Advent 11-30-15: Prepare

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight–indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.

Malachi 3:1

2015 is the year of being prepared for Christmas. Not just that I have nearly all my shopping done. Or the fact that I have the tree up (nothing else at the moment). Or even the fact that I’ve calendared all my holiday shenanigans on my iPhone.

I am prepared to fully experience the holiness of Christmas.

Prepare - Feature

Every night I put effort into preparing for bed. First I put on my pajamas and my warm slippers to insulate the soles of my feet from the cold bathroom tile. Then I wash my face, brush my teeth, and apply lip balm and hand cream. One that’s done, I put my phone in “Do Not Disturb” mode and settle in for a good night’s sleep. I could easily go to bed without the rituals, but it would be noticed. I wouldn’t sleep as well because something would be missing.

I’m seeing this holy season as kind of the same thing. I can just wing it and show up on Christmas day, but something would be missing. Instead I’m intentionally preparing myself for the event by reading specific scriptures, praying specific prayers, and listening for God. Already Christmas is feeling more reverent than it has in years past.

Advent 11-29-15: Hope

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”
Jeremiah 33:14-16

This past Sunday I wasn’t necessarily in the mood to go to church. The last couple of months have been sort of crazy – I was traveling a lot in October and into November – and frankly, I just kind of got out of the habit.

While I don’t believe church should be a chore (if it is then there are some weighty issues to be considered), for me it needs to be a Sunday priority and when it drops on the importance scale I feel it in my soul. So I bucked up and got ready and off Todd and I went.

And I was blessed. I spent the majority of the service with tears streaming down my face. Not sad tears, mind you, but tears that flow from a Spirit-shattered heart. It all started with child dedication and when I, as part of the congregation, verbally vowed to help raise these children in the faith, I choked up.

What always moves me, no exceptions, is when we sing. When we pour out our hearts and souls in worshipful song. Some days are more powerful than others, and this Sunday was close to epic. Todd reached over and offered me his sleeve because, let me tell you, I was a hot mess.

“How Great Thou Art” is one of those hymns that thaw out my numbed and frozen spirit and it certainly did that on Sunday. But even more provoking was “Scandal of Grace”. Those lyrics always speak to me. Always.

Hope

Just as Jesus was the hope Jeremiah spoke of, he’s still and forever our hope.

Advent Season 2015

Advent Season 2015

I like the holidays. Not as much as some, more than others. But I always find the lack of Christ in Christmas disturbing. It seems no matter how hard I’ve tried over the last several years, the Christmas season has been more secular than holy. I get sucked into the business of decorating, cooking, purchasing, and whatnot, with very little celebration of Jesus’ birth and what that means to me as a Christian.

Every year it’s the same and by the time the presents have been opened I feel a little deflated because, no matter how much I say, “Christmas isn’t about the gifts and the food or even the family,” that’s exactly what it’s about.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly (and obviously) not against all the frivolities of the season. I actually enjoy cooking the special meal and pretty trees and decor make me happy and being together with family? Well, that’s just the best. But there’s so much more to it.

This year is different. I’m not working  and I don’t have little kids. That goes a long way towards my ability to study and ponder and really consider this advent season.

My friend, Julie, knows how much I like to take pictures and she directed me to Alive Now, a resource of The Upper Room. Alive Now is sponsoring an Advent Photo-a-Day challenge. Each day I receive an email with the advent word of the day and several scriptures and other tools to guide my reflections towards the coming birth of Christ. I then take a picture that represents that word and post it to Instagram.

There are only so many words you can type in Instagram so I’m going to post them here at Jenster’s Musings as well. And maybe, if you’re sucked into the business of the season, you’ll find a little holy in the secular.

Daring To Do What I Love

I’m guessing this isn’t a surprise to anyone, but I like to write. I would guess that most people who blog like to write. Write? I mean, right?

Slowly, but surely, I’m realizing some of my life long dreams. Why just now? Partly because I was a little afraid of being told I wasn’t a writer. If I never tried I’d never be rejected. But over the years I’ve been encouraged by friends, by family, even by some strangers, to just go for it. So I finally dared to try.

I published a novella a couple of years ago and now today I published my first article for Believe.com. And now I’m daring to hope it’s just the first of many!

Are You as Daring as These Seven Biblical Gals

 

Are You Starting Well?

Here we are, heading into the third week of January, and I’m happy to say I am. Starting Well, that is. And what I mean by that is I’m following a new blog series called Starting Well, written by Teri Lynn Underwood, and it’s just too good not to share. You can click on the Starting Well banner for an overview of the series.

This first week has been Quiet Time – discipline in my spiritual life. Teri Lynne shares sensible ideas, doable suggestions and helpful resources. But the best part, in my estimation, is that she gives permission to be practical. There are no unreasonable reading plans or directives to spend one hour three times a day in quiet contemplation and I love that. It gives me permission to be human and not feel like a failure when I don’t “stick to the plan”. Heck, I don’t even have to rationalize!!

I’ve listed and linked to each of Week One’s posts below. Check out the main points of the first two, would you?

“God is not interested in your quiet time or devotions or personal Bible study… His interest is YOU.”

“Spending time in the Word is important… but how that happens and for how long on any given day? I’m just not sure that is quite as big a deal to God as it seems to be to us sometimes.”

How freeing is that? Sometimes I think we (translated=I) get so wrapped around the axel of doing it right, like if we don’t spend time with God or in his word this particular way (whatever this is) then we’re doing it all wrong and we may as well not do it at all. Let’s abandon that type of thinking and Start over Well.

Devotions, Quiet Times, Personal Bible Study. Is it really necessary? “God is not interested in your quiet time or devotions or personal Bible study … His interest is YOU.”
10 Tips for a Great Quiet Time “Spending time in the Word is important … but how that happens and for how long on any given day? I’m just not sure that is quite as big a deal to God as it seems to be to us sometimes.”
Memorize, Meditate, and Meander: Storing Up God’s Word 3 ways to spend time treasuring Scripture
Tools of the Trade: Resource Recommendations Suggestions for Bibles, study aids, devotionals, and books on spiritual disciplines
Chocolate, Paradise, and Every Spiritual Blessing Guest post by Kathy Howard inviting us to join her online study, “Growing Up Together: A Study of Ephesians”

My suggestion is that you subscribe to her blog so you don’t miss any of her posts, but in case you can’t for some reason, I’ll link the week’s posts on Sunday for the next seven weeks. And be sure to come back and let me know what you think!

Where He Leads, I Will Follow

A few weeks ago I began an on-line Bible study on the book of Joshua written by none other than His Girl. It’s done mostly through a closed group on Facebook, but some of the hikers put it all out there on their blogs. I may be a slow hiker, but eventually I catch up. 

After we read a chapter of Joshua (week 3/chapter 3) His Girl asks us questions that make us really think.  I liked the questions this week because they ask something that I don’t struggle with as much as I do other areas. But make no mistake – I am human and I mess this stuff up ALL.THE.TIME.

With that said, here are my answers…

Question: Are there some areas in your life in which you allow God to lead more than others?

I’m great at giving God the big stuff. I mean, the really big stuff. Todd’s looking for a new job? No problem. You handle it, God. Taylor’s going off to college? Pfft! God’s got it covered. I have a malignant lump in my breast? No worries. The big guy’s in control.

But the little stuff? It’s that seemingly insignificant stuff I have a hard time giving to God. I think I’m too polite. I just don’t want to bother him with something that isn’t so important.

I recently experienced a situation where I was told something I didn’t want to hear. I had been praying hard about this conversation, even having others pray on my behalf, and felt certain God was leading me in a particular direction. I gladly followed because it was a place I really wanted to go. But when the conversation finally took place I was forced to look at the whole scene in an entirely different way. I was disappointed. And yet I was also pleased I had covered this meeting in prayer and was “on God’s page”. The other person pointed out perspectives and scenarios I had not thought of and the more he talked, the more I realized he was right. His perceptions about me were spot on. Thank you, God, that you are in control because this could have turned into a mess! Instead, I allowed God to lead me down a path that is of His making and it’s so much better. Now I have such a peace about the whole thing and will happily continue to follow. God hasn’t steered me wrong yet.

BUT (and this is a big butt, something I know a lot about) when it comes to the little things I don’t want to inconvenience Him. He’s got a lot on his plate, you know, without having to deal with my silly little problems. And yet there’s this blurb about how God provides for a sparrow and if he cares that much for a little bird, how much more does he care for me, blah, blah, blah. So if I allow him to lead me in the big things, why don’t I just follow when the going’s easy? That’s a rhetorical question and it has something to do with being stubborn/lazy/foolish.

Tell of a time you followed God’s lead into an unfamiliar territory 

Six years ago my life was bliss. Happily married; two well-adjusted, healthy children; not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but financially comfortable; folks nearby; cute little house; good neighbors; great friends; spiritually grounded and growing. I don’t believe in a perfect life on earth, but I think my life may have been as close to perfect as it gets.

Todd often came home from meetings and asked what I thought about moving to this or that place and my answer was always, “I don’t.”  But at the end of March, 2005, he came home from a meeting in Chicago and asked what I thought about moving to Philadelphia. Something (a supernatural something) stayed my usual response and instead I said, “Tell me more.”

It honestly didn’t make any sense for us to pull up stakes and move 1200 miles away. Todd and I prayed and prayed about it and so many times I just wanted to say, “no way”, but instead I asked God for his leading. It seemed like every time we turned around God was pointing us toward the East Coast. The more real it became the more frightened I became until I finally ended up in a locked bedroom on my knees, tears streaming down my face and begging God not to make us go. I listed out the very many good reasons for us to stay (just in case he hadn’t thought of them) and waited for a sign or something telling me it had only been a test. Instead, as I cried my heart out to him I was filled with such an overwhelming peace that from that moment forward I knew with a complete certainty he wanted us up here in Pennsylvania.

Our resolve was shaken, however, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before he was to start his new job. But we trusted God implicitly and made the difficult, but right, decision that Todd would continue up to PA for his job and the kids and I would stay in Arkansas until treatment was over. We lived that way with Todd coming home every other weekend at first and then three weekends in a row with one in PA for an entire year.

We’ve been settled here for nearly five years now and I still don’t know what God’s purpose in all this is. I had really hoped it would be something grand and obvious, but he doesn’t usually work that way. I have seen incredible things in my kids’ lives that may or may not have happened if we had stayed.  Maybe that’s it. Or maybe not. But even if it’s not “the reason”, I truly believe it to be a blessing because of our obedience.

***

And there you have it! Looking forward to the next leg of our hike!!

The Best Book

I played some more with Precious yesterday as the sun was getting low and coming in through the dining room window. I managed to get some pretty good pictures (a collage of which will be forthcoming) but this was by far my favorite.