A Story of Random Acts of Kindness

Soothing balm for the headlines in the news these days comes to us courtesy of six teenage boys in Colorado.  Some of our Advent activities have been centered around random acts of kindness.  Fill your heart with the story found at this link   A Random Act of Snow Shoveling Link.

Colorado shoveling

Share your stories of random acts of kindness.  As we share our stories, we encourage each other and fill each other’s hearts with the joy of the love that enfolds us during the Advent season.

 

December 5, Day Seven of Week One – The Way of Peace though Hope

December 5, Day Seven of Week One – The Way of Peace though Hope

Luke 24: 45 – 53  “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.”

You raise me up 3

Song:  “You Raise Me Up”

You raise me up

Reflection:  “When I am down and, oh, my soul, so weary.  When troubles come and my heart burdened be.  Then I am still and wait here in the silence, until you come and sit awhile with me.”  Do we?  When troubles come do we first try the human fix-it approach, operating on our own, relying on our limited wisdom to solve a problem?   How can we learn to let our first response to be still until God comes to us?  Is it impatience or a short faith that takes us to busyness first instead of quiet contemplation and prayer?  I found myself in the hospital for 10 days while I was writing this.  Pain had overtaken my existence.  My days and nights revolved around managing the pain and results of the pain medication.  The second night I was there, I startled awake to an unfamiliar room and found myself filled with anxiety, a highly unusual state for me.  As I laid there in the dark, I puzzled through what could be the cause.   For an hour, I turned it over and over, as the anxiety hovered.  Was it the medication, the unknown diagnosis or treatment, the simple fact this illness was interfering with a lot of life?  Exhausted, a blinding flash of the obvious occurred.  This wasn’t mine to solve.  As I leaned back onto a slim hospital pillow, in a darkened room that glowed with medical equipment numbers, I silenced my thoughts, and started, “Hey, God.”

Action:  Consider the weary and burdened times you’ve experienced in the past.  How did you react?   Write these down.  Was God a part of your reactions?  Then consider how you could react to future troubled times with a stronger faith.  Write these down as well.  What steps do you need to take to build your faith so that God is on speed dial in your heart?  Yep, you’re writing that down as well.  All will be well.

Dear God, thank you for never leaving our side, even when we forget you’re there.  Help us to make you our first response in all things, for we know we are strong when we are on your shoulders.  Give us the wisdom to ask for your help and quiet hearts to listen for your whispers so you can raise us up.  Clothe us in the humility that helps us remember we can’t do this alone.  Listening, listening, listening, Amen.

December 4, Day Six of Week One – The Way of Peace though Hope

Luke 24: 36 – 40   “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”   They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?  Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”   When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet.

Peace 3

We are Called   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=luTgw96ZREA

Come live in the light 2

ReflectionWhat if we greeted people with, “Peace be with you,” instead of hello or goodbye?  What exactly would we be saying?  It is saying I wish you God’s peace, a peace that Jesus told the disciples was not just peace as the world gives.  It is more, much more.  It says I want you to be more than calm and tranquil because life’s realities are not always artful or gentle.  It says I wish you a peace that comes from God’s heart that will allow you to face the chaos, darkness and grief as well as the sweeter moments with resilience and hope.  It says I wish you a peace that brings you a calm strength when life’s harshest and warmest winds swirl around you, a depth of understanding and patience that brings out the grace in you no matter life’s twists and turns.   Isn’t that what you really wanted to say?

Action:  Choose three people today to say, “Peace be with you.”  It might be uncomfortable, but all good things start out challenging.  As you say the words, think of what you mean.  Let the meaning float through the air with your words.  You may get quizzical looks and you can choose whether to explain.  If saying it out loud is something that is completely uncomfortable, leave anonymous notes of “Peace be with you, “for three people. Peace be with you today.

Dear God, thank you for your peace, as it travels us through tough and treasured times.  Help us to remember to lean back into your peace and act with your grace and forego our human egotistical temptations.  Encourage our hearts to reach out to others and share your peace.  Remind us to not doubt that it is always within reach.  With peace, Amen.

December 3, Day Five of Week One – The Way of Peace though Hope

Luke 24: 30 – 32   “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 

God as one of us

What if God was One of Us?  Song Link

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to His face?
If you were faced with Him in all His glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

REFRAIN:  Yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face
What would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
In things like Heaven and Jesus and the Saints
And all the Prophets  REFRAIN

Back up to Heaven all alone
Nobody callin’ on the phone
‘Cept for the Pope maybe in Rome  REFRAIN

Reflection:  Imagine sitting at a table with a stranger who has walked and talked with you for seven miles.  Just another guy journeying somewhere.  Sharing his stories, listening to yours.  Making note of things along the way, a flower garden, children playing, women carrying water to their home.  Sitting under a tree filled with fruit, resting in its shade and nourishment.  You invite him to stay the night.  At the supper meal, he breaks the bread and you see that this other regular guy, is Jesus.  Before you can ask a question, he is gone.  Astonished, the meal pauses.  An instant later, everyone starts talking at once.  What if God was one of us? 

Action:  Today, treat everyone as though they may be Jesus, cloaked in everydayness.  Even those that irritate, and the grumbly and the smelly.  As evening falls, review your day.  How has it changed you?

Dear God, let us see others through your eyes.  Bathe us in humility so our hearts are wide open to all your people. Our arrogance, built on worldly things, blinds us, fills us with self importance.   Change us, shake us and wake us to Your world.  Change us, shake us and wake us to Your world.  Change us, shake us and wake us to Your world.  Crashing through ourselves, Amen.

December 2, Day Four of Week One – The Way of Peace though Hope

Luke 24: 28 – 29   “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

Hospitality 5.pngDo You Have Room?  Song link

They journeyed far, a weary pair,
They sought for shelter From the cold night air.
Some place where she Could lay her head,
Where she could give Her Babe a quiet bed.
Was there no room? No corner there?
In all the town a spot someone could spare?
Was there no soul Come to their aid?
A stable bare was where the family stayed.

REFRAIN:  Do you have room For the Savior?,
And do you seek Him anew?
Have you a place for the One who lived and died for you?
Are you as humble as a Shepherd Boy,
Or as Wise as Men of Old?
Would you have come that night?
Would you have sought the light?
Do you have room?

A star arose, a glorious light
It was God’s sign this was the Holy Night
And yet so few would go to see
the babe who came to rescue you and me.
This child divine is now a King
His gift of life to all the world He brings
And all the world He saves from doom
But on this night for Him there was no room  REFRAIN

Reflection:  Here, as his time on earth is ending and he is known only as a stranger, he is invited to stay with the two he had been journeying with.  So different than his first night on earth when no one had room for his parents.  I don’t think this juxtaposition is an accident.  Jesus, who preached humility, hospitality and inclusion is offered shelter and a meal, not because he is Jesus but because he is someone who needs shelter and a meal.  A quiet lesson on hospitality slipped into the ascension story.  Hospitality starts with humility.  It is not offered because I have more than you and am willing to share.  It is offered because this is how we live when we follow Jesus’ example.  Hospitality isn’t contained to shelter.  Hospitality is being a welcoming spirit throughout our days.  Hospitality is recognizing that no matter how much we have, we have no more than any other in God’s eyes.  All are equal, the haves and the have nots as defined in earthly ways.  When we offer hospitality, we are opening the door to our heart so another can enter and rest in safety.  Humble hospitality is a sure way of peace.

Action:  Today, show hospitality to all you meet.  Hold a door open and say hello.  Let a car or two merge in front of you.  Let someone else go first.  Speak to a stranger in an elevator, on the sidewalk, waiting in line at the grocery store.  Go to our community meal and sit by a stranger as an equal in God’s eyes.  Share your story and listen to theirs.  Let your heart burst with the kindness and humility of hospitality.

Dear God, make us angels of hospitality.  Transform our heart so that hospitality is how we walk this life.  Open our hearts as we open doors.  Fill us with your inclusionary breath as we love one another.  Take away our fear of the unknown and replace it with the courage to learn more about your people.  Show us the richness in reaching out to others and reaching in ourselves.    With open arms, Amen.

December 1, Day Three of Week One – The Way of Peace though Hope


Luke 24: 17 – 19  
“He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”  They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”  “What things?” he asked.  “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.”

We don't have wifi

Count on Me   Song Link

If you ever find yourself stuck in the middle of the sea, I’ll sail the world to find you.

If you ever find yourself lost in the dark and you can’t see, I’ll be the light to guide you

We find out what we’re made of, When we are called to help our friends in need

REFRAIN:  You can count on me like 1, 2, 3, I’ll be there.  And I know when I need it, I can count on you like 4, 3, 2, and you’ll be there.  ‘Cause that’s what friends are supposed to do, oh yeah.

If you’re tossin’ and you’re turnin’ and you just can’t fall asleep, I’ll sing a song beside you.

And if you ever forget how much you really mean to me, Every day I will remind you.

We find out what we’re made of, When we are called to help our friends in need.  REFRAIN

You’ll always have my shoulder when you cry, I’ll never let go, never say goodbye.  You know… REFRAIN


Reflection: 
In these days of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the long list of other social media, I can’t help but smile at Cleopas’ question of Jesus.  “Are you the only one who doesn’t know?” is asked as though our social media existed in Jesus’ time.  Their social communication methods were person to person.  No postal service, no internet, no television, no cell phone.  One person speaking to another.  There’s something plaintively inviting about that sort of communication.  Face to face and in this case, walking a long dusty road.

Our suburban world removes the necessity of walking to get somewhere.  Our modern world technology negates the need to speak to someone at all to communicate.  I love the technology that is available to us, that lets me communicate with family and friends scattered across the world in an instant.  It has allowed me to strengthen relationships with people I care about that are distanced from me, to know them in a more intimate way than I possibly could any other way.  But people need human touch, human conversation.  I value my hours long dinners with friends where we can talk over all that matters and doesn’t.  I hold gently the front porch talks I have had with friends and my family with the sun setting on our words and the stars hanging out with our thoughts.   We laugh together, cry together, hope together and we are each other’s peace.  They remain some of my most cherished moments.

Action:  Today, talk to someone that matters to you.  Face to face.  Go beyond the easy conversations.  Start with the weather, if you must.  You’re a Minnesotan, after all.  Then, share something of your heart.  Notice their eyes as they speak.  Reach out and touch their hand or clap at something they say.  Laugh at their stories.  Cry with their tears.  Let your soul touch theirs.  Create a moment that your heart will keep tight.  Find out what you’re made of.

Dear God, thank you for the stories that challenge us to step away from our comfortable spaces and to walk your peace into our lives.  Make our hearts fearless today.  Stuff us with courage to speak our heart to someone who matters.  Rejoice with us in its finish, as we collect the memory and put it in our pocket for safekeeping.  With courage, Amen.

November 30, Day Two of Week One – The Way of Peace through Hope

Bible 2Luke 24:  13 – 16   “On the Road to Emmaus. Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.”

Word of God Speak      Song Link

God Speak

Word of God Speak

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay
The last thing I need is to be heard
But to hear what You would say

REFRAIN:  Word of God speak  Would You pour down like rain
Washing my eyes to see
Your majesty
To be still and know
That You’re in this place
Please let me stay and rest
In Your holiness 
Word of God speak

I’m finding myself in the midst of You
Beyond the music, beyond the noise
All that I need is to be with You
And in the quiet hear Your voice  REFRAIN x 2

I’m finding myself at a loss for words
And the funny thing is it’s okay

Reflection 4Reflection:  As a kid, I walked everywhere.  Walked to the little general store where penny candy still reigned.  Walked the backroads with cousins, talking all the way.  Walked to school, uphill one way.  Walked with my best friend in junior high school giggling about boys and singing songs.  Walked in the woods and along the beach, soaking in dappled leaves and vibrantly messy sunsets. As an adult, I walked the church aisle to my future husband who waited with love in his eyes.

I wonder how often Jesus walks with us, while we are unawares?  Was he with my cousins and I as we walked and talked about the web of dysfunction that ruled mine and my cousins’ lives?  Was his companionship what kept our hearts open to love and to treasure the families that created the chaos against which we would fight our whole lives?  Was his presence there when my best friend and I walked and shared secrets of our hearts and made plans for a future that ended for her at 20?  Was his presence what kept her hope in the future even as leukemia rampaged through her blood?  Was he there when I hobbled the church aisle with a sprained ankle and new heels, on my own, with no father to guide my steps, walking toward the man who owns my heart?  Was his loving hand what kept me steady and fearless about a second marriage? How often was he there, forming my heart into a place of hope, filling my soul with peace, encouraging me with a trove of resilience?

Action 3Action:  How often has God walked and talked with you?  Today, walk and talk with God.  Look and listen for his presence.  Let his heart be yours.  Let go of grievances.  Make a gesture of forgiveness.  Breathe life into your dreams even if they seem far off and unattainable.  Take God with you as you journey toward what your heart desires most.  Feel his steady guidance and find courage in his presence.  Let hope be your way to peace today.  And then again, tomorrow.

Dear God, our greatest thanks for walking with us, even when we don’t see you.  Just as a seed doesn’t need to be told how to grow, fill our hearts with your peace so we know how to grow without hesitation.  Help us to Dear Godwalk with forgiveness, abundant hope and perpetual courage.  In this time of Advent, slow us so we are still and know that you’re in this place. Let us find ourselves in the midst of you.  Walking with you, Amen.

Random Acts of Kindness Tree

Family Corner Idea for Week One of Advent

Random Acts of Kindness TreeTo emphasize bringing peace through hope, create a Random Acts of Kindness Tree.  Hope brings peace through our sharing of kindness.  Kindness, especially unexpectedly, brings hope to our hearts.

It can be a branch from a tree, a small artificial tree, a tree cut from construction paper and put on a window or a door.  Your children’s imaginations may have other ideas.  The key is you need something that represents a tree.

Each day this week, encourage each member of the family, no matter how young, to perform random acts of kindness.  A random act of kindness can be many things.  Some suggestions are:

  • Holding the door open for people
  • Let others go in front of you when you’re in line
  • Pay for the next person’s order
  • Draw a picture and leave it secretly for someone else
  • Shovel the snow for someone

On the first Sunday of Advent, sit down together as a family and create your tree.  Talk about all different kinds of random kindness.  Consider when someone unexpectedly did something kind for you.  How did you feel?

There are some websites that have many ideas about random acts of kindness individuals and families can do.  Some websites are:

Each evening, have members of the family share the random acts of kindness they did that day.  Write them down on paper ornaments and hang on the tree.  Talk about how it made you feel.  Also, talk about random acts of kindness that were done for you.  How did that make you feel?  What difference did it make in your day?

On Saturday evening, look at the Random Acts of Kindness Tree and talk about what was learned about sharing hope through kindness.  Ask if everyone wants to keep doing random acts of kindness.  Celebrate with a favorite dessert or treat.  Watch the movie Pay It Forward (may not be suitable for small children as it has some sad moments – think Bambi).

The Way of Peace

 

Advent Candles 2

“I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue.”  Pope Francis

The theme for Advent this year is The Way of Peace.  This year we are using the traditional weekly Advent themes to emphasize the Way of Peace.

  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Hope
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Love
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Joy
  • The Way of Peace through Sharing Peace

Peace 2

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”  Mother Teresa

In our world today, peace seems to be in short supply.  Our world is noisy, demanding, overloaded with information and technology, filled with ongoing world discourse and multiple situations in own country that fly in the face of all that is peaceful.  What does it matter if we seek a way of peace for ourselves this Advent?  How will it make a difference in the world?

I boldly say it makes a vast difference.  Just as loose change adds up to dollars, small bits of peace dent the noise around us.  Peace begets peace.  Peace can be something as simple as a smile.  When you smile at someone, they will return the smile.  When you say hello, they will respond in kind.  Physiologically, these acts send good nutrients to our brains.  A kind act of peace will encourage the other person to do the same.  Some of my most tender and remembered moments have been when someone has visited an unexpected kindness on me or when I have shown a small kindness to someone else.  When we realize we belong to each other, no matter our differences, we are headed the way of peace.

There is no path to peace

Our own peace reflected outward is how we create peace in the world.  Seeking peace in ourselves and in our worlds – that is peace.  Choosing to respond to our world in a way of peace and not anger or indifference, is peace.  Meaningfully finding ways to accept our own life, wrapped in a context of peace, is peace.

Peace doesn’t mean to not have chaos or angst.  All of us have parts of our lives that are not how we wish them to be.  Peace describes how we respond to the chaos and the angst.  Peace is the God in me seeing the God in you and letting that vision rule my heart and my responses, knowing peace is the path.

Peace I leave with you

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

During the Last Supper, Jesus prepared his disciples for a world after he has left them.  Thomas asks how they will know the way to him if they don’t know where he is going?   Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  He goes on to say if they love him, they will keep his commands.  He promises that God will give them help through the Holy Spirit, who “will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  He tells them, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”  And finally he tells them, “Peace I leave with you and my peace I give you.”

This Advent, we will reflect on the way of peace. As we ready ourselves and our hearts for the baby Jesus, we will consider Jesus’ life as a guide to the way of peace.  We will look for ways to walk in peace in our daily lives, in our prayers, in our own keeping of Jesus’ words.  We will look for the way of peace through hope we can offer others.  We will explore the way of peace by the way that we love, by remembering we belong to each other.  We will exult our way of peace through the joy we find in His world and the joy we scatter for others.  Finally, we will share the way of peace by showing the peace that flows within us and recognizing that peace in others, knowing peace is the path.  When we come to the night when the star shone bright, we will stand in the sanctuary, singing Silent Night, Holy Night while the peace of God wraps around us, sending us on our way knowing the true gift that is Christmas.

Peace Be With YouPeace Be With You  Song Link

Life so full I give to you
As the Father sends me so I send you
Spread my light throughout all life
Peace be with you


Dear God,
Ready us, as we journey again through the Advent season, preparing our hearts to seek Jesus through his peace.  Still us, so that we can absorb your peace and not stay the same.  Let our hearts rest in your peace so we can whisper it into our days.    HelpPrayer candle us keep it close in our everyday, reminding us, challenging us to act in peace. Hear our thanks in our songs and our prayers for bringing us a tiny babe that granted us your unworldly peace.  In Glory, Amen.

 

Advent Devotional Dedication and Gratitude

Advent 5Each year, I write the Advent devotional as my way of giving back to my faith community that fills my life with so much love, peace, hope and joy.  Last year we did excerpts from the devotion each day on this blog.  This year, each day’s entire devotion will be posted here.  The devotion in its entirety can be found at Complete Advent Devotional Link

This year I have dedicated the devotional to three friends whose journeys have embodied everything that goes in the container called faith .  I also have to say thank you to the people who help me along my devotional way.  Below is the dedication and gratitude pages from the devotional.

Dedication

“I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;
With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.”

***

Gratitude walks with me every day.  I think it always has because I can’t remember a time without it.

Okay, maybe the year my mom insisted I be a Dutch girl for Halloween, wooden shoes and all. I wanted to be Superman.  My fingers got slammed in the car door as I tried to get that crazy multi-layered skirt in the door without the shoes falling off my feet.  I may not have been hand in hand with gratitude that day.

I have a sign in my writing room that says, “You cannot be grateful and bitter.  You cannot be grateful and unhappy.  You cannot be grateful and without hope.  You cannot be grateful and unloving.  So just be grateful.”  The author is unknown but I’m pretty sure it was scripted by God.

He will be our peaceThis year, I have been blown away by the upbeat spirits of three friends faced with harrowing winds.  Their smiles are not manufactured, their peace is not manmade, their steady faithfulness tethered by a strong belief in prayer is powerfully real.  Micah 5:5 says in part, “And he will be our peace.”   I know this is true because I have seen it in the eyes of my friends.  These three have been my stalwarts of grace, a bottomless sea of buoyant belief that has made my own faith bolder and are my sweet inspiration for this devotional.

***

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jen and I

Jennifer has been a friend for a long time.  She lives in California, I’m in Minnesota.  We don’t talk daily.  Often we go months without speaking.  She gave me a figurine many years ago that sits on my kitchen counter.  It’s an angel, tiredly leaning into the crook of a star that says, “Believe in your dreams.”  It nudges me when I’m slipping in the muddiness of life.   There is a scripture in Thessalonians that says that we should encourage each other and build one other up.  That’s Jen – everybody’s cheerleader.  Even when we tease her about it, she refuses to be any different.

Her breast cancer diagnosis in her mid 40’s last year was a sucker punch for us all.  The woman is vivacious, spirited and energetic.  Cancer tried to take that away from her just as her husband tried to take away her cell phone when she was in the hospital.  Cancer and her husband had a lesson to learn.  She has discovered how to fight for herself, for her health, for her life, for her family.  But it’s not a bitter battle.  Her battle plan is her faith, laced with a strong conviction in the power of prayer.  Part of the plan rests in a gentle acceptance of every possibility.  Her cancer will not define her and she resists every limit it tries to put on her.  She has a robust family life, raising three teen boys and filling her home with extended family.  Her career is manifested by helping people, teaching people, inspiring people.  I have loved this woman for years but this last year has given me a keen appreciation of what she means to me.  The depth of her faith has powered mine deeper.

***

Greg and I have been friends for a long time too but I’m convinced we met in heaven before we were born.  To look at us, you’d never know we shared a soul.  He is a black, married, gay man from Louisiana.  I’m a white, married, straight woman from the Yankee netherlands.  We finish each other sentences as we teach together, can share ideas with a look and know each other’s heart intimately.

Greg and Paul

Paul and Greg

When I learned he had stage 4 colon cancer, I wept.  Then he told me how this was going to go.  Replace my tears with prayers.  Firmly focus on his recovery as nothing else was acceptable.  His mom, his grandmama, his kids, his husband and his siblings had all agreed that a large part of his treatment was going to be positivity and powerful prayer.  The doctors could bring on the medicine for his body but we were doing all the soul work.  His sister started a GoFundMe Page and sold t-shirts that read, “Life Him Up!”   When you look him in the eye, you know his belief in the power of prayer and God’s healing strength goes all the way to the inside of his big toe.   When fundraising became critical so he could get into a highly expensive treatment, we all prayed and shared his story endlessly.  An anonymous donor contributed all the necessary money for the treatment.   When he told me the news, his smile, the joyfulness in his voice, the gratitude for a stranger’s generosity, the sense of God, resonated in my soul and brought chills to my skin.

***

We have known Amber since she was a teen.  She took a GED and turned it into a law degree as a single parent and a captain in the Army.  Last year at this time, she was thrilled to pass the bar and begin her law career.  Tonight, she is sitting in a Denver hospital in the NICU, watching over her daughter Hannah and grieving the loss of Hannah’s conjoined twin Olivia.

Amber Tristan Savannah

Amber, her son Tristan and daughter Hannah

The unexpected pregnancy last winter didn’t change her plans to build a law firm and a great life for her and her 6 year old son.  She was prepared to go forward, with or without the baby’s father.  When the baby became babies became conjoined twins, the father favored termination of the pregnancy.  Amber soldiered on alone, despite medical diagnoses that said her daughters would never be viable, that she was endangering her own health and the proclamation that they wouldn’t deliver her babies in their hospitals.  Her inquisitive, brilliant mind allowed her to understand all the medical terminology flung around by doctors all across the country, comprehend the legalities and ethics of the decisions the medical community had to make and find the one place in the country that was willing to give her daughters a shot at life.  But one abiding belief carried her beyond it all.  Amber believes pugnaciously in the power of prayer.

When she was no longer able to work and terrified she wouldn’t be able to support her son, she launched her GoFundMe page.  We shared her story with our own circles.  And the power of God swirled up a miracle on my Facebook page.  Once Greg learned that the anonymous donor was going to cover the cost of his treatment, he chose to shut down his own GoFundMe page.  Upon learning about Amber and her babies, he turned the spigot of his circle’s prayers and funds onto Amber.

His loving and happy generosity, in the midst of his own crisis, reminded me of a scripture a Sunday school teacher taught me in elementary school.  I could only remember part of it but the internet remembered the rest for me.  2 Corinthians 9:7 says “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  Greg’s spirit, joyfulness and quiet peace has brought me to my knees in gratitude for his presence in my life.  In days, Amber’s fund grew from a couple hundred dollars to thousands.  The love and caring of strangers for this young woman we love like a daughter filled me with a joyful hope.  God, again, proving to us that love shows up when we believe and pray.

Amber’s tenacious belief in the power of prayer and her soft spoken gratitude brings fortitude to my own faith.  I really thought my faith was lock, stock and barreled solid.  Her gracious example, in the face of every parents’ worst fears and then some, caused me to challenge myself to go to a deeper place with God and allow my vulnerabilities to live in that relationship.  In turn, it has brought me to a more candid place with the world about my faith and my heart.

***

This devotional is dedicated to Jen, Greg and Amber whose commanding faith has graced my heart.  It is in memory of Olivia, whose face I came to know and Dedicationrecognize in sonograms and who sits on the crook of a star in the heavens, watching her sister, brother and mom, whispering, “Believe in your dreams.”  It is in honor of Hannah, a feisty little spirit whose determination to live should propel us all to gather up piles of gratitude for each breath we take.  I am blessed to have them in my world, to inspire and challenge me in my faith and how I show up in the world.  They have changed me, changed my heart, changed my life.

 

In Deepest Gratitude

Gratitude 3“I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.”  ~William Shakespeare

A tremendous thanks to Pastor Kris for believing in me enough to let me continue to do this Advent devotional.  I have no formal education in religion or ministry.  Yet, she agrees to my doing this work of love each year.  Her example this last year, celebrating and grieving her mom, teaches much about grace and grief.  Easter is tremendously fortunate to have a woman of her insight, faith, compassion and joie de vivre to lead us.

And to Cindy Wilson, who does so much more than make this devotional be a printed page or a web link.  Even when facing her own hurdles this year, she championed me through the writing.   Her photos, her humor, her gentle spirit encouraged me in ways big and small.  To know Cindy is to smile.  The God in her is amazing.

Lastly, to my husband Chris, who journeys with me, ever supportive and always kind.  He makes strangers laugh and inspires those who know him with his gentle and helpful heart.  When you look in his soul, only love resides.  This fall, as I undertook the writing of this devotional, I became seriously ill and was hospitalized for nearly two weeks.  Every day he was there, filling the sterile hospital room with his warm strength.  When I was home, he cared for me with a heart only God could plant.

Each year I learn how much I don’t know in the writing of this devotional.  I discover songs and artists that slam my heart with love.  (Don’t miss Christmas Eve’s song.)  It strengthens my faith, builds my commitment to letting the God in me see the God in others and opens my eyes and soul to the many ordinary miracles that fill my each and every day.  It changes the eyes through which I see this world.

With much love and a humble thanks to all.  May you have a blessed and rich Advent.

thank you

Thank You Lord”  Thank You Lord song link

I come before you today,
And there’s just one thing that I want to say;
Thank you, Lord
For all You’ve given to me, for all the blessing that
I cannot see
Thank you, Lord;

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.

For all you’ve done in my life,
You took my darkness and gave me your light
Thank you, Lord
You took my sin and my shame,
You took my sickness and healed all my pain
Thank you, Lord

With a grateful heart, with a song of praise,
With an outstretched arm, I will bless your name.

Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord,
Thank you, Lord, I just want to thank you Lord;
Thank You, Lord.