Go Make a Joyful Noise! – in Someone Else’s Yard

Last night, I braved the elements to go Christmas caroling – the cold (it’s about 43 degrees F in the South), cocktail wienies (we snacked first & that was the healthiest option we had), our youth group (sometimes teens can act like wienies), and the dog poo (that isn’t always left in people’s yards by those little wienie dogs). Yeah, I know. All you Northerners are still calling me a wienie over my definition of cold.  So anyway…

Each year, we select a different neighborhood near our church and set out on a mission to spread good cheer (and candy canes).  We had  a couple of ringers with us this year – our previous choir director and one of the youth who sings in his high school choir. Oh, and of course we brought along some really cute little kids for the “ahhh” effect. As for the rest of, we were just in it to be for the wienies…

Just before I left out to make my joyful noise, I dropped a little satire on my FB page:

Photo

All I can say is that it was a good thing I had mentally prepped myself for how tough this year’s caroling game was gonna’ be. We were obviously at the play-off stage, where even the best page in our play book – you know, the cute kid factor handing out candy canes at the front door -wasn’t gonna’ work. In all the years we’ve done this, I can’t ever recall getting a single rejection (even if they didn’t ask for an encore). Heck, one guy even chased us down last year and asked us to come up to his house and sing to his wife. (Not sure what he’d done to get himself into trouble with her, but that apparently made up for it. Always glad to help a guy out of a jam.)

This year, though – wow. This year we received more rejections to our offers for caroling than we even received acceptances. Tough crowd. People were busy, you see. Busy eating dinner, busy talking on the phone to family members, busy watching television, busy closing their curtains and turning out their lights, busy just saying no. Yes, these were actual responses we got. One particular person stood behind the storm door of his house with a coat on, watched us carol at a couple of houses around the cul-de-sac, watched us walk up his hilly driveway, allowed us to get to his front walk, and as “candy cane kid” and I got to him, slammed the door right in our faces. I mean slammed. Yep, he made his point well.

Others simply admitted that they were suspicious of us. They thought we wanted something from them in return. One guy, after rejecting us, called me back to his deck to drop a few bucks down to me for the offering plate. It didn’t matter how many times I tried to explain that’s not why we were there, he became insistent. He still refused to let us sing to him, but he did reluctantly take a trade in candy canes (probably because our “cute kid” just kept holding them out to him, something akin to Cindy Lou Who scrutinizing the Grinch).

All in all, I thought this was a really good lesson for us as Christ-followers. I thought of how Jesus came into the world to offer himself as a gift to us. And how often he was rejected by others. I realized how people are still suspect today because of the very thing that Jesus, himself, encountered – the political aspects and misguided practices of religion. Mostly, I walked away from the door that had been slammed in my face thinking of a young couple, traveling to an unfamiliar town called Bethlehem, a teen girl laboring to bring a precious gift to the world that even she didn’t fully comprehend – only to have the door slammed in their faces.

No room at the inn.

The lesson gets better than that, though. In a humble setting, the Christ-child was born. Shepherds listened to the angels as they caroled in the fields, and responded to go and see the one lying in a manger. So they went, then joined in the chorus to spread the good news. Later, wise men followed a star, so they, too, could experience this great joy. They came bearing their own set of gifts. Today, we see representations in manger scenes of the outcast couple, the working class shepherds, scholarly well-to-do travelers, along with an assortment of animals from near and far – all crowding in, not sure of what to make of this new being who had broken into this world, but looking to get just a tiny glimpse of the hope he was to bring.

And so it went for us too, in tiny glimpses of humility and gifts – and hope – along the way.

Two burly men (probably something like those shepherds) stood at the back of an apartment complex, one with his beard twisted and braided, the other holding his microwave dinner while leaning against the door frame. I waited to hear the dinner excuse. I expected to be told to get the *expletive* out of there. But as we started to sing, a grin came to one of those faces; tears rolled down the other. “I’ve never been sang to before,” came the humble words at the end. “Thank you,” the bearded man choked out. “God bless you.” He just did, I thought.

An elementary aged boy in glasses stood on a small stoop with his single mom. I asked if he had any requests, preparing myself for one of our secular, kid-friendly songs like Rudolph or Frosty. “Could you sing ‘We Three Kings’?” he quickly chimed back. Hmm, I glanced around with uncertainty. We didn’t have that one on our song sheets, but a few of us knew it – admittedly, some better than others. The boy’s grin widened as we began, and soon he was singing along with us, not seeming to mind the places where we stumbled.

An elderly lady in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank had heard us at her neighbor’s duplex door. I wondered how long it had taken her to make her way to her door and get it open, as she’d managed to do so even before we’d finished crossing to her side of the lawn. As we sang to her, she dropped her head, covered her eyes a couple of times, and wept. When we finished, she pointed to a single star hanging above us in the night sky, shaking her head in wonderment. She became so insistent on wanting to offer us some gift in return, I finally eagerly accepted. I told her we would be happy to take payments from her – in hugs. And let me tell you – she was a wonderful gift distributor!

When it was all said and done, I guess we weren’t such big wienies after all, out there singing making a joyful noise to utterly complete strangers our neighbors. But I will admit. All snuggled in that one woman’s sweet hugs, I might’ve felt like a warm little wienie-in-a-blanket.

Thankful not to have been eaten alive out there,

-jody

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Hope Melts

Christmas was coming. Lisa was missing her husband, Brian, who was still serving his country abroad. More than that, her children were missing their daddy miserably during that Christmas season of 2011. A majority of our American soldiers had been removed from Iraq by then, but not Brian. He was still one of those remaining, stationed there until May 2012. Lisa brought her little family to church for the Christmas Eve candlelight service that year. She was home for the holidays, surrounded by as many extended family members as possible. Both her children clutched their Daddy-ARMY-dolls that evening, but even a picturesque representation of Dad wasn’t going to stop the melt-down later that night. Santa may be coming to town…but Daddy wasn’t.

Despite their sad little hearts, they sat among us at the Christmas morning service. When our pastor asked if anyone had a praise to share,  7-year-old Nat was the first to respond. Without hesitation, she stood and proclaimed, “I’m thankful to be with my family on Christmas.” The wet drops sliding down many cheeks across the pews attested that all hearts there had begun to melt.

Paul talks about the small child leading us. You see, Nat was surely heartbroken. Yet, she refused to stay focused on the negativity of her situation. Instead, she caught a glimpse of the hope – and somehow instinctively knew she needed to SPEAK IT to make it more real. If she could begin to openly express that May would bring her daddy back to the United States – back home to her family – then she could envision that she and her mother and brother would be with him once again.

Oh, what spring-like joy welled up when May rolled around! Can you imagine what that reunion must have been like? For me, it was an infinitesimal glimpse of what our reunion with loved ones in heaven might one day be!

Oh, and in case you’re interested – their earthly reunion looked something like this…

welcome

_____________________________

I’ve been wanting to share this as a Christmas story for some time, so today seemed a perfect opportunity to integrate it with the Trifecta writing challenge (with a 333 word limit) and the 3rd definition of the challenge word. I stretched my options – and my luck – by metaphorically using the first definition to ultimately depict the 3rd definition. Even if I get called out on a foul, I wanted you to hear this beautiful, triumphant story that I was privileged to witness. It surely made my own heart melt. 🙂

Hope & Joy,

-jody

MELT (transitive verb)
1:  to reduce from a solid to a liquid state usually by heat

2:  to cause to disappear or disperse

– See more at: http://www.trifectawritingchallenge.com/#sthash.3xwaQzF7.dpuf

How God Can Equip from the Hip on a Fateful Trip

Something very curious happened this morning with my blog post. I began this entry at the end of November, but just got around to finishing it up this morning. When I went to publish my saved draft, it saved it to the originally drafted date.

So…I’ve re-blogged the link, if you’re interested…

How God Can Equip from the Hip on a Fateful Trip.

A Mean and Less Life

Newtown, Connecticut – Elementary school shooting

Happy Valley, Oregon – Mall shooting

And the list goes on and on…with ABC News reporting 31 school shootings in the U.S. since the Columbine incident in 1999. Think Progress lists a tragic timeline of mass shootings since Columbine.The New Republic reports that “Mass Shootings Are on the Rise–And 2012 Has Been Deadlier Than Ever Before.”

Those who have experienced it are forever traumatized. Even if not physically present, our nation has experienced it and our students, teachers, and the general public are traumatized. Headlines read, “Police, world  wonder…” and “motive a mystery” and “Why are mass shootings becoming more common?” and “no answers.”

When I can’t find an answer in the physical world, that’s when I come to realize I’m looking in the wrong place. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. As spiritual beings, we’ve been given a spiritual DNA, a human triumvirate made up of Faith, Hope and Love. (I Corinthians 13:13 tells us that these three ABIDE – remain as a part of us – faith, hope and love.) When we aren’t tapping into these sources of our being, our lives are going to be out of balance.

For today, I really want to focus on HOPE because there are Hope Thieves everywhere around us (and we don’t want to be in danger of becoming one either). Hope is one important element to our wholeness.

Someone once said, “without hope, life is meaningless,” but what I heard was, “without hope, life is mean and less.”

As I’ve contemplated on HOPE, I truly feel in my heart that I first have to hope for something before I can begin building my faith on the matter. I think a lot of people are living mean and less lives because they’ve allowed their hope to be stolen. As we are presently abiding in the season of Light (in which I’ll personally celebrate my Savior coming into the world), it’s no wonder that the hope thief would come to try to kill and steal (as God’s Word explains) and to extinguish that light in His people. Therefore, when besieged by troubles, I implore of you – Do NOT lose your hope.

Hope becomes my spiritual VISIONING process – the way my mind can see things as a possibility to be able to move in the direction of God’s destiny for my life. Yet, if my hope gets demolished early on, my faith may likely never be able to begin to sprout or grow. If my hope gets squashed, my faith can’t produce any fruit.

God’s Word emphasizes Hope’s importance in us knowing HIM.

hope

What is HOPE, anyway? When I was growing up, I can remember my best friend’s mom saying, “Put hope in one hand and spit in the other and see which one gets filled the fastest.”  So hope was something that wasn’t going to be fulfilled by her definition (and the process of trying was going to be disgusting). With many of us, it’s often a vague wish or a best case scenario when things don’t look so good.

“Hoping for the best” is just a singular side of HOPE that, in and of itself, won’t give you the base you need on its own. It won’t be enough alone. It has to be combined in FAITH and LOVE to be complete.

Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

If the enemy can squash the fruit of our faith by early-on demolishing our hope, the victory of the hope thieves can be assured.

Hope Reflection

I conducted a quick, informal, convenience survey on Facebook & received 27 responses almost immediately.

Why don’t you take a moment to reflect on the same question that I asked of my FB pals?

‘What steals your hope?’

hope thieves

As you can see, the hope thief has been working overtime in some of my friends’ lives. So what should we do if we want to keep a thief away?

We keep watch. (We have to be responsible for identifying this loss of hope in ourselves and in others, and LOVING enough to take practical action.)

I Thessalonians 5:6 tells us:

So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clear-headed.

The King James version says “to be sober” in place of alert & clear-headed. But in going back to Strong’s concordance for an explanation of the Greek, this phrase means “free from negative influences.” Look at that list above again. It’s filled with negative influences. Where God’s Word tells us that the Thief came to steal and kill and destroy lives (through negative influences), Jesus says:

abundant life

In an ideal world, that abundance would be accepted by all and lived out by all. Unfortunately, we live in a broken world where many have given up on hope and abundance – and it affects us all.

On that practical note, here’s some more news about HOPE that’s both bad and good. Hope doesn’t really come from pretty places often we’re thousands of feet in the air, in the fog, in a plane running out of fuel before the thought to even have HOPE ever springs to mind! Or perhaps in a very dark moment following a horrific, senseless tragedy. As was the case of the Apostle Paul when he penned these ironic words:

Romans 5:3-5: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Strangely, Hope springs forth from a seed of suffering…and then, more surprisingly, it has the ability to grow into something so much greater – to actually produce Love. How can this be, especially in the midst of horrific circumstances?

In times like today, when I reflect on these senseless, tragic shootings that have taken so many lives – ironically at a time when the world speaks of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men, I can nearly see myself frantically searching around, tearing up the place, desperately searching for my lost hope. Where did I put it? Where could it be? Like the woman Jesus mentioned in Scripture, turning her house upside down – calling on her friends to help her find it…

And that’s what we must do. We should call on others to help us find it – our hope. We should support one another in community. Yet, most importantly of all, we must find the most important key of all to maintaining our HOPE in those dark hours. The answer can be found directly, without question:

Psalm 39:7 – And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you.

But how, you ask? Let’s go to Scripture once more for the answer:

Psalm 25:5  –  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

We have to let him guide us (in His truth, not the world’s), teach us AS a Savior, and don’t miss the part where we have to be willing to do it not a portion of the day, but…ALL DAY LONG!!!!!!! That’s what it means for our Human Triumvirate of Faith, Hope & Love to ABIDE. We are to abide in Him – all the day long.

Hope is not something we can conjure up on our own – it’s NOT a WISH. Our Hope is found in HIM – He has to guide us to it, to teach us how to bring it forth & we have to be willing to exercise on this All Day Long.

I think when people don’t find their HOPE IN HIM, it becomes dormant; it collapses. When it’s not sustained, any vision we might have had from HOPE can die. Take heart. If your Hope has withered away, it can be Resurrected. That’s what the Resurrection of the Christ means to us.

Things that are dead (that have been destroyed)…CHRIST’S HOPE can bring back to LIFE. Christ came so that we might have life – ETERNAL.  He specializes in the Resurrection of the dead. His divine current can Resurrect your hope – allow it to rise up and triumph over a deadened & numbed spirit! That’s the Good News!

Ways to Resurrect Hope IN CHRIST – by looking at examples of different types of Resurrection Jesus brought about:

  • It can happen in an unexpected instant (the woman’s son who was being carried by the processional of mourners).
  • It can happen when it appears that it is absolutely too late (Jesus waited until the fourth day for Lazarus’ resurrection).
  • It can happen when we’ve been told it will, but we keep trying not to believe (Jesus’ own Resurrection).
  • In all cases, it’s done BY him and THROUGH Him – out of His love & compassion for us.

I pray that we can have that same LOVE and compassion for others, to help hold them up in FAITH when they are crumbling in despair, and to be HOPE givers when thieves have tried to steal their last bit of hope.

Call recompense to the thief by speaking AFFIRMATIVES of HOPE to others’ lives today. In this way, we also serve to resurrect both their spirits and our own.

Acknowledge the words of the psalmist & song:

My life is in you, Lord, my strength is in you, Lord, my hope is in you,

Lord, in you, it’s in you!

For me, this is the hope that the babe of Christmas Day brings, as the Son of God breaks into this world to become the Son of Man, to reside among us in the midst of our brokenness.

My most sincere prayers to those parents, family members, friends and all others who are presently feeling the searing pain of these tragic losses. May you find hope and peace in knowing that there is a God who chooses to suffer with us in the midst of our trials and chose to suffer for us before we were even known. May your faith be sustained in the hope of His glory and may you feel His merciful presence in your lives through the love poured out by those surrounding you, both physically and in the spiritual realm.

Grace & peace to you, -jody

Hope Be -Dam’ed

Without hope, life is meaningless.

Whenever I read these words out loud, they always sound like this to me:

“Without hope, life is mean and less.”

When I was growing up, I can remember my best friend’s mom saying, “Put hope in one hand and spit in the other and see which one gets filled the fastest.”  So hope was something that wasn’t going to be fulfilled by her definition (and the process of trying was fairly disgusting).

Hope requires vision.

My friend’s mom was missing the vision. With many of us, hope is often a vague wish or a best case scenario when things aren’t looking so good or we’re after something better than what we’ve got (with little to no chance of getting it). Vision gets lost (or spit on by others) with that kind of hope.

I have a vivid story on this subject of hope that stands out in my mind.

I was once heading into the Netherlands on KLM, finding myself getting dizzy from circling the Amsterdam airport, over and over again. (At least we thought we were circling somewhere in the vicinity of the airport. We had to take the pilot’s word of the navigator’s instrumentation’s word because the fog surrounding us was as thick as pea soup — not that it was green or anything, but you get the idea of the simile).  Eventually, the pilot informed us we had to head to Rotterdam for any landing attempt because we were running low on fuel. Okay, standard operating procedure, right? It was still good…until we had to do the same sort of maneuvering over Rotterdam in the same thick fog – over and over and over (you get the idea) again. I kept imagining how I cringe at the thought of the fuel gauge on my compact car causing its little bell to ding. (In truth, I’ve never heard that little bell ding. I’m not brave enough to test how far it can make it after that happens.) I wondered if any dinging would take place on this huge jet before we heard the dreadful sputtering and then the disastrous plummeting sound. (I figured it would probably be more than a tiny ding, since those seem to be reserved for less urgent seatbelt-like matters.)

Our pilot must’ve heard the ding…

because, finally, in a tone of resignation, his voice came across the speaker and, as I had become accustomed, first explained the situation in his native Dutch, then repeated it as translated English. He explained that due to the fuel situation, we obviously had no choice but to attempt a landing, despite the fact that he had no visualization of the runway. Our captain’s final accented words to us were, “I am going to hope for the best.” My first response to those sitting around to me was, “Well, I am going to hope that his words sounded more assuring in Dutch than they did in English.” (In truth, I was concerned our captain might be a little like my friend’s mom when it came to hope.) When I got no response from my travel companions, I added my own final thought: “Our captain can keep hoping for the best all he wants. I’m going to start praying for it.”

In this case, hope didn’t come with much vision.

As a matter of fact, we missed the runway — but we did make it onto the ground.
Once we all got finished climbing out of the plane and kissing that ground (when we were able to locate it through the fog), hope cast its vision. After we were issued our emergency layover kits, we were to be double-dam’d — shuttled from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. The fog lifted enough somewhere along the way where we were able to enjoy a shuttled tour of the countryside, complete with the fattest field-grazing mutton at which I’ve ever gawked. (I was getting hungry and hoping for dinner.)

Without this experience, I would have missed out on some great “stuff” (aka, experiences)!

Besides being able to tell you this story without the necessity of additional dramatization…I would’ve never envisioned the spread of food or hoped for the awesomeness of the room (or shower) I was given at the Schiphol hotel. I would never have known the delight of having a server fly through six languages (twice) to ask to take my order before I admitted which was mine because it was so intriguingly impressive. And I would have never gotten the opportunity to say “Goede morgen” and to have been smirked at – over and over again – because of my obvious southern states accent. (My online tutors, Mirjana & Jarno, who had worked with me on my Dutch had prepared me for this – they always laughed too.)

The truth is…Hope doesn’t spring from pretty places.

Romans 5:3-4 tells us: “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Hope starts from a seed of suffering.

In reality, my suffering was minimal. It makes for a one-upsmanship travel story, at best. In contrast, I visited Anne Frank’s Huis while in Amsterdam, being greatly reminded of how even a young girl who left behind a poignant diary of her suffering has ultimately assisted in bringing hope to others. Her experience continues to cast seeds into others’ soil.

 Look at what can spring forth from a planted seed:

Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Mulan says it like this: “The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.” 

Have you envisioned some hope for yourself lately? Have you planted a seed for someone else?

It’s time to stop deferring hope and to tap into its power!

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A Mean and Less Life