The Accessible Nativity – Even for Me

For me, the story of the Nativity is deeply meaningful.  As a mom and a woman, I don’t relate to very many Bible heroes.

Bible heroes are almost always male, and almost always do fantastic, out-of-this-world feats that defy the laws of nature.  I have never called down pillars of fire from the sky like Elijah.  I have never hidden in the belly of a whale like Jonah.  I have not survived a lion’s den like Daniel.  And I have certainly never fed 5,000 people with only a kid’s meal from Long John Silvers!

But one thing I have done.  I was once young, newly married, and pregnant with an unexpected child!  I carried a male child inside my body until it was time for him to be born.  I endured rumors and scorn from outside; and fear and anxiety from within.

I felt the fear that somehow I would ruin that sweet life within me.  Or that I’d threaten his wellbeing by some random, unintentional mistake.

Finally, I knew the joy holding him in my arms after hours of labor.  I held him close and cried tears of joy and relief and hopefulness.  I thanked God above for giving me the greatest gift of all…a sweet, baby boy of my own.

I felt like Mary who “treasured all these things in her heart.”  Even though my son wasn’t THE child of promise, he still was A child of promise entrusted to my care. I also felt the weight of responsibility and care to keep the promises that his young soul held.

So, I collect nativities.  I keep them out all year long.  They remind me that I, too, have a place in God’s story.  That even though I am not a man, I am not a prophet, nor a miracle-worker… I, like Mary, have a place in God’s kingdom.  I am important, too.

I like the fact that other cultures have translated the Nativity story into their cultural narratives.  “The image of God is found in Chinese men and African woman as much as it is in Middle Eastern men and American women. Jesus came for all humanity, taking human form so that all of humanity might see him as their Lord.” (Rich Little)

The fact that other cultures have expressed the Nativity story in their artwork makes me feel connected to them.  The incarnation of Jesus impacts us all.  We all have a place in the story of Jesus’ birth.

We can all feel like Mary.  We can all find our place in the Kingdom of God.

nativity 1

The Nativity – Nicaragua

The Nativity – Cameroon

The Nativity – Cameroon

The Nativity – China

The Nativity – China

The Nativity – Papua New Guinea

The Nativity – Papua New Guinea

The Nativity – Guatemala

The Nativity – Guatemala

The Nativity – Thailand

The Nativity – Thailand

The Nativity – India

The Nativity – India

The Nativity – Indonesia

The Nativity – Indonesia

The Nativity – Iran

The Nativity – Iran

Let’s praise God for his love of all humanity and for all culture’s hunger to see him as their Lord, too.  Praise God for making his son accessible to all, including you and me.

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Advent is for Losers…Like Me

By Lori Michelle

Advent seems to bring out the loser in me.

By “loser,” I don’t mean worthless deadbeat.  I mean someone who has suffered loss.  Someone who had been abandoned, forgotten, hurt, or ruined.

Advent Wreath courtesy of www.freeimages.com

Advent Wreath courtesy of www.freeimages.com

Sometimes during the Advent season, I am haunted by the “Ghost of Husband Past” and it makes me despair a little and lose sleep. Then I remember how blessed my new life is, and how Our God is a True Redeemer, and I begin to feel myself come back again.

Advent, which simply means “coming,” also means “waiting”.  Waiting for the Christ Child, yes, but also waiting for the Christ Child to be born again in me.  Waiting for All Things to be made new.  Waiting for the things I hope for to become tangible.

Advent is for those of us who have gone astray, been confused, suffered injustice.

Advent is for dreamers, for the afflicted, for the grieving.

We are all waiting.  Anticipating the time when the waiting is over.  But for now, we are just in limbo together.

Counting down the days…hours…moments.

“Singing in the midst of evil is what it means to be disciples,” Nadia Bolz-Weber tells us, “Like Mary Magdalene, the reason we stand and weep and listen for Jesus is because we are bearers of resurrection, we are made new.”

Yes, not just losers…but bearers of resurrection.

Before you have a resurrection, first you must die.

Before you are restored, first you must be ruined.

Before you have victory, first you must be defeated.

To a virgin woman the birth of the Son of God was announced.  Someone who was practicing the presence of God through the worship of waiting.  Maybe that is why the Babe in the Manger is such a meaningful message…The Blessed Child who we have all been waiting for has finally arrived.

That is how we experience the gratitude and joy at the revelation of His coming.  That is why we celebrate and sing…because we enjoy His appearing all the more after we have been longing for it for so many days.

Mother and Son courtesy of www.freeimages.com

Mother and Son courtesy of www.freeimages.com

For this Advent Season, I want to reflect on some losers.  Squandered, strayed, unfortunate ones who, through God’s abounding mercy and faithfulness, were able to experience the joy of redemption.  I hope you will wait along with me. Even better, I invite you to join the conversation.  Nobody likes waiting alone.

 

 

 

5 Lies Satan Likes to Tell…and The Truth That Defeats Them

 

I created this little power point video.  This is my first power point video, so excuse my beginner status.

Years ago, I used to publish some.  I recently found some of my old articles in my basement, and have been trying to figure out a way to redeem some of it.  This little video is the only section I can claim from an article I wrote back in 2006…the rest of it is just…well…embarrassing!!

I can’t believe I was ever so sure!!  So naive!! So bleh!!

Anyway…hopefully this little video is a little beauty from ashes.  Enjoy…and share it if you find it encouraging!

5 Lies Satan Likes to Tell

Grappling with Christian Community

friends foreverAt church on Sunday the preacher handed out little slips of paper to everyone with these words…”Christian Community is so important to me because…”

I felt my tongue turn to sandpaper and miniature droplets blurred my vision.  How could I conjure up a succinct, yet complete, response?

You see, I’m “in a relationship” with a new church.  Its official…I even posted it on my Facebook status.

It’s both scary and hopeful for me.

Scary because I’ve been hurt so often and lost so much.  Nearly two years ago I officially withdrew my name from membership from the church I joined when I was 16.  My mom and dad had not raised me in that church…I chose it myself.

30 years later,  I was done with church.  No, I was not done with God…not done with Christianity…just THAT church.  But the question remained…Why, when being a part of a Christian community had ruined my life could I want to be a part of another one…EVER?

Yet hopeful because I know what I WANT Christian community to mean to me.  I believe what it CAN mean.

I certainly don’t expect perfection or platitudes or even for the community to have all of the “answers to life, the Universe and Everything.”  But I do want it to mean connection…authenticity…challenge…growth…purpose.  I want to feel like I am a part of what God is doing…to be God’s hands and feet here on Earth.  I want to use my talents for teaching and writing and compassion and empathy and spiritual discernment for the Kingdom of God.  Here I am, Lord, send me.

But getting close enough to connect and challenge…to be real enough to stop pretending that I’m grappling with so many aspects of life…to be open enough to allow myself to stretch and grow and follow and agonize and love…to be foolish enough to reveal my dreams and wishes and fears and my million, billion flaws and ideas…and my humanness.

To risk being rejected (again), shunned (again), ignored (again), underestimated (again), used (again), and abused (again) seems impossible, actually inscrutable.  Why would I submit to such a thing?  Richelle E. Goodrich says, “Forgive and forget is a divine ideal.  Grappling with hurt while biting you tongue and struggling to refuse justifiable vengeance – that’s closer to human reality.”

That’s closer to my reality.

But I actually like this quote even better…

 “Laugh, even when you feel too sick or too worn out or tired.
Smile, even when you’re trying not to cry and the tears are blurring your vision.
Sing, even when people stare at you and tell you your voice is crappy.
Trust, even when your heart begs you not to.
Twirl, even when your mind makes no sense of what you see.
Frolick, even when you are made fun of. Kiss, even when others are watching. Sleep, even when you’re afraid of what the dreams might bring.
Run, even when it feels like you can’t run any more.
And, always, remember, even when the memories pinch your heart. Because the pain of all your experience is what makes you the person you are now. And without your experience—you are an empty page, a blank notebook, a missing lyric. What makes you brave is your willingness to live through your terrible life and hold your head up high the next day. So don’t live life in fear. Because you are stronger now, after all the crap has happened, than you ever were back before it started.”
Alysha Speer

So THIS is the answer I couldn’t write on my paper last week.  Here are the words it has taken me a week of tears and prayer and reading and meditating to realize:

Christian community is so important to me because…I want to laugh, smile, cry, sing, trust, twirl, frolic, learn, worship, serve, love, and experience God and this life, with God’s people.  And because of the crap that has happened to me, I am a lot better at all of those things than before.  And I now have strength, and insight, and compassion, and knowledge that I can contribute to a community, as we become more and more willing and able and bold enough to allow God to shape and mold us more and more into the likeness of His Son.

To read more about this topic, check out Why Do I Still Go to Church?

God Uses Trouble to Sweeten Us

hatToday, I want to share an excerpt from Barbara Johnson’s book, So Stick a Geranium in Your Hat and Be Happy! (Word Publishing, 1990, pp 66-68)

If you are not familiar with Barbara Johnson, she definitely has the credentials to teach us something about our attitude togeraniumward suffering!  She has endured her husband’s debilitating accident that left him blind and permanently disabled (and also saw God’s miraculous healing of her husband) followed by the death of two of her four sons.   In her book, she recounts her grief, depression, and sorrow, but also teaches us that joy is a choice and reminds us that, “a merry heart doeth good like medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

“Not long ago Bill [her husband] and I were driving through Palm Springs, the famous desert resort community.  We came upon a roadside stand, and the sign said, “DESERT SWEETENED GRAPEFRUIT.”  I thought, That’s the way it is with all of us when we go through a desert experience – when we’re out there in the barren and dry wastes, not seeming to receive any encouragement from anybody.  That’s the time God uses to sweeten us as we learn to give our problem completely to Him.

There are several steps we all go through when we try to give a problem completely to God.  You take you first step when life rises to know you flat – you CHURN.  You feel as if your insides are full of knives, chopping you up in a grinder.  There is no other way to describe the devastation you feel when you’re churning inside.

You next step is to BURN.  That’s right, you want to kill your [husband], then you want to kill yourself.  You are so full of red hot anger and the anguish of frustration that your temper is out of control.  You literally feel as if you’re burning inside.

In your third step, you YEARN.  Oh, you want so much for things to change!  You just ache inside for things to be as they were before you know about this.  You yearn for the happy past, and this stage often lasts the longest of all.

But then you take your next step, which is you LEARN.  You talk with others, maybe you find a support group and you learn that you’re in a long growth process.  You become more understanding and compassionate.  Spiritual values you learned in the past will suddenly become real to you.  You will learn a great deal about unconditional love and reaching out to help others.  The wonderful result is that you relieve your own pain.

And, finally, you take your last step – you TURN.  You learn to turn the problem over to the Lord completely by saying, “Whatever, Lord!  Whatever You bring into my life, You are big enough to get me through it.”  Now you can relinquish your heaviness to God, knowing that He is in control.  He loves you more than you know, and He has not rejected you because of whatever is in your life. When you nail your problem to the foot of the Cross and say you have deposited that problem with the Lord and truly mean it, then you will be relieved of your crushing burden.

But now comes the really difficult part.  Just because you’ve come through all those steps does not mean that you will not go back to churning, burning, and yearning on certain days.  But each time you will stay in those stages for a shorter and shorter period.  And you will be able to spend more of your days in turning it all over to God. In I Peter 5:7 we are told to cast our cares upon Him.  That means to deposit you cares, just as you deposit money in a bank, and leave them there…

CHURN awhile…BURN for a time…YEARN for as long as it takes to move on…LEARN as much as you can…and then TURN it all over to the One who cares for you.  Don’t fret if you think you are not progressing or even when suddenly, for not reason, you find yourself back at square one.  you may find yourself churning, just as you did at the beginning.  That is normal and very typical of grief.  Never forget this is a grief process, and you have to work you way through the shattering of your life.

Right now you have a broken dream.  It may not always be so, but for now it is, and you have to accept it.  But believe me…healing does come.  The mending process takes time, but you are making a long journey to becoming whole again, and you have a door of hope ahead.  I love the way one woman signed and Easter card she sent to me: “FROM AN EASTER PERSON LIVING IN A GOOD FRIDAY WORLD.” Even in the midst of this messy world, we can rejoice because we know our future – and our hope – is in Him!

She shouldn’t have been there

woman w hemm

She shouldn’t have been there.

It was against the law.

If the authorities found out, she’d surely be punished.

But she had to come.

She’s heard HE was coming and no rule, no threat of condemnation, no fear of failure would keep her from him.

She said to herself, “If only I could touch his garment, I will get well.”

I’m not sure why she thought this.  She had been suffering from a bleeding hemorrhage for 12 years.  She had visited doctors, spent all of her money on remedies, had the priest pray for her.  Yet it only got worse.

Therefore, according to the Law, she was an unclean woman.  She was required to live outside the city and was not allowed to touch anything sacred.

You see, she wasn’t supposed to be there.

Even though there was no evidence to support her faith in this Jesus, she believed that He alone had the power to heal her.  But first, she had to go into the city and touch him.

She had quite an imagination.

This woman imagined a future for herself that was different than what she had experienced in her past.  She wanted a life for herself that was full of hope and healing, not sickness and condemnation.

And she went for it.

And it worked!

The scriptures tell us that her faith made her well.

Divorce made me feel unclean.  I felt like an outcast, just like the woman with the hemorrhage.  And the danger is that I could have projected that feeling into my future.  Its hard to imagine a life for yourself that is good, happy, full of life and health after the devastating rejection of divorce.

But if we can’t imagine it, we can’t create it.

Unless we do.

Our faith can heal us, too.  We can imagine ourselves as healthy, whole single adults.  We can begin taking steps toward it when we believe that it is possible.

Begin to imagine and pray about what it will be like…what it will feel like when you touch His garment and you are made whole.  Your faith will make you well.

(Story can be found in Matthew 9:20; Mark 5:25, and Luke 8:43)

Emotional ER

Tomorrow night, Monday, September 16, I will officially launch my new ministry.  Our first meeting of Divorce Care will meet at 7pm.

Divorce Care small group meetings are an emotional emergency room for those in the turmoil and pain of separation and divorce.  Just like in an emergency room for those who are injured or ill in their physical body, Divorce Care will be a sanctuary of safety, authenticity, and support for we who have been injured in our emotional souls. You will be seen.  You will be heard.  You will be accepted as you are.

Divorce and separation is a deep wound that cuts to the soul, so why not healing from the soul with others who have been through it?  Not only have we been through it, we have survived it and now we are returning to help YOU survive it, too.  And not only survive it, but HEAL.

Each individual has a unique story to tell and each marriage, separation and divorce story is unique as well.  However, many times the pain is same.

So, if you are separated, come.  Even though your marriage may be reconciled ultimately (and we will pray that it will be), your uncertainty and frustration will be heard and understood.

If you are divorced, come.  It doesn’t matter if you have been divorced for a day, a few months, or for several years…there is hope here.  We have emotional scar tissue that can be salved with tender understanding and hope.

If you have never been married, but have recently broken off a significant, long-term relationship, we are still here for you.  Much of your pain is the same as those going through a legal divorce.  We welcome you into our group.

If you are a single parent, you are invited.  I  know it is hard to get the kids out on a weeknight when there is school the next day, but do this one thing for yourself.  The strength and hope you gain in these two hours every week will be well worth it, and we will pray that God redeems the time for you.  Our group also offers childcare if you need it.

It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman.  It doesn’t matter if you were married only a few years or for more than 20 years.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Christian or whether you go to church or not.  You are welcome.

I am praying for you to have the courage to admit that you need a small group of individuals to help you walk this journey of separation and divorce.  This can be a very lonely journey, but you don’t have to be alone.

I ask you to pray for me that I may be the warm, encouraging, listening minister that God is calling me to be.

If you live in or near the Wilmington, Delaware area, I invite you to come.

If you don’t, but you recognize that you want this for your life, go to http://www.divorcecare.org and find a group near you.  Don’t hesitate.  Thousands of Divorce Care groups are starting around the nation and you don’t have to wait until a new one begins….the groups are always open for those in need.