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In the Hallway

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“I just want to be a Christian” . . . it’s the refrain of the last few months. Often followed by “Is that a thing?”

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About every third time I voice it, Steven suggests I read CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Apparently, he faced the same perplexing conundrum. According to Steven’s paraphrased synopsis, Lewis concluded that denominations are rooms off the hallway of Christianity and while you can take a breath in the hallway, you can’t live there.

I am currently in the hallway. It’s not that I have become disgruntled with one denomination and enamored with another. I think, if I’m honest–which I strive to be, I’m annoyed with people who claim Christianity in general.

I have found myself over the last year frequently considering what Jesus would think of what we call Christianity today. What would he think of how we use his words as weapons for our own agendas, disregarding any carnage as long as we can say it’s in the Bible.

And one night I found myself posing this question: Even if Jesus was simply a rabbi, a teacher as mortal as me, how would he like what has happened to his words? Being a former teacher, I can relate to the feelings one incurs when what is taught is perverted. Therefore, if I believe Jesus is the Son of God, wholly man and wholly God, how much more should I consider what he thinks about the usage of his teachings?

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When I read the “red letters” I find love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness. Any condemnation is directed at the mistreatment of any person, often that mistreatment couched in the letter of the law. Jesus was a law breaker in that he didn’t allow tradition to keep him from compassion. Some might even say he used common sense. You don’t leave a donkey in a ditch to die, therefore, if you can help your fellow man, you do. Jesus didn’t pal around with perfect people because perfect people don’t exist. He offered grace. He offered love. He offered acceptance. . .all to the outcasts. In doing so, he illustrated that we are all outcasts. And if we think we have to be perfect to deserve love, we never will feel worthy of love–so he showed love to those who had been denied love and acceptance–the lepers, the beggars, the tax collectors, the tent makers, the fishermen, the women.

This is the Christian I want to be. I don’t care if you’re dunked or sprinkled. If your accountability to God includes a priest or doesn’t. If you drink grape juice or wine. If you have music or chants. If you sit in silence or speak in tongues. Or any of the other litany of differences among denominations.

Eventually, I will find myself back in a room. One I probably won’t agree with 100% because churches are great except they have people (as my dad once said).

But what it will have to do is show love and compassion and grace and acceptance for all us outcasts.

Word Play

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I did it.

I did one of those things that goes around on social media (or used to be just in email. . .) where you make note of the first so many words you see and then those words have some specific meaning for some thing in your life.

I don’t even remember what the point of this one was, but the words stuck with me.

In the order I noticed them (we were instructed to note four): Lessons, Love, Strength, Purpose.

As a side note, I do often wonder how many words are in these little grids and what influences what words different people notice. . .like if you’re right handed does that mean you notice words on the left first? Or something like that.

Anyway. . .My words. I like them. I’ve actually decided to make them a focus of 2021. I’ve done words of the year before. . .hope, laugh. . .

These words spoke to me when I spotted them. I immediately thought about how Peter can be quite integral in the focus of these words. . .I’m sure he will teach me many lessons; he has already shown me things about love; strength is necessary when embarking on the journey of parenthood; and purpose, well, we do things with intention in mind.

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Those were my first thoughts, but as the words have marinated over the last month, I find them being important to me in other ways. Not just what Peter will show me, but what I will show Peter. And the things that Steven and I encounter outside of Peter–in our marriage, in our other relationships.

I have plans for these words as the year continues. I would like to attach a verse to each of them. Something that God will show me in His time. Something He wants me to know about each word.

In the meantime, they play in my head every day. Rolling around in there and bumping into things I’m contemplating.

His Timing

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Our first pregnancy, Nugget

Yesterday, December 3, 2020, marked the anniversary of mine and Steven’s journey to parenthood. It was four years ago that we discovered we were pregnant for the first time, and our lives were forever changed.

I wanted to write something yesterday, but I didn’t know how to formulate my thoughts. Then, tonight, we did our Advent devotion. We use the devotional I wrote called God’s Gift. I posted it here last year. I can’t lie. It was strange to be on this side of that penning. To know, with realness, the joy that Sarah references.

I’ve talked about our journey on multiple occasions. The pain and confusion. The grief. The little moments of joy that we found through it. The desire for it to be used for something greater than ourselves. And while we were prepared for our story to have a much different ending, here we are in the midst of a parenting adventure with Peter.

And it’s His timing that has brought it about. Numerous examples exist explaining why His timing is better than anything Steven and I could have orchestrated. I was able to retire from my job and am home. Steven had accumulated enough time to have paid leave for an extended period. A promotion was a possibility–with it a change in schedule that we were able to “test drive” before a decision had to be made. And, frankly, a pandemic.

Meeting my son for the first time having to wear a mask.

I don’t know if I can explain that last one to my, or anyone else’s, satisfaction. It’s about more than Peter giving us something good to focus on in a difficult year. We are familiar with difficult years–this one was just a different difficult. The pandemic has sharpened our focus on our family unit. Honestly, I’m grateful for the unique backdrop that is Peter’s birth year. The masks, the social distancing, the learning new ways to be community. The world that we brought Peter into is markedly different than the world we left behind December 31, 2019. It’s a new opportunity, more starkly apparent than ever before. I often feel that too many people are too eager to throw out the blessings of this year because they came wrapped in disappointments, heartaches, and raindrops.

I read recently in Rachel Held Evans’ Inspired something said by Ellen Davis: “From [Job] above all others in scripture, we learn that the person in pain is a theologian of unique authority. . .qualified to speak of God in a way that others, whom we generally call more fortunate, cannot speak” (97). Job has resonated with me over the last four years already. {Peter’s life verse actually comes from Job–chapter 5, verse 9} Reading this helped illuminate what I have felt glimmering in the depths of my soul.

My relationship with God has changed over this journey. It has deepened, become more solid, become more honest. I have learned to go to Him with it all, no matter what that all is.

Peter’s dedication service where we announced his life verse: “He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.” Job 5:9 NIV

So, it is in His timing that the birth of our son came and the journey parameters change.

Messages

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Peter’s birth has given me much that I could say. I can say a lot about how incredibly weird C-sections are. I can talk about how wonderful our nurse anesthetist was. Or share how amazed our doctor was with the size of Peter’s head. Oh, and how popular Peter was in the hospital.

Meeting Peter at last!

But what really wants to be said starts several months before we were even pregnant with him.

Our journey to parenthood is not something I have been private about. You can find our experience throughout my blog. I feel strongly about lifting the stigma and silence that is associated with miscarriage. I’m not sure how else to do it except to continue to share in my small world.

I think I’ve mentioned before that shortly after our fourth loss my OB/GYN declared quite matter-of-factly that he would deliver my baby. I smiled and thanked him for his positivity, but I didn’t believe him. Not any more. His confidence wasn’t something that imbued me with the same.

Around six weeks later I woke from a dream that I actually remembered and shared with Steven. I was changing a baby boy’s diaper in what would be the nursery if we had one. He was kicking his legs, and I laughed saying, “We really need to come up with a name for you.” The baby looked at me and very clearly said, “My name is Peter.” I confirmed, “Peter?” and he said, “yes”. That was it. I woke up. The name Peter, before this, didn’t hold any real significance for me. But I knew from the moment I woke that if we did have a son, his name would be Peter.

Perhaps strongly because of this dream when we found out we were pregnant at the end of January 2020, we both said boy. We never really questioned it or wavered, despite the baby’s heart rate being above 140bpm. I think we busted every old wives’ tale, actually.

Early in our pregnancy, Steven had an encounter with a street person who shared the Gospel with him and assured him our baby would be fine. The man even gifted Steven with a cross necklace as a reminder of the encounter. I remember Steven came in from that experience with a sense of calm and peace about him. We do not doubt that he had a God moment with that gentleman.

I reminded my doctor at seven months pregnant that he had told me he was going to deliver my baby. He looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Sometimes I just get a sense like that.”

In the hospital, Steven and I were amazed that exactly the nurse I needed for the moment was the nurse I had. When Peter wasn’t getting milk from me and lost over 10% of his birth weight, the nurse who knew how to suggest formula to a tired and worried new mom was there. She took Peter and worked with him and the bottle to teach him to suck, not chomp. And she told that tired mom her tears were normal.

Feeling better after getting some food in his belly and his mama got some sleep.

The next day when the lactation consultants didn’t seem to want to accept that the decision was to not put Peter back to the breast, the next nurse knew to tell that new mom that fed is best. She reminded me that what’s best for the baby is a happy and rested mom. It would be the greatest gift I could give my son. She, her name was Kris, said, “At the end of the day, this is your child for a reason.”

I don’t know if she knew our history. How much is in my chart that she has access to is a mystery to me. But in that one moment, I felt like God was reminding me that Peter was His gift to Steven and me. That He had been waiting to give it at this exact time.

Family.

God shows up. We can miss it. But His messengers and messages are there. He prepared us, gave us a name, and reassured us. May we be wise enough as we continue this journey to recognize Him.

God’s Gift: Christ, our Saviour

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Thank you for taking a few minutes each day over the last month to travel to this final gift with me.  I hope you have found the journey rewarding, and it has been a blessing for you.  As we continue to walk towards Epiphany in these twelve days of Christmas, may God show Himself in tangible and unmistakable ways to you. With the love of Christ, Season

Bible Reading: Luke 2:6-21

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The Shepherds and the angel, Carl Bloch, 1879

Shepherds.  They see Christ first.  They are the images used in Old Testament prophecy.

Shepherds who protect, guide, discipline. Shepherds who restore their relationships with the lost of their flock.

Christ is here! He is here to restore what was broken in the Garden.  He is here to provide the peace that surpasses understanding. . .because it is His peace, not human peace.  He is here to draw us closer to the kingdom of Heaven, the rule of God

He is what we have been waiting for.

Thoughts for today:

How does knowing that Christ is here change your time of waiting?

What does this, the final gift of God, mean to you personally?

Oh, how undeserving we are of this gift.  But how grateful we should be. Jesus. What is there to say in response to the enormity of this gift? Our reliance on His embodiment of every other gift from God is the only way to show our gratitude.  God doesn’t say that it will be easy. He understands our human hearts. He knows that while we want to do right, we won’t. But He’s here, while we wait, while we struggle, while we try.  

And He loves us. He is our gift.

God’s Gift: Fulfillment

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Day 25 of Advent and God’s Gift.

Merry Christmas! May the peace and love of Christ light your day with joy.

Bible Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

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Joseph’s Dream in the Stable, Rembrant, 1645.

Joseph, a man trying to do what is right and good in the eyes of the Lord through His law. Probably heartbroken.  His betrothed appears sullied, unclean, a liar even.

Even in his hurt he shows mercy.

In the dream from the Lord, he’s given the explanation and the instruction. And like Abraham many centuries before him, he doesn’t question.  He simply puts one foot in front of the other to move the way God last told him.

It doesn’t make sense. But he’s assured that it is part of the fulfillment of the Lord.  So, in the time of waiting, he does it.

Thought for today:

As you wait, what is the last instruction you received from God?

How can you feel confident, even in uncertainty, in moving forward with that instruction?

Like Joseph, do you need to show mercy?

God doesn’t owe us any explanation, but He will give us enough instruction to move forward.  The strength it takes to move one foot in front of the other while we wait comes from the Lord.  He will take all we do in His confidence and exalt it.

God’s Gift: Evidence

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Day 24 of Advent and God’s Gift.

Bible Reading: Luke 1:26-38

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Annunciation scene from Jesus of Nazareth, Franco Zeffirelli, 1977.

Mary, mother of Jesus.

But in these verses, she’s just a girl.  A troubled girl at that. She heard a proclamation that seems impossible; it goes against everything she understands about the world.

But Gabriel provides evidence that nothing is impossible in God’s hands. . .that this is not to be understood by the world’s standards.

Mary claims her servanthood to the Lord.  She claims her part in a plan much bigger than herself despite the earthly ramifications she is sure to face.

She puts her faith in God.

Thoughts for today:

Can you recall a time when God provided you with evidence to ease your heart?

How does the gift of evidence prove that God understands our human-ness?

God created us.  He understands our needs better than we do. He knows when we need reassurance.  In your time of waiting, don’t be hesitant to ask God for that evidence. He wants to give us all that He has.

God’s Gift: Preparation

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Day 23 of Advent and God’s Gift.

Bible Reading: Matthew 3:1-6

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John the Baptist, Juan de Juanes, c. 1560

A season of waiting does not negate the need to prepare.  John the Baptist extols that need.

Repent–make radical changes to prepare yourself for the coming of God’s kingdom. Make straight the path for Christ to follow into your heart.

Preparation takes work.  It is not merely sitting in the quiet, though that is part of the task to hear God’s voice.  It is taking the knowledge of His promises and the evidence of His blessings and putting them to use.  

God worked to prepare the way for Christ’s coming. We should follow His example.

Thoughts for today:

Do you find it easy in a time of waiting to become lax in your own preparation?

In what area of your life are you waiting for something to change?

What could you do today that would be active preparation during your waiting?

Our body, mind, and soul need to be prepared for all that God calls us to.  It takes work to make each of these elements stronger. God, help us to do the work that is required to be strong in You during Advent.

God’s Gift: Favor

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Day 22 of Advent and God’s Gift, an advent devotional I wrote in the past year to help me work through my personal grief.

Bible Reading: Luke 1:5-25

Moving closer to the birth of Christ, John comes to Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Advent, the season of waiting, is mirrored in the waiting of Zechariah and Elizabeth for their child.

Even in the midst of what many saw as divine disfavor through their childless marriage, they remained upright and followed the Lord’s commandments. They waited.

And when the seemingly impossible was bestowed they continued to wait in the presence of the Lord and His favor, His approval.

Thoughts for today:

Have you ever sought the approval of someone?

What actions did you engage to try and achieve that favor?

How can maintaining the commandments help you remain in God’s favor?

How can doing things in love help you remain in God’s favor?

God approves of us.  He created us and it was good.  But it is our responsibility to do our part to maintain that favor.  While we can do nothing to earn His grace, we can do much to remain in His love. We need His guidance and His commandments to continue to remain upright in His presence.  May we be like Zechariah and Elizabeth as we wait.

God’s Gift: Hope

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Day 21 of Advent and God’s Gift.

Bible Reading: Habakkuk 2:1, 3:16-19

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Image: public domain

Standing on the tower–waiting and watching. . .doing it with the knowledge that destruction is probable.

But, hope.

Hope is a powerful equalizer.  It lifts up despair, and like Habakkuk declares, makes one sure-footed, confident, as a deer.

There is hope even in the midst of the trials coming, or the trials now.  There is hope in the promises of God, in the evidence of blessings He has provided. 

There is hope in God’s sovereignty.

Thoughts for today:

How does remembering God’s promises help you have hope?

While you wait, what do you do to nurture hope?

Our God does not leave us in despair.  He provides us with a hope and peace that is very different from the rest of the world.  We can be confident in that hope. Sure-footed as we move forward in our time of waiting.  He will direct our paths.

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