Overflow

It was one if those scenes that makes you do a double take. I was dropping Anna off at preschool a few weeks ago and we saw this:

image

The roads in the area had been under construction for many days because of water company work, and you never knew which sections of road would be blocked off on any given day – filling me and my fellow preschool parents with a load of frustration.

But in the midst of the frustration, came a very welcome humor-break. There was so much water gushing out of that spout it would have filled and overflowed the bucket underneath it in less than two seconds! I’m sure there was a scientific purpose behind it all, but Anna and I sure had a good laugh.

The holiday season is coming to a close. The lights, carols, gifts, and gatherings have stirred up many warm feelings of gladness. But very soon we’ll pack away the festive decorations, say goodbye to 24-7 Christmas music, and pick through those last few leftover cookies and treats. The parties and events we’ve put so much energy and time into preparing for have come and gone and we’ll settle back into the routines of ‘normal’ life.

For many of us, this time of year brings with it some serious letdown. The joy we were so recently brimming with now seems to be in short supply. Even those of us who focus the majority of our Christmas energy on the real “reason” for the season experience a sense of emptiness after the intensity of the advent season fades.

But for God, joy is never in short supply. As the very creator of joy, He is so filled with it that He never experiences a letdown. He rejoices in His creation, delights in His children and finds “infinite zeal and joy and pleasure…in his own worth and glory.” (John Piper) The joy of the Lord is a fixed, permanent, never-changing, never-emptying stream that He is gushing into our buckets.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, instead of just setting my bucket underneath that stream, I waste a whole lot of time looking for trickles from other faucets. The promises of seasonal gladness and temporary warm feelings sell themselves as “joy”, but the few drops of happiness they release just end up leaking out somehow.

Psalm 4:7 says, “You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Jesus didn’t come so that we could remember Him by throwing a great party once a year – He came to pour out on us a joy beyond all joys. He came to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) so that we could experience the every day, every moment, eternal kind of joy a relationship with God brings. Because it’s only in His presence that “there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).

When we sang this chorus in church on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the construction scene I saw a few weeks ago:

“Joy, unspeakable joy,
An overflowing well,
No tongue can tell.
Joy, unspeakable joy,
Rises in my soul,
Never lets me go.”
*

Although the Christmas season is a great reminder of the joy of our salvation, that same joy is meant to be ours all year long. Every day can become a celebration of the gift God gave us in Jesus and a victory party for the way He has rescued and restored us to Himself. “The contemplation of God to one who knows that this God is his God for ever and ever, is enough to make the eyes overflow with tears, because of the deep, mysterious, unutterable bliss which fills the heart.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Regardless of the season, through the constant changes in circumstance, and in the rolling waves of emotion – “unutterable bliss” is mine for the taking. And the crazy thing is that if I’m positioned to simply receive the outpouring of this joy, my bucket will not only be continuously full, but it will also be continuously overflowing to the world around me – so that others might also become receivers of the gushing waters of unspeakable joy.

*Chris Tomlin, “Joy to the World (Unspeakable Joy)

Surprise!

The coast was clear – mom was distracted and it was time for “Operation: Find the Presents”. We knew where she hid them and knew we had a few minutes to sneak a quick peek.

But as soon as I saw those beautiful little dolls with hand-crocheted Strawberry Shortcake outfits, I was instantly filled with regret. I had just ruined my own Christmas! There would be no anticipation and no surprise this year – at least in what I was getting from my parents. Thankfully, though, I still had no idea what Santa was bringing 😉

image

It’s every little kid’s dream – waking up on Christmas morning to an array of gifts, spilling out from beneath the Christmas tree. Sitting there, for what seems like an eternity, staring and wondering, “Which ones are for me?” and “Did I get the things on my list?” Okay, maybe it’s not just the kids.

As parents we know that, even though it would save us hours of blood, sweat, and tears to just set the presents out, unwrapped for all to see, the joy of Christmas is found in the surprise. We wrap the gifts because it’s way more fun to watch the eager anticipation on our children’s faces, and the all-out excitement as they tear into the package, having no idea what it contains.

image

As the givers of those gifts we have almost as much anticipation as the receivers do. We know our kids well and have (or at least we hope we have) picked out what they will certainly think is the BEST.GIFT.EVER! And even if they don’t really understand it at first, we trust each gift will at least be something they appreciate in the future.

In Psalm 40:5, David writes:
“You have multiplied, O LORD, my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.”

Throughout the span of my almost thirty-eight years (yikes!), my Heavenly Father has given me millions and millions of gifts. I could never even come close to numbering His every thought toward me and His hand at work in every circumstance of my life up to this point.

And I’m so thankful that every single one of them has been a surprise. I’m so glad that my Father hasn’t felt the need to ask me what I want before making His decisions. He knows me better than I know myself and He “knows what [I] need before [I] ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8) Some of these surprises may have confused me in the moment, but in the end they have been exactly what I needed.

The amazing thing is that, for a child of God, every morning can be Christmas morning! Every day, our good, good Father, who delights in giving His children good, good gifts, is lining our trees with packages of His “wondrous deeds” and “thoughts toward us”.

And like Christmas morning, the secret is in the surprise. Even though it sounds at first like it would be better to just take a peek and know God’s plans ahead of time – that would only cause the anticipation and wonder to sneak right out of our lives.

I’m not a morning person (I will certainly not be jumping for joy with my kids when they wake me up early on Friday!), but I have learned that getting out of bed every day is much easier when I’m looking ahead and wondering, “What’s God gonna do today?” The more I anticipate His hand at work in my life, the more I’ll see His hand at work – and the more I’ll be left in awe of His goodness toward me.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 263 other followers

Deflate

A little over ten years ago, the world of Christmas decorations was forever changed. I remember Tim coming home one day, right around this time of year, asking me if I saw the snowman.

“What snowman?” I replied. “There isn’t even any snow!”

“No!” he said. “The people up the street have a giant blow-up snowman in their front yard!”

I didn’t believe him until I saw it for myself.

Having both spent our childhoods in Vermont where there is always snow covering the ground in the winter and almost always a “white” Christmas, we decided this was the most obnoxious thing ever and we were so embarrassed that it was in our neighborhood!

Little did we know that this was only the beginning. Now not only do we have snowmen, but every other character imaginable – sometimes all on the same yard! In some places it’s even become a competition to see who can put the most blow-ups in one small space. No offense to the inflatables or their owners (my kids love them!) but it really cracks me up!

image

Buried under all the lights and decorations and holiday hoopla is a quiet remembrance, at this time of year, that God humbled Himself and became a man. And though, as the rightful King of the universe, He could have paraded in – in all of His glory and might and taken His throne – He did just the opposite. He came as a vulnerable, helpless baby and, as He walked this earth, He personified humility. Philippians 2:7-8 says, “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

One of the things I just can’t get over about Jesus is his response to the criticism, questioning, disagreement, and even insults that were hurled at Him. Even in the face of flat-out mocking and physical torture, He never argued or complained, lashed out or fought back, ran away or gave up. He remained completely at peace – because, as John 13:3 states, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”

Jesus pointed out to His disciples time after time that they should follow His example. He knew that as they carried His Name and the good news of grace, they would face the same criticisms, disagreements, and insults He faced. He also knew that, unlike Him, they would make mistakes, have weaknesses, and have to respond to the shots and attacks of others who would try to declare them unworthy. And He wanted them to follow His example of humility in the face of those things.

The problem with being a human being with a human nature, though, is that our reaction to criticism, disagreement, or insult is usually the opposite of humble.

A few weeks ago, we were headed, as a family, to our friends’ house for dinner. I was driving and needed to pull over into the right lane to make a turn. I put on my turn signal, turned my head to see if the lane was clear, and began to move over. “WOAH! MANDY! STOP!” (If you think my husband’s voice is loud in normal conversation, you should hear it when he yells!) A small black car was there in the right lane, and I had almost merged directly into them.

I’m a good driver. I’m a safe driver. I don’t make mistakes like that. And I certainly don’t like to be told I might have made a mistake like that. And so, I did what any mature, responsible adult would do – I shut my mouth and gave Tim the silent treatment for approximately five minutes as I remained in the left lane, refusing to pull over. We missed our turn by miles and ended up going way out of our way, but I didn’t care because I was mad. My husband had potentially saved us injuries, a huge hassle, and thousands of dollars in damages – but instead of thanking him, I threw a toddler-sized temper tantrum because my “I’m a good driver” pride had been wounded.

In the New Testament, the word for the opposite of humble – arrogant – literally means “to blow up”. It means to have a “puffed up” view of yourself – placing greater weight, greater importance, and greater rights on your “self” than is actually the case.

image

A couple days after the initial sighting of our first neighborhood Christmas inflatable, I drove past that house again and during the day and noticed it was gone. Phew, I thought. They must have finally come to their senses and realized how ridiculous this was!

But then I looked closer and realized that it was still there – it was just lying deflated on the ground! When I told Tim, we wondered if a disgruntled neighbor had pulled out their old Red Ryder BB Gun and taken a few shots. Of course, we didn’t know at the time that these new festive lawn ornaments were connected to a power supply and able to be deflated and re-inflated at the touch of a button, so we had a great laugh – until we saw it back up again the following night!

When it comes down to it, the true test of humility in our lives – the true test of how “blown up” we really are – is not in how much we judge others or how often we act like we’re better than everyone else. The true test of humility is found in what deflates us.

When criticism, disagreement, or insult is aimed (or perceived to be aimed) at me, how do I react? Do I melt down into a toddler-sized temper tantrum or giant puddle of tears? Do I burst with defensiveness, trying to justify myself? Do I feel the need to vent all my “puffed up” air onto the people around me or find someone to say nice things that will reinflate my ego?

I know for me it always happens to hit directly at an area where I either thought I was doing really well – or where I knew I was struggling and thought I was doing a good job hiding it. Either way, those pokes and prods are only effective at deflating me because I’ve allowed myself to be “blown up”.

But if I instead remember who I came from – that although I am “dust” (Psalm 103:14), I was created and very purposely formed by God (Psalm 139:14). My strengths were not chosen by me and my weaknesses were chosen by Him to bring Him glory (2 Corinthians 12:9). As a believer in Christ, my sin has been forgiven and I am no longer under any condemnation for it (Romans 8:1).

And if I remember who I will return to – that all of this is but a blip on the radar of eternity, and, regardless of what anyone thinks of me – it’s what they think of Him that really matters. Maybe this perceived “attack” is actually God using me to draw someone else closer to Himself.

If instead of being blown up with the fluff of my “self”, I am filled with a solid understanding of who I am in Christ, there won’t be anything to deflate!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 263 other followers

Misplace

“You’d lose your head if it wasn’t attached to you!”

This was a constant refrain coming from my mother’s mouth as I was growing up. Toys, clothes, homework, retainers, important papers – you name it, I lost it! As long as I’ve had the ability to do it – I’ve been losing stuff.

And it hasn’t gotten much better with age.

Seriously! I need one of those GPS locator systems for my keys, phone, sunglasses, wallet and purse – those everyday items that seem to magically grow legs and walk away every time I put them down!

Most of the time, I can retrace my steps and find what I’m looking for pretty easily. But every once in a while, I really lose something. And when it’s one of those necessities I listed above, I go into full-on worst-case-scenario panic mode!

Thankfully, though, I happen to be married to an incredibly rational and level-headed husband, who is constantly reminding me that whatever it is isn’t lost, it’s just been misplaced.

And of course, he’s always right. It may take some patience and effort, but our misplaced items always turn up somewhere!

image

When you look around at our world, especially over the past couple of months there is definite reason for worry, fear, and even panic. Mass shootings, suicide bombers, plane crashes, a refugee crisis, protests and riots, and, of course, divisive political debate. There are many days where I don’t even want to click on my news app because I just don’t want to know. Some days I even feel like hope is being lost.

But maybe it’s not actually lost, maybe it’s just being misplaced.

During this advent season, we dwell on what it means that God Himself came to earth. He came to this place to “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). He came to give hope.

This baby was a sign to God’s people that He had not abandoned them. The birth of Jesus was a clear message that God was still working and still in control – even when it didn’t seem like it. Jesus’ life and death would prove the fullness of the Father’s compassion, and His resurrection would give us a vivid picture of a victorious God who will never fail – and who has the power to defeat even death itself.

That same hope that Jesus came to shine into the darkness is still available to us today. It’s a 100% rock-solid, never-changing hope that – no matter what we see happening around us – the very same God who came to earth to defeat sin and death has not lost an ounce of His power.

Psalm 33:17 says, “A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.” One of our greatest temptations is to misplace our hope by trusting in the “horses” of this world. There are many varieties and breeds of these “vain hopes” – comfort, safety, pride, our opinions, and our own illusions of control, to name a few.

Verse 22 then goes on to say: “May your unfailing love be with us, LORD, even as we put our hope in you.” The word “put” implies action! To “put our hope” in God means there is an intentional act of our will to place our hope in the right place. Then, it won’t get lost.

image

A few days ago, I had a ‘light bulb’ moment. I grabbed a basket and set it on the table at the top of the stairs just as you walk in the door to our house. It occurred to me that maybe if I had something in which to proactively “put” my everyday items right when I walk in the door, I might not misplace them as often!

So far, it’s working – my sunglasses, keys, wallet and whatever else haven’t been lost since. It’s only been a few days, but I’m developing a new habit that’s going to prevent a whole lot of panic.

I’m also developing another new habit – reading and copying down a verse of praise from the Bible every morning. It’s my way of intentionally placing my hope in God and who He is before my day even starts and before the temptations to put my hope in other things even arise. I don’t want to mindlessly misplace my hope anymore!

Father, I choose today to put all of my hope in You. In spite of the darkness that surrounds me, shine the light of Your presence, power, and unfailing love so brightly that I don’t even see the other options! Amen.

Brew

Dark roast. Light roast. French Roast. Italian Roast. Columbian. Costa Rican. Cappuccino. Frappuccino. Latte. Macchiato. Espresso. Americano. French Vanilla. Hazelnut Mocha. Pumpkin Praline Salted Caramel Gingerbread?

The options, especially over the past few years, have become endless – leaving many casual coffee drinkers staring blankly at menus and aisles full of varieties, flavors, and brands. “Umm.. I’ll just have the ‘regular’ – whatever ‘regular’ is? Or actually, never mind – just make that a hot chocolate.”

And coffee isn’t the only thing we are overwhelmed with choices about.

Spend just a few minutes on social media and you’ll be exposed to a full menu of causes. They’re (almost) all really good things, but some days I feel like if I hear about another “day” for this or “month” for this or “color” for this or “hashtag” for this, I’m gonna lose my mind!

Social media has given us an incredible upgrade in our ability to raise awareness for a cause. Never before have we been able to so easily broadcast to such a large audience the needs of a person or group of people!

The problem is that every cause also has this same ability and the result is that many of us have gone numb. So many causes are brought to our awareness that we no longer actually see any of them. In our heads they all combine into a giant menu of need that we avoid looking at because we know we can’t really do anything to help.

image

When I first started drinking “real” coffee (as opposed to the stuff that comes from those automatic convenience store machines), I remember standing in the grocery store thinking, “Where am I even supposed to start? How do I know what I’ll like?”

But if you ask me what I’m going to have when I get up tomorrow morning, it’s a no-brainer! Three tablespoons of extra dark roast finely-ground coffee (preferably Haitian!), brewed for exactly five minutes in 17 ounces of water in a french press, topped off with soy creamer and two sugars.

I’ve found my perfect brew.

image

Early in His time of ministry on earth, Jesus proclaimed His purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). Though the heart of this “good news” was ultimately the message of salvation through His death and resurrection, Jesus also came to show us a living example of God’s heart of compassion for the hurting.

And now that we have His Spirit within us, He has not only gifted us with abilities to serve one another in the church, but He’s also stirring our hearts to become more like His – and then directing that compassion in a specific direction toward a person or group of people who are suffering.

God has brewed each one of us with a different but perfect combination of ingredients. From the deep genetic roots of your personality to every circumstance that has ground you up and refined you. From your unique tastes and preferences to what makes you boil over in anger – you’ve been prepared for such a cause as this.

image

Late one night in the spring of 1996, as I was finishing up my last few weeks of high school, I sat in a pile of tears at my family’s dining room table. God had revealed to me that night how selfishly I was living and that His plan for me was so much greater than my own life. This is the verse He used:

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness”
(Isaiah 58:10)

I knew that I wanted to do something – I wanted to be poured out. But for who? Well, teenagers, of course – I was headed to college for youth ministry. But I knew that wasn’t all.

I began sponsoring my first Compassion child in 1997. The sacrifice seemed so small and yet the joy and peace that filled my heart was so great – how could I say no to more?

Over the next few years I was able to begin sponsoring several more girls and now, as a family, we’ve continued to support children in need in our country and around the world. Last year, we even added our first sponsored boy, as our church helped build a home for children in India!

I certainly don’t have it all figured out – I know there’s so much more I could be doing, but I’m learning that this is my brew.

And now, when that “giving” time of year approaches, instead of being overwhelmed by the options and feeling guilty for what I can’t do, I stick to my brew. Each year at this time, we go shopping as a family and fill “Hope Packs” with supplies for children going into foster care – it’s a no-brainer!

So, on this #givingtuesday, what’s your brew? How has God uniquely combined your personality with your experiences and heart-tugs to stir up a deep, rich compassion for those who are hurting?

Instead of staring blankly at the menu or just ordering the hot chocolate – instead of living in defeat that you can’t make a difference or feeling guilty and just giving a little here and a little there, ask God to give your compassion direction – and then pour it out!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 263 other followers