Category Archives: christmas

The Road Home ~ a Christmas Miracle

We have an annual tradition of opening up our Christmas gifts to one another at the same time … over the phone. She lives in northern Ohio. I live in eastern NC. We’ve been friends for over twenty years, and every time we talk or get together, it’s as if we’ve never been apart. Yesterday was no different.

Her package arrived at my doorstep with the afternoon post. My gift to her arrived in Ohio earlier in the week. I called her after supper, and the unwrapping began. I went first and was immediately struck by the sentimentality of her gift to me.

(How did she get the artist to paint that picture … the one I took three years ago when I was up for a visit and we went out for a ride through Amish country? Amazing work. She must have paid someone to paint this.)

I voiced my joy and my obvious gratitude for such a sentimental treasure. My friend was perplexed.

“Elaine, I know you like Amish things, and I remember us taking that drive out in Amish country, but there are hundreds of paths and roads with that exact scene. I don’t even remember the picture you took; I just happened upon this man’s shop in Navarre, liked his work, and selected a print I thought you would like. There were dozens and dozens of scenes to choose from, but I kept coming back to this one. It just spoke to me, and I knew it was the one to get for you.”

Coincidence? Never. To prove my point, I scoured through the pictures on my computer and found the one that closely resembled the scene in the painting. I sent it to my friend. She began coming around to my point of view. We discussed the similarities, but it wasn’t until I pointed out the curve of the tree in the front left corner of the picture that I knew we had a match.

What are the odds? Of all the gifts she could have given me this Christmas, she gave me this one. She never made the connection between her gift and the picture I’d taken three years ago. She didn’t need to. God did it for her. God did it for me. Maybe … even God did it for the artist.

After we finished our conversation, I did some research on the painter, Billy Jacobs. He’s a local resident in Navarre, OH, and lives within a couple miles of my friend’s home. His work is stunning. I’m not much into paintings, but his work could easily become my new favorite addiction. While visiting his website, I connected with his facebook page and left him a message about my God-incident. I even posted the original picture I had taken three years ago to his wall. Within an hour, he had responded to my post, confirming what I already suspected and asking me if I remembered the location where that photo was taken. The scene was the inspiration for his artwork, but he’s never been able to find that exact location again in all of his travels throughout Amish country. My friend and I racked our brains, trying to retrace the steps we took back in 2011, and I was able to give Billy a general vicinity of where I think he’ll be able to rediscover … wait for it …

The Road Home.

Yep. That’s the title of his painting. Coincidence? Never.

And so to this Advent season and to my thoughts and my heart that are full tonight of memory, of yearning, of hope, and of expectation for …

the road home.

Isn’t that the Christmas road? Isn’t that the sum-total of the Bethlehem search … the pilgrimage to the manger? A step or two back in time in order to take a step or two forward in faith. To find that which is longed for and that, with the finding, comes fresh inspiration, fresh resolve to keep moving forward in expectation of home.

It’s but a few steps from here. Not as far off as we think. For Billy, his search might lead him down the Jericho Road toward Kidron, OH (the latest, best pinpoint for the location – I’m not kidding …). For me, well, my search will take me a bit further. To the Kidron Valley (the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem and that separates the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives) and beyond. This is where Jesus finished his earthly life; this is the place where he exited earthen sod to be at home with his Father forever.

Jesus Christ. The Road Home. My beginning. My now. My next. He is where I’m headed this Christmas. How grateful I am for the Christmas miracle that found its way to my front porch to lead me to the manger so that I might, once again, behold the Savior in all his glory.

Blessings, friends, as you travel the road to Bethlehem this year. May the miracle of Christmas renew your faith, strengthen your resolve, and quicken your search for the road home. And as always, may God grant you his abiding peace for the journey.

Merry Christmas,

PS: If you have some time, visit Billy’s website and tell me your favorite. As for me, I have my eyes set on A Light in the Stable! (Hint, hint – my Billy Olsen – wouldn’t it look great over our mantle next Christmas?) Also, another interesting detail – my friend’s name is Juanita. Billy Jacob’s mother’s name? Yep. Juanita. Isn’t God cool?

a prayer for Advent

My soul doth magnify the Lord (Luke 1:46).

I’ve been talking to my soul lately, asking it to keep pace with Mary’s magnificent declaration. Like her, I want my soul to amplify Jesus. I want my soul to make him bigger … more obvious to those around me.

But it’s hard. The trying times talk my soul into other amplifications—an alternate focus that sheds light on the struggles instead of light on the Savior. The everyday stressors are often given a place of prominence in my thought-life, thereby taking up habitation within my heart. And what grows there grows elsewhere.

Inward to outward.

Better be careful what gets in … right? If you and I want to sing alongside Mary this Advent season, then we’d better take note of our empty, inward spaces. They are fertile soil for wandering stressors.

Resentments.
Disappointments.
Discouragements.
Frustrations.
Expectations.

Whatever is keeping you awake at night is what is growing in your soul. It can be an ugly and frightful declaration come morning’s light.

Look in the mirror. What does it say? My soul doth magnify _______________________.

In this season of life, I am ever mindful of the role that my soul plays in God’s kingdom development. Many days, I fall short of my calling. My soul doesn’t always magnify the King. On those days, I kick myself a thousand times over, beat up my soul until it’s bloodied by untruth. I bet I’m not alone. Why?

Because as Christians we understand (and are often enlivened by the fact) that our souls are designed to house the magnificent. That inside each one of us there is an extraordinary capacity to hold the burgeoning, holy-kingdom that cannot be fully explained in words, only magnified by expression. By attitudes. By generosities of the heart that exceed what’s customary … what’s expected.

When our souls do magnify the Lord, there isn’t room within for lesser soul-growth. The Lord’s great light fills a soul to overflow and burns a candle brightly where shadows once reigned. This is why I pray Mary’s prayer and sing her song and paste a sticky note to my desk to remind me of this deep desire. I want a soul filled with Jesus, and I want him to fall out of me and on to my students each day.

What a magnificent thought! What a magnificent agenda! What a magnificent trust!

This is who we are. Jesus magnifiers. May your soul and mine be so heartily inclined this Advent season. Thus, I prayerfully sing this thought tonight to the only One who can make it happen …

Soul … magnify Him! Amen. So be it.

Peace for the journey,

PS: One of the brightest souls out there is my friend, Melanie Dorsey. Her light shines brightly for Jesus. I’m giving away a set of her watercolor, note cards. Have you checked out her designs?  Leave a comment with this post, and your name will be entered into the drawing. The deadline to enter is next Sunday, December 6th, 6:00 PM.

December 26th

I’ve been waiting for this day for several weeks now.

December 26th – the day after Christmas.

No wrapping. No baking. No one needing me quite so much. More peace. More quiet. More time to take a walk beneath the beauty of a setting sun. This is where I found the Christ-child; this is where we talked it over, just God and me. Thoughts and words and prayers regarding the doings and outcomes of my yesterday.

We had much to discuss.

It was good to get away with Him—to take a walk around the lake and give some attention to my soul. I am grateful for the respite, for this December 26th. It’s been a day of recovery for me, of welcoming the new while cataloging the old.

Oh, I wish I could manage my December 25ths a bit better so that I didn’t need my 26ths so very much, but I’m fairly certain that a 25th of such magnitude cannot self-sustain. A 26th is the necessary requirement of a 25th—a grace of godly proportion that allows a soul to dance in close proximity to the manger without the distraction and/or judgment of a larger audience.

Sometimes the manger gets pretty crowded on December 25th.

But the 26th?

Well, today there was more elbow room. Today, it was easier to catch a glimpse of the baby Jesus.

December 26th – the day after Christmas. This is where the star has led me. This is where the Savior will keep me. What tender, sanctified peace for my journey! I pray for you a similar portion, friends.

Merry Christmas and Christmas always, this December 26th and beyond. What Christ came to do for us and in us he is doing. Ours is a forward work of grace. Keep to the road of faith, and remember … our best days are ahead of us!

Shalom,

PS: How might I pray for you as we walk together this final week of 2013?

Christmas Is

She held on tightly, arms wrapped fully around my waist and her head burrowed deeply in my coat.

“Mom, I don’t want you to go.”

Her plea was persuasive but not enough to keep me from loading up the van and making the two hour trek northward to my parents’ home.

“I know, baby, that you don’t want me to go, but it is because of this very reason that I must go. You see, I have the same kind of love in my heart for my mom as you have for me. And this is my way of wrapping my arms around her and letting her know that I, like you, don’t want her to go.”

And with that, my daughter released her grip, signaling her willingness to share me. To allow me to make the journey home so that I might spend a few hours expressing love tangibly. Not so much in words, although words always find their way into such extravagance (case in point – this post). Mostly, it’s just living love by being together.

This is why I make these frequent trips home. This is how I hug my momma’s heart and express to her from the deepest place within me …

“Mom, I don’t want you to go.”

Not that she plans on doing so anytime soon. This isn’t a good-bye post. Mom (and dad) are in good health. This is just one of those pauses in the road, a rest stop of sorts when all I have to give is the gift of a few words added as a postscript to the gift of a few moments spent together.

Isn’t this mostly it … the message of Christmas? A family’s love wrapped up in moments? A child wrapping arms around hearts and expressing that which often seems inexpressible?

Love.

Oh there’s faith and hope and all the many soulful expressions of a life lived with Jesus, but at the end of the day … at the end of our journeys, love wins the day. Love given to us on earth. Love given to us from heaven.

It’s in these pauses—these moments that we take to hug one another—where we’ll find the heartbeat of Christmas. Wherever love lives, God is.

Some 2000 years ago, a Father hugged his Son and sent him on a journey to his mother’s house. She, in turn, hugged the Gift as he arrived. I don’t know about the many conversations that must have transpired between Mary and Jesus during his earthly tenure, but I imagine there was one or two not so unlike the exchange shared between my daughter and me just a few days ago. Perhaps something along the lines of …

“Son, I don’t want you to go.”

“I know, mom, that you don’t want me to go, but it is because of this very reason that I must go. You see, I have the same kind of love in my heart for all of God’s children that you have for me. And this is my way of wrapping my arms around them and letting them know that I, like you, don’t want them to go. Instead, I want them to be with me, in the place where I am going. This is why I must make the journey home to my Father’s house. This is why you must let me go.”

And with that divine declaration, Mary released her grip, signaling her willingness to share her son with the world. Indeed, living love by being together! God with us. Immanuel. God in us. Immanuel. God through us. Immanuel. This is the message of Christmas.

Tend to your loving this week, friends. Keep it in mind, and then take the time to live it with arms and hearts wide open. Wherever love lives, God is. May it be so for each one of us in our pilgrimages to the manger this year. As always …

Peace for the journey,

 

Silent Night

Silent night.

It’s been one of those for me. I tried to fill it with a few phone calls and text messages to friends while waiting in my car for my kids to emerge from their youth group meeting. No one answered. All was silent, and the hush filled my heart until I could no longer suppress my reality. The pain inside of me was going to find its voice, and the silence offered it a stage for release.

Rather than trying to hold the silence at bay, I gave in to it and allowed it to hold me. Cradle me. Collect all the tears that had been welling up within me. In those moments of surrender, the Father allowed me to move out of my silent night so that I might enter into another one—the holy quiet belonging to Bethlehem some 2000 years ago.

Mary’s labored breathing followed by the push and pressure of Emmanuel’s eagerness to make his entrance. Joseph’s soft responses to his beloved. Stabled animals shuffling in the hay. Neighs and brays; snorts and sneezes. Whispers of the wind stirring as symphony. A baby crying. The boisterous interruption of a heavenly choir.

And therein, my momentary pain was overshadowed by lasting remembrance.

Perhaps this is the beauty of a silent night … when sorrow bumps up next to Salvation. When pain nestles closely to Promise. When that which is holding us so tightly releases its grip to the mighty Hold of heaven—tiny fingers wrapped around human hurt, reminding us that all has not been lost in the silent night. Instead, all has been gained there, in that place of sacred collision.

It doesn’t seem reasonable, this holding of peace while simultaneously holding pain. But it feels right. Even in the ache, I’m willing to take hold of it, make sense of it, because the thread that ties me to the eternal is stronger than the frayed threads that tie me to the temporal. I am made for heaven, and a silent night tethers me to home.

Maybe today you’re wrapped up in a heart-hurt. Life has surprised you with pain, an unexpected grief that threatens to steal your peace. You have nowhere to place it, no friend to shoulder the load. The silence is deafening, and your escape uncertain.

Me too. Greater yet, God too! God is with us as we make our pilgrimages to Bethlehem this year, as we wrestle with our pain and strive to make peace out of chaos.

Emmanuel is in the manger. Emmanuel is in our silent nights. Emmanuel … holding our hearts. Healing our hurts. Keeping us safe. Walking us home.

How I love the gift of Jesus; how I need this blessed grace! On this silent night, I bend the knee and bow the heart to honor the King’s advent in my life. ‘Tis a sweet mercy and a blessed trust to have my silence interrupted by the great and glad declarations of heaven. As always …

Peace for the journey,

My Silent Night

Oh holy, quiet Bethlehem;

Tonight I linger here.

Beneath your stars, within your walls,

Your truth resounding clear.

 

The Baby cries his advent;

The momma cries relief.

The daddy cries his tears of joy;

The heavens cry belief.

 

How lovely is this moment;

That lingers then and now.

Both quiet and both willing,

For peace to take a bow.

 

To enter in and change me;

To soften pain with praise.

To dry my tears with silence,

To cause my hope to raise.

 

Oh silent night! Oh holy night!

You’ve never sung so strong.

So clear, so true, so tenderly,

Relieving all that’s wrong.

 

You are where I’ll linger;

You are where I’ll sing.

For unto to me a child is born,

Onto him I’ll cling.

(written by F. Elaine Olsen.12-01-13.allrightsreserved)

 

 

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