It has been a busy few months for the Buschart family. We decided it was time to engage the process of downsizing from our wonderful family home. After much effort to clean out closets and share many items we no longer need, our home sold quickly and we moved just a month after listing in late-July.
The endless labor and energy required for this task is astounding. We began the purging in February, one closet at a time. Countless daily to-do lists and trips to donation centers were our regular routine. Six months later, the house was ready.
The process was physically demanding and all-consuming (the reason why you haven't heard from me for a while!). But the emotional roller coaster was surprising even for two adults who are pretty self-aware.
Letting Go is hard and attachments to possessions are strong. Some possessions were easier to surrender than others. Ice skates neglected and unused for 25 years. Well-worn and rarely-worn sweaters. Fabulous heels that hurt my feet.
Other possessions hold sentimental value and these had to be considered carefully before passing them on to a donation center. I'm thankful that some pieces will stay in the family while an antique tea set, a hand-painted chocolate pot and cup, and other items made it to new homes to be enjoyed by others.
For me, Letting Go of my garden was, perhaps, the hardest of all. Twenty years ago, with the help of my mother, I planted my roses soon after we moved in. Her selections included Peace and Betty Prior and Mr. Lincoln. The birds that graced the feeders in my garden were prayer partners each morning.
True Letting Go always leads us to a point of darkness that may become a turning point of our lives. Uncertainty looms. What will happen if I stay, if I cling to what is? What will happen if I surrender the known of today to the unknown possibilities beyond? Fear says, "What if . . . ?" What if I need this again? What if I never again have a garden to plant or a rose so beautiful? What if I don't have a new place to pray and to feed birds? What if the memory of loved ones fades when I let go of this memento?
It is this point of darkness and these "What if . . ." anxieties, I think, that keep us hanging on, clinging to things we no longer need and to the illusion of control in the known.
A paraphrase of Psalm 25:1-2 has long been a "breath prayer" for me and it is important during this season of Letting Go. "Unto you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; I put my trust in you."
The Lord is bigger than the darkest turning points of life. He sees, cares for his own, knows what we need, never leaves or forsakes.
I lifted up every closet, every attachment and indecision. It wasn't always pretty and we weren't always on the same page. I've questioned whether we did the right thing and I've wondered if a place of peace would again be home.
We're still waiting and we're seeking to trust Him in the uncertainty.
This season of selling our family home has been a Letting-Go season for us. But Letting Go is everywhere and always. Big or small, hard or easy, Letting Go is a daily part of life as a disciple of Jesus. The topic is worthy of another post or two for Ruminations from my Journal.
In the meantime, where in your life are you experiencing the invitation of Letting Go? Are you resisting this invitation or embracing it?
Give me a call. I would cherish the opportunity to be a dialogue partner or your Soul Care Companion through your Letting-Go season.
I hope you will be "marked by ashes" today. The sign of the cross on our forehead is a blessed humiliation.
Ash Wednesday is obscure to many who follow God's Son. It is the beginning of Lent when we reflect that Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. Before we rush to Easter Resurrection we need time to pause and wait and wonder. The sweetness of Easter must be savored through the bitter of Lenten sorrow for sin.
Marked by Ashes by Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day…
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes --
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you --
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.
For the last several weeks, the story of the Good Samaritan has been rolling around in my heart and mind and has been messing with my life experiences. I'm in the middle of teaching a 23-week series on the Parables of Jesus. The parables surprise and challenge; they get under your skin and they make you uncomfortable.
As a result of "living" in Jesus' parables, I've noticed that my breath prayer has changed. [i] I've found myself asking God to "RESCUE".
The parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar, too familiar. In truth, it has recently rocked my world.
A quick recap: A man walked through a dangerous territory where thieves and bad guys took advantage of the mountainous terrain to do evil. The man was robbed and beaten and thrown into a ditch and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (reputation of "good" guys) walked by but neither of them wanted to go into the ditch to help the man. A Samaritan (reputation of "bad" guys) saw the man, went into the ditch and cared for him, took him to an inn and paid for the man's care. (Look again at Luke 10:25-37 for the full story.)
Another part of my experience these weeks comes from Colossians 1.
For He (God) has RESCUED us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves.
In Him, (Jesus the Son) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.
When I became a Jesus-follower forty years ago, these words described God's mercy and grace to me. I was young, stupid, striving to find myself and my place in the world. I was in a ditch and God rescued me.
The ditch is always in a dangerous territory. It is where the dominion of darkness and the Enemy of our souls do all kinds of evil. When we are bloodied and beaten in body or soul, the only way out of the ditch is the mercy of God. So, in my 20s I asked God to RESCUE me, to forgive me and to redeem me. For all these years I've lived mercifully and graciously RESCUED and redeemed. I'm grateful.
Some implications --
So we pray: Lord, rescue us that we may accompany you as you rescue others. Triune God, RESCUE. Amen.
[i] Breath Prayer is the word or phrase we use to acknowledge God's continual presence and to confess our ongoing, moment-by-moment need of his mercy and grace. One's breath prayer is a gift from the Spirit and may change with one's life experiences. Instead of praying the name of Jesus, or my long-time favorite— "Unto you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; I put my TRUST in you." I've found myself asking God to "Rescue."
At first reading these words from the first line of Psalm 23 could be understood as "wishful thinking" or pie-in-the-sky platitude.
Do we really have all that we need?
I need healing for my new hip and especially for the angry muscles that were stretched and abused during the surgery.
You need things too. You need jobs and meaningful work to pay rent or mortgage. You need food and clothing, shelter and safety, love and relationships in community where loneliness and longing can be shared. Tensions and conflicts need resolution. We all need to be heard and understood and validated as valuable human beings.
The first part of the verse is key to understanding. The psalmist uses a metaphor that can be lost on us who live an urban life. A sheep is dependent upon the care of the Shepherd. The Shepherd sees the sheep, knows them and their needs, protects and defends them from devouring predators, and provides for their needs. When we know ourselves as sheep cared for by the Lord who is Shepherd, we can rest in those green pastures that the psalmist refers to later.
Jesus says that everything we need will come when we seek and surrender to the love and care of the Father, the saving rescue of God's Son, and the comforting, generous presence of God's Spirit. We will still need jobs to pay rent, food and clothing, shelter and safety. But the Shepherd knows the needs of the sheep-- each and every one of them. The Shepherd is a generous provider.
So, we sheep pray: "Shepherd, I need you and I give you my needs. Help me recognize that you are caring for these needs even in the presence of uncertainty, hunger, or failure. Show me what I need to do even as I struggle to trust you with every circumstance. By faith I will say, 'The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.' In Jesus' name, Amen.
Last week, I ruminated about being a singing little girl who learned a lot of lyrics. These have stayed with me and continue to form me today.
I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus as Lord when I was twenty-two years old. I believe that before that time, the lyrics of the music I sang were the evangelist that continually invited me to come. My theology, that is, who I believe God to be—God the Father, God the Son and Savior, and God the Holy Spirit—was formed first through the lyrics of the music I sang.
Particularly, Christmas lyrics have taught me some enduring truths. Here are some of these truths that God continues to form within me.
1. The Father's Love: Of the Father's Love Begotten tells us that God's love for us was the motivating force for the Son's coming.
2. Jesus is God: Thou Dist Leave Thy Throne tells us that Jesus left his throne and his rule as the second member of the Trinity. "He is Alpha and Omega. He the Source the Ending He."[i] "He left behind his kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me." [ii] Even me. Even you.
3. Weakness is strength: We despise weakness but God's economy is different than the world's economy. Infant Holy, Infant Lowly tells us a different story about weakness.
Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing Christ the babe is Lord of all.
The "Holy Infant, so tender and mild" from Silent Night (lyrics 1818) and the early 19th century lyrics of Once in Royal David's City tell us that though he was equal with God and Lord of all, he came to us as a weak and dependent infant. This was backwards and unexpected to those in Jesus' time who wanted the Messiah to be a powerful ruler who would overthrow evil. But the power of God is released in the infant Messiah who was also God. He will save his people from their sins.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. [iii]
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
And His shelter was a stable
And His cradle was a stall
With the poor, oppressed and lowly
Lived on earth our Savior holy.[iv]
4. The Coming of Christ is a big deal: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and While shepherds watched their flocks (both circa 1700) tell us how excited angels spilled out of heaven to celebrate that in the birth of Jesus on this night in Bethlehem, the long-awaited Redeemer of the sin of the world arrived on earth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King:
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th'angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Christ, by highest heav'n adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the Virgin's womb:
Veiled in flesh the God-head see; Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.[v]
5. Making room for Christ as Lord is still the invitation: The crowded conditions at the Inn that night in Bethlehem meant that Mary gave birth to the Christ child in a stable. There was no room for Jesus. Christmas lyrics often point to the same crowded conditions of human hearts. We too must choose to make room for the Lordship of Christ,
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus!
There is room in my heart for Thee."[vi]
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled
within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for Thee."[vii]
6. When we make room for Jesus in our hearts, we worship Him as Lord and Savior: The angels told the shepherds to "Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King."[viii] The beautiful carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful invites Jesus-followers of all generations to set aside what crowds our hearts and lives and come to worship Christ the infant King. Because of Christ Jesus, "a weary world rejoices."
This invitation comes to us from the heart of the Father who loves us. May we love Him in return.
O, come let us adore him.
O, come let us adore him.
O, come let us adore him.
Christ, the Lord."
Christ Jesus, thank you for coming. By your Spirit, may we join together to worship you at Christmas-tide and all year. Enable us to make room in our crowded hearts and to receive you as Lord and Savior!
[i] Aurelius Prudentius, Of the Father's Love Begotten, 4th century.
[ii] Emily E.S. Elliott, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, 1864.
[iii] Charles Wesley, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, 1744
[iv] Cecil Frances Alexander, Once in Royal David's City, 1848.
[v] Charles Wesley, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, 1739.
[vi]Emily E.S. Elliott, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, 1836-1897.
[vii] Martin Luther, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, 1535.
[viii] Angels We Have Heard on High (a traditional French carol)
As a little girl, the Sunday school teacher gave me a verse to recite for the Christmas program. I reportedly told her, "I'd like to sing a song." And so, it began. My relationship with music, and with the lyrics of that music, has shaped me to this day.
God gave me a big voice. I was the little girl who sang louder and sounded more mature than a listener might expect from my little body. Singing became the center of my identity and anchored my sense of value in my world. I was a vocal performance major in college, loved the stage, and later taught others to sing for 25 years.
So, in my lifetime, I have memorized countless songs.
I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus as Lord when I was twenty-two years old. I believe that before that time, the lyrics of the music I sang was the evangelist that continually invited me to come. My theology, that is, who I believe God to be—God the Father, God the Son and Savior, and God the Holy Spirit—was formed first through the lyrics of the music I sang.
Particularly at Christmastime, the lyrics that I memorized decades ago work within me again and create passion and desire to love and adore the Christ who came. The Incarnation of Jesus changes everything for everyone!
Because the liturgical calendar celebrates Christmas-tide until January 5, in my next Ruminations I'll talk about some of the precious truths I've learned from our beloved Christmas carols. Until then, may you make room in your hearts for the Christ who came. Because here's another Christmas gift to unwrap: the Christ who came continues to come! Emmanuel--God is with us!
Zechariah and Elizabeth have revealed some wonderful things to me this week about prayer. Prayer: a conversation with the One who created us, knows us, loves us. Sometimes, though, we may feel like our prayers don't make it beyond the ceiling of our own minds. It is as if they get stuck somewhere between our lips and the ears of the Father.
Re-reading Zechariah and Elizabeth's story in Luke 1, three truths stand out to me. Take a look.
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.
1. Zechariah and Elizabeth are acquainted with desire and disappointment. As a young couple they had wanted to have children like everyone else. They prayed and experienced the crushing disappointment of no pregnancy month after month and year after year. And during the years of unfulfilled longing they were both "righteous in the sight of God" and continued their daily liturgy of worship and work and faith. Though they were sinners just like us, Luke records that they lived in righteousness. They did not let their disappointment turn to toxic bitterness and anger against God, nor did they take their loss out on the community around them.
2. When Zechariah was 'on duty' as priest, "all the assembled worshipers were praying outside." The community was gathered together engaged in the liturgy of corporate worship. Together, they lifted Zechariah's incense-burning and prayed that the Father would receive their worship and hear their prayer. They were waiting for the Messiah. Like Simeon, the whole community was "waiting for the consolation of Israel" (Luke 2:25). Like Anna, they eagerly anticipated the "redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke 2:38). We, too, gather in corporate worship. I wonder, however, how important we truly believe this gathering together to be. How eagerly do we anticipate the redemption of our individual and corporate lives; how fervently do we pray for the consolation and redemption of our culture?
3. The angel tells Zechariah, " your prayer has been heard." Which prayer is the angel referring to? I've read this story of Zechariah and Elizabeth countless times and have skipped over the implication of the angel's statement. I've assumed that the prayer heard was the prayer accompanying the act of incense-burning. But the angel immediately goes on to tell Zechariah that he and his aged wife will have a child. Years of longing lifted to God, month after month of anguished disappointment. Did they assume that God had not even heard their prayers? By the time of Zechariah's service as priest in the temple, he and his wife have accepted that childlessness was a component of their story. They were old and beyond child-bearing. But the angel tells him that the time has come for those prayers to become a tangible, physical 'Yes'.
Of these verses in Luke, one commentator writes,
Prayers of faith are filed in heaven, and are not forgotten. Prayers made when we were young and entering into the world, may be answered when we are old and going out of the world. Mercies are doubly sweet that are given in answer to prayer. Zacharias shall have a son in his old age, who shall be instrumental in the conversion of many souls to God, and preparing them to receive the gospel of Christ.
What is my ah ha?
Though we don't hear "yes", "no" or "maybe", even though there is no concrete fulfillment of our beseeching prayer, God hears our prayer. There may be reasons beyond our understanding for why our prayers are unfulfilled.
Will we live by faith and not by sight? Though we don't receive what we want when we want it, do we live out of the truth that God is good and generous or do we turn to belief that God is stingy and withholding of his grace? God invites us to live faithfully, to earnestly pray our longings, and to pursue the righteousness of Christ-in-us. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, will we reject bitterness and continue to seek his face individually and in corporate worship? Will we affirm that God is God even when our experiences disappoint?
Thank you, Father, for your living Word — Jesus Christ, our Lord. Lord, we believe that you hear us; help us in our unbelief.
'Tis the first week of Advent and the first week of the Christian calendar. It is fitting and right that these occur at the same time. It is a Do-Over and a beginning again.
Advent is the time of anticipation of the Christ-child who came and who continues to come. Our singular focus for these weeks is to prepare our hearts to receive Him. Sadly, the Incarnation, Jesus' leaving the throne room of the Father and coming to humans to be Immanuel, often gets lost in the midst of "holiday" celebrations. But the Incarnation changes everything!
Because Christ came, lived, died, was raised, and is coming again, we can now approach "the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Heb 4:16). But this confident approach of the Father would be impossible without the Incarnation. The Incarnation is the definitive declaration that God so loved the world. . . . There is no greater love!
So in this first week of Advent and first week of the Christian calendar, we're reminded to focus and to re-focus on the Christ who came. It is a Do-Over. The "holiday" celebrations are only the beginning of the myriad ways that our focus is drawn away from the Christ who is Immanuel — God with us. Because we are seriously distractible people, our lives' busyness of family and work and recreation draws us from a Christ-centered life. Our sicknesses and our failures and our fears seem to lead us beyond Jesus as if more important and practical considerations require our primary allegiance.
But Jesus is our focus. Jesus is our allegiance. Every day of the year we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2).
Jesus, I'm sorry for — being distracted and losing my focus upon Immanuel.
Jesus, it was wrong because — I know that true and abundant life is found only in Christ, my Savior.
Jesus, next time I will — surrender to your mercy my distractions and temptations to pursue lesser loves. I will seek the Spirit's gracious enabling to remain focused and centered in You.
Jesus, will you forgive me? Jesus, this Advent may I have a Do-Over to live my God-with-us life?
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Last week was a full one. I had the privilege of companioning several individuals who hungered for more of the abundant life that Jesus died to give us. In prayer, we went to places of hard questions, difficult memories and confusing outcomes.
God was gracious. He led us and gave clarity to confusion and comfort in the difficult memories.
Then one night I woke from a terrible dream. It was bad!
Here's what I prayed in that 2:00a.m. moment:
In the morning, the lyrics to an old hymn was my prayer for the day:
Fortress of my life, hear me when I cry.
You're my sole defense when
I come against the mighty foe.
Safe from arrows in their flight.
Safe from terrors in the night.
Safe in you I'll win this fight.
You're the fortress of my life.
Lord God, you are indeed our fortress and our strong tower.
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. Psalm 31:1-5
When you experience "terrors in the night," anxieties for tomorrow, or just simply a bad and disorienting dream, cry out to the Fortress of your life. The Triune does indeed still meet those who cry out to Him.
Turn all over to Him!
photos taken by Nancy in Glendalough, Ireland.
Father of Creation,
Painter of sunrise and sunset,
we surrender to you and your purposes for this day.
May our lives today bring you even the tiniest fraction
of the glory of your sunrise this morning.
In Jesus we pray.
O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever!
Amen. Romans 11: 33-36