Merry Christmas to Diana... From: God

Christmas is fast approaching and advent has been very sweet. God is giving me many gifts this year underneath our tree. It's a good thing Santa doesn't really exist anymore because I'm not sure how good or bad I've been according to some list. All I know is that God is blessing me with some doozies this year and I never expected such love.

The gift of Endurance. This strength in me that laughs at the formerly frustrating and breathes off that weight sitting on my chest. I unwrapped it the other day and have been using it daily with three beautifully dynamic children and the holidays. Stress has been far away, stuck behind t.v. screens and paper ads where it belongs. I don't need what you're selling. I can patiently endure because of the Spirit living within me. How I trust Him!

The gift of His Peace. The world's peace looks like a woman sitting in lotus position in front of a waterfall, bathed in sunlight. It's a picture of a pond as still as glass, undisturbed by the passage of time or bugs and pebbles. Peace as the world sees it is that moment when children are laughing together with grateful smiles and couples are holding hands on a beach in perfect romance. Such a beautiful moment. So unlike the true experience of the majority of our lives. So fleeting and temporary when real life kicks in. Welcome back to real life when a beer can is tossed into your pond, a big sister punches a brother for stealing her toy, and a siren is heard in the distance. So much for that fleeting peaceful moment.

The peace of God isn't subject to outside circumstances and it surpasses our understanding. Jesus Peace sleeps below deck as hurricane-force winds threaten to sink His boat. "Why are you afraid?" He says after He calms the storm to demonstrate His power, not necessarily His peace. The peace demonstration happened as He slept, rocked by the rowdy waves.

His peace is a quiet assurance, a blessed assurance, that even as hands are bound and feet are led toward the stake, freedom rings within. Laughing to the slaughter, they say. Or in terms of modern day strife, smiling amidst seemingly hopeless opposition. Truly smiling, not crazy-guy smiling. But it's a peace that stretches the lips wide in a joyful grin, even as the world crumbles to pieces around you. "How can you be happy a a time like this?!" Only because I know Who I trust.

The gift of His fire. He is showing me hidden things. Manna that He's dropped in crevices almost out of reach. But I want His blessings so badly, His messages of wisdom and His supply, that I won't pass up the dark corners or neglect the smallest clue. I reach for them. I seek after Him with all that I am. He's got the good stuff.

His gifts can be hidden. I remember playing "hot or cold" and how excited I was when I got close to the object that had been hidden. The kind guidance when I was going the wrong way, "...getting colder ...chilly now, oh man you gotta be freezing!" Then when I'd be headed in the right direction, "...getting warmer, hot now... blazing hot!!" And the joy of finding it, when we all laughed and joked about being burned up.

The fire of God's Holy Spirit blazes steadily within me. When it grows dim and colder I know I'm headed in the wrong direction. He ever so gently warns me with things getting a little hard to distinguish in a fading light. It's subtle, like a torch losing it's flame. So I kindle it anew by seeking Him in His word, devouring the truth and soaking in what I find. I praise Him for who He is and acknowledge Him in everything good. I force myself to remember his goodness, His sweet taste, the "smell" of Him on my clothes. He tells me, "Now you're getting warm."

There are so many rich gifts under my tree this year and I've been able to peek at them all month long. His enduring love, His peace, and His blazing fire are all a part of my every day. I hold them. Christmas morning I will unwrap them again and unwrap His birth in Bethlehem as a baby. I will acknowledge that He was just like the baby I hold every day. He was a baby!

The shiny paper will fly and the kids will smile gleefully. It will be a very beautiful moment, but He will make it so it never has to end.


Important Aspects of the Law

"For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things." Matthew 23:23

Justice. The balance of God's Universe. Payment for wrong. I'm reminded of a certain modern television character saying, "All magic comes with a price!" In the series, each conjuring of fairy-tale spell is complete with negative consequences. I like the idea that manipulating the delicate system of "fate" is always counteracted by an inevitable balancing. Now, I thoroughly believe that anyone foolish enough to toy with the powers of darkness will see horrible effects on their own soul. But anyone who sows the pure and selfless acts of sacrifice for the greater good will also reap benefits that God has built into His world, whether they acknowledge Him or not. And then there's...

Mercy. It makes concessions. It comes in after justice has been rendered, and not a moment before. Mercy does not abolish justice, it is the fulfillment of justice. Mercy is God coming down to pay the price that justice requires. Mercy walks with justice like love walks with the law. I've heard it said (and have even quoted it myself) that you cannot have both justice and mercy. That's incorrect. God does not stop being just simply because He is also choosing to be merciful. We should not lose our sense of justice when we choose to have compassion. Imagine if we did that with our kids, "Yes, dear, I know he hit you in the face but I need you to choose mercy over justice and turn the other cheek. Go ahead, son, hit her again." WHAT?! That would create a world of hurt and abuse. Justice and mercy must walk together. "Son, I love you, so I cannot allow you to go without discipline for your actions. The consequences will help you understand how to walk in self-control so you can treat people the way you'd like to be treated." Afterward there would be an opportunity for mercy which operates within forgiveness. If there's no forgiveness and reinstatement, then the discipline was worthless in that case. If he never receives the mercy of forgiveness then he will never have the chance to use what he's learned from his mistake. But there are so many variables, even to that one example. What if she punched him first? There's always more to address and so much more to learn in any mistake. Which brings me to...

Faith. The gift that allows us to see beyond the obvious in any situation. What may look like justice or mercy to our fallen eyes, is only truly justice and mercy when it is God's just and mercy. Perverted "justice" could be people getting what I believe they deserve. Twisted "mercy" might be martyring morality on the altar of someone's feelings and strong opinions. How can we trust a heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked? Only God can unlock the mystery of what lies behind the surface of every case. Only God can offer us the fruit of the Tree of Life that must always be eaten in obedience. When our eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil, we became self-conscious and self-focused. Suddenly our sense of justice was telling us we were naked and therefore should be ashamed at our indiscretion. "Who told you that your were naked?" God asked. The evidence of our focus being on anything else but God is that we see ourselves. Oswald Chambers suggests this, "Man’s relationship with God in the beginning was such that the consciousness of union with Him was a delight: as soon as sin entered, that went and man became self-conscious: he realized he was no longer in union with God and tried to hide himself from His presence." (from Biblical Ethics)

I once believed that the three: justice, mercy, and faith were unrelated. But now I see that they are so intricately vital to one another that to have one without both the others is a huge mistake for any person. By walking in the Spirit I can be sure that I'll walk in these three important aspects of God's beautiful law. "Genius!" doesn't begin to express my praise to His omniscient perfection. His design is flawless.


Making Time

At the end of each day I look around and see very little progress with my naked eye. Dirt and dog hair still peek out at me from corners. The laundry has made laundry babies in each basket that cry to be clean and folded. Dishes come from out of nowhere to overtake the sink once again. All of the work I've done will start over tomorrow as if it never happened. Someone asked me recently what I did that day. I paused and tried to remember. Where is my to-do list with lines through each item? Where is the evidence? A shocking response comes to my mind, "I'm not sure. Nothing?" Did I really get nothing done today?

My new daughter has been obsessed with her hands lately. She finally is able to bring them together and it's her favorite thing to do. We had a mini party just the two of us as we celebrated her newest ability. I don't know if it's normal for three-and-a-half-month-olds to be able to touch their hands together and shove their fists into their mouths, but I'm not worried about normal. I see that my sweet baby is building confidence and I won't take that away with worry. Most of her waking moments are spent making new sounds and using her hands and feet in new ways. I can tell that she loves these new activities because when it's time for sleeping she doesn't wanna go. Just one more touch, one more practice! she seems to say.

A baby's days are so full, but what do they have to show for it? If only we could see the millions of neurons God is gifting them with each day. Building and practicing with new synapses and sparks of firing brain cells. I'd say there's plenty going on in there each of her days. It's quite a production in the microscopic realm. No wonder newborns sleep so much.

What of my little feats that go unnoticed? The way God is teaching me to slow down and grasp each moment before it flies by. When I stop, dust moves slower in the streaming sun rays, sounds grow richer and I can hear distant children playing as well as my own, and I smell baby shampoo in the softest hair. My senses begin to awaken, not just my instincts. Do we turn into mere animals when we are chased by the clock? The predator tick-tocks behind us and we calculate our movements down to only the necessary. Caffeinated and running on purpose, we dare not stop to enjoy something from our child's perspective. Ain't nobody got time for that!

I don't have time. I don't own it. Nobody can hold time like holding their breath. We are in it, it holds us. Does it hold me captive? Or can I drink it in like the amniotic fluid my daughter only recently learned to live without. Now instead of floating in liquid she moves the air with each change in her body, and she moves anew every day. Who can keep up? Time cradles her every milestone until it is granted to her on God's schedule. Can I go with His flow? I can't make time, kill time, or lose time. It holds this place like atmosphere holds the Earth.

When I was a child, life was long. Time outs were eternal and good-byes meant tomorrow was forever away. The agony of being taught to ignore small distractions and being scolded when I didn't pay attention to big adults. The children I've been given want to show me something. Hands touching together for the first time, bugs and dirt and coloring inside the lines. But I want to see sophisticated magnificence, intellectually challenging paradoxes, and God's powerful hand moving in the hearts of men. But, Mommy, guess what? Mommy, can I show you something? Mommy, Mommy, Mommy! OK. I'll bend my knees and practice discovery again. What could I possibly get from the black legs of a ladybug tickling my arm? I've felt it a million... times? But not like this. Not with you. Never have I felt this before. Every moment is new. I'm sorry I thought I'd had this one before. But time never repeats. Thank God that every moment is a new chance to slow time down and to trust Him to take care of the future.


Venting is Not Venting

Yesterday I had a conversation that changed my life. Some people are put in our paths to do just that. My mentor and friend, Clarice, is my current life-changer. She comes from a very different world, where people value each other and honor mingles with integrity. Generations of good habits and loving connections are being cultivated and the results are evident in her children and grandchildren. My world isn't worse than hers in every way, but it's been more dangerous and maybe a bit darker. The light she has brought into my life has illuminated things that have been a joy and a sorrow, but they always change me for the better.

She really puts forth very little effort to influence me. Her love from God simply overflows while we're talking and the next thing I know I'm wading in it, marveling at the work God can do in both of us. She offers me a banquet of optional advice and doesn't hover while I selectively fill my plate. She brings out the comedienne in me and appreciates my silliness just like my parents do: with a healthy dose of acceptance and surprise. Her laughter is a burst, an explosion of delight! It comes after she gently offers a much-needed course correction. Having learned something valuable, I start cracking jokes about myself in the levity of relief.

Clarice doesn't wait for me to come to specific conclusions about the insights God gives her; there are no expectations burdening me. After the hard truths are spoken, she provides an open plain for me to hold hands with it, and she knows my reaction will be honest and unfiltered. There is an abundance of trust and where there is trust, there is freedom. I have grown so much in the short time I've known her. It is an incredible privilege to have her as my mentor.

Our words over tea yesterday were epic. I had written her an email filled with complaints and whining. I usually call that "venting" but when I write to my mentor-friend, it's a cry for help. I presented the problem and all of my attempts at solving it, then I rationalized my anger and sounded very convincing to myself. Imagine my surprise when Clarice showed me how awful I was being. Only she could have gotten away with taking my words and reading them back to me with incredulity at the meanness they carried. I can still see her heart hurting for the person I was upset with. Her eyes were moist and she pressed her hand to her chest in sympathy for them. In that moment I didn't feel shamed or defensive, but truly sorry. Had I known what my words would do to her I never would have written them. But what of the person I was slandering? Suddenly I wanted to have the same feeling of compassion that she did for them, no matter how much it hurt. I wanted the teary eyes and the head-shaking in bewilderment, the whole works! How could I have missed the cruelty in my words? Why did I not see what Clarice saw?

I have never thought of myself as a gossip. I would simply discuss observations in the name of "processing" and "working things out". Little did I realize that I have been leaving a dark snail trail of negativity behind me. Here I was thinking that by releasing my words I was cleaning up and airing things out. What I really did was create more crud, each word like a fungus or mold that you can't get rid of. This record of wrongs that I have been adding to has been creeping over my world until it had almost blocked out all light.

I asked God the other day why I couldn't think of anything I liked about this person I seemed to be perpetually mad at. Usually I can find some redeeming quality to focus on. It's how I deal with difficult people everywhere. But when it came to the object of my wrath, I had trained my brain to think only of the bad. So I went to God with it. God answered me by giving me an image. It had to come from a random lady at church because I wasn't picking up the signal on my own, apparently. She said, "I don't know what this means but I'm seeing a croquet mallet." I replied, "Hmm, could it be a judge's gavel?" "Yes! She said. It's on it's side." I opened my journal to show a doodle that came to me while reading Psalms a couple weeks prior. It was a judge's gavel with two silly stripes like you'd see on a croquet mallet (why I put stripes on it, I didn't know... at the time). The message God was sending out was magically quite clear to me. I was judging people left and right and thought it was some sort of game.

Humbled again, He let me sit with it for a week or so. First the diagnosis, then the treatment. The Lord keeps coming to my rescue by saving me from myself. I am my own nemesis. Without what He provides through my mentor, my pastor, His Word in the bible and from His church, I'd be at the mercy of a ruthless villain: me.

The convicting words of my dear friend may have been difficult to take, but those are wounds that can be trusted as the Proverb says. As Clarice reflected back to me the ugliness she saw, her sincere hope was that I'd be freed from it. Anyone else would have read the email and supported my point of view. I've held the gavel so many times with many others, passing it back and forth. Slam! A verdict handed out against our peers, our family members, our spouses. Wham! We mean well as we speak the words. God created the universe with words, what do we create? Down goes the gavel as our lips form poison, condemnation, and self-justification and call it "blowing off steam". There's nothing depressurizing about it. It's a fire. It's time for me to watch my mouth. Thank God for His kindness in pulling me, once again, away from danger. If you hear me say something bad about anyone, feel free to put me in time out or slap my wrist. I need all the help I can get!