Saturday, December 26, 2009


A couple of days ago I was visiting with some friends who have young children. The two cousins, a 17-month-old girl and a 15-month-old boy, were playing together on the living room floor. When the little girl was on the little rocking horse and the little boy decided it was his turn, he latched onto the rocking horse with one hand and grabbed a handful of his cousin's hair with the other. We came quickly to the rescue, but we needed to be there to facilitate the children taking turns with the toy because they weren't old enough to do it themselves.

Sharing is really difficult for small children. Their self-concept and their own needs are all they know or understand. The little boy will learn not to pull his cousin's hair when he thinks it's his turn to play on the rocking horse because his mommy won't let him have a turn at all if he does. Later, as he gets older, he'll begin to understand that other people have feelings and he'll start to grapple with the morality of the situation, but that won't necessarily make sharing all that much easier for him.

Even as adults we have trouble sharing. In America the trend seems to be to buy enough objects to go around so that sharing is no longer an issue. There are TVs in every room in the house so that each person can watch whatever program he or she wants at the same without worrying about the viewing preferences of other family members. In many households there is a car for each person with a driver's license so no one will have to modify his or her schedule to facilitate sharing a vehicle.

Of course, it's not always possible to just buy duplicate items for every person who might want to use something. There isn't usually a screwdriver or a can opener for every person. Most people have to share things like bathrooms, microwaves, kitchen tables, and even household bandwidth. Still, we aren't necessarily happy about the necessity of sharing. I remember back to childhood Christmases gone by when my sister and I would enter into complicated negotiations about when and how we could play with each other's new toys. Sometimes I wonder if things have really changed that much as our generation grew to adulthood.

The Bible shows us a lot of examples of sharing. People in the Bible shared food and clothing with others. Sometimes they even shared their homes with other people by providing hospitality to poor people and travelers. Some people sold everything they had—including prized possessions—and gave the proceeds to the poor when they went to follow Jesus. Things are just things, according to Jesus, and people are much more important.

As Christians we should try to move beyond our selfish tendencies to better appreciate how the things we have can bring joy to more people than just ourselves. After all, When we share our possessions with others, the gift of their happiness can be even more special than the satisfaction we feel when we enjoy those things alone. Watching TV is nice, but it's often nicer to watch TV with other people. Eating a tasty meal is satisfying, but it's even more satisfying when you share it with other people. Having a lovely home is enjoyable, but it's even more enjoyable when you open it up to others through hospitality. Playing with your toys and gadgets is fun, but it can be even more fun to watch someone else enjoying our prized possessions. As I recall, Christmas was a lot more fun when my sister and I played together with all of our new toys than if we just sat alone with our own half of the presents.

Now that Christmas is past and we don't feel that old pressure to be on our best behavior anymore, let's not forget the benefits of sharing. When we share, everyone gets to smile, and no one gets their hair pulled. From a Christian perspective, that's a pretty good deal. Smiles are, after all, contagious. So let's all challenge ourselves to share our Christmas presents today and to share as many of our possessions as possible throughout the year.

Friday, December 25, 2009


"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life; and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

"There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

"He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
(John 1:1–14)

What a powerful passage. Jesus has always been with us because we were created through him, but he loved us so much that he chose to come down and literally live among us as a human so that we might know him more fully. I believe that all souls recognize Jesus in some way because we were made through him, but so often we choose to listen to what our minds have been taught instead of what our souls intuit. All of the people who met Jesus knew him at some level because they were made through him, but many of them did not listen to that tiny voice inside. They refused to be taken in by such childish beliefs, and they refused to recognize him. Yet everyone who listened to their soul, who began to realize who and what Jesus was, was given the ability to grow even closer to their creator. Those who were drawn to Jesus because they wanted to be closer to God were granted a place in God's own family.

John's passage illustrates a beautifully simple reality that we struggle to accept. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness does not understand it. Each of us has the darkness of sin staining us, and that darkness holds us back from understanding this amazing story of love, creation, and redemption. God made us through light, but we polluted ourselves with darkness. Still to any who seek the light is given the power to cast off all darkness and live fully in the light. This is an incredible opportunity for us if we can truly believe in the simplicity of the story.

We are ordinary mortals, but Jesus is the alpha and the omega. It's tempting for us to try to smash Jesus into our limited human perspective, to make him nothing more than a wise man who was blessed by God. That seems easier for us to accept than the idea that eternal God almighty would come and live among us so that we could have a better relationship with him and thereby be transformed into new creations. We think it's easier to make Jesus less than to imagine ourselves becoming more. But the beautiful thing here is that the truth is better than our imagination. The simplicity in John's story is more true than the logical loopholes we invent. Today we celebrate that God was born among us, and I pray that we might read these words from John and truly believe it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Still Small Voice

Elijah was in a tough spot. Because he had proclaimed God's word, he was extremely unpopular with the powerful people in Israel. In fact, he was hiding out in a cave because a lot of people were trying to kill him. God knew that Elijah was feeling kind of down because it seemed like he was the only one left who really cared about God. God decided to give Elijah a very special experience—He told Elijah to go outside and stand on the mountain because He Himself was going to pass by. "Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave." (1 Kings 19:11–12)

Elijah was accustomed to seeing God work through powerful miracles. Elijah had been fed by animals and angels. He had proclaimed a famine that came to pass. He had seen the miracle of the widow's oil and meal that were never exhausted and had raised the woman's son from the dead. He had stood on a mountain in front of all the people when the fire of God consumed their sacrifice as proof that the Lord was still among them. Elijah was probably expecting a powerful wind, an earthquake, or a fire because he knew God was capable of all these things. Yet we do not always connect best with God through flashy miracles and big events. Sometimes the gentle whisper, the still small voice, is what touches us most, and that was the gift that God gave Elijah in his time of need.

Christmas Eve is my favorite night of the year. No matter where I am on Christmas Eve, I always attend some sort of late service that starts around 10:30 or so and ends around midnight. Towards the end of these "midnight mass" services, the people sing "Silent Night". Usually the lights are dimmed, and sometimes we light candles amongst the congregation. There, as I sing quietly in the dark, the sense of a still small voice comes upon me and I feel that God is truly among us. It is that moment when I most fully realize that Jesus is a very real, intimate, and beautiful part of my life, and I feel overwhelmed with love and gratitude because of that. At the end of the service we will stand and sing "Joy to the World" and my joy will be all the more powerful because it has been bolstered by the still small voice. The service could have been designed with nothing but loud and joyful songs as we rejoice in the savior's birth, but it's just as powerful to be still for a moment and really appreciate the love that we are celebrating.

There many passages in the psalms that advise us to shout to the Lord, to sing and dance, to play the trumpets, and to rejoice loudly. Still, there is a time for us to stop and be quiet and just realize the importance of God in our lives. Every once in a while, we need to clear out all of our fears and distractions and even our loud hymns of praise so that we can just be still and let God pass by our hearts. "Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." (Psalm 46:10) God will be exalted, and there's plenty of time for praise. But sometimes we just need to take a moment to be still and listen for the still small voice that tells us that God is here and He loves us.

Tonight at about 11:45 or so, I will be still and know that Jesus my savior has truly come to rescue me from darkness. I will hear the still small voice of God in my heart whispering his love for me. I will feel tears well up in the corner of my eyes, and I will feel peace as strong as any peace I have felt all year. In that one moment, I will know that no matter what happens around me, things will be right deep within my soul because God is there. And then I will be ready to stand and sing "Joy to the World" with all my heart.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Only Jesus They See

I heard a song recently that called Christians to live their faith more openly and to be kinder to those around them. This song argued that it was essential to treat others as we believe Jesus would treat them, because we may be "the only Jesus they see". I think this is an important message, and I don't think it's just about reaching out to non-believers. All of us struggle with our faith sometimes, and it can be difficult to feel a strong connection to Jesus. Sometimes seeing God's love in the face of another person can make a huge difference, even for those of us who already know Jesus loves us.

I think that Christians (myself included) tend to be a lot better at talking and thinking about love and justice than actively living it out. So often we are like the people James decries in his epistle who see people in need and say, "God bless you," but do nothing to help them. Sometimes I choose not to see the need of those around me, or I choose not to make their struggles my problem. All too often my compassion is passive instead of active. I like to try to be nice to people in general and to give money to charity, but what will I do when someone in need appears right in front of me? Will I help them?

I understand why so many of us well-intentioned people turn away. We don't want to stick our noses in other people's business. We're afraid to commit ourselves to someone else's cause because we aren't sure how much time and resources we have to commit. We have a regularly scheduled day, and we don't know if we should deviate from our planned activities to spend time helping someone else. We worry that if we get in too close, especially if the person is stranger, we might get victimized ourselves. We fear that we might not be able to help the person anyway, and we don't want to be yet another disappointment to him or her. We have all kinds of logical reasons why we choose not to try to help, and they don't sound all that selfish or cold-hearted in our minds.

All around us we see bumper stickers that say 'WWJD.' We've gotten so used to seeing them that we usually just dismiss them without bothering to wonder what Jesus would do. It's a hard question for us to consider. Jesus dedicated his entire life to others during his ministry, but we have careers and families. We have other good and loving obligations that keep us from spending all of our time in service to the poor and sick. How do we decide how to use our time best?

Each time we see people around us who need some help or kindness, we need to ask ourselves whether we can help and really challenge ourselves to take action whenever possible. Sometimes there really is nothing we can personally do, but perhaps we can bring the problem to the attention to someone who can help. We can take time out of our day to pray for those people that we cannot help, and even if we don't have the power to fix all their problems, we can contribute whatever kindness we can. A suffering person will not begrudge an act of kindness just because it isn't a cure. Every act of kindness is appreciated, and we need to be sure that we're sharing God's love by showing people that they are worth our time and kindness. We have to remember that we may be the only Jesus those people see and act accordingly.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


This year I made Christmas tree ornaments for all of my local friends. It was a fun project, and I enjoyed coming up with ideas for ornaments that would be personally meaningful to each individual on my list. As I made each ornament, I amused myself by imagining the happy look on the recipient's face when he or she opened up the package. When I had my Christmas party, I got to see lots of those reactions in real life. The present opening was one of the happiest parts of my evening. When I do nice things for people, I love seeing the positive impact it makes on their lives, even if it's only something small like giving a friend a cute present. When I see happiness, laughter, or joy in others, then those buoyant feelings become mine also, and that's a really nice sensation.

I love seeing the payoff when I do something nice, but I know that's not always possible. Not all of my friends made it to my party. In a couple of cases, I didn't get to speak to the people at all when I left their presents for them. I won't be there when they open them, and I may never really get to find out how they felt when they saw what I made for them. The same is true in other areas of my life. For example, a few days ago I was shoveling my driveway after a light snow. When I finished with my driveway, I decided to shovel my neighbor's. I figured that she was at work and would appreciate not having to do it herself when she got home. Still, I haven't seen my neighbor since then, and there's no way for her to know that I was the one who shoveled her driveway. I won't ever really know whether or not I made her day by doing that chore.

I love sharing in people's joy when I do something that benefits them, but I don't just do good things for that payoff. I should enjoy doing nice things whether I'm around to see the reaction or not. Being kind isn't just about getting thanks or credit or feeling like a great person. It's about trying to make a difference for the other person, whether you get to be a part of the resulting joy or not. We may never know the full impact of our acts of kindness, but we can still feel good about doing them. Just because I don't see others' reactions to my work doesn't mean they weren't affected by it. If a good deed is done (in the forest) and no one is around to see it, it's still a good deed. That matters.

I felt happy just thinking of my friends as I made their presents, before they even knew that they were going to receive presents from me at all. I can imagine the happy faces of the people I won't get to see as they open their presents, and that's pretty rewarding all on its own. Sometimes it can be a beautiful thing to do something sweet and then walk away without any recognition, just knowing that I probably started a chain reaction that would cause someone else to smile. Imagining that smile can be just as nice as actually seeing it. I know the payoff is there, whether I see it or not, and that makes my efforts seem worthwhile.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Still Time

Last week at a Bible Study I regularly attend, one of the participants mentioned that the winter solstice was coming up. He suggested that we could recognize this day by taking a look at our mental lists of the things we wanted to accomplish in 2009 and challenging ourselves to do whatever has been left undone on that list before the end of the year. He thought it could be a good idea to see how many of our unmet goals we can fulfill in the handful of days that are left. Most of us laughed kind of ruefully at this suggestion. What could we really get done in a few days? And didn't we all give up on our New Year's resolutions before February?

I don't really know if I ever had a list of things I wanted to get done this year. The only things I can think of are finishing my book, which I did in September, and losing a certain amount of weight, of which I've lost about half and have no chance of dropping the rest in a week and a half. So there really isn't much of a list for me to evaluate today. Nevertheless, I still like the attitude that this idea promotes: There's still time, so take action!

So often we tell ourselves that it's "too late" to do something, but that judgment is based on artificial time lines that we've created. New Year's resolutions don't have to just be about the year in which they are made. Some projects take longer than a year to complete, and sometimes our progress is slower than we would like it to be. Still, that doesn't necessarily mean that we're out of time. The dates on the calendar and the time on the clock are not necessarily as rigid as we treat them. I might tell you that it's too late for me to reach my goal weight before an event I'm attending in the spring where I will be wearing my first strapless dress. And that could potentially be a true statement. But that event isn't the only reason I'm trying to lose weight. It's still worth doing, even if I miss my "deadline". Likewise, I sometimes feel that it's "too late" to repair a relationship after years of hurt or silence, but I know that may not be the case. It's never too late for me to get educated, pursue goals, or try to make a difference in someone's life. I don't have to give up just because I have failed my original expectations.

Maybe I haven't accomplished everything that I wanted to in 2009, but there's still a few days left. And when those days are spent, I have all of 2010 to keep trying!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Are We There Yet?

I'm going to spend most of today in a car. My husband and I are making a 12-hour, 700-mile trip across several states as we travel to my hometown. I've made this trip many times before, and I know how interminable it can seem as I'm rolling through the seemingly endless expanses of Indiana. Sometimes I wonder if I'll be stuck in the car forever. Just like a little kid, I hear myself thinking, "Are we there yet?" The answer to that question will be 'no' for a long time before it finally becomes 'yes'. Twelve hours is, after all, a pretty long time.

I've been on many different kinds of journeys in my lifetime. I've taken plane rides and bus ride and car rides to distant and not-so-distant places. I've been on journeys of self-discovery and maturation. I've traveled the path of education and spend four years navigating the winding streets of intellectual and social growth in college. I've been on small and sometimes inconsequential voyages that lasted a single day, struggling to complete myriad tasks and collapsing into bed in relief when I reached the destination of day's end. In so many of these cases, I've noticed that my goal can seem like a mirage on the horizon, tantalizingly visible but seemingly impossible to reach. Goals seem like they will never be achieved, and the journey itself feels endless.

I've developed some strategies to help keep myself from feeling so impatient along the way. I've realized that obsessing about my destination and how far away it seems just makes the trip seem longer. I need other things to think about, other tasks to do along the way so I don't feel like I'm just sitting and waiting for the minutes to tick by. Waiting is an uncomfortable necessity in life, but it doesn't seem so bad if I'm doing something else too. On trips I like to listen to music or have interesting conversations with my traveling companions. When I'm working on long projects in life, I like to throw in some smaller tasks along the way so that I can feel like I'm getting something accomplished even if the main project takes a long time to complete. As I move through stages of my life, I like to try to focus on the small everyday things that I'm doing instead of thinking about how long it's taking my life to change into what I want it to become. There's more to life than waiting.

Today doesn't have to just be about suffering through a 12-hour car ride. First of all, I have the really nice opportunity to be with my husband for 12 hours. It's been a busy semester for him, and we haven't actually had all that much time to spend together the last couple of months. This doesn't just have to be a long, boring car trip—it can be a chance for me to catch up with my husband and talk about interesting things. It can also be a chance for us to kick back and sing along with our favorite Christmas songs. I can enjoy this time with my husband instead of resenting the time stuck in the car. When I find myself thinking, "Are we there yet?" I can challenge myself to find something more productive or fun to do instead. I could pray. I could brainstorm blog topics. I could even daydream. I could put in that album I love that I haven't listened to in a long time. I could call old friends and say hello. I could look out the window and try to discover new things about the world around me.

The same is true for the rest of my life. Whenever I find myself getting impatient, I should try to deflect my thoughts to something else. I have to realize that I'm never just waiting for something to happen. My life is many threads all woven together, and if one line in my life is stalled, there are many others with which I can occupy myself. That dreadfully slow journey from the back of the line to the front at the Post Office or the grocery store could be a chance to check in with God, to organize my thoughts, or to think of something nice that I could do for someone. That long interval between the beginning of my husband's graduate program and his graduation is a chance for us to learn things about ourselves, to grow and develop as adults, and to prepare for the future. When it gets down to it, my whole life is a journey from birth to eternity, and there's certainly plenty left for me to do between now and the day I meet Jesus in heaven. Some of the trips in my life are long, but if I have an open mind and heart, I will always find things to do along the way until I reach my destination.
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