The Meaning of The Manger


Writer’s note: This is from my personal God Time Journals from a few days ago.  My prayers is that 2017 brings me more of this precious personal time between me and Thee, a time of focused communication with my Creator. I pray also that you will connect with Him regularly as well. You won’t be disappointed.

December 26, 2016

Dear God,

As you know, I have really pondered the birth of Christ this Christmas season. “Why,” I asked, “did you send Jesus to us as a little baby and why was He, the betrothed King of kings, born in such meager surroundings?”

And, as per usual, as I sincerely asked for wisdom, You delivered on Your promise by sending me on this day, to Colossians, Chapter 1, beginning in Verse 15. Though I had no idea what was actually penned in these passages, I knew from experience that the answer I was seeking would most likely be there. Thank you, God, for never, ever failing me.

So that I may never forget, here typed by my own hand is what I read:

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God …

… Supreme over all who rise from the dead.

So he is first in everything.

For God in all his fullness

Was pleased to live in Christ,

And through him God reconciled

Everything to himself …

… Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As

a result, he has brought you into his own presence and you are holy and blameless as you

before him without a single fault.

 

Dear Child of Mine,

I was born into human existence, complete with human limitations just so that you could be assured that nothing on earth can ever keep you from the eternal hope that is yours. Haven’t you always heard that it is what inside that counts? This could not be any truer, for it is what is inside that allows you to rise above the world. You physical body has limitations, but My Spirit has none.

A foretold King of Kings, a promise exclaimed by first God the Father and later prophets who lived many generations before My actual physical birth, I came into the world as one john-316of you. Though born the visible image of the invisible God, there was no royal pomp and circumstance upon My arrival. There was no palace, not even a guest bed upon which to lie. I was born into material limitations so that even the least could know that the promise of hope is also theirs. My Father’s promise—sealed for eternity at the cross—is for everyone. Merry Christmas.

Time for a new scene: Goodbye 2016!


Like many of you, I often find myself in reflective mode during this week which we find packaged between Christmas and New Year’s. This year is no different.

Though I know I am blessed beyond measure, I would be lying if I said that 2016 was a great year for me.

It wasn’t.2016-to-17

And, based on the laments on social media and the increasing soulnessness which makes up the news every day, it seems it has been a pretty rotten year for most everyone—a year woven together by tragedy and heartache.

The amped-up level of evilness that once seemed to wreak havoc on those in faraway places now pulses feverishly through the veins of our own nation. Terrorists play in our own backyards and heartbreak is an almost daily response to news of yet another of our beloved men and women in blue killed in the line of duty; another senseless shooting; another terrorist attack, another natural disaster or the untimely and unexpected death of another beloved friend, family member, celebrity or public hero. Few, if any, no longer have faith in our government, especially after an election that even the most creative satirist could never match.

On a personal level, it has been a year of change in almost every aspect. Though my physical locale remains the same, life as I knew it seemed to up and relocate itself, leaving me with no choice but to adjust to new surroundings in both my personal as well as my professional life. I’m still adjusting and, truth be told, I think I may be struggling with some depression. All I can say is thank God for the hope that He gives us. Whether or not I feel His Presence at a given moment, I know that I know that He is always and in all ways with me and that these melancholy feelings are just that—feelings, ever-changing, hollow fruits of the flesh that I can never trust.

His Truth and Spirit, however, can always be trusted. The never-changing, soul-sustaining and boundless fruits of His Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, matthewfaithfulness, gentleness and self-control—constantly summon me even in the midst of the storms. All we have to do is ask, seek and knock in faith and our Father in Heaven will provide.

In Matthew, Chapter 7, Verse 8, Jesus promises: “Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

My prayer—as we prepare to shut the door of 2016 and knock on that of a brand new year—is that each of us will remember to ask, seek and receive all that He has promised us and that we choose to grow life -sustaining Fruits of The Spirit instead of hollow fruits of the flesh.

Father, help us to remain focused on You; to learn to respond to this fallen world, not with fear, but with our eyes on the big picture for which You are the creator; that we remember that this is Your Story and Your will and purposes will always, always prevail. Holy Spirit, come, fill me so that I may do the part that was set aside just for me before the foundation of the earth was ever laid. Help me to make 2017 a year of progress and purpose—a truly Happy New Year for You and for me.

I love you, dear Father. Let’s do this!

Amen and Ehmen.

The Truth About Joy and Sorrow


Point To Ponder amenandehmen

Many think that joy and sorrow are opposites; that you either have one or the other. But, the older I get, the more I realize that they are actually inseparable, just like sunshine and rain.

You simply can’t have one without the other. Plants cannot grow without rain nor can they grow without sunshine. It takes the two, working together, to make the magic happen.

Yet, most of us, myself included, long for sunny days and would just as soon skip over or, at least, sleep through the rainy ones. But, the fact is, one without the other would be a real tragedy.

Lord, help me to accept and even learn to welcome the rain and to remember that you use every single raindrop, every single teardrop, to make new things grow. Loving you, Jesus.

Amen and Ehmen.

All Dogs DO Go To Heaven


lucy-collage

As I sat and watched her slow, sporadic breathing, I knew the time was near. Our almost sixteen years together was coming to an end and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much I was going to miss my favorite little redhead.

Named after another favorite redhead, comedienne Lucille Ball, Lucy certainly lived up to her name. She was a fire-cracker, full of personality and sass. She was a princess. She was funny and goofy, and always, always the boss. If another dog or even an opossum thought her tiny stature made her a pushover, she would quickly set them straight. You couldn’t help but love her.

Closing my eyes, I began asking God for peace and comfort during this difficult time. I’m not sure if I drifted off or not, but what happened next fulfilled both of my requests.

I saw myself walking into the yard of what appeared to be my future heavenly home. As soon as I stepped foot on the property, a pack of playful pups ran up, pushing me backwards into the grass. They covered my face in sweet, sloppy kisses and I was instantly filled with joy.

There was my Lucy. And Beanie. And Charlie. Tippy. And, even Dena, my first childhood dog. Every dog that I had ever loved, full of life and youth, filled my back yard and my new home as well as my heart with unconditional love.

Thank you, Jesus, for Lucy; for her energetic and fun loving life and for allowing her to drift off peacefully when it was time for her to go. But, most of all, Jesus, thank you for taking good care of her until I come home. Amen and Ehmen.

High-Flying Faith: A True Story of God’s Presence In The Midst of Tragedy


Writer’s Note: Please indulge me as I again share this true story of God’s presence, love and promise during a period of earthly sadness and tragedy. Today marks the fifth anniversary that my friend Neil left us, but it also marks the day that God made it unequivocally clear that His purpose and plan for me is to write. I may not have the book completed on paper yet, but it is nestled safely in my heart. Please give me the strength and perseverance to see it to the end, Lord. And, thank you, God, for writing me into this story and for always “showing UP” when we need you most.  Amen and Ehmen.

vapor-trail-and-neil-for-blog-2

I sat back in the seat thankful, that even on a full flight, I had somehow managed to get a seat all to myself. It sure seemed as if God was looking out for me these days and especially on this day as He knew I had much to think and pray about—how, for example, I was going to get through this trip.

My dear friend, Barbie—Neil’s first cousin and Denny’s best friend—was gone, having just succumbed to lung cancer just a few short months after an out-of-the-blue diagnosis. Denny’s husband, Neil, who had also unexpectedly fallen ill about the same time as Barbie, was in the midst of battling his own recent diagnosis of a rare and incurable disease called amyloidosis.

And, Denny, my beautiful friend to who God himself introduced me was quickly slipping into a pit justifiably described as hell on earth as everything she knew and loved was being stripped away from her. The fact was, Barbie’s death and Neil’s illness were just two of several back-to-back losses that had her looking more and more like a female, modern day version of Job with each passing day.

As the stewardess stopped momentarily in front of my seat to close the overhead compartment, she gave me a sympathetic nod. My pain, obviously visible to even a stranger, quickly liquidated into a stream of tears as I closed my eyes and began to recount the five years that had led to this moment; how an anonymous, virtual game of internet Scrabble, a chance meeting on a social networking site, had led to such a deep, tangible and very real friendship, first between me and Denny and then between our family and friends; a friendship that was obviously God-ordained, God-blessed and God-planned, but still a mystery to our mere mortal minds.

What could He possibly have been thinking when he paired the two of us? From the outside, we were so different. I was a single mom with two jobs and she was a semi-retired housewife. What’s more, we lived what seemed like a world apart—she in western Canada and me in the southeastern United States.

But, on the inside, well, that’s where it all began to make sense. For there, we were practically twins—soul sisters as we later dubbed it—whose bond was quick, yet undeniably powerful and steadfast. What started as a little friendly banter on a Scrabble chat screen turned into hours of truly getting to know each other. Letter by typed letter, we talked about everything, from our childhood to our adulthood, our pain and sorrow, hopes and dreams, and, most especially, about God, who we both loved with all our might, and who continued to make it abundantly clear that He wanted to be at the helm of our lives and that our lives were meant to be intertwined. He would prove that to us over and over again, including on December 8, 2011 as I headed back to Alberta.

The story of this December day had actually started a couple of months earlier when I began searching for air-fare for a pre-Christmas visit with my friends. My plan was to fly in on Dec. 10th, which also happened to be my 50th birthday. I was struggling a bit with this milestone birthday and decided that a day of travel would be a fine distraction.

To paint the picture more completely, I had been bidding on tickets through Priceline in search of the best deal possible. For those who have never used the “Name Your Own Price” feature, one must submit a method of payment along with an offer for airfare and, if accepted, you are rewarded with a non-refundable airline ticket.

Anyhow—after two weeks and a dozen or so rejected offers —I decided to try one last time and submitted an even lower price than I had attempted before. I was both shocked and ecstatic when it was accepted at almost 40 percent less than the going ticket price! When I looked closely at my confirmation, however, I noticed something terribly wrong. The departure, it said, was 7:05 a.m. December 8, 2011. Wait. What? December 8th?  That wasn’t the plan. December 10th was the dreaded birthday and the date my work vacation started. Nevertheless, God clearly had another plan, which I now realized included getting me there in time for Barbie’s funeral.

And, so, in the early morning hours of December 8, I sunk deep into my seat and tucked my earbuds tightly into my ears. Praise and worship tunes playing as soothing background music, there was time for a lot of prayers between the airport runways of Atlanta, Georgia and Edmonton, Alberta and, as the plane took off, the praying commenced.

During a short layover in Denver and before boarding the final leg of my day’s journey, I texted Denny to see how she was doing. She had been pretty emotional the night before, but was adamant that she would pick me up at the airport. I begged her to let one of our other friends do it, but, as per usual, she got the final word and would be waiting for me.  Period. She didn’t reply to my text and I presumed she was probably busy with Barbie’s funeral planning.

Back on the plane, I started to get more anxious. Denny was going through so much heartache and seemed to be struggling a bit with her faith.  She was finding it hard to fight anymore; her strength understandably gone. Just as the illnesses had stripped Neil and Barbie of their physical muscles, she was feeling stripped of her spiritual muscles. She still loved God. She still believed in Jesus and she still believed in heaven. In fact, those were the only things that made any sense to her at all anymore. Yet they seemed so far away and her heart continued to crumble under the weight of it all.

My mind, my heart and my emotions were swirling like a hurricane as the plane taxied down the Denver tarmac and I returned to my music, once again getting lost in my own little world of praise, worship and prayer. About halfway through the four-hour flight, “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North came on and I was immediately transported back to exactly one summer before when my previously-planned visit turned out to be a time of support as Denny’s brother, Stevie, had tragically drowned the week before.

As the song pervaded my heart on that June day, I had turned every word into a fervent prayer for my friend, pleading with God to please—just as the song beseeches—to come close and hold my friend’s heart. Suddenly, I began to feel a sense of peace followed by an inexplicable nudge to open my eyes and look out the window. When I did, I saw something that I shall never forget. Right there, on a canvas of deep blue sky and billowing clouds, were clouds in the distinctive shape of two strong hands gently cradling a heart. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and quickly reached for my camera, but when I looked back up, the image was gone. I may not have gotten the picture with my camera, but it was forever etched into my memory to be recalled many times in the days and years to come—including this day as I traveled once again to see my friends.

Leaning forward in my seat, I wondered if perchance God might give me another sign. Praise and worship lyrics dancing in my ears, I studied the clouds, but saw nothing. I looked towards the ground. Still, nothing. But, as I sat back in my seat disappointed, I soon felt another inexplicable nudge to take one more look. I pressed my forehead to the window pane and gazed at the sky. It was cloudless and there was nothing really to see when all of a sudden a streak of white shot across the blue sky. It happened so quickly, I almost gave myself whiplash attempting to see what could have possibly left this white mark in the sky. I sat back quite perplexed and more than just a little nervous. If that was left by another plane, it sure was awful close, I thought to myself.

As I continued to ponder what I had just seen, the flight attendants began preparing the cabin for landing. In less than a half an hour, I would be on the ground. My emotions shifted from anxiety to excitement as I knew I was about to see the people who had become so near and dear to me.

Having visited several times before, I had become somewhat of a pro at maneuvering through customs. I breezed through and, luggage in tow, followed my fellow travelers through the hallways leading to the lobby where Neil and Denny usually waited for me.

Walking through the doors, I looked around for Denny. Not seeing her right away, I figured she was probably hiding around the corner and laughing at me. She loved to make me look like a dork and, to be fair, I often did the same to her. I especially loved when we would make Neil laugh with our silliness.

In an effort to maintain at least a shred of my self-professed coolness, I stepped to the side and looked down at my phone. As I peered back up, I saw a couple of familiar faces walking towards me. It was Alex and Trina.

Good, I thought to myself, Denny had decided to take a break and ask for help. We exchanged hugs and I started into my story of how customs didn’t try to give me the third degree for once. As I used Neil’s name a few sentences in, I noticed Trina’s eyes filling with tears. Alex’s face grew dim and right there in the middle of the Edmonton Airport, I heard these words, “Brenda, Neil passed away this morning.”

It was as if the world came to a screeching halt and I began to hyperventilate as my sweet friends, themselves sobbing, guided me to a nearby chair. It didn’t take long after I sat down, however, that it all became clear.

The December 8th Priceline ticket I held in my trembling hands was far from a mistake. My sweet Lord had sent me there on this very day as support for my dearest friend now plunged into the darkest hour of her life.

And that streak against the sky? Well, that was undoubtedly Neil doing a fly-by and letting me know that He was indeed ok.  A pilot, I could always see the passion in Neil’s eyes when he spoke of flying; how exhilarating it was for him to play high above the earth, amid the clouds and along the very threshold of Heaven—a place where he could now enjoy that same exhilaration multiplied by infinity.

As for me, every time I see a feathery white brush stroke painted in the sky, I stop and thank our awesome God for writing me into Neil and Denny’s story and for this new symbol of hope and joy; this reminder that He is oh so real and has a plan and a purpose for all of us; mine being to follow Him and to live and retell stories like this that will, hopefully, lead people to that place inside themselves where He is always patiently and lovingly waiting with whatever is needed.

Oh, and Denny, although there were many days following Barbie and Neil’s deaths in which she seemed to be in a freefall, God lovingly guided her hand to her own parachute’s ripcord and she is today living and loving life once again. She doesn’t even mind being compared to Job anymore, because just like Job, our loving Father in Heaven has fully restored her to a life full of love, blessings and a joyful, ever-healing heart.

Her Birthday, My Blessing.


One Year Ago:


As I sit here and listen to you and Billy moving your stuff about just on the other side of the wall, preparing to load it on the trailer to move it to your new house, tears are flowing. Unexpected tears. Out of left field tears. I guess I’m just finally stopping long enough and the sounds from the next room are making it more real. My baby is getting married and moving out.

I hear your voice and, intellectually, I know it’s the voice of a 23 year old beautiful, smart, mature woman, but my heart is hearing a little girl. Mama. Mama. Mama. Come here, Mama. My heart cries a little as I know that you will soon have to use the phone to call me.

I see you walk out the door with a suitcase full of clothes. Intellectually, I see a beautiful, smart, mature 23 year old woman, but my heart sees a little girl. Bye. Bye Mama. I’ll be back. My heart cries a little as I know soon you will only be back for visits.

Then, I watch you as you watch him. Your eyes light up and all of a sudden I see a beautiful, smart, mature 23 year old woman very much in love. I hear you tell him you love him and my heart cries for joy as I know that my baby has found her soulmate and life partner.

I love you, my beautiful daughter, and can’t wait to see what you do in Chapter 2.


billie-and-brenda

One year later, on your 24th Birthday:


Here I sit in the same spot, your Chapter 2 well underway and I will never be able to put this book down. It is impossible to put into words how blessed I feel when I see you being a blessing to so many others—through your work at the church, through your marriage and love of family, through just being you and caring for others. God is using you in such a mighty way, baby girl, just as He has since the day you drew your first breath on this day 24 years ago.

Today, I want to thank you for staying true to God and allowing Him to use you, but first I must say thank you to God for creating you. You truly are the gift that keeps on giving and have changed my life—and the life of many others—not just forever, but for better. Happy Birthday my baby girl. I love you…to the ends of the earth and right on into eternity.

 

Happiness is Fleeting…


amen and ehmen!

As I looked to God for some peace during these crazy days, he sent me back in time to a journal entry I made quite awhile ago and, while my part of the conversation is too personal to share at this juncture and the situation far different, this excerpt from His part is applicable and timely for me today. Perhaps it will be for you as well. Amen and Ehmen.

nature shot at stone mountain“Breath in, inhale my Word, My child. You are far from alone and your story does not depend upon another human. I am so proud of you for being so intent on fulfilling my will and purpose for you. Please stay the course as I promise you that it will be well worth it. You, my child, are on the fast-track to joy and joy trumps happiness any day of eternity. Many people that you know, including yourself, still get caught up in…

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