Christmas Calm

Live view of the family room as I type

Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10a)

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon. The tree is finally decorated, there’s a fire roaring away, and apart from tidying up in the rec room a bit, there’s not a ton that has to be done today. I can sit here in the family room, enjoy the season and the warmth of the fireplace, and just…be, in the moment. (Well, and get a little writing done…)

How unlike my January this moment is!

At my still-day-job in Federal budgeting, we now have a w-o-n-d-e-r-f-u-l gift (insert eye roll) of having to roll out the 2021 President’s Budget AND report to Congress on our spending plan for the just-enacted 2020 budget, both in early February. Two major, time-consuming, intense processes that normally would be different times are now stacked on top of each other. There will be lots of late nights throughout January as we try to get everything done, done well, and done on time. Plus, at church, I am taking over responsibility for worship preparations each week: having people assigned to the right roles, communicating to ushers and communion assistants, etc. I know enough to know I don’t know everything, and I’m already afraid of what ball will be dropped in the juggling. Oh, and starting a new Sunday School class, and preparing for a Lent evening class on prayer.

Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10a)

I know I need times like this. I know I need recharging and renewal, before taking on what both my God and my job have in store for me in 2020. I know I need Christmas, and to have the faith of a Mary or a Joseph, to see what’s coming and to surrender entirely to God’s will.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38a)

In many ways, 2019 felt like the year of “Follow me.” And I did. As 2020 gets ready to start, with the whirlwind that January will represent, I wonder if God’s message to me for 2020 might be, “Trust me.” I confess I still have trouble with that one; Lord, may I have the strength to trust as I did to take those first steps to following you. Just as a young couple in Judea did two millennia ago, I must trust that what God has in store for me is exactly what God’s plan needs for me to experience, to become who he intends me to be. And that’s a Christmas gift that doesn’t fit under the tree, but rather, comes in these quiet moments on lazy Sunday afternoons.

The Lord Will Provide

This coming weekend is a Chrysalis weekend, C-97. Just a year ago, my daughter and godson were getting ready for an amazing experience of Christ on their own weekend. Now they’re both part of the team putting on another weekend so 16 more teens can get an intimate view of God’s love in their lives up on the Mountain.

Last Friday, I get a text from her. Um, I may have forgotten to tell you, but Michael from church is going, and I agreed to sponsor him. Wait: Michael, from church, is YOUR sponsee? So now I’ve got a week to arrange everything for him to go? Uff! Yeah, that definitely hadn’t been communicated to me.

We go by a pay-it-forward rule, so the pilgrims walking don’t pay for the weekend, the sponsors do. Now, I readily admit, that isn’t a show-stopper for me. I confess to being blessed to where having to scramble to find $200 to pay to sponsor someone for the weekend won’t break the bank. But still, yeah, I was mildly annoyed that she had made the commitment and hadn’t asked me about it…right as we’re paying off Christmas. Uff! Mind you, that’s on top of her own teaming fee, which I also think was $200 that I had to pay recently.

One day later, I’m bringing in the mail, and there’s a letter from our mortgage company. Didn’t look like the usual mail from them, or even a sales brochure for taking on even more debt, so I opened it. They had done the annual recalculation of our escrow account, and for the first time in f-o-r-e-v-e-r, we were actually over in our account this year. So here’s a check for $363 in overpaid escrows.

You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Here I am mere hours away from harrumphing about having to pay for ANOTHER fee, and now I have an absolutely unexpected windfall that not only allows us to sponsor Michael, but almost entirely covers my little teamer’s fee as well.

The Lord really does provide.

In fact, he promised it back in the very beginning: Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14).

On the mountain of the Lord, it will be provided. And even BEFORE we get to the Mountain, it will be provided! And in such abundance as to pay for TWO people to make the trip!

O me of little faith. I’ve heard it said, you can’t out-give God. He’s bound and determined to prove it to me, it seems. This is another holy moment, another holy lesson for me, in a life that keeps needing reminders of God’s absolutely, completely, unending grace.mountain

Caring For The Sparrows

I’d been planning this weekend awhile. The kids are both gone on their mission trip, and so I was going to take Mary up to New York City. She’d never been to see a Broadway show, and the son of my brother-from-another-mother was in his third Broadway production. It would be a marvelous weekend.

Until it started coming apart. Ben’s show got cancelled, after we had already bought the (nonrefundable) airline tickets. So we were going anyway, I figured, might as well see a different musical–and besides, the point was for us to do something together, for me to take her to a show, not just to see Ben.

The day of the flight, lots of running around, but eventually, to the airport in plenty of time…to have our flight get delayed. And delayed again. And delayed a third time. And then cancelled. Seems weather was getting in the way of lots of traffic up and down the East Coast. There weren’t going to be any more flights to La Guardia tonight, and the auto-reroute offer from the airline had us staying home overnight and catching an 8am flight. But then we’d lose out on the hotel room, which we’d already paid for…

We started looking at options. I got in line to spring our suitcase from baggage, and we started looking at train options to get there tonight. And I could just see where this was going: either we have to wait for a flight tomorrow and lose out on the hotel cost, or we have to spring for hundreds of dollars in train tickets. The voice of resignation was pretty loud in my head. And let’s face it, that’s certainly been my experience. Yours too?

But when we got to the front of the line, miracle of miracles, the airline made us a different offer: instead of La Guardia tomorrow, they could put us on the delayed flight to Kennedy still tonight. It’d be late, but we could still get there, still get to our hotel, and still begin our weekend together in Manhattan.

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Matthew 6:26-27) But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. […] So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. (Matthew 10:29b, 31)

Two facts: First, the good is always opposed. Love is opposed, and so an opportunity for the two of us to spend time together and add to the structure of our 23-year marriage…I should have foreseen that it would have been opposed. And second: God does take care of us. He’s promised we’re worth more than the sparrows, we’re worth so much to him that he sent his son Jesus to die for us. But we still refuse to believe it.

We’ve been wrestling with some big questions in our family lately, questions about life directions and key changes we may make to ourw ay of living. And in those as well, I’ve heard Jesus whispering, “What was that thing I taught you about the sparrows? Do you trust me yet?”

We got to our hotel room at 2:30 the next morning, after still more delays. But we were there. We listened to the voice reassuring us that there is a plan and it is good. And you know what? We had a great weekend. Seeing Wicked on Broadway is just a great experience. And we could build more bonds in our marriage, and still make it back in time to welcome the kids home. God is good, all the time.

Immersion in God’s Love

This past weekend, I had the chance (finally!) to go on the Walk to Emmaus as part of the National Capital Area Emmaus community, which hosted their 177th weekend. I was one of 21 men to walk as pilgrims, and even a week later (to be honest) I am still processing all that it meant.

For those not aware, an Emmaus weekend starts Thursday afternoon and goes until Sunday at a retreat center. We were up in the hills of western Virginia, and we are intentionally cut off from the outside world in many ways, so as to allow us to focus on God: no watches, no cell phones, no laptops, no nothin’. The 24 men on the staff have all done this themselves before, and they help us through the weekend with food, music, eating, activities, more food, and times of reflection. And eating. We had 15 little “talks” that some of the men gave on grace, life in Christ, and taking that grace and life out into the wider world. Several of those were incredibly raw, honest, even touching stories of how each man had fallen, and yet had been redeemed by Christ. We sang lots of contemporary Christian music, and even got in some exercise a few times. We shared joys and concerns at smaller gatherings, and we came together to reflect on what God’s love really meant.

At the closing ceremony, I stumbled through a few words about how the poverty of the English language means it’s not possible for me to put into words what the experience meant. People talk about an Emmaus weekend being life-changing; I pray it’s so, and the only test of that is down the road. But I had the opportunity to experience God in so many ways over the course of the weekend:

  • I experienced God’s love in new ways, ways I hadn’t experienced in a long time. In fact, I experienced it as a wonderful relentlessness: I might try to duck and hide, but God’s love will just keep coming, and coming, and coming for me. I had always known in my head about the scope of his love; this weekend I could feel it in my heart.
  • I met dozens of new brothers in Christ: men that, for having gone through this experience together, I know I can count on for support and prayer. Our “theme song” for the weekend was Lean on Me, and it was a blessing to meet so many people I can lean on.
  • I was challenged to set myself aside as never before. The little acts of service that the staff provide add up to a huge challenge to a “guy” who’s used to handling everything himself and being self-reliant.

On the drive home, I shared with my sponsor some of the reactions I’d had to the immersion I’d experienced in God over the weekend. I remember in the earlier part of the weekend feeling overwhelmed by God’s love and presence, and at one point I had the following exchange with him in my heart:

“I don’t deserve this, all this love being shown to me, someone who’s as broken as they come.”

“You’re right,” God replied, “you don’t.”

“I’m not worthy,” I protested.

“Oh, yes. Yes, you are,” he whispered. “And I’m gonna show you, and keep on showing you, until you finally get it: this is how much I love you.”

De Colores.