"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Just a Milia

There is a well kept secret here in town called Seasons Spa and Salon. Upon one of my last visits, I received a gift card for a complimentary facial – the works. So being after Christmas and needing a little pampering, I decided this would be the week to go.

After filling out the necessary paper work and donning a décolleté wrap, I found myself resting on my back in a dimly lit room listening to soothing piano music encased in ocean waves. The built-up wedding and Christmas stress was quickly responding and beginning to fall away even before the therapy had begun.

After numerous layerings of oils and cleansers and exfoliants, small patches were placed over my eyes, a bright light was turned on, and a scrutiny begun. Actually, the facial expert was quite complimentary. She said I was pretty well hydrated and there was still a good elasticity to my skin. (When I told her how old I was, she was particularly impressed “for someone your age” -- which I did not find that humorous.) But in the midst of all her accolades and my pride of my own cleansing techniques and abilities, she said, “You do have a milia here on your forehead.” Oh, no! A milia? Yes, I had a pocket of dirt lodged under the skin, only visible under direct light inspection.

I don’t know about you, but, spiritually speaking, I have bad days and good days. On bad days, I know when I have messed up big time in the sin department for it has been flagrant and willful. It’s on those days that nothing short of falling on my face in repentance will do, the place where there’s not only forgiveness but no condemnation either. And how I praise God for that place. And then there are the good days, when I’ve behaved in a manner worthy of any seasoned Christian, earning the blessings of God (or so I think).

But as I was reminded in my morning devotional, God doesn't grade on a curve. I am to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And perfection according to God’s standards entails loving Him with all my heart, soul, and mind – and my neighbor as myself. Oh, but I got my disciplines right today. I read my Bible, I did my devotional, I prayed. I even started working on some Scripture memory. But then there's that hidden pocket of dirt, and it requires the same dependency of grace as that willful sin of disobedience.

Yes, sometimes I may be more conscious of a particular sin, but never more needy of His grace than when it’s just a "milia" visible only under the scrutiny of Light.

It's amazing what one can learn at a spa in just an ordinary moment….

Post Office Ministry Update (See Dec. 2 post)

She walked through the door and I recognized her immediately. I hurriedly made my way up the aisle and threw my arms around her neck. She responded with, "I told you I would come." And together we worshipped Emmanuel.

Emmanuel, Emmanuel,
His name is called Emmanuel;
God with us, revealed in us;
His name is called Emmanuel.

Text and music by Bob McGee

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Light of the Season

I was wished a Happy Hanukkah AND Kwanzaa last night – and so were you if you were tuned into the Chicago and Green Bay football game. Hanukkah is the Hebrew word for “dedication,” and it celebrates the rededication of the Temple to the Lord after it was desecrated by the Gentiles and the subsequent Jewish victory and independence in 165 B.C. Although it’s not described in Scripture, it is the most historically documented of all Jewish holidays. Last night we were shown the huge 9-pillar “lamp” called a hanukkiyah in downtown Chicago and told how it is lit from right to left, progressing with the eight day celebration. (I'm thinking the commentator was not Jewish as traditionally the lamp is lit from left to right.)

Kwanzaa runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 and is a unique African American celebration which focuses on the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement. It, too, has a “lamp” called a Kinara. The Kinara holds seven candles to reflect the seven principles which are the foundation of Kwanzaa. Each day of Kwanzaa, a new pillar is lit.

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa: two festivals, each having “light” as their central point of celebration.

And then there’s Christmas. It, too, centers around a Light; a Light by which all others cannot even dimly compare, for this Light is the central personality of all of history. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned (Is. 9:2). Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12).

So celebrate this Christmas season knowing that no culture can quench Him, no government can douse Him, and no place of employment can ban Him, for He is the bright, unquenchable and inescapable Christ, and on us, this Light has dawned.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Case of Mistaken Identity

My brothers and I received the following email and picture attachment this week: “OK, who is this dude?” Signed, “DADDY.”

It is not uncommon to have such a question posed. You see, I have identical twin brothers, and even though we all know them very well, there are those times when we just have to guess which one is which – especially when it comes to hearing their voice on the phone or looking at an older photograph. And so I looked hard at the picture and returned the email with this answer: “I say Louis. But it is one of those eerie moments when one is not sure. N-” to which his twin responded, “It’s you, Nancy!” He might have just as well said, “Idiot!” instead of my name because that’s how I felt. I didn’t even recognize my own self!!! It’s not like I wasn’t there when the picture was taken either. But I’m not a hunter; never really was, and so I didn’t recognize this part of me. Anyway, I got a good laugh out of my own inability to identify myself – as I’m sure my brothers and dad did, too.

I’m so thankful for a God who sees me and knows me – even when I’m behaving in a way contradictory to who I am. This little incident reminded me of Jeremiah 17:9-10. "The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be."

I’m so glad He knows me – even when I don’t know my own self. And He treats me as I really am: a child of God.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Interesting Christmas Facts

I received a newsletter this week from SAPPS Physical Therapy with some interesting Christmas facts. Maybe you’ve seen them yourself. If not, here are a few.

Approximate amount of money made by photos with Santa in all U.S. malls: $2,255,750,000. (That’s a lot of crying babies!)

Percentage of Americans that finish off their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve: 20%.

Percentage of pet owners who have their dog or cat pose and photographed with Santa: 27%. (So that's why Santa was hanging out at the local PetSmart this past weekend.)

The number of Barbie dolls sold every minute around the world: 180. (Another little insignificant fact: Barbie and I are the same age. Obviously, she has stayed out of the sun more than I.)

The amount of trash that is generated annually from the gift wrap and shopping bags: 4,000,000 tons. (That’s 8 BILLION pounds!)

And at the end of the list was this one – and the one that intrigued me the most: the percentage of Americans who re-gift: 28%.

I have to admit, I don’t make a habit of re-gifting -- though I realize that very often it might be a thrifty thing to do. But it has got me to thinking. There is one gift that I know I don’t appreciate enough, and, quite frankly, it's the only one that’s really worth re-gifting. It is the greatest gift of all, and His name is Jesus.

And so I’ve been thinking these last few days about different ways to re-gift the Christ child this season. Here are a few ways I’ve come up with. Participating in a local Angel Tree project. Supporting a foreign mission to dig a well. Dropping a few extra coins in the bucket at Wal-Mart. Buying flour to help feed the hungry. Being courteous to the associate behind the counter. Caroling – which has a lot more to do with the visitation than the actual singing. Being patient as I wait in long lines or heavy traffic. Not being offended by “Happy Holidays,” but rather extending a genuine and joyous reply.

The ways and opportunities are as endless as the One whom we celebrate this Christmas season. How will you re-gift the Gift this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Came Early Tonight

Here it was almost two weeks before Christmas and I still didn't have the first decoration up -- let alone a Christmas tree. Things haven't been so normal around here these last few weeks with the wedding, the trip out of town, and then all the baking orders to fill. The fact is there has been no block of time where I could disappear into the storage room in the garage which is home to carefully packed away boxes, not to mention a few mice, in hopes of finding my way out again by Christmas. It was not only discouraging but very disheartening. I had come to the conclusion that I was going to stick some pine boughs in a vase and let that suffice. I'd seen it done in a magazine; maybe I could pull it off, too.

But let me back up a moment. I received a text this morning from my newly wed daughter telling me that she and her husband were free for supper tonight. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to be with them, I quickly agreed and left it open for leftover spaghetti or going out. But that decision was made for me when this afternoon I received yet another text, "Mexican, 5:30." Little did I know it was a full-fledged conspiracy.

As I drove down the street toward home after my chicken fajita quesadilla, I noticed my garage door was up, and the closer I got, I realized there was a truck backed into it. Either my oldest son was home or else I was being robbed blind. I stuck the key in the door, turned the knob, and that's when I heard it: Christmas music one could dance to. It didn't take me but a second to see the cause of the all the stir: an eight foot tree stood in the corner of the den, and there around it were my firstborn and his wife stringing lights! So .... I began to cry. When these two sweet things left to go back home, not only was the tree completed, every ornamentt hung and the star in place, but the wreath was on the front door and the candles were in the windows -- on timers!

What precious kids! What gifts of love! Oh, yes, Christmas had come early this year.

Friday, December 5, 2008

And A Good Time Was Had By All

One thing's for sure: I've always loved the body of Christ. And nothing rings truer than with the body known as Grace Church -- especially the women. We had our annual Christmas Brawl, uh, Ornament Swap, this week, and so I thought I'd share some of the joy with my blogging family. Certainly not all the women could make it, but those who did certainly had a good time.

Thank you, Paula Middlebrooks, for hostessing such a wonderful time in your beautiful home! What a special Christmas gift you gave us.

Kathy, Paula, Marcilla and Bonnie behaving -- for the moment.

Jeannine, Martha, Nicola and Linda "channeling."

First things first.

Time to play! "Who's got #1?"

Do NOT let these girls (Jessica and Tesa) fool you with their sweet demeanor and pose.

Like I said...

Linda makes her move, and boy, is it a swift one. Faye never saw it coming.

Faye learned from the best and makes her move on Marcilla with Judy and Mikara cheering her on.

So, I stole the baby Jesus -- but Betty got another one!

Linda REALLY wanted that "Grace" ornament -- so did my mom. (And Mrs. Linda and Kathy were no help at all!)

Linda says, "I really like this." Kathy responds, "No you don't."

"You're right. I'll take Nicola's instead."

Pouting last only a for a moment. Joy comes when it's your turn to steal.

I'm telling you, they are NOT behaving!

Jane thought the snowman was safe with her. Wrong.

And Vickie was not happy with Tesa's choice of ornament either!

There's no honor among thieves!

"How dare you!"

Vickie poses for the camera because she saw the last picture I took of her!

Friends again!

What an absolutely wonderful group of ladies!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Post Office Ministry

I got up this morning with a list of things to do and places to go, but instead of getting frustrated with the interruptions and delays, I decided to settle into the rhythm of the day and see where it took me. And thus I found myself waiting in line at the post office to mail a certified letter, completely oblivious that I was about to have a head-on collision with a divine encounter.

A younger woman came up behind me wearing a medical blouse of sorts. I said good morning and asked her if she was just getting off a shift. She said, “Do I look that bad?” I said, “No, but you do look tired.” She told me she “sits” with elderly people and had been on duty for 11 hours and had 3 more to go before getting off. She began wiping the tears from her watering eyes and told me just how tired she was. Since the line was long, we had plenty of time to chat. I asked her who she sat for and when she told me, I said, “Yes, I know them. Didn’t the wife die recently?” She hugged herself and said, “Yes, and I miss her so much. I have cried and cried. You know, you get so attached to these people because you’re with them night and day. I have wanted to quit because I’m so tired, but I just can’t. They need me so. Besides, they become like family.” I reached out my hand and touched her and told her she had been given a precious gift and was using it well, and then I said, “I just speak God’s rest on you today,” to which larger tears welled in her eyes as she responded, “I receive it.” We talked a moment more, and I tried to encourage her in her “ministry” before the post office clerk yelled, “Can I help the next customer?”

Upon finishing my business, I turned around to speak to her, but she was already busy with hers at the next cubicle. I had planned to just say, “It was nice talking with you” as I walked past, but before I could, she turned from the clerk and asked, “Where do you….”, and I thought she was going to say, “go to church?” Rather, she posed it, “Where do you do ministry?” I knew what she meant, so I said, “At Grace Church, and I would love for you to come visit us.” She told me she would like to and asked for directions. We exchanged names and a few more details and parted.

“Where do you do ministry?” Oh, the absolute profoundness of that question! I have not been able to get it out of my mind all day. My pastor’s favorite verse is John 1:14 from The Message: And the Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood. He is constantly encouraging us and challenging us to move from our comfortable “pews” on Sunday morning and go into our “neighborhoods” – those places where we meet people where they are, where real life happens, like in post offices -- and minister to them by being the hands and feet and, maybe most importantly, the heart of Jesus.

Maybe, just maybe, I got a taste of that this morning with Deran.