It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“With kids jingle belling and everyone telling you, ‘be of good cheer.'”  Can you hear the music?  The ringing of the bells and the caroling?  The tree lighting ceremonies have passed and the sleigh has arrived.  The season is in full swing.

I return from a beautiful visit from a canyon right outside the big city, San Diego, where the palms don ornaments and lights. And, the music comes to a scratching halt for some, for me. Like the sound from an old record player when the needle jumps across an album as the room shakes. My world is shaken and the music stops.

I step off the plane and exit reticently into the polar vortex that is Michigan and I whine and I groan. Tears, real tears fill my dry eyes, not from the cold, but I am overcome with sorrow and sadness. It almost takes me by surprise. I am sad to leave my kids in San Diego, especially following such a lovely visit. I missed them terribly even before leaving the house. Surely I’m sorrowful that I’m so torn between my home state where several of my family members still reside and the warm, sunny, mountainous place I just left.  Then there’s Florida, a short, inexpensive plane ride into the warm sun, not nearly so far and not nearly as bitter as Michigan. Clearly, I do not handle the cold well at all. It is, after all, cold. But no, that can’t be it. Is this enough to make me cry real tears?

On December 29, 2013, at the early age of 58 years old, my brother-in-law made an unexpected exit from this earth, leaving a wife, three daughters, three grandchildren, and many other family members stunned and shaken. Four days after Christmas! Two days after his and my sister’s twenty-fourth wedding anniversary!

August 30, 2016, my mother-in-law of nearly thirty-one years, went to be our Lord after several years of illness.

On January 5, 2016, the gavel came down, granting the final decree and the judge dismissed us. A few weeks later the paperwork came. We are divorced. I am divorced. After nearly 31 years, married to the same man, I’m divorced. Yes, I filed. Yes, it was my choice to dissolve it. To put an end to years, decades of something that just never worked. I made a decision to leave, but I didn’t choose to end my dream, my hope, my vision of what I thought my life would be like as I grew older.

All I ever wanted in life was to have a family, a husband, children. Then as they grew and married, grandchildren. A legacy. To be surrounded by those I bore, those that I love and those they love, that I gave my life for. That has not been dissolved, but it has changed. There is a certain shifting of my world. It is shaken. I wanted to have the home they would run to when they didn’t know where to run. The soft place to land when things were hard. Sunday dinner. Morning coffee. Afternoon or evening stroll.  Perhaps a trip to the movie theater every once in a while.

“It’s the hap-happiest season of all…..There’ll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near.”

Darling, I know you are also still riveting from your loss.  That devastation that would change even the way you walk, the way you breathe, the way you don’t breathe.  From that moment and forever, there is a shift.  No matter how recent or how long ago they left, you’re still standing, gasping, holding onto that last breath you took the moment you learned of their passing.  Some days you catch yourself breathing normal, laughing normal, but most days are not that way.

You know they wouldn’t want it this way.  You know they wouldn’t want you to grieve so hard, for so long.  But grief, this kind of grief just cannot be told how to behave.  No more than breath can be told how to breathe.  So we breathe, so we grieve.

As I return to my cozy apartment, to my little dog I haven’t seen in a week, it’s a stark reminder of my loneliness.  My alone-ness.  There’s a wreath on the door, a snowman soap dispenser, and a snowman candle holder.  That’s it.  That’s all the Christmas you’ll find in my apartment.  I just haven’t had the heart to decorate.  Why bother?  Nobody is going to see it anyway.  It is at this point I realize, it hits me, hard.  I’m going to be alone on Christmas.  My heart thumps, then skips a beat, thumps hard inside of me, and my throat begins to close.   For the next day-and-a-half, my throat feels like it is closing.  I can’t stop it.  I can’t tell it to go away, no more than I can tell grief not to grieve, or tell breath how to breathe.

It takes another day or so, but I begin to get my heart around the idea.  I receive an invitation from a friend, and then another.  I extend an invitation and I realize I’m not alone.  Things are not as I planned, as I dreamed they would be, and yes, I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t hurt.  But isn’t this what Christmas is really about?  Isn’t it just this reason that God sent a Savior?  He came to heal this hurt, your hurt.  He came to mend this brokenness, your brokenness.  He came to comfort our mourning and to teach us to love and serve one another.

We know it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year.  Really, the child inside, the Jesus-loving child inside that is still alive with wonder wants it to be.  So, we move.  Slow.  Measured.  Movement.  Forward.  We put on our ugly sweaters and paint on a smile.  Maybe put a wreath on the door, a string of lights around a window, and go in search of the perfectly, imperfect spruce, donning it now with 30 years of homemade ornaments you couldn’t fathom leaving packed away.

We adjust the needle on the old phonograph and thoughts of the babe in the manger flood our minds.  The One adored on bended knee fills our every thought, while Andy Williams belts out the best rendition.

It is, after all, “the most wonderful time of the year……”

This is not the life we anticipated, the life we planned or hoped for ourselves, but it is a God-given life and we must live it, well.  We will never be the same again and that has to be okay.  So we devote ourselves to God, to the discovery of the plan He has for us, and we learn to accept it.  Not without grief or sorrow, but with grace.  His grace.  His Savior-giving, ever-loving, never-ending grace that came as a gift on a silent, starry night over two-thousand years ago.

My 2 Minute Jesus Story

My name is Mary Williams and this is my 2-Minute Jesus Story

When I was a little girl, I attended a local Catholic church with my family. I went to catechism and made my first communion.  Surely I believed in Jesus.  I mean, He was Jesus.  You know, virgin birth, new-born babe in the manger, glory to God in the highest, Son of God, son of man.  Jesus.  At that time in my life, I didn’t know anyone that didn’t know Jesus.  As time went on, my faith waned into doubt and I turned to drugs and alcohol and a very destructive lifestyle that went along with it, I turned farther away from my faith in Jesus.  Eventually, I decided that I was too bad for Jesus to love me and besides, I was feeling a bit abandoned by Him as well.

So my destructive lifestyle continued on for many years until I was about to lose everything I cared about.  Inevitably I hit bottom and could no longer control my own behavior and landed myself in a 12 step recovery program.  At first, when I heard the group members discuss the need to return to faith in a “power greater than myself,” I sort of cringed.  After a while, I began to remember my reverent faith in that infant child I learned about in catechism, about the Jesus I heard about as a teenager.  The Jesus I had heard would love me no matter what.  No matter what?

I began to study scripture, looking for that one phrase or clause that singled me out.  The phrase that says that Jesus was Savior to everyone else but me.  Needless to say, it didn’t exist.  It just was not there.  But instead, I read that He was exactly what a messed up life like mine needed.  After nearly 5 years of sobriety, I finally made a decision to give my life and all that it was to Jesus.

For me, that moment was life changing.  It was as if everything I had been studying suddenly made sense.  I knew that what I had been reading about was indeed meant for me, as well as you.  I came to believe that Jesus was not only real but that He could change me and help me to be a better person, the person He wanted me to be.

My life since that day in 1993 has not been perfect, but it is surely better because of that decision I made.  Rather than trying to figure everything out for myself and trying to process everything that happens in life by myself, I can depend on Jesus to give me wisdom and guidance for everything.  I can have peace knowing He is in control and that He cares about every detail of my life.

The Promises of God

As I opened my Bible in the early morning hours, I was compelled to return to some of the passages we covered in our ladies study group.  In 1 Samuel chapter 1, we read about Hannah’s devotion to God and her prayer to conceive a son.  As Hannah pleaded, the passage says she “wept bitterly” as she vowed to dedicate the child to the Lord’s service all his days.  Eli the priest was near and heard her praying under her breath.  After sorting out whether she had been drinking, he gave her his blessing, declaring her prayer would be answered.  The scripture says that Hannah left and “her face was no longer sad.”  She later conceived, gave birth to Samuel, and made good on her promise to God.

My goal for my reading that morning was to read Hannah’s prayer of the dedication of Samuel in chapter 2.  But I could just not get there.  I could only think about God’s promises.  I could only think about God’s promises to me.

What promise of God are you waiting for to be fulfilled?  Have you heard from God Himself regarding a situation in your life, where He said your petition would be granted?   Are you still waiting and wondering if you heard him right or if He changed His mind?

So I began to search my mind and heart to recall that one big promise I had waited for, that I still wait for.  The one seemingly unfulfilled promise that makes my heart sad, that makes my face sad, distressed, to the point of bitter weeping.  Have you ever wept bitterly?  As I reflected and searched my memory, I could not think of even one.

I remembered times when I begged for the Lord’s intervention.  I remembered the sheer terror I felt when I knew I would have to face life without the use of alcohol and drugs. As I struggled through the beginning stages of withdrawal, detoxifying at home, I begged a God I had not yet known to just let me sleep for an hour.  The next thing I knew, I was waking up in a chair, somewhat rested, peaceful.

I remembered a time some years later, weeping bitterly before the Lord, begging Him to prove His love by giving me a child after months and even years of no success.  Though I surely heard from Him, it wasn’t a promise, but a conviction.  At the time, I had already been blessed with a beautiful son, who by this time was a thriving, lively, healthy 4-year-old.  The soft voice of God rung loudly through my bitterness,  “If you would only put all that love and energy into the child I already gave you, instead of the one you do not have, maybe you will know my love.”  A month later I had conceived.

I remembered His presence as I stood frozen in fear, in the corner of my stick framed house, knowing I would have to come face to face with the horror of my broken past.  Unable to move I once again, wept bitterly, crying out, “No.  I would rather die right here, than to face that!”  I heard His audible voice, “Wait”  With a long pause.”Wait upon Me.”  I knew the reference, but that day, I began to live it.

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31 (KJV).

Sobbing uncontrollably, I prayed, “Why now Lord?”  Again I heard His tender whisper, “Then when?” It was the only time I can recall asking, “Why me?”  Again He answered, “Then who,”?  A peace came over me like I had never known before, crying out in agreement, “Okay Lord….okay.”
I remembered many years later, upon a diagnosis and years of destruction caused by  Rheumatoid Arthritis, Degenerative Disk Disease, and Scoliosis which was directly caused by disease, once again calling to Him, “Please remove this from me.”  His answer was clear.

7 …because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Cor. 12:7-10 (NIV)

As I contemplated the many promises in the scriptures, I couldn’t remember a single time that He had promised to grant me a favor and give me whatever I asked; a child, a nation, the possession of a vast land, or even a corner lot in a tiny little town.  But rather, the old Lynn Anderson song, ‘Rose Garden’ comes to mind.  “I Beg Your Pardon (I never promised you a rose garden)” now rings gently through my mind.

The fact is, in my life, there is not one unmet promise of God.  In Job 42:2, my promise was that “no plan of [God’s] would be thwarted, but rather as in Joel 2:25, “[He] will restore to [me] the years the locust have eaten.”  In Isaiah 40:31, He promised that I would be given renewed strength.  He has promised to be with me in times of calamity, to comfort me in times of grief, to give me His strength when I am weak.   I memorized John 3:16 while attending a girls youth club I had been invited to as a teenager.  There, I am given the only promise that I am waiting for to be fulfilled, eternal life with Him.  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Though it is already mine, I’m told in John 19:30 “When Jesus had tasted it, he said, ‘It is finished!’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”  The timing of its fulfillment for me is only known to God.  So I wait, in faith, in hope, in peace.

It’s Okay: Peace Be Still

20191208_073341When you live under God’s covering, it may be storming, but you’ll be dry. Tony Evans

As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”
Mark 4:35‭-‬41 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/mrk.4.35-41.NLT

It’s okay to be okay.

This is a bit of a contrast to the current response to the mental health crisis that we are certainly facing. Anxiety, depression, fears abound. Can we really find peace in the middle of it all?

In fact it is a contrast to my own blog entry Joshua 1:9 and Faking Fine. In this entry, I preface it by stating, “It’s okay to not be okay.”  Throughout that piece, I reiterate that we need not walk through the hard things in life, with a painted on smile, trying to hold everything together, while lifting our wounded selves by our proverbial bootstraps. I call this “bootstrap faith” which really is not faith at all.

In Joshua 1:9 and Faking Fine, I remind the reader that though Joshua, our example, was commanded by God, to be strong and courageous, there is a second part. After the command, it is revealed just how we, and Joshua and his army were going to be able to accomplish such a fearless task. Do you remember?

This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 NLT
https://bible.com/bible/116/jos.1.9.NLT

“For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9b

It’s okay to be okay.

Even Jesus’ disciples were shaken by His calmness. Imagine the scene. These guys had been hanging with Jesus for how long at this point? They’ve seen Him pull off some pretty big stuff. They’ve seen Him calmly, coolly, and collectively heal the sick and the leper, drive out demons, rebuke religious leaders.

They had seen Him draw away to a solitary place to speak with His Father. But still, in the middle of a raging storm, Jesus takes a nap. The disciples are freaked out and straight up ask, “don’t you care if we drown?” I’m sorry, but I’m kind of laughing as I type this.

We are so much like these men who walked the earth with Jesus.  “Oh ye of little faith.” They were with Him and were shaken. How much more faith does it take for us to trust? How much more faith does it take for us to believe, to be strong and very courageous, to trust Him in the middle of the storms of life?

How many times has He proven Himself over and over that He is faithful? That He is with you? That He will not leave or forsake you?

How many times has He kept you safe? Covered you? Rescued you from certain demise? How many times has he shown you that He can be trusted?

When the shattered world around you looks on; fragmented, fractured, tossed about by the waves of despair, anchor yourself to the One Who calms the raging seas.

Remember Jesus in the middle of the storm. He is the storm.  He is the calm in the storm.  In the midst of raging seas, thunderous circumstances, the downpour that sweeps your feet out from under you, He is peace. At the loss of your loved one.  When family is unstable,  coming unglued on you for not behaving the way they would have you behave. When life is topsy turvy and right is wrong and wrong is right.

It’s okay to be okay.

It doesn’t make sense to those watching.  “It must be nice,” they sneer. They don’t really mean it, and they are not really pleased about it. But it is nice, isn’t it? It is nice to have peace and contentment in the middle of uncertainty, in the midst of broken humanity.

The disciples even accused Jesus of not being concerned, of not caring. Don’t be surprised when others accuse you.  Don’t let it sway you, rock you, don’t question yourself, your own motives, your own heart.

Don’t do it, darlings. Stand firm. Cast doubt aside and adhere to the example laid out by the Messiah Himself.  Draw away to speak with your Father in Heaven. Maybe even take a little nap. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Peace, be still.

My Battles

This is how I fight my battles

The pain in my frame
Drawin’ away
From the One
To whom I pray

This is how I fight

As I gaze
On Humanity’s
Darkest days

Spirit grieves
Inside O me
Flesh and soul
My mind
Cannot control

This is how I fight

Babies dyin’
Neighbors cryin’
Out
With a shout
The rage
It must engage

All locked up
Inside
They cannot hide

Bottom o glass
Bottom o bottle

Ain’t no way to model

Grown men ragin’
Wagin’
War

At the sound of a door
Babies laughin’
Cryin’

This is how I fight

Dyin’
Inside
They blow
Explode

Inside
It must come out

All over
Anyone
Within a shout

A yawn
The final straw
Line’s drawn

It’s that plank
Give it a yank

You’re a wreck
But you’re stuck
Gazin’ on my speck

Just cuz you’re sayin’ it
don’t make it so

This is how I fight

This is how

Turn it around
Down I bow

Knee to the ground
Battle’s lost
Change me now
In you I’m found

Cleanse me
Cover me

Spirit o God
Control

My thoughts
My tongue
Battle’s won

My grief
My belief

In you I pray
Be my stay

This is how I fight

New Life

20190814_144852-1New Life

2 Corinthians 5:17 says,

Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person. The old is gone; the new life has begun.

Galatians 2:20 says,

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loves me and gave himself for me.

My inquiry to ponder:

Since you are new and Christ Himself is now living in you.

Since your old self has been crucified.

What old ways, habits, hurts, or hangups do you need to leave on the alter of surrender?

See, when we rise up from the alter of repentance and we commit our lives to Jesus, we are changed, transformed, renewed. New.

But Jesus doesn’t wipe out our memories or experiences. Sometimes I wish He did.

We sure do feel different at first. Because we are. Some things are changed forever in that moment. But others require surrender, practice, resistance. It is a process of transformation.

As you navigate your way on this journey, and find yourself caught up in old ideas, perhaps destructive thinking, I leave you a passage that has been very powerful in helping me build resistance to lies, negative thoughts, and acting on those.

Look up Philippians 4:4-9

The verse I especially want you to remember, tattoo it to the palms of your hands (no don’t).

Verse 4:8

“and now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

When anything else comes into your mind fill it with these things. Then verse 9,

“keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of Peace will be with you.” MW

Have a blessed day dear, beautiful friends.
💗