Friday, December 9, 2016

Nature's Sacred Voice

My backyard and beyond. Who knew what the ground looked like?
  As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.
Genesis 18:22
It was You who set all the boundaries of the earth; You made both summer and winter.
Psalm 74:17

I love the greens and blues in nature, especially the perfect color sky and the rich, bright yellow-green in spring eaves. The fall palette of colors is my favorite set. I’d use them for clothes, d├ęcor, transportation,... That confines my appreciation of nature to a limited few months of the year. But I deeply experience God in nature and I need as many sources of His voice as possible! So I decided to be a grown-up and to go outside, even though the leaves were no longer on the trees. It was an almost freezing, winter day, and I was surprised by the beauty that I saw.

Winter Beauty

A dead tree giving life, circa yesterday in my backyard.
There’s something about seeing the land that struck me as incredibly delicious. The trees and the sky have distracted me from the land. Now that the leaves are gone, I can’t help but see it. The color of the crushed, drying leaves on the ground, the shape of the tree trunks and limbs, the massive army in the woods standing serenely, holding rank, guarding, securing... everything. They created a sanctuary I wanted to be in. I felt pulled (though I didn’t yield) into the woods to see what I would not have seen in the summer or early fall. The whole woodland was laid bare for me to enjoy. I could imagine the massive network of roots interlocking and buzzing with life, mineral, energy, feeding this entire army. It’s as if they said, you let my pretty looks fool you. We trees are more than our colors. We are structure, support, food, home, anchor. 

They anchored the ground, which was no longer hidden. It was just there, all the holes that hinted at the network of passages below for chipmunks and voles and other rodents. But no matter how it changes, what it was covered with, the ground just continued. Moving uphill a bit then down, spreading in every direction. I was hit with the massiveness of the underneath. 

Lessons and Applications

  1. Losing leaves and flowers isn’t a bad thing. It helps us see what else is really there, underneath. The expanse of it, the structure of it, the support it provides, for good or ill. The damage to it, the erosion of it, the success or failure of the things we planted in it, put on it or used it to make. Maybe seeing the ground is a gift. Everything goes back to the ground anyway. Seeing the space that had once been covered with shrubs and leaves and shade... that also gave me ideas. I know what’s growing in the spring, and maybe I don't want that shut growing just there... Maybe I want to reclaim some to the ground. Repurpose it. Re-decorate it. Some of the ground needs to be left bare, to remind me of the massive underneath that supports and nourishes and protects me and all of us that live on it. 
  2. Sometimes, the stripping away that happens in winter is for good. God's message to Jeremiah was that he was called to overthrow, and to uproot and to destroy, AND to build and plant (Jer. 1:10). Jesus said that wheat and weeds grow together for a time until the wheat can manage the removal of the weeds without being destroyed (Matt. 13:29-30). Jesus also talked about the pruning that is part of healthy growing (John 15: 2). I pray for the heart to co-operate with God during these times while seeing the incredible gifts underneath the finery that once was.
I've found that my parenting journey often takes me through winter seasons when things are stripped away and the good, bad, and ugly stare me in the face. For today, I agree with God and embrace His guidance towards faith and trust and I remain open to the gifts in the winter season.

Dear Lord, Thank you for your love, that shows itself to me in the abundant, more than enough life, as well as in the winter seasons, when scarce resources seem missing. Please help me to hear you, to see you, to relax into your beautiful hands as I look with curiosity around me at the winter terrain, available for exploration and learning.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

If You Don't Hate Christmas Yet...

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If anyone comes to me and does not hate their father and mother, 
wife and children, brothers and sisters
--yes, even their own life--
such a person cannot be my disciple. 
Luke 14:26, NIV

I know, I know...this doesn't SOUND like the start to a post about Christmas-but it's a message that God has been giving me repeatedly in the past week.

It READS as though it's a message of hate...
It READS as though it's contradictory to a commandment about honoring your father and mother...

What it really IS, however, is a statement about how much we have to GIVE UP in order to BE a Christ-follower.  

However much we love our family- We need to love God more.
However much we love our pets-  We need to love God more.
However much we love our job-  We need to love God more.

We need to love God MORE.
We need to love God MORE.
We need to love God MORE.

This is the repeated message that God is delivering to me this holiday season.  Whatever I love in my life, I must love God more.

It takes me back to our decision to move from Wisconsin to Nevada.  The opportunity had arisen, and yet there was much fear and sadness at the thought of moving 1800 miles away from our friends and family, not to mention the doctors and therapists we had learned with and grown with in our journey of our daughter's rare disease.  We were going to have to teach all new doctors about WAGR syndrome!

And what about the friends our daughter had?  It was scary to think about moving to a new place where she would be stared at and possibly made fun of for her differences.  The friends she had in Wisconsin, she had since she was 3 years old.  We couldn't help but wonder, would we find new friends in Nevada?

Ultimately, we decided that this was God's move.  If we held back because of friends, family, doctors, teachers, therapists, or anyone or anything else which was tied to the "fear" of moving...then we were saying that THEY were bigger than God.   But, we needed to "take up our cross and follow Him."  When you step out in faith like that, the journey might be difficult, but it is always blessed.
What does this mean for Christmas?
This means doing whatever we need to in order to keep God at the center of Christmas.

During this time of Advent, what are your biggest distractions? Christmas cards? TV? Parties? Shopping?
Whatever might distract you from the reason that we actually CELEBRATE Christmas...give it to God.
If it's Facebook, take it off your phone or suspend your account, then carry a pocket devotional with you or use a devotional app that can be opened up anytime you would NORMALLY be on Facebook. (Don't tell me you GET your devotionals on Facebook...I've used that excuse too...but that doesn't stop you from getting sucked into the newsfeed for another 30 minutes...find a NEW devotional).

Instead of decorating an ENORMOUS tree, decorate a smaller tree and use the left over time to enjoy some Christmas Carols on the radio and hot chocolate with family or friends.

Instead of putting up outdoor lights, just enjoy the lights that others put up...then you can dedicate that afternoon or evening you would have spent putting up your lights helping to serve food at a homeless shelter, or taking your kids sledding.

The fact of the matter is, WE ARE TO LOVE GOD MORE than CHRISTMAS. That's why God still allows terrible things to happen on and around Christmas.
Deaths, accidents, cancer, fires, shootings...
Christmas is not immune from its pain and from its trials and that's because God wants us to HATE Christmas and LOVE Him.

So, if you find yourself feeling conflicted this holiday season, that's okay! God would like all of us to go through a Christmas or two where we find ourselves relying on nothing more than HIM to bring us joy...because that's what He gave us as the number one commandment:
You shall have no other gods before me. 
Exodus 20:3 NIV 
No Christmas pageant, present, cookie or carol should be more important to us than God himself. No family gathering, no family tradition, and no family photo should be the purpose of our plans.

I guess you could look at the words Jesus spoke in Luke and imagine him saying, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate Christmas, such a person cannot be my disciple."

Pray:  Heavenly Father, Christmas is a sacred time, yet you have shown us year after year that even you won't set it aside as a time that is completely free from heartache. That is your way of reminding us that our world is lost without you and that our joy can only be complete in you. God, as I try to control my stress in this season, help me to remember that I'm to love you MORE than anything else in my life and that fact alone can help ease the anxiety that rises up in me. Bless us all as we try to LOVE YOU MORE. Amen.

~Tammie Hefty

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When You Want Your Child to Understand Christmas

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
Luke 2:4-7 NIV

I love this time of the year and sharing the message of Christ to my children.

There were times in the past when teaching this to two small children was hard. My daughter has Down Syndrome and is minimally verbal. My son is three years younger than her. Being able to find a way to tell both of them about Jesus and the story of his birth has taken some thought and practice.

Over the years, I have collected books, nativity scenes, and other items to use as "teaching" materials. I've tried to talk to the kids about who the people in the nativity scenes are. We've read stories. We have drawn pictures of the nativity scene as we talked about who was there when Jesus was born.

Sometimes it's hard for me to teach these religious beliefs to my daughter with special needs. How do you talk about God with someone when there's no visual representation or thing to show them? There are some contrived pictures of Jesus but there isn't a Polaroid of him or some way to concretely describe that Jesus is God's son. I struggle with teaching my faith to her at times, especially because there isn't a good way to check her understanding of it.

One Christmas, Jaycee started to point to nativity scenes and signing mom, dad, and baby. It was the feedback I was hoping to get that showed me she understood some part of the story. Now, she knows even more. She understands that nativity scenes are church related and has some concept of Jesus. For that, I'm grateful.

My son has grown in his understanding too. When he was in pre-school, he told me that we needed a "nest" for baby Jesus at our house. Managers do look a bit like nests to a small child. He frequently added himself in nativity scene pictures he drew when he was that age too. Now, he knows that Jesus is asleep in a manger. He also knows there are several people in a nativity scene, and he is not one of them.

That is the reward of parenting we all want to see! When we instruct our children, we eventually see the pay-off. The teaching time is sometimes difficult, especially when we aren't sure we are getting through to our children. There is absolute joy though when we see our children understand something about our faith.

So moms and dads out there, keep talking, keep sharing, keep instructing, and keep hoping. Don't let this opportunity to share your faith with all of your children pass you by!

PRAY: God, thank you for this time of reflection we have at Christmas. Help us Lord to teach our children about the real meaning of Christmas. Help us to have words to express your heart. Give us fresh ideas to help all of our children- especially those with special needs- understand the birth of Christ. Allow our children to have a greater understanding of who Jesus is as we share the message to them. Amen!


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Strongest Lesson Learned From Jack So Far

Those who go to God Most High for safety will be protected by the AlmightyI will say to the Lord, “You are my place of safety and protection. You are my God and I trust you.” God will save you from hidden traps and from deadly diseases. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you can hide. His truth will be your shield and protection.
Psalm 91:1-4, NCV

As a parent who has a child with Down syndrome, my stories of life usually include crazy elements such as climbing out the window, or running out the door or even taking the car keys and sneaking into the garage to start the car, pretending to drive. The stories of our life usually highlight the craziness and busy-ness to which we have become custom. 

However, this story is quite the opposite. It was one of those rare moments of gentleness and love. In fact, it was so atypical that the lesson that I saw in it was louder than a steam locomotive's whistle. 

It was Sunday evening and once again I had contorted my body to lay on Jack's bed in the very little open space between Jack and his 90-pound Chocolate Labrador, Jonah. 

Jack usually has difficulty calming at night and so it is helpful for us to lay with him. So there I was. Laying. Quietly. Wishing I could go and get my chores done. Wanting to be anywhere else. And then in happened. Jack hit his head on the headboard. Tears ensued and it was loud again. 

After the usual consoling and encouraging to lay down and go to sleep it happened. 

Jack rolled over to me and snuggled his way into my arms like a chick into its mother's wing. The event burned into my memory. 

Is this what David meant in Psalm 91 when he said that he would hide under God's wing for protection?

I noticed immediately that the reason Jack snuggled into me for relief from his bumped head was because he was hurt... and didn't want it to hurt anymore. 

Tears followed, but this time they were mine. God, have I been so proud to not want your protection? Has cynicism had this much effect in my mind to think that the hurt won't damage me?

Here's the encouragement that we, as parents of kids with special needs, really need to come to grips with on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. 

Are we going to keep out pride and fight, tooth and nail, through this world of disability, school, medical and emotional snares? 

Or, can we just take a moment to allow the truth that we have suppressed deep down inside to come to the surface? The truth that quietly says, "I need help". 

Psalm 91 is an encouragement. God clearly invites us to hide under His wing for protection which takes away fear. 

PRAY: Lord, remind me that I can take shelter in You and receive help. I don't have to try to do it all on my own.

Be encouraged, 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Stepping Into My Reality

Copyright: dotshock / 123RF Stock Photo
You ·protect me with your saving shield [L have given me the shield of your salvation/victory].
    You support me with your right hand.
    ·You have stooped to make [Your help makes] me great.
Psalm 18:35, EXB

The Christmas season has a way of assaulting us parents. Even though we can clearly and predictably see it coming each year, it seems to suddenly pounce with relentless demands, barely letting us come up for air. Perhaps that is why a seasoned parent like myself finds the heart calloused, numb, and even disengaged at the imperative of Advent. The emotional shut-down protects me from all the ways I will fail to meet the requirements confronting me in December.

Thankfully, the "Hound of Heaven," as named by English poet Francis Thompson, doesn't allow a mother like me to stay in her November deadness for very long. In pursuing my duties as a parent to acquaint my children with a very personal Christ, I am forced to carve out time to sit silently and once again page through Ann Voskamp's The Greatest Gift. Her artful words, cited Scripture, and a modern day Jesse Tree quickly usher me into the awe of which this season is worthy.

Beginning at God's creation -- the stunning fact that I was made by Him, for Him, as the object of His affection turns me away from all of the temporal that drowned and numbed me only days ago. I see the profound significance of the nativity to a worn, financially struggling, nearly constantly stressed, and often discouraged mother like me. 

You see, rather than viewing the biblical Christmas story as mere tradition or fantastic fairy tale, I know it is a reality that sets my faith apart from any other world religion. Other figures or creeds extol constant efforts to ascend to better behavior, earn some prize, or a greater level of consciousness. Only in Christianity does God step down into our reality to pull us heavenward.

Considering what a complete mess my life is by the world's standards, that's quite a hopeful thing! He steps down into my chaotic reality to transform my mess into His message. My suffering, my family's suffering has infinite value because He was willing to descend out of the glory of Heaven to suffer alongside us. Since it's clear that no human could ever endure by their own ability all of the loss, heartache, and ruin our family has, our whacky little lives can't help but glorify God and His goodness. He is our hope. Jesus not only took on our flesh, he took on our anguish as well as punishment to guarantee our permanent home in Paradise. There is nothing that we could endure in this life that can take that away.

Advent is a time to marinate on the magnificence of the God who stoops low to make each human person great. Will we allow His innocent fingers to grasp ours and usher is into a greatness that we could never know on our own?

PRAY: Gracious God, thank You for coming to get us by sending Your only Son. We would have no hope without You. Thank You for reminding us that we have the great glory of Heaven to look forward to simply because You stooped low in Your loving mercy.