other feedback where most people are confirming my fears that it’s just way too early for my boys not to believe in Santa anymore.

I’ve tried not to get depressed about it.

Today our neighbor boys walked in the house, saw our Christmas tree and blurted out, “There is no Santa, YOU put the gifts under the tree!”  To which Randall replied, “I don’t come in your house and put gifts under your tree.”

Turns out they don’t have a tree. Their religion doesn’t allow them to celebrate Christmas at all.  That makes sense that his parents would tell him young that there is no Santa.  But I made sure to let them know that SOME people still believe in Santa and they can’t go around telling people he’s not real.

I asked my boys how they were feeling after The Talk the other night.  I made sure that they knew that sometimes adults tell stories about Santa, and not all of them are true, but when we tell you anything about Jesus, it’s always true.  “There are some things in life that you have to just believe in, even if you can’t see it.  Santa’s not one of those things, but God is.  I promise you, I’ve never told you a lie about God.  Every thing I’ve ever said about Jesus is absolutely true. And you can trust that.”

Isaac said quietly, “I still believe in Santa.”  That’s my boy.  Asher said, “I don’t,” loud and clear.  I told them they could believe whatever they wanted about Santa, but I was a firm believer.

And for the record:

This boy is on Santa’s nice list.

This boy is still to be determined.