Friday, December 13, 2013

Productive Rest!

Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.
 Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. Psalm 127:2

Unexpected blessing happened twice before noon today. To have it happen once would be a joy. Twice was pure delight.

The first reversal came in the form of a menacing project that simply rolled over and let me pet its soft underbelly. I had braced myself to take mastery over this gargantuan task only to have it greet me with a friendly lick. A complicated problem that had promised to hijack vast amounts of time, resolved itself in five minutes. I thanked God for his very practical display of mercy.

The second issue was more challenge than menace. Its resolution was no less miraculous.

I perused the page in front of me from top to bottom before highlighting my favorite lines in optimistic yellow. The text represented the salient points to be conveyed through a video project. The face and voice of my friend, another long time member of our staff, kept surfacing as I read. She, I thought, would be the perfect person to present this vision.

I tried to dismiss the thought. After all, I had already outlined an approach that involved videoing several families. Personal story is an effective tool. Add children and the effect is golden. I just had to determine which families, what questions to ask and the order in which to present their stories--all before the actual videoing or editing took place.

My next step was to discuss the vision one more time with the director of the ministry on which the video focused. Again the idea to use my friend and maybe more members of the staff surfaced in my head. I tested the waters. “What do you think…?” “Do you think it would work…?”

Suddenly we were in complete agreement. A new plan. A workable plan. A plan far better than any previous one. I was relieved. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to put it into motion. What I had thought would take days of work became a much shorter project. It would be easier, and it would be better. Clearly God was at work.

To have my load lightened in this way twice in a two hour span of time brought Psalm 127:1 to mind. This is the Bible verse that immediately preceded the one I used in yesterday’s blog. It was not the first time today that I had been drawn to reconsider its message.

When I thought back on yesterday’s blog, Even in My Sleep, I concluded the word rest brings to mind different ideas for each of us. It is a word that demands an author to explain what she means when she uses it.

For example, in Your Beautiful Purpose, Susie Larson, uses rest to mean a time when a person is removed from active ministry and set to the side by God. In her explanation, rest is not the sought after vacation or spa experience. It is more like being in time out or left out—a forced rest rather than a chosen one.

Other people see rest as a lovely, but almost out of reach hope. A friend messaged me first thing this morning after reading what I wrote in yesterday’s blog, “I love to rest and I love being productive, but it's a comforting reminder that God WANTS us to rest.” I am hoping she take this as personal permission from God to sit back and enjoy life a little more.

What I experienced today was rest of a different kind. The events of my morning provided stress-free productivity. I was fully engaged in the work, but refreshingly removed from the burden.

In the first instance, I believe God stepped in to solve a problem. He did almost instantly what could have taken me months to accomplish. In the second instance, the work was not removed, but it was redirected. The new plan energized rather than drained me. It sparked both creativity and organization. While I still managed the details, it felt as if I did it while enjoyably perched on the shoulders of the chief project engineer.

I have a new appreciation tonight for what it means when it says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the work of the builders is wasted.” I experienced the joy of God’s handiwork applied through my hands. I recognized anew that many of my best efforts have been merely exercises in futility because I labored alone.

Today’s experiences provide a fresh perspective on how Psalm 127:1 enhances the meaning of verse two, “It is useless for you to work so hard 
from early morning until late at night,
 anxiously working for food to eat;
 for God gives rest to his loved ones.”

God does give rest to those he loves. Sometimes that rest comes in a nap or recreation. Sometimes it comes in a season of disengagement. 

Sometimes rest comes during a time of productivity, and it is equally refreshing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Even In My Sleep

It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late,
to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Psalm 127:2

Days are shorter now. Dark appears like a too early guest, showing up before the meal is ready or the table set. The dappled sunlight that once played happily in a hardworking kitchen at the end of the day has taken to retiring early. I can no longer count on its cheery rays to soften the transition between a day in the office and an evening at home.

I am not without other resources. At this time of the year, I nightly summon long-standing cohorts to join me for a happy hour of reading the mail and cooking a meal. Once lit, these chunky white pillars offer the familiar fragrance of home and a glow that brightens my flagging spirits. These are the same waxy friends who joined me as I fixed my morning tea and prepared to start my day.

Beginning and ending my day augmented by candlelight, I am reminded of the old admonition not to burn the candle at both ends. (I tried it once—lighting both ends of a taper for realand discovered a candle so lit, burns itself out very quickly and ends up in a smoke-tinged waxy puddle. Now there was a lesson to be learned.) In my case, I would have to rephrase and claim, “I burn the candles at both endsof lengthy days.” Especially at this time of the year.

I fill every day to the brim in a misguided effort to make the most of my twenty-four hours. I often complain I was short-changed in my daily time allotment. (As if the Creator made a real mistake.) Certainly God meant for me to have more minutes so I could accomplish more things and offer him more praise. 

Or did he?

On the contrary, God is not handing out accolades for my late to bed, early to rise lifestyle. In Psalm 127, he labels my frantic, fill-every-minute existence as futile and unproductive. His loving desire is for me to take my rest in him, to let him restore my soul as I sleep so that I am fresh to enjoy the work of a new day.

I would love to keep writing tonight. I’m tempted to explore and expand upon this train of thought. I'd love to check some commentaries and study this for at least another hour. 

But my unstudied understanding of God’s desire leaves me with just one obedient conclusion. Rest.

And so I am going to bed. I cannot wait to see what God will bring me as I sleep. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

It Snowed Love

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
1 John 4:11-12

Love drifted down today in silvery flakes. It twinkled and swirled in the air just above the heads of over four hundred children. Love’s whisper softly brushed the faces of almost one hundred adults.

Love wafted in gentle voices. It rang out in glee-filled laughter. Love cascaded in the mixed voice of grateful and polite children. It swirled around the hearts of those who came to serve.

Love was spread today, first as icing on cookies and then as the sweet covering of newly formed relationships. It bubbled up in fun games and shared stories. It multiplied as childish hands and hearts created festive cards to pass along to those they loved.

Love grew today. Adult’s hearts expanded as they reached out with selfless dedication to envelope children not their own. Children’s hearts expanded, nourished by the love so freely given.

If you were one of the more than 175 adults who took part in Wildwood Winter Wonderland, The Chapel’s outreach to an elementary school, then you were both a giver and a beneficiary of the love. If this blog is your first introduction to the events of this day, then a few details will help you understand.

The Chapel in Baton Rouge hosted a Christmas party for an entire school today, sending teams of three volunteers into each classroom to do simultaneous parties throughout the school—and giving the teacher a break. It required almost a hundred adults to work with the children. An almost equal number of volunteers worked behind the scenes yesterday, assembling supplies and setting the stage.

One team of volunteers worked at the school last night to create the winter wonderland that greeted the children as they arrived for school. Paper snowflakes hung from trees outside, so that the children were given a hint of what was in store. Inside the school, the ceiling of every hallway was covered with various shapes and sizes of glittering snowflakes that hung low enough to be just above the head of an elementary child.

Earlier yesterday another team of volunteers worked for hours to assemble and pack the party supplies into bags and boxes. They counted out cotton balls and placed them in individual cups for one game. Spoons, straws, paper plates were sorted, counted and bagged per classroom. The game with M&M’s required a different set of cups. There were sugar cookies to be counted and packaged, along with icing and knives and sprinkles and whatever other goodies went on top. Then there were the craft supplies. Each box was labeled and had the exact number of supplies needed for the students in that classroom.

Hosting a party for so many children is not an easy task—especially this time of the year. Volunteers took time off from work to be in the classrooms today. Others missed dinner with their families last night. Many set aside other Christmas chores. They braved a light rain and impending cold. I didn’t hear a single complaint about the sacrifices that were made. This was a labor of love.

When you take into account God is their Father, their outpouring of love only make sense.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bent Trees

Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts! But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the Lord will lead away with evildoers! Peace be upon Israel! Psalm 125:4-5

Just as I suspected, we WERE among the last people in the city to purchase our fresh from the frozen north Christmas tree. The tree lot looked like the side of an over-lumbered forest. Broken branches lay scattered on the ground, overlooked by tree-foraging families bent on festive frenzy. As I looked around the bleak lot, I contemplated—briefly—the possibility of gathering the scrawny outcasts and twining them together to create a semblance of a tree.

I was shopping with my ‘get-er-done’ guy, so I didn’t have the luxury of the ‘just-looking’ murmur that usually allows me to escape a determined tree man. He found a lone tree that would do. Would do, mind you. Not the perfect tree by any means. The choices were few, so I staked out the tree while he went to find a tree man to help us.

Fortunately for us, the lot had even fewer attendants to help than trees to sell. I say fortunately because while my husband waited in the queue for someone to help us, I noticed the tree stood at an odd angle. On closer examination, not easy in a shadow-filled tree lot, I discovered the trunk was distinctly crooked, bending at an odd angle in the middle. Years of experience have led me to conclude a bent trunk cannot be manipulated or cajoled into plumb. All homegrown attempts to make it appear straight in the living room would take hours of finagling and would ultimately be unsuccessful.

The specter of hours trying to right a crooked tree was enough to make my ‘hunt, shoot, bag and drag it home’ husband ready to do a little more shopping. Off we drove to find another lot where we joyfully purchased the perfect  2013 tree.

Bent trees have no control over the way they grow. The same is not true of people.

We were created in God’s image, yet we strayed from his ways. He showed us a straight path and we promptly left it to explore other avenues. With love, he pursued us, calling us to return to him. When it was apparent to everyone that humans would never be able to live according to God’s laws on their own, he offered salvation through his son and ongoing peace through his Spirit.

Still many repeatedly choose a bent and crooked life. Like the tree we left behind tonight, they will never be upright—not because they can’t, but because they won’t. 

God’s heart is that none should perish, but that all should repent. He stands ready to offer forgiveness and restoration. Our part is to pray for those who are headed down a crooked path and speak truth to them when God leads us to do it.

It isn’t as easy to walk away from a person who isn't upright as it is to abandon a bent and crooked tree.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oh, To Be a Child at Christmas!

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

The matching Christmas pajamas lined up on the counter signal the just-around-the- corner arrival of Christmas morning. I can almost see the five little girls who will wear them. On those years when the whole family gathers in front of my fireplace, there is a happy tumble of small blondes eager to see what Santa has brought. On years when we are scattered across several states, the matching jammies still remind Santa which grandchildren are mine.

Coordinated sleepwear is just the beginning.

Last night I spent over two hours online ordering personalized bookplates for each child. What I thought would be a simple project turned into an ordeal as I looked through hundreds of images in an effort to match each girl’s personality with the appropriate graphic. I had to remember each girl’s favorite color. I had to think about their personal styles, and their favorite animals or flowers or bugs, and the script for their names, and the size and shape of the plate, and the growing sophistication of the older two. It helps to know each child so well.

I try to choose a standard gift for all but modify according to personalities—except for the pajamas and the monogrammed Christmas ornaments. And then the stocking stuffers and other assorted goodies. And on it goes.

It is a great thing to be a child in our household on Christmas morning. Now that I think of it, most of our Christmas is geared to the young. That is how it was when the parents of the current crop were just small children themselves.

Our love is poured out as lavishly as our bank account allows. When the money runs low, our love splashes out in other ways. We bake goodies, roast marshmallows in the fireplace and play countless games around the kitchen table.

“How do I get to be a kid in your family?” a real grown-up once asked. “At the very least I want my name on your list.” It is indeed wonderful to be a child in a home where love prevails.

I know just how my children and grandchildren must feel. I feel the same way about being a child of my Heavenly Father. He knows me by name. He understands my likes and dislikes. He has a unique plan for my life. He showers me with loving-kindness and bountiful gifts.

When I look with tender love on my dear ones this Christmas, I will remember my Father who looks at me with an even greater love.

(We may not be wearing matching jammies in God’s kingdom, but we are donned in identical robes of righteous white.)

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pride and Humility

I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he shows us his mercy.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy on us, for we have endured no end of contemptWe have endured no end of ridicule from the arrogant, of contempt from the proud.  Psalm 123

Contempt, arrogance and pride are strange words for a Christmas blog. This detestable triumvirate of fleshly traits has nothing to recommend it. There are few things more soul quenching than the arrogance of someone who touts his own excellence. Who has not been beaten down by the pride of another person who lords it over you using natural strengths and ill-gained power? Who among us has not cried out to God for rescue from the attitudes and words of others who keep us under the heel of their own superiority?

Contempt, arrogance and pride are human traits we use often but seldom want to claim. We may shove them into the master closet of our personality, so they are hidden from view, but we keep them readily available for our use. We are injured by the pride of other people, as well as by our own. We are wounded by the contempt we endure and by the contempt we inflict.

The Christ of Christmas stands out in distinct contrast to the proud and arrogant people who populate our world. He, who as the Son of God, possessed infinite superiority chose to be born, to live and to die humbly. He, who tamed the winds and waves, allowed himself to be battered by human hands. It is through him that God offers us mercy. It is by his Spirit that dwells in us that we offer mercy to others.

Today a co-worker reminded me that I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ He challenged me to think of my gifts and abilities in terms of ‘how God is powerful through me.’ What a reversal of the way an unspiritual world assesses my qualities—or lack thereof.  What an antidote to pride. Arrogance and one-upmanship lose their competitive edge when my qualities are used to display God’s character and not my own. The barbs of the proud lose their power when my worth is aligned with God’s and not dependent on my own success.

To be a manservant or a handmaiden of God means we have placed our identity in our relationship with him. We are eager to do his work and sensitive to his every wish.  We call out for mercy, only to discover that our protection from the contempt of the proud and arrogant has come as a result of our humble submission to his will.