The Perfect Present – Merry Christmas!

Christmas

takes the historical,

the theological,

the magical

and the whimsical

and wraps them all together 

in a most delightful present.

whimsical_nativity

Year after year,

the beauty of this same familiar package

never wears down,

it never fades.

The surprise never lessens,

the Christmas spirit never dies –

not as long as we determine we’re going to prepare our hearts to continue to open

-and cherish-

this eternal, priceless gift.

Merry Christmas 2012! – jody

nativity

Weekly Photo Challenge: Thankful!

I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.  -I Corinthians 1:4

Family members returned, just before Thanksgiving, from Ligitolo, South Sudan with which our Church District is in Covenant. I was privileged to help go around to various churches in our area, as well as speak to people from our community, helping to explain how they could visually demonstrate their prayers for the people within this ‘newest country community’ to see, by tying colorful prayer cloths to a netting as they sent up their prayers for them.

Here is a picture of the missionaries presenting these visual prayers as a way to express one kind of support they receive daily from the commitments made by those who lovingly tied on each of their cloths.

Now, look at the response given by the people in this small village of South Sudan. They, too, wanted to send up prayers for the people of our District – not only prayers of thankfulness, but to let their brothers and sisters in the states know they were also praying for them.

Here, you can see them gathering to place their own prayer cloths onto the net.

Isn’t that just like God? Often times, when we think we are blessing someone else, we are, in fact, casting a net that will spread many blessings. Blessings that have a way of coming back to us. Why? Because you can’t out-give God. The Bible tells of a story when fishermen had worked hard all day by themselves, but had caught very little when doing so. Then Jesus showed up in their midst. When Jesus told the fishermen to cast in their nets, they doubted – nevertheless, they obeyed. The nets came up so full that they were overflowing and bursting at the seams.

Funny how much fuller our lives tend to be when we listen and obey the Word of God.

Here are  a couple of other photos from this past trip that remind me to be continually thankful.

The Hope Kindergarten School is thankful because their area has HOPE once more.

This is Wani Silent. As a worship leader, he is anything but that! Our family assists in sponsoring this young man, who believes he wants to become a preacher – to lead the people in their thankfulness and praise.

Praise the Lord! Praise him with trumpet sound, praise him with lute and harp! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!  -Psalm 150:3

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How do you best express your own thankfulness?

To hear how others are thankful, or to share your own version of thankfulness, visit the Weekly Photo Challenge page.

Wild Weekly Photo Challenge – My Wilderness ESCAPE

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Whenever I hear the word Escape, the first thing that pops in my mind is a song by Rupert Holmes with that same name (when it’s not being referred to as ‘The Pina Colada Song, of course).

“If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain…

then write to me and escape.”

Those lines instantly evoke a sense of joyfulness and of being carefree –

a feeling we all desire.

(Or maybe they evoke in you a desire to write about your own planned escape – if so, I’d love to hear about it.)

Just like in this song, we may get to various points in our lives when we feel as if we need to plan an escape from “reality.” (Just like just then, when I wrote we because, in reality, I needed some backup and didn’t want to admit that it translated to I in that sentence.) Well, I am still betting you can relate to our escape plan.

Some days, admittedly and incredibly, I find escape in my work, simply running from one form of reality to seeking solace in another. Other days, I find my escape as I get caught up in reading a fantastically fictional story where I wish I could play the protagonist’s part. Ironically, I find that my most pleasurable times of escape, though, aren’t really when I’m trying to get away from life; but when I’m working on a life adventure of my own, either through engagement with nature and others, or engagement among my characters or the words in my mind as I write.

Throw in a little pina colada and some dancing in the rain, and I guess I’m in business.

Sometimes, our life escapades come out differently than how we’ve anticipated.

(At least mine do.)

Truthfully, without sounding dramatic or even getting into the details, I can honestly say I’ve escaped death a time or two in my life – but those instances were direct consequences of poor decisions either I made or someone else made on my behalf (or, in one instance, didn’t make in time).

That thought brings me around to my response for the Let’s Be Wild Weekly Challenge on Escape.

When I was in the Holy Land, out wandering a little myself down the Wadi Qelt in the Judean wilderness,

I had some time to think about a couple of the famous escapes associated with this place.

When the Hebrews escaped their bondage from Egypt under the leadership of their prophet, Moses, they wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, according to the Torah. As Moses stood on Mount Nebo (aka Pisgah), he looked down into the Promised Land, the area we distantly view here that includes Jericho. As I stood there, in that same place (or close to it, anyway) thinking on this, I came to the conclusion that

Sometimes we have to be patient and persistent for our escape to come to fruition.

Other times, our escape may be very different than anything we’ve planned for ourselves,

as it was with Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:1-5
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho….
Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised….I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab…but to this day no one knows where his grave is.

Another thought as I looked upon a Bedouin herd, finding grass where I might have said there was none to be had:

When it comes to making an escape, perhaps one person’s deserted path is another’s prime pasture.

I was also reminded on this pathway that I traveled, along the Wadi al Qelt was where the Story of the Good Samaritan took place in scripture. Don’t let my high elevation shot fool you here. When walking the Wadi Qelt, it becomes easy to see how readily bandits can hide in the surrounding area and surprise someone along the path unexpectedly.

Luke 10:25-37
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers…” (vs. 30).

That man was left for dead by the robbers and by two others that couldn’t be bothered to help him. But because of the least likely person that would’ve been expected to help him along the way (the Samaritan), the robbed and beaten man was cared for and escaped death.

Sometimes the people we would least expect might be the ones to assist us in making our escape.

Sometimes, like the dry places in my life, the Wadi Qelt looks a lot like death, void of much of anything living, until a little spring of life sneaks in and obscurely announces itself. That was the case with this area of green growth, boldly announcing where Herod’s aqueduct came through, supplying water for life along its path.

At other times in life, I might be moving along on high ground and can’t even fathom what surprises might await me in the deep recesses if I’ll just take time to escape to them and explore around there.

In this case, I did, and was welcomed in by priests serving lemonade and cookies. This monastery was built around an expanse of caves, one in which Elijah resided while hiding out from King Ahab and the ill-tempered Queen Jezebel. The bible story says ravens came and fed Elijah, and I’d never dispute that birds could very well have done just that. However, it’s also rumored that the cave-dwellers who lived along the sides of those ridges were called a named that translates to sound very similar to ‘raven.’

To tell you the truth, I enjoy escaping into the possibility of either of those story versions.

Here’s a modern-day look on the inside of Elijah’s cave, if you’re interested in seeing the place of his escape:

The final escape story with which I was faced during my own wilderness experience was when I stood upon the Mount of Olives, looking over the Garden of Gethsemane. This was the place where Jesus went to pray, just before he was arrested and later crucified. A portion of his prayer was, if there was any other way for salvation of the people to take place, for that cup to be taken from him. After that, he ended his prayer obediently, saying, ‘Not my will, but yours be done, Father.’

I wonder how often I’ve worked to escape from uttering those words in my life when the price wasn’t nearly so high for me?

It wasn’t until I stood above that very spot, overlooking that garden, when I came to realize the physical choice Jesus had made there. If this had been a modern-day movie, for instance, things would’ve looked very despondent for the hero; then, just before the worst possible outcome, he would have turned the other way – and escaped. By our standards, that would’ve made for the perfect ending. And let me assure you, he could’ve done just that – escape would’ve come all too easily. On one side of this garden lay Jerusalem (which you can see, now in modern-day, in the background of this photo).

But when you’re standing up on that mount, if you turn and look out to the other side, you’ll find there is an entire wilderness into which Jesus could’ve chosen to escape – the same wilderness into which Elijah escaped quite easily from King Ahad and Queen Jezebel.

Instead, Jesus chose to do his Father’s will and stay right where he was in that garden, awaiting his capture. He chose to accept the sentence for those deeds that really belong on my head. Standing there, as a Christian, I had to acknowledge in my belief and in that place that He had chosen to stay there and take a punishment to allow me to be the one to escape it.

He became my emergency escape hatch.

What better escape could I ever ask for or plan than that?

In this realization, more than anywhere on my walk,

My wilderness experience surely taught me to always look for the unexpected Escape Hatches & Doors to explore, regardless of where I am in life.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t take time to wish this same joyful and carefree escape route for you, my friends.

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Just for kicks,

I’m participating in the LetsBeWild.com Wild Weekly Photo Challenge

This week’s Challenge is: Escape

Make Your Own Escape to see the winning entries here!

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What, Where, How (or maybe Who) is your Favorite Escape?

I’d love to hear about it, if you dare to share…

Our Affinities to Our Infirmities

Infirmities.

We all have them or have experienced at least one in our lives – something that ails us or takes away our strength or vitality. An infirmity is often defined as a medical illness, and for some, it may be. But our vitality, our strength, is encapsulated in our very being, which expands far beyond physical boundaries.

As a matter of fact, many folks walking around with some of the most self-damning infirmities appear to be healthy in the physical sense.

We might run across others whose bodies are working overtime to betray them, but their sense of well-being is extraordinarily uplifting.

When Jesus saw [the man with the infirmity] and knew he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  -John 5:6 (RSV)

Image located at: http://www.fireonyourhead.org/2011/01/26/what-are-you-receiving/
 

Do you get the idea, from this Gospel reading, that perhaps the man mentioned here had become a little too attached to his infirmity?

 Refuse to be defined by your infirmity.

There is an elderly woman who I dearly love; yet, without fail, whenever I ask how she is doing, she goes into a diagnostic list of all of her aches and pains. Granted, I know her body is wearing down and was not designed to be eternal. But I also suspect her spirit is crying out, in need of attention for a lifetime of emotional aches and pains that were never soothed away.

Somehow, it’s more socially acceptable to define herself by her physical ailments.  Or is it?

I know another woman who never complains about physical ailments. Instead, when asked how she is doing, she goes into a tirade of how terrible life is, how awful her children and grandchildren treat her, how her ex-husband of many decades ago is a horrible person, and how nothing ever satisfies her. She has no problem expressing all of the emotional turmoil that she’s held onto – and even nursed – for the majority of her life. Unfortunately, her social acceptance rides a fine line – simply because she refuses to live a current life and accept others around her based on trying to form new relationships.

Her infirmity of bitterness has defined her.
On some level, she even tries to become an infirmity to others.

I know a man who was diagnosed with lung cancer years ago and given a prognosis that should have placed him in the grave years ago. Granted, he has undergone many rounds of chemotherapy and experimental treatments – and he is open and honest about his concerns of leaving behind his family, or sometimes of going through another treatment. Yet, he has never let this infirmity define him. As soon as he is over being ill from treatments, he moves on with his life just as he would have otherwise. He doesn’t dwell on the cancer. He goes to work; he is active in his church; he gets in touch with friends to go biking; and he gets involved in other people’s lives when he becomes aware of a need.

You see, living defines who he is – regardless of which side of heaven he is on.

If you’ve ever dealt with a developing child, you’ll readily understand the importance of this philosophy. A little one is running along. He loses his balance because his desire to be as swift as lightening is only moderately matched by the budding development of his leg muscles. He slides across the gravelly ground, the flesh of his palms revealing faint bloody traces of the path his hands took when they tried to get his body back under control.

He looks down at his infirmity, but his first instinct is not to cry.

If you watch closely, his first glance is at the supervising adult into whose care he has been entrusted during this outing. If mom (let’s say, for example) gasps loudly and frantically runs to assist as though an ambulance should be alerted, Niagara Falls is soon to follow. If she, however, responds (more commonly like…let’s just say a dad, for argument’s sake) by calmly walking over, setting Junior back into an upright position, and lovingly brushing him off with a casual, “Ouch, bet that stung” (okay, a quick kiss of the damaged area could be called for here), 9 out of 10 times, the incident will pass quickly with the child’s thoughts traveling back to his original intent of flying like the wind.

Granted, life does become different. We are forever changed.

This example I gave doesn’t say the child’s needs aren’t attended to. Perhaps a squirt of Bactine or a Band-aid might be in order. But even these are momentary fixes. What the child needs, more than anything, is an assurance that this temporary infirmity doesn’t define his ability to move forward with intended activities – with life. Even stitches are impermanent, requiring a trip to the clinic, a few days of water protection, and a little clip-clip. In the end, a parent who would forbid the child from ever running again because of a few scrapes or a little scar would only serve to further damage that child’s sense of well-being.

When we allow every injury, every insult, every infirmity that has ever been cast upon us to rule the hours we’ve been given in each and every day, we have to accept responsibility for the damage that is being cast upon our own well-being.


Refuse to become your infirmity.

Refuse to allow it to have dominion over you.
Refuse to allow others to cast you in that role.
Refuse to allow your vitality to be robbed when your life – here and beyond – can serve to be a well from which others can draw their being without ever taking from yours.

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[Author’s Note: I think it’s imperative that I stress here that many deal with their infirmities publicly and positively, not only to personally take some level of control over them, but to encourage others with similar struggles. That is NOT allowing an infirmity to define such an individual; rather, that is the individual working to define the infirmity and to take charge of it for the sake of well-being. Peace & blessings to all who face such struggles head on – in that, you are already victorious!]

Devo: Who Paves the Road to Good Intentions, Anyway?

I’ve spent the past several years of my life living a hundred miles north of Atlanta. I can never recall a visit there when I didn’t witness miles and miles of road construction. Atlanta apparently kept expanding our way, as I now can’t travel anywhere around my own city that I’m not passing dented orange barrels threatening to cause claustrophobia in yet another lane. You’d be hard-pressed to convince me it’s true, but I’m told that civil engineers spend a significant amount of time in the detour planning process, considering traffic flow patterns for devising alternative routes during the various phases of road de- and re-construction.

When one has to travel the same way, directly through a construction zone, day after dusty day, the trip can become arduous on the nerves – especially on the days when progress appears non-existent. 
The impatience of waiting and the unanticipated detours become distracting and may cause wrecks, ill tempers, or even cause some commuters to get off-course, vowing never to travel that way again. Those who are forced to traverse the ‘de-construction zone’ each day often become quite adept at the role of long-suffering commuter, even capitalizing on tragic tales of woe at work, each morning’s description becoming increasingly worse as the audience becomes increasingly sympathetic. Many get so accustomed to arriving late to their destination each day that they begin to become complacent, expecting others to simply understand their detoured excuses. As a matter of fact, the excuse of tardiness may become so long-understood that it even works on days in which road construction wasn’t even a factor. Despite such benefits, eventually a dread begins to settle in, casting a mood on the traveler’s day before it ever begins – simply from reflecting on the trip that lies ahead.

Months and years can progress when a large road project has become an on-going event. By the time the paving crew arrives, in reality, the motorist should be rejoicing! No more dusty, uneven, grated roads that make your car (and your entire body) vibrate and hum. The end is in sight. That’s not how it works though. Everyone – and I mean everyone – dreads the paving crew most of all! They’re the ones who bring in all the gooey, messy materials slopped out by huge, cumbersome pieces of equipment that leave tar build-up and loose gravels stuck on passing vehicles. Though the paving crew is laying out the finishing touches of a soon-to-be enjoyed product, by the time they arrive to prepare permanent passage of a greatly improved road system, the attitudes of the commuters are not so joyful and thankful. Instead, attitudes are, more often, the expression of the road’s prior condition – filled with grated nerves and increased agitation. The travelers, you see, have lost the vision of greater things to come. The promise of open passageway no longer seems to be a reality. This paving process seems, instead, only to serve as yet another portion of the torture that has bombarded the senses for the past couple of years. And speaking of senses, is that tar smell offensive or what?!

I have to wonder how many of you began emphatically nodding your heads in agreement to some of these descriptions as you read them. I also have to wonder how many of you were able to begin relating these events to your own spiritual lives and how you may have the ability to envision where and how God has called you to make your journey. Have the offenses of annoyed commuters, unreasonable detours, excessive delays, irritating excuses, and life’s foul smells bombarded you to the point that you’ve decided to travel in a totally different direction? Can you no longer sense that God is allowing these delays and distractions to come into your life so that you may travel down a clearer course in the near future? Have you, instead, become impatient because the Engineer hasn’t shared His plan with you? And have you even shaken your fist or loudly proclaimed that this spiritual re-construction is a big fiasco, with no one giving proper consideration as to how it was going to affect your life?

I’ve traveled in that spiritual construction zone for a large portion of my life, not understanding many of the detours and, as a result, getting myself into worse messes when I attempted to follow my own routes. On occasion, my choices took me off-road because they seemed thrilling (but caused irreparable damage to my vehicle). I’ve likely caused many (emotional) wrecks along the way, too, that didn’t just include my own vehicle. I also let myself become the victim of others’ poor choices in detours. In short, I lost faith that there truly was a plan meant to route me around the construction zones and get me safely to where I was journeying, even if it meant perceived delays in my life. I also came to points of complacency and readily used excuses for  my own delays. By the time the paving was taking place to smooth out those rough spots, I would have argued that the workers on my roadway were paving it straight to hell.

Then, by the grace of God, I was reminded that there was a master road plan, and I simply needed to stick out the journey.

The road would soon be made clear for safe and productive passageway. Even if Hell’s very own paving crew was delaying my journey, and even if I had to smell their stench, God was allowing that to happen in my life. I had to learn to trust in Him and the plans He had laid for my journey. Amazingly enough, I found it much more comforting to learn to sit still in life’s traffic jams and sing praises to Him, rather than rush around looking for my own poorly planned (dead-end) detours. Since that time, I’ve only been able to become excited about the journey that lies ahead!

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  -Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

God’s intentions for our lives truly are good ones. It’s our own intentions that might send us seemingly traveling down the pathway to hell; and there may be spiritual forces who strive quite diligently to pave our path in that direction for us. But that has never been – and will never be – God’s desire for our lives. If His intentions were anything other than good ones, He wouldn’t have provided us with a direct pathway to Him through Jesus Christ. Our Heavenly Father’s intentions are, in fact, such good ones that He’ll use every road block, wreck and detour in our lives to place us back on track towards our journey with Him. Yet He’ll never restrain us from going a different direction of our own choosing. That very fact has humbled me to watch for His road signs much more carefully in my own life and to rejoice in the paving!