Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Focus

It's New Year's Eve, and I find my thoughts are taking a different turn than they usually do.

Normally, I would grouch about the futility of resolutions or the exhaustion of having to stay up till (GOD FORBID) midnight, or the irritation of Christmas decorations that will become unacceptable to display once the calendar year changes.

And, if the news and Facebook and many people I know are to be believed, the year 2016 has packed quite the crap-filled punch, certainly worthy of some ranting and griping and good old fashioned mud-slinging.

We did have a nasty election season, followed by an even nastier post-election barrage.
Sickness continues to threaten, and overtake, people all around.
Finances are stable for some, and in upheaval for others, and that fact alone causes tension.
Marriages struggle. Marriages grow.
Children behave. Children act like...children.
Churches fail. Churches thrive. Churches barely survive. Churches go stagnate.
People we love hurt us. People we love enrich our lives.

Beloved ones join our families.

Beloved ones leave this earth, leaving us shattered and wishing and aching and wanting time to move us years into the future where we no longer hurt so much.

Opinions abound on all fronts about all subjects. People hurl insults or hold grudges or choose a side of a matter that places them at odds with those around them, and then choose to allow opposing views to be cause for an actual wedge between them.

And so much more. So many things. Too many things.

Let's pause and look at that list once again. Really look at it.

How is that different from any other year? From EVERY other year?

Nothing is new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

And so I've discarded all my own personal thoughts on all the above mentioned situations in which we may find ourselves this day-before-the-new-year-begins.

Instead...I'm leaning in. Into the only One truly worth focusing my time and energy and heart on.

Because He is still on His throne today, the same as He was yesterday, and at the start of this year, and the same as He will be at the end of next year.

Even though nothing is new under the sun...EVERYTHING is new under the Son.

Every day.

And that's worth celebrating. Even if 2016 sucked. Even if it was a banner year.

I don't care about any of it.

THIS is what I am focusing on...

"The grave could not hold You.
The veil tore before You.
You silenced the boast of sin and grave.
The heaven's are roaring the praise of Your glory,
For You are raised to life again.
You have no rival. You have no equal.
Now and forever, God, You reign.
Yours is the kingdom, Yours is the glory, Yours is the name above all names!"
(lyrics from 'What a Beautiful Name'-Hillsong)

Happy New Year's Eve to all of us. It's happy for only one reason.

Because He has already made ALL THINGS NEW.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Coincidental Christmas

You know how you are reading a book and you think "Huh, that's an interesting coincidence," and then you find out, as the pages turn, that it wasn't coincidence at all, but a carefully executed story line, a plot woven strategically and painstakingly to keep you guessing but intrigued...and ALWAYS coming back for more Do you know what I mean?

Maybe that never happens to you. I am sad to say that, as an author, I have trouble just enjoying any plot line, and instead spend entire movie viewings and book readings attempting to figure out what is going to happen next.

And when it all comes together seamlessly and exactly as I predicted/hoped it would, I will sigh in relief and smile and nod, all the details having been perfectly worked out.

But sometimes we just don't GET the vision of the writers/plot creators. A book ends, movie credits roll, a television series airs it's final episode...and we sit, frowning, thinking "What. The. Heck?"

Sometimes I will read a book or watch a movie a second time, paying closer attention to the coincidences that really aren't, and trying to make sense of what I had considered a total plot FAILURE the first reading/viewing.

And sometimes, the second time around, I will see some new things that I had missed the first time, and I'll feel slightly less disenchanted with all of LIFE...but only slightly. Because, seriously, have you ever watched the TV series "LOST" ??? After viewing the final episode of that series, I was so confused that I vowed never to watch it again. Talk about a plot/story line gone WRONG.

I think sometimes that I read the Bible that way too, thinking "something else should happen here, not this...this doesn't make sense. I would feel so much more satisfied with different details and an alternate ending to this story."

I have been pondering the Christmas story lately (for obvious reasons) and this coincidence-within-a-story-line thing has been marinating in my heart.

Because if I have learned anything from growing up with Dan and Patty Bausum as my parents, it's that God crafted His book perfectly, and none of it was ever just coincidentally recorded. (I have learned lots more things than this, by the way, this is just one of my favorite things that being their child has taught me.)

EVERYTHING in Scripture has purpose. All the stories are meant to be so much more than stories. They are meant to speak to us, to our lives here today. My parents are masterful at explaining the way the Lord chose His plot to unfold before us. I am way less masterful, (WAY LESS) but I have been turning the Christmas story over in my mind for a few weeks now, and I have some coincidences to point out.

Maybe you've seen some too, in your reading of the story. Or maybe not. You might be a person (like my husband) who never asks themselves "WHY?" during a movie or book, but simply enjoys the story.

Not me. I am always, forever, trying to put myself in the author's shoes and understand what went through their minds when they made their artistic choices. And because He knows His story is perfect, God doesn't mind that I'm sometimes taken aback by the twists, and I question the plot choices made.

Examples, you ask?

Well, there are the obvious things to question in the story of Christmas.

A stable? Really?
A census taken right at the time for the baby to come?
A virgin? Why?
A little tiny town with not nearly enough hotels?
A new star?
A low income carpenter for an earthly father?
Smelly shepherds heralded by Heaven's Host?
Wise men from far away lands?
A manger? Yuck. how much animal saliva was mixed in with the new baby smell? WHY A MANGER?

If all the details of God's book matter (and they do, FYI, because my daddy told me so. ;)- ) then what is the significance of all the strange details in the recorded events of Christ's birth?

I certainly don't have all the answers...but I know a few things I have begun to see differently, since the pondering began. This is kind of how it's been going around in my head...

"A stable. Where the beasts of burden live...hmm...Jesus, the Son of God, born where the burden carriers dwell." Coincidence? "Cast your burdens on the Lord, for He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7

"A census? Right then? Requiring Joseph and Mary to travel to Bethlehem...Bethlehem... the city of David...where the Messiah was predicted to be born..." That's an easy coincidence to see as anything BUT chance.

"A tiny town given the great honor of hosting Emmanuel? Tiny...small...barely significant...like me, and still He breathes in the middle of cold, dark, lonely nights, the ones in my heart..."

"A virgin? Obvious prophesy fulfillment again, so not coincidence...but WHY was that part of the prophesy? Why? A virgin...life growing in her body...life that wasn't of her own making. Growth that was from the Holy Spirit, that all her striving could never accomplish. Her surrender was all that God Almighty needed, and then the Holy Spirit did the rest...like me...like every day of my life...the only life that comes out of me is from the Holy Spirit..." Holy crap. That's one to ponder on for a while...

"Smelly shepherds? Dirty and poor and overlooked...the first to hear the announcement...honor given to the least...like me...He honors me with His presence, though I am filthy and worthless..."

"Wise men? Giving gifts that would sustain them financially...a practical coincidence...except...they saw a new star, a light that they simply had to follow, and they laid great riches at the feet of the One who is worthy of all our traveling, searching, looking for.."

"The star...the star that proclaimed the birth of the Savior...a new light. It could've been anything to announce His arrival. An oasis springing up. An animal talking. An earthquake. A mighty rushing wind. But instead...light...Light...the Light of the World...shining new. Bright, but silent and peaceful at the same time." Coincidence? "Jesus said to them, "I am the light of the world." John 8:12

"A carpenter for an adopted father? A trade learned by the boy King...to build...to take a rough piece of wood and turn it into something else, something useful for life...like me...rough and useless, but hammered and chiseled and cut into something that He chooses, something He can use."

"And while I'm pondering the carpenter thing...Emmanuel, adopted by a carpenter. Though they shared no DNA, He was raised as the son of Joseph. Joseph gave his name, and protection, and provision, to Jesus. The same way God, the Great Builder, gives His name and protection and provision to me...I'm adopted too...Jesus grew up understanding what it was like to be adopted..." Whoa. That's some food for thought. "This High Priest of ours understands...for He faced all the same testings we do..." Hebrews 4:15

"A manger. A feed trough. A place where the beasts carrying the burdens received nourishment...food...life...I'm burdened too, and hungry, and in need of sustenance...and the Bread of Life is there for me, ready to nourish my spirit...A baby, God wrapped in flesh, laid out as the food for all mankind." Oh, my heart. "I am the bread of life." John 6:48

I won't go on. I could, but I won't.

Instead, I'm going to sit here and read, once more, the greatest story ever told, with the most unexpected event choices, and I'm going to see each as a step made just for me, to teach me something new about the character and CARE of my Father.

Not only did He love me so much that He sent His Son to live and suffer and die for me...He also chose every detail of that story to draw me to His heart.

That is no coincidence.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Careful Chaos

It's chaos every day in my life, but the crazy is amped up during the holidays. I don't mind.

I am, unashamedly, a lover of all things Christmas related.

Movies, music, decorations, special flavors of coffee and cookies, seasonal scents of candles and lotion...even the crowded stores and biting cold are part of the charm of the season. (Although, in the interest of full disclosure, I mostly shop online from the comfort of my warm home, so I enjoy those last two sparingly.)

And every year I hear the reminders from commercials and radio hosts and books and blogs, to "slow down" and "don't forget, in the rush of the holidays, to enjoy the time with the ones you love."

I try to be conscious of those reminders all through the year, not just during the most wonderful time. I have four children and a very full life, after all, and the tendency is to do everything a mile a minute because a minute is ALL I've got. If I could eat standing up while washing dishes and brushing my teeth and catching up on my Bible study and picking up dirty laundry and exercising and assisting in math homework...I would.

I like to work hard and fast, in order to get to, and be able to enjoy, the slow moments.

One particularly slow moment that has become part of our lives is "snuggle time" at the end of the day. It happens in some form every night, and after a while we don't really think about why we started doing it. It's just a habit.

It all began a little over 7 years ago, when Faith was 7, Clay was 5, Nate was 2, and Gabe was a brand new bun in the oven. All the kids were excited about adding another baby, but Clay began to struggle, behaviorally, and for several weeks he wasn't his normal kind, loving, happy self. One day, while I was praying about what to do, the Lord dropped a thought into my heart.

What if he needed extra reminding that he was loved and valued and that his place in y heart was never going to be taken?

That night, I sat down on the couch and asked him to come and sit with me. We cuddled together and watched TV, under a blanket, him twirling the ends of my hair around his finger.

The next night, he asked me if we could do "snuggle time" again...and the rest is history. We usually snuggle in our king size bed now, rather than the living room, and now that the kids are way bigger and there are 4 of them, its a two shift process. Snuggles with Nate and Gabe first, and then Faith and Clay come in after the younger two go to bed.

Last night...last night I called for the big kids when the little boys headed to their beds. Clay came first, and he had a funny look on his face.

"Mom, I don't want to do snuggle time tonight."

"Why not?" I asked, sure that he was in the middle of something and just needed a few minutes to shut it down.

"I'm not a little kid anymore, Mom. I don't have to do snuggle time every night."

My. Heart. Broke.

In a flash that seemed to last forever, I saw his sweet little face, asking to snuggle, and I saw all the years before and since, moments I've cherished, and moments I've glossed over, and many, many more that are just a part of our daily lives, that  I can't ever recount. I saw them all on his face, and it was almost more than I could bear.

You can never be reminded to savor moments enough. Ever. Because even in all my attempting to slow down and be present...somehow I missed that my firstborn son had outgrown something that was started for the sake of HIS heart.

I've been sad all day today, and trying so hard to move through moments more carefully.

I want to see all my lovely decorations, and sing "Peace on earth" and actually FEEL the peace that reminders of Christ's birth should bring.

I want to sing "Silent Night" and not think snarky thoughts about how I've never had a silent night since I had kids.

I want to cherish the moments with my children, because Lord knows I can never cherish them too much.

If you're a mom, you can understand my heartache.

Certainly, the mother of Emmanuel knew even more pain.

I wonder if she held Him on the night of His birth, and promised His Father that she would keep Him safe and let Him know He was loved by her. Did she ever despair of how to handle a certain behavior or action or personality trait? Did she WISH a day would just be over so there would be some quiet? Did she hold her breath so she didn't gag when she caught a whiff of teenage boy stench? Did she give up on toenail clipping reminders? Did she think "some day, please God, I won't have to remind him to shower" or "we will go bankrupt before He gets full."

And did she, when she watched Him suffer and die...did she grieve that she ever took a moment for granted? Did she LONG for the teenage boy stench again?

Of course she did.

And so it's no wonder that God reminds us to "be still" and to "wait on the Lord" and to let Him be "peace" for us.

Because how much more would we grieve if we hadn't ever once slowed down to enjoy the moments?

It would be more than we could bear. And The Lord knows it, and so He reminds us.