Coming Home to the Sea: One Couple's Experience of Eastport, Maine

There’s something about the sea that speaks to the soul and awakens the heart to new horizons and new points of view. Now I won’t pretend that I’m a man of the sea or that I fully understand that majestic voice that calls men to venture out onto the waves; nor can I mirror the character of those who choose to make their home by the shore. Still, I feel drawn to the changing tides and the ebb and flow of the ocean, and when I’m there, I’m a different man.

For our 25th anniversary, my wife and I embarked on a little seaside adventure to the Northeastern coast in the little harbor town of Eastport, Maine. We chose the location on a whim; we wanted to find a place that was peaceful and undisturbed, a haven apart from the crowds and confusion of our everyday lives. We had no idea what we would find there or even how we would fill our time in this quaint little fishing village, but nevertheless we made our plans and off we went. Maybe we were looking for renewal; maybe we just wanted to catch our breath and forget the troubles and turbulence we had left behind.

When we arrived at The Milliken House, our bed & breakfast, we came as strangers to Mary, our host, but soon found ourselves caught up in her simple charm, her motherly care and her gracious hospitality. The old home seemed to welcome us as well, carrying us back to a simpler time and bidding us to surrender to the slower pace of life. We were struck by the quiet and the calm, as if this monument to better days with its large rooms and period furnishings was whispering to us its silent secrets and assuring us that we were safe and secure within its walls. Our room was spacious and appealing, a harbor of comfort for the end of each day; our breakfasts were bountiful and beautiful, served to us on elegant china plates at the large linen-draped dining room table. There was always tea for us when we came home from our adventures and Mary was always ready to greet us with tales of the history of Eastport and stories of colorful local characters she had come to call friends. Like a port in a storm, we soon came to see that this house was our refuge from the weary world that had battered and buffeted us for far too long.

Our first day was spent exploring the town, and we wondered what attractions might be available. There were none of the typical touristy variety, no high-tech, slick-looking shops with crass commercial trinkets for sale, but still, there were treasures everywhere. Here was a close-knit community of like-minded souls, a family of people who loved their town and sought to bring out the best in one another. Every shopkeeper and waitress was more than happy to point us in the direction of another business or restaurant. Instead of chain stores there were cooperatives where local artisans sold their wares, antique stores offering the old, and shops selling custom items innovative and new. My wife was especially enamored with the local Moose Island Bakery where they sold the most delicious creampuffs she had ever tasted, and I have to admit that I wasn’t disappointed with the local lobster roll at the Happy Crab.

Perhaps the thing that struck us the most was that Eastport, though it had seen so many changes over the years, was still a place with a unique character that spoke its timeless story and wonderful wisdom to every heart that took the time to listen. I remember one evening, listening to our server share stories of the long history of The Landmark Restaurant where we were enjoying a wonderful dinner. She told us how this old edifice had undergone a number of transformations over the years, each unique and some even unusual. As I looked around at the old brick walls, the careworn original floors and the majestic columns and archways decorated in an eclectic style for this its latest incarnation, I could almost sense that this venerable building was somehow grateful and quietly content to be useful still, and even proud of its long heritage of service to the town and the people who had built and maintained it all these years.

On another day, we ventured out from Eastport, across the border into Canada to Campobello Island. We marveled at the well-maintained summer cottage that was once home to the Roosevelts. We had to laugh to ourselves at how this and the other lovely “cottages” in the area were so much larger than our own home. We took time for lunch at The Fireside, one of the wonderful restaurants on the island, and traveled to The Quoddy Head Lighthouse to wait for low tide so that we could make our way across the rocks for a visit. We capped off our visit with a hike along the seaside trails near the Roosevelt Cottage and a stop at Herring Cove Beach to walk along the shore and sit in silence before the soothing sea. In all we saw, the thing that we found the most captivating were the breathtaking views of the ocean, whether from the shoreline behind the Roosevelt Cottage, the deck of the Fireside, the hills upon which the old lighthouse stood or that deserted beach where we were all but alone with the waves and the soft gray sand. The sound of the water making its way to the shore, the occasional soaring of a seagull, and the fog moving in like misty spirits answering the mystical call of the ocean spoke to our spirits and calmed the clutter in our minds as we were taken into the embrace of the moment. Slowly and quietly we began to forget ourselves – or rather, we remembered ourselves as we had been and were truly meant to be. It drained the tension from our bodies and drowned out the noise of our busy lives, and we rediscovered that deep hidden spark of youthful romantic love that had drawn the two of us together so many years ago.

There was excitement as well, an adventure that came in the form of a whale watch with Wind Jammers Whale Watching Tours in Eastport. Our host, Butch, took our group out in his lobster boat to view the beautiful minke fin whales that had finally made their way back home to these northern waters for the summer. It was exciting to watch these majestic mammals rise up out of the water for a breath of air, arch their backs and then dive into the depths to explore their ocean home. It was equally amazing to view over 50 harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks near the shore and to see bald eagles perched atop tall trees surveying their lofty domains. It was both a spectacular event and a simple pleasure, something extraordinary and yet so much a part of the everyday life of this faraway place at the edge of the world.

It was really the little things that mattered the most: a pot of tea and a game of Scrabble before retiring for the evening, a walk along a quiet sandy beach to search for sand dollars and sea glass, or a stop along the road to capture photographs of a sunset too beautiful for words. It brought out such a child-like excitement within our hearts, and one might have thought it silly to see two adults holding bits of sand-smoothed glass in their hands as if they were diamonds or standing in awe of the flight of cormorants or the pinks and purples of the setting sun after an ordinary summer day. But these events and objects, sights and sounds were truly treasures to hearts being reawakened to what is most important in life: the power of a moment, the making of a memory, and the rekindling of the spirit of eternal youth.

 We’ve since returned to our everyday life, but we’ve brought with us a little bit of that seaside town, the soul of its population, and the shining shores of Maine. And because of that, it’s hard to imagine how we’ll ever be the same again. What began as an uncertain journey has become a part of who we are. What was meant to be a “getting away from it all” has turned out to be a true coming home. Like the tide that washes onto the shore, only to slip back into the vastness of the ocean, we’ve come to see how our lives are really about returning to the place inside us that is as deep and mysterious as the sea and as timeless and unchanging as the rocky shoreline of a faraway place, that for a short time, we came to call home.

Failing to Grow: One Middle-aged Man's Hike Along the Appalachian Trail

A few years ago I made a decision to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while now. I took a two-day hike on the Connecticut section of the Appalachian Trail. It wasn’t on my bucket list or anything, although there were a few times I felt like I was going to “kick the bucket” along the way. It was just one of those things I wanted to try a) to find out what all the excitement was about and b) to see if I could actually make it. Well, I did make it – just barely – and ended up with a few blisters, some sore muscles and a better appreciation for those who actually travel the entire grueling sixth-month journey from Georgia to Maine. In many ways I feel that I failed at the challenge I’d set for myself. While I expected to make a few mistakes along the way, I thought I would have fared better overall. I decided then that I needed to find the meaning within my not-so-successful adventure; otherwise, I’d just be adding insult to injury – literally – to my otherwise mediocre mid-life crisis. What follows are the life lessons – the growth and insights – that have come from my “failure” on the Appalachian Trail.

I was certainly prepared for the rigors of the hike. I was biking 15-20 miles, 5 times a week, to build up my legs and my stamina. I took a few short practice hikes with a smaller pack in order to get used to the pace of hiking. I did all the research on proper trail camping techniques from bear bagging to water treatment. I found a nifty free GPS app for my phone to keep me from getting lost and I bought some new hiking gear – not the best, but enough to get the job done. And so, after planning a reasonable route and filling my pack, I decided finally to just go ahead and do it. But, as with any good adventure, no matter how much I might prepare for every contingency, I knew there would be challenges to face along the way.

I was a little overweight for the hike – and by that, I mean my gear. I like to sleep comfortably and bug-free, so I brought along a tent, a sleeping bag and a pad. My “sleep system” alone weighed about 8 pounds, the result of purchasing less expensive, more multi-use equipment. With my food, clothing and other gear, I was sporting about 27 pounds of weight on my back, awkwardly arranged and bungeed together as best I could. My one really poor choice was not investing in a new pair of hiking shoes. I went instead with the trusty 20-year-old clunky, indestructible hiking boots I had acquired when I was first married. While my ankles felt loved and supported, my feet definitely did not.  

I arrived at my starting point in the early afternoon – the time my ride was available to take me – and began the hike. My chauffer, my lovely bride, was not entirely happy to see me go. She had visions of her husband being eaten by ravenous bear or falling down into a bottomless ravine with no one around to help. Though her lack of confidence in my hiking abilities should have diminished my enthusiasm, I reminded myself that her anxiety came from her love. Knowing that she cared gave me inner strength to see the journey through. With that love to carry me – I had to carry everything else – I began my solo trek on the road toward the trail. At first, the way was smooth and level. This was easy enough, I thought. In no time at all, I arrived at my first shelter, took some time to explore it and then decided that it was way too early in the day to stay there. I set my sights on the next shelter on the trail, a “mere” 10 miles away (It looked so much closer on the map!), and moved on.

Okay, I’ll admit that was poor choice number 2! My lively, 2-3 mile-per-hour sprint began quickly to slow to more of a careful stroll as the trail took a turn upward in elevation over more rocky terrain. It was there I met my first experienced thru-hiker, a man who knew how to pace himself and who was kind enough not to laugh at the arrangement of my gear. He shared some tips and tales from his hike along the trail. He was wise enough to stop at a campsite along the way; I kept on going, determined to make it to the next “official” shelter. However, at 8:30 in the evening, I finally resigned myself to the fact that my goal was unattainable, found a flat spot on the trail and set up my tent for the night. I admit, while it was exciting (It was as close to meeting Bear Grylls as I’ll ever come!), it was still a little unnerving to be out in the middle of the woods all alone at night. On several occasions, I felt I needed to make some noise to scare away whatever real or imagined creatures were scurrying around my thin taffeta sanctuary. I made it through the night, laughing at my pride-induced predicament while convincing myself that my solar phone charger was in no way the equivalent of a night light. Then at 5:00 am, I packed up and began once more to make my way north toward that elusive shelter. Which way was north again? Thank God for that trusty GPS app!

This time when I arrived at the shelter, even though again it was somewhat early, I decided that my blistered feet had had enough and decided to stay put. I set up my tent on the only 7 feet of non-rocky soil I could find, replenished my water supply and prepared a reconstituted meal in my stainless steel cooking pot. My hiking companion from the previous day showed up a little later and graciously refrained from commenting on my lack of stamina and common sense. He ate a meal and moved on. I met a few other hikers who came to the shelter and listened to their stories while sharing my “trapped in the wilderness with blistered feet” story with as much manliness as I could manage. Afterward, I retied to my tent for the night. This time, after some tossing and turning, I got a little bit better sleep.

When morning came the next day, my feet decided they had had enough. I bandaged my blisters, which by now were quite painful, phoned my wife, and arranged for an alternate pickup time and location. I packed up quietly and again set off on the trail, walking briskly once more; well, at least I thought so until a professional hiking tour guide came zipping along. He slowed down to engage in polite hiker conversation, looking back every once in a while, apparently to make sure I was still within range to hear him. Right when I was about to suggest that I might be slowing him down, he decided to move on, bid me farewell, and within a minute was out of site, allowing me to concentrate once again on the pain in my feet and my desire to finish the hike. I knew I needed to get to the meeting place soon (I had already told my wife to leave, thinking I would beat her there – when would I learn my lesson?) and so I pressed on with determination and hope.

The next person to pass me on the trail could have been mistaken for a young, male, shirtless Abercrombie & Fitch model, on his way to his next photo shoot. He smiled as he flew by and I was happy he had no time to stop and snicker at this sweaty, blister-footed man with clunky shoes hobbling along and considering the surprising lack of automated defibrillators out on the Appalachian Trail. It was then I began to hear voices – strange, melodious, echoey voices – in the distance. At first, I feared it was the voice of God telling me my time had come; but to my relief I realized it was an announcer over a loudspeaker at an auto racetrack somewhere nearby. As I walked on, I met a man a little closer to my age who had stopped to take some pictures of the area overlooking that racetrack. He was out for a little exercise and was wisely pacing himself, so I was able to pass him off. I was annoyed at the noise from the racetrack, though now I see it as a good thing because it drowned out my grunts and groans as I pushed myself forward to my final destination.

I continued along the trail, thinking about those fast hikers, that loud racetrack and the other man I had met at the overlook. I realized that on the journey of life, it’s good to have goals and to pursue them with all our strength and determination; but it’s also good to take time to stop and notice the little miracles along the way. I marveled at how quickly the fog rose and dissipated over the land by that overlook, delighted in the display of color and diversity within the woods, and contemplated the wonder of life in everything from the moss growing on the rocks by a dried up stream to a bright orange newt warming itself on a log in the morning sun. I came to see that it’s a blessing to accept who we are and where we are on the journey, even when it seems that the world may be passing us by. I also remembered that although pain and struggle can take its toll, it can also push us to test the limits of our abilities and to reach for more.

After another hour or so of hiking, I saw on my map that I was in the home stretch. It was then that I began to experience my greatest pain, as each jagged rock and twisted root dug mercilessly into those blisters. I stubbed my toes more times than I care to count (Curse you natural leafy ground cover!) and experienced new levels of discomfort in my back and knees. As I came to what I thought was the last descent, suddenly ahead of me was one last hill. At that point, my strength began to falter and my discouragement mounted. But I knew my wife was waiting and decided to summon that last once of energy and press on until at last I saw the road near the place we were to meet. With a phone call or two and some quick coordination, we finally found each other

At last the journey had come to an end. We packed up my gear and headed for home. As we were driving, I came to see how much of a sacrifice this short trip had been for my wife – not only in the driving she had done, but in the worry as well. I’m sure she had wondered if the whole thing had been worth it; I know I had certainly pondered that myself. But, in the end, I was glad I’d gone and learned from my mistakes, and pleased that this intense little undertaking had led me to a new appreciation of my own frailty and a new awareness that it really is okay to be human. No matter what blunders I’d made along the way, I know that I’d grown because of them.

As we pulled into our driveway, I was happy to be home, happier to see my children and perhaps happiest to be able to take a shower! Later, I soaked my aching feet, finished off some leftover trail mix and collapsed on the family room couch. By this point I was just too tired to try to come up with a convincing story as to why I had ended my expedition a little earlier than expected. I also knew that any sense of failure I was feeling was giving way to a new determination to accept my limitations with humor and to celebrate my strengths with joy. No matter what I went through, I could now say that I had traveled on the Appalachian Trail and was all the better for it. I knew that my next trip would be a much more rewarding experience, simply because I’d make the changes necessary to have it turn out that way (Sorry, old hiking boots – you’re out!).

Life is about growing, and the truth is, sometimes we need to fail in order to grow. Failure is transformed into grace when we understand how we can use it to become better people, people who learn from mistakes and people who can see ourselves as we really are: struggling but strong, dependent yet determined, curious and courageous! I hope these few simple life lessons will inspire you to strike out on some new unknown trail to find out just what you can do, who you need to rely on and where in your life you’re heading – and I hope you can do it all with a humorous and happy heart!    

Lessons Along a Bike Path

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There is nothing so invigorating as a good bike ride. Recently, I’ve gotten much more serious about it, going four to six times a week from late spring to early fall for an 18-23 mile trek through our town. I was always a biking enthusiast; however, my problem is that no one remembered to tell my aging body this important news. Actually, I started riding again because I love the wind in my hair and the exhilaration of my heart pumping as I race along. Let me assure you; the fact that I had gained a few pounds had absolutely nothing to do with it. But, the more I got back into it, the longer I found I was riding. More riding meant more time to think and so I decided I’d pen a few of the more sober and spiritual thoughts that have occurred to me during these rides.

I was thinking about something a young girl once asked me. She wanted to know how I speak to God, or more precisely, how I listen to what God wants to tell me. I kept thinking about it for some time after that and so, each day when I took my ride, I decided to stay open to whatever God might want to tell me during that particular ride. And as I asked, so did I receive. These daily excursions taught me a lot about what journeying with God is all about.

I began my reintroduction to biking by traveling on the streets I knew. We often do that – start off on the journey by keeping to the familiar paths. Our fear of unknown – which really amounts to a fear of failure and fear of pain – tends to keep us on the path that feels safe. But, as I ventured onto new streets, it reminded me that being Christian means talking the risk to go to new places where God is leading us. We can’t really be effective in our walk until we get beyond the feeling that our journey is supposed to be a safe one.

I remember one morning, probably the second day I resumed riding, when I came to a steep hill. Rather than braving it in the lowest gear possible or getting off and walking the bike up the incline – which no real “biking enthusiast” would ever do – I decided to turn down a street just before the hill began to climb. I admit I felt a bit guilty for being so out of shape, and I was left wondering whether I would have made it had I tried. There have been times in my life when I was afraid to take on the steep challenges that were before me. Sometimes it was because I simply wasn’t ready and God wanted me to go a different route to reach the same destination; other times I think I was just too full of pride to slow down and go back to walking. These experiences taught me the importance of spiritual preparation and daily training in the faith as an essential part of going the distance. It was a hard lesson to learn, but the sad reality is this – any time I gave in to the easy way, I knew I had to surrender to a challenge that was never met.

As I chose to go down new streets, there were times when I would approach a dead end road. Often I would see the signs from far off but still feel compelled to continue on the road. Sometimes there would be another road that would allow me to continue my journey before I reached the dead end and other times I was forced to turn around. You know, I never felt awkward about taking a wrong turn; I knew there was always a way out and a new direction to go. It brought to mind the times I had wandered into sin or followed a direction that would lead me to a dead end in my walk of faith. And each time I saw the same loving God right there beside me, never condemning me for my mistakes, but always, always offering a new way to take me out of my dead end choices.

Now an interesting thing happened one day. I was riding along and peddled past a yard with a lawn sprinkler moving lazily back and forth between the house and the road. As I went past it, the water was shooting out onto the street. Even though I was hot, I swerved around the water and kept on going. Immediately I thought about how God often provides cool refreshment in the midst of life’s scorching desert days, and how we often miss His refreshment because we are focused on the road ahead or too proud to accept His kindnesses. I can assure you that after that experience, I made sure to zip through any cool spots that came up in the road ahead as a refreshing reminder of that incredible truth.

As I rode around each day, I would inevitably come to a place where I had to make a decision to turn left or right. One day, I looked up at the road sign on my right, which read, “Mountain Road.” Hmm. Not good, I thought. Still, I decided this time to take the challenge and went up the hill to the right. Surprisingly enough, the road turned out to be more of a slight incline than anything else. At one point I was even able to turn down a street on my left and coast for a while. Now coasting is always fun, because gravity does all the work and I get the thrill of a little speed instead of a slow steady ride. The twists and turns of life, the uphill battles, the times we can coast – it is all a matter of making a decision and then riding out the road wherever it takes us.

Sometimes I have no idea if I should choose one direction for my life over another. I worry that I’ll make the wrong choice and miss an opportunity that God has to offer me. It can be paralyzing to think that making a wrong choice might lead to dire consequences. But that isn’t how our Lord works. Just as I find a new adventure and a new insight no matter which direction I choose on my ride, so too will God work all things out to the good for the ones who have chosen Him. In the end, I know that ultimately God is in control and will take care of me on my journey. I take comfort in the fact that if I’ve spent time in preparation, by staying in His Word, praying with an open spirit and listening to Him speak all around me, I know I’ll have all the wisdom I need to make the right choice and to courage to take the steps to get from here to there.

Now another time on my ride, I came to a main road and wanted to cross over it to the other side, but found that the traffic was too heavy. Just when it would clear up on the left side, there would be cars zooming up on the right. At first, I was upset at having to wait for such a long time, but then I realized that waiting gave me a chance to get a drink and to rest my leg muscles. And when there was a break in the traffic, I had the energy to take off and get right back into the journey. So many times I’ve seen the obstacles of my life as hindrances to progress, when all the while, God was slowing me down and giving me time to rest, refresh and consider my next steps. It was only at the end of each time of resting, when the obstacles were removed – or I found a new way to deal with them – that I was able to see the reasons for God allowing them in the first place.

There did end up being a killer hill – one that left me no choice but to get off the bike and walk up in total humiliation and shame. Three quarters of the way up the hill, I saw a sign for “Brookview Road.” I decided that a ride alongside a brook might be nice and made a right turn. Well, there was no brook in sight and all this road did was to lead me down some more streets that seemed to take me nowhere. While I thought I was going to have an enjoyable experience, I simply rode in a huge circle and ended up just a little further down the road from where I would have been had I not turned. It did, however, keep me from having to cross over a busier intersection where cars turn onto and off of the highway. And since the purpose of the bike ride was for exercise…excuse me – to feel the wind in my hair – it didn’t really matter that I had to go the long way around. It helped to reinforce the idea that God is consistent and sovereign and knows how to take our self-centered choices and redirect them for his purpose and direction, often sparing us from dangers we might not even have comprehended along the way.

One of the most interesting things I did on my ride was to pick up objects discarded along the road. I was asked to substitute for the pastor of my church and wanted to prepare a sermon illustration. I decided to stop whenever the Spirit moved me to pick up a certain object. I picked up an old pair of broken glasses, some rubber tubing, a crushed soda can, and many other “useless” items. When I got home, I took those pieces of trash and turned them into a sculpture. I admit it wasn’t anything that would allow me to retire in comfort, but when it was finished, my creation was a perfect illustration of what God does for all of us. Each of us who believe has been like a discarded piece of garbage that was found by a loving God who has been able to shape us into something brand new! While the world may look at each of us as useless or unworthy, God sees just exactly how we fit into His vast eternal plan!

Day after day, in order to keep biking trips interesting, I would seek out a new way to go: through the center of town one day, out to the airport the next; sometimes just taking a leisurely ride along the nearby bike path on those lazy days. I figured that after a couple weeks, I would run out of places to go and start to get bored, but I was wrong. When I went out boldly, seeking to go wherever a new path took me, I found that the little town I live in had an awful lot of journeys packed into it. No matter how many days I went out, the journey was always new and interesting. It left me wanting to take that approach to my daily walk with the Lord – seeing each new day as another small journey, full of opportunities for excitement and learning, with no day like any other and none ever worth throwing away.

A truly blessed part of these rides was when things finally started to look familiar again and I found I had completed the bulk of the journey. It always felt good to be heading home. It wasn’t without its temptations, however, as many times I passed a local diner serving a sausage and egg breakfast sandwich or the ice cream place near the airport where I swear I could hear a double-dip chocolate peanut butter cone calling my name. Now I know that to stop and indulge myself would defeat the purpose of going on a bike ride in the first place – but OH – was it so tempting! I’m proud to say that I pressed on and soon found I had made it past the place of forbidden food and was on my way back on the road to my destination, my goal – my home! I knew I had a prize waiting for me there – my beautiful wife and my beautiful children, and their smiles were food enough for me! Okay, I admit it – I would end up having a big bowl of fiber or something equally healthy to take care of the other hunger inside me, but I saw it as temptation properly redirected and satisfied.

Like physical hunger, there are also spiritual temptations along the road of life. Satan tries his best to get us to stray from the path by offering us things that appeal to our senses and our needs, but ultimately they don’t satisfy. Only one thing truly does – living out our lives in the love of the God and pressing ever onward to win the prize that He has in store for all His children. And though it often seems that we can only see the worth of our journeys when we reach the end of them, it has been a joy to come to know the pleasure in the journey itself as well.

These days, my schedule has changed somewhat, but I still try to keep up with my riding when the weather is nice. I admit the discipline is good for my body and my soul, even though the sight of me afterwards is not always so good for my family. But there is so much God has to say to me in those quiet times out on the open road. I’m so grateful for that simple question from that young girl. I don’t know if I would have been so focused had she not given me something to think about.

There are just too many things we take for granted on our life journeys and once the journey is past, we can never go back and claim what was lost. I’ve learned that every moment of our existence has been ordained and blessed by our heavenly Father. While events in our lives may seem random and without purpose, we need to realize that it’s all in the Father’s hands, and in the end, we’ll understand what the journey has been all about. I pray that your journeys and mine will be full of joy and purpose, and that we will press ever onward to the end of all our journeys in eternity!

Lessons in Gardening

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Ever since my wife and I moved into our current home I’ve had an ongoing battle with the shrubbery. There are times when honestly I don’t know who’s winning the battle – the vegetation or me; but it’s all part of having a nice home and I take pride in the way our yard looks to the outside world.

At one point, the task of keeping up with our property became a living parable of the character of sin my life. I confess there was a time when I was more satisfied with the condition of my garden than the condition of my soul. I’ve been grateful to the Lord for teaching me an important lesson along the way.

Pruning Away a False Front

On one section of our property, there was a collection of wild grape vines that had choked out just about everything that was growing there. From a distance, things looked lush and green, but up close it was plain to see that the vines had all but destroyed the bushes underneath. I ended up having to use a chain saw to remove many of the bushes in order to get rid of the thick vines that had taken over. 

One of the most tedious parts of that project was removing the vines from around the branches of a young mulberry tree. Pulling them off the tree was no use. I had to go to the roots and cut them with a pruning saw and then clip the different sections around each branch and carefully remove them one by one. I found that in order to save the tree, I had to cut off several of its branches where the vines had coiled themselves around the wood. The more of the vines I removed, the more I realized just how far gone the tree really was. At the end of the whole endeavor, I found that there was very little foliage remaining and I was left doubting whether the tree would even recover from its ordeal.

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Through this experience I was reminded how the sin in my life was like those vines. It started off quietly attaching itself to my life. At first I didn’t notice what had happened; and when I did, I ignored the problem. “I’ll get rid of it later; it’s nothing to worry about right now!” I told myself. But slowly, like the vines around the bushes and trees, the sin began to wrap itself around my soul, intertwining with my daily actions and becoming a part of who I was. Like the tree, it was difficult to tell the difference between the sin and the green full life God had given me. They looked almost the same – at least from my disinterested distance.

The Divine Gardener

I began to see that the sin was taking over, choking out the light and drying me up inside. Things looked healthy on the surface; but I knew I was in need of a good pruning. I remembered reading the words of Jesus in John15:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5)

I knew I needed to let the Divine Vinedresser cut away all that was in me that was dead. My sin had become a thin veneer over a parched soul that was starved for the nourishment of new life from the True Vine. I didn’t want to be taken over by the choking, twisted growth of sin until the shell of my life was toppled to the ground, used up, and worthless. I trusted the heavenly Gardener to be as gentle as possible in the process. I knew there would be pain and even some loss; but I was prepared to accept what was needed to make me into a fruitful believer once more, trusting that it wasn’t too late to save me as I opening my heart to His healing. I discovered that my roots in Christ were strong, and the life surging through me came from the One who was my sure foundation. The Gardener knew what to do. Through the pruning power of confession and the nourishment of the Word and Lord’s Table, I began to heal. At first, I didn’t like what I saw. I had let my spiritual life go but now I was painfully aware of just how deep the sin in my life had gone. I was ready to begin again.

A Question of Discipline

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In the story, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, there was a young prince who was a faithful gardener on a tiny planet where seeds would blow in with the wind. Some were innocent and became beautiful roses, but others were dangerous and grew into giant baobabs. The prince knew that when a baobab first appeared, it would look as harmless as a rose, but if neglected for too long, it could grow so large that it would engulf and tear apart his tiny planet with its huge roots. “A baobab,” he said, “is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces.” In the words of the Little Prince, it was all a “question of discipline.” And so it was with my sin. I needed to remember to dig out those roots of sin as soon as they could be distinguishable from the fruit of the Spirit in my soul.

My yard has been looking better with each passing year. That young tree is flourishing and our bushes have come back to life. With each new spring, I see more and more growth and new beauty where there once was only the appearance of healthy greenery. There has been a similar kind of growth in the garden of my soul as well. I’ve learned the sobering lesson of the baobabs and the meticulous methods of the Gardener. I’ve come to see that it’s our connection to the True Vine that helps us to find an abundant life and a fruitful harvest. It’s there for me as I remain in Him and tend to my soul-garden with disciplined hands. But I must be willing to pay the price for cutting sin out of my life and ready to cultivate the seeds of new growth that the Gardener will plant within me through each and every new season of change.

Daily Deaths and the Dawn of the Resurrection

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There is a certain mysterious and mystical quality to the unfolding of the events of life when seen through the eyes of one who lives in the shadow of the cross. It is a humbling experience, one that draws attention to the fragile nature of our mortal lives, while pulling back the veil on the heavenly realms to reveal a love so pure and so perfect that we are left with an unspeakable joy.

There have been a number of changes in my life that have taken place of late, some seemingly small, and others quite monumental. All of them have affected me in profound ways and have caused me to ponder just how incredible and overwhelming the death and resurrection of Jesus truly is. Throughout the season of Lent, I had grown somewhat complacent in my devotion to Christ, thinking my walk with him this year had been deep and meaningful. But as I have experienced a number of new deaths, I have called into question just how devoted I really am to the One who died in my place.

 A Sick Pet and Hurting Souls

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Recently, my daughter’s hamster, Luna, began breathing erratically and became sluggish and withdrawn. She stopped eating and drinking and remained in her house for most of the day. Now, some might not think much of a sick hamster, but to watch the suffering of this beautiful little animal, a source of joy in my daughter’s life, was very sorrowful indeed. I saw what it meant for my daughter and for all of us when she died, and yet, that is the nature of having a pet. Still, her sudden death has made me keenly aware of just how much impact the smallest and most insignificant life can have on us all.

In my life, I have had to face the harsh reality of personal heartache and broken relationships all around me. It causes me to wonder if anything in this world lasts anymore. When I see struggle and pain in the lives of people I love, I find myself going through the stages of grief, asking God why human beings have to walk such a weary road. For my part, I have tried to offer the hope of the Gospel those who are hurting. In sharing my faith with others, I have taken a closer look at my own life and marriage and family, to make sure that I am able to see any signs of struggle I may have missed.

 The Sorrow that Gives Way to Joy

As believers, we are told to live sober lives of service and surrender to the cause of Christ. We are also promised that we will have trials and sorrows in this life, but can experience joy because Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). As I reflect on the sorrow of losing a pet or witnessing the brokenness around me, I am left with nowhere to turn but the cross. I know none of these events have escaped the loving concern or the sovereign grace of the One who gave his only begotten Son for the world. The Savior who became like us in all things but sin (Hebrews 2:17) still grieves with us and offers us the comfort of his Holy Spirit.

Each time I confront the sadness of these and other daily deaths, I know I must take them before the cross and look up to see my Lord crucified for my sin. I cannot look away from the man of sorrows; nor can I ignore the anguish or the utter abandonment he faced in order to open up the way to heaven. However, I know that, along with the cross, there is the empty tomb. The grave could not hold our King. Friday brought the night, but Sunday brought the dawn.

 Springtime and a Couple Dead Trees

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In our backyard, there were two dead trees that had to come down. I found it somewhat sad that, in the beginning of the spring I had to remove these two grand trees that had been part of the landscape for longer than our family has lived here. The look of our yard is forever changed, the shade these trees provided will be missed, and their deaths are once more a reminder that nothing in this world is permanent. But such divinely appointed lessons are not only necessary, but life-changing.

I take joy in the fact that Easter takes place in the springtime, when the frozen soil of winter receives the warmth of the sun and begins to come to life once more. It is a beautiful reminder that death will never have the last word, that sorrow gives way to joy, and that the resurrection is a living reality that is ever transforming us from glory to glory. I know that, even though these trees are gone, the wood they have left behind will become a part of our joyful memories as we sit by the fireplace for a number of winters to come. Such joy moves me to split the wood with a sense of hope that, in the end, cannot be shaken.

 Weariness and Wonder

The daily deaths I experience can and often wear me down. I take them into my being and accept that they can overwhelm me and drive me to my knees. But that is the beauty of the resurrection that lies beyond these realities. I know that, though my outer man is wasting away, I am being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16) by the One who faced the grave and came out on the other side – for me! I miss Luna now that she is gone. And I will continue to support my family and friends who are facing the tough times ahead. I can only do this because of the resurrection power that lives and moves in me through the Holy Spirit. It is a wonderful truth that keeps me going from faith to faith.

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I am grateful that God loves me enough to allow the deaths I face to shape me into the man I am becoming in him. Though I hate to face change and death, I know it is a part of life, a part of this broken world that is being transformed and someday will be made new. I have joy that I am a part of the Bride of Christ, being made more beautiful through the trials she faces. The knowledge of what is to come, made manifest in the resurrection of our Lord, continues to turn my daily deaths into new dawns of hope.

May the joy of the resurrection we celebrate at Easter help you to face the daily deaths you experience and change you from glory to glory into the one our God is shaping you to become. God bless!

In Our Hearing: The Power of Audio Drama

From a solemn silence, the toll of a bell is heard. Slowly a sweet and somber melody begins to play, calling out to expectant hearts, preparing eager ears to journey to another place and time. A tender voice, full of fervent hope, begins to speak, setting the scene, building the mood, drawing the hearers into the story as the actors take over and carry the plot along to its powerful conclusion. The audience is held in a moment so profound that all else fades into the background. Deep emotions are stirred. Tears are shed. Hearts of stone are broken and replaced with hearts of flesh, open to the Spirit’s promptings. Joy overflows and cascades in a release of surrender and peace. 

Such is the power of a Christian audio drama. As believers, we understand on a deep inner level how drama helps connect us to Christ, particularly in our worship. One could argue that the worship is, in fact, a beautifully blessed drama acted out on the stage of our hearts every time we gather to celebrate our Salvation. The delicate and deliberate movements of the celebrant and the ministers, the Holy Scriptures read with passion and precision, and the sacred music sung with power and depth of feeling help to carry the congregation along to the crowning moment of the worship when we receive Communion with joyful hearts. This inner appreciation for the artistic power of worship ties so well with what an audio drama is all about.

Producing a Passion Play

During my time in Christian radio, I witnessed the affect audio drama had on our listeners and on those who created it. Christian audio drama speaks with its own unique voice, stirring the imagination and whispering to the heart through the Holy Spirit. My most meaningful audio drama was a Passion Play called, “Greater Love.” It was told from the perspective of a believer moved to lower her earthen vessel into the well of the salvation story. Turning the individual components of the play into a grace-filled production gave me a deeper gratitude for the ways in which God draws us to Himself.

Even before the first words were written, I found that forming a prayerful bond with my Maker and surrendering to eternity helped to set the stage for the drama. It was truly an act of worship, a joyful submission to the whole process, knowing that the hearts that would be touched were already in the mind of the Almighty. I allowed the Holy Spirit to instruct me as I wrote, realizing it was all in God's hands. The vision that unfolded flowed naturally from the narrative of the Passion. Each step along the road to Calvary caused me to pause in wonder and look back upon the life of the Savior as His words and deeds found fulfillment in His journey to the cross.

I drew from all four Gospels to write the play, mingling these beautiful perspectives on the life of Christ into a sacred story that offered its own portrait of the Savior. I was inspired by the Passion narratives I had heard at Good Friday services over the years. As I drew from those memories, I found that the tone of the drama established itself and played out naturally through the dialogue and the descriptions of what was taking place. My portrait of Jesus was commanding yet sad and somber, a majestic Man of Sorrows, moving through the pain of His last hours with joy and surrender. This was a loving Messiah, always in control, powerfully relational, and determined to go to the cross in love for His children. And so, having established the vision, I cast the characters around the Lord: men and women who were deeply moved by His words and deeds.

The Players and the Spirit They Brought

Once the play was written, I sought out actors for the drama from a local church. Though I had my own vision for the actors, I was amazed to see just how much their individual personalities came to shape the drama once recording got underway. I was especially pleased when I met a woman in a bible study group who turned out to be a professional stage actress. I was drawn to her beautiful speaking voice and felt it would be perfect for the role of narrator. It was soft-spoken yet strong. But to my amazement, I found that once she got behind the microphone, she poured herself into the role, breathing a life into the words that I had not expected. Her passion and the power of her emotions spilled out into each scene, bringing an intensity of love and sorrow that truly transformed the entire play.

Because it was a small radio station, I had only one microphone to use for recording, so I had each actor read all the roles for his or her gender. I gave the actors very little instruction but told them to choose freely how to play each character. I listened to each recording and decided who should play which character based on what I heard, and then placed the audio files I needed into the computer. I had chosen to be the voice of Christ, perhaps out of vanity, but perhaps more so out of my vision of how I wanted Him to be portrayed. In an interesting twist, I found that no one had quite captured what I was looking for in the character of Pilate, and so I ended up voicing him as well. This made for some amusing moments as I found myself talking with myself in several scenes.

Production and Worship

Combining all the audio files in the computer was like placing little mosaic tiles on a tray and lining them up just so, adjusting them here, tweaking them there, until the whole thing created a beautiful picture that painted the salvation story in sound. I added a musical background using a collection of instrumental recordings from a variety of composers. There was a delightful sense of joy in taking these diverse pieces of dialogue, music and sound effects and blending them in a way that wove a seamless garment that portrayed the Passion of Christ as a single work of art, inspired by the Spirit who had given me the words to say, the actors to say them and the insight to put it all together.

One of the most memorable parts of the whole process came on the Tuesday before Good Friday, just three days before the drama was set to air. Because of the way the storage on the computer was partitioned, there was not enough room in the audio program to save the file. No matter what I tried, the computer would not cooperate. I knew that once the computer was shut down, the work I had done would be lost forever. After some reflection I came up with an idea. I took a blank CD, put it into a recording device, and fed the audio from the computer into it. And so, at 2:00 in the morning, I sat in that tiny recording room, exhausted and emotionally spent, letting the Passion Play unfold and recording it “live” to the CD. It was perhaps one of the most profound moments in the whole process as I listened to all the tiny pieces of audio coalescing into a beautiful symphony of sound as it became, “Greater Love!” It was a moment of worship so beautiful that I was brought to tears – not because of my artistic skill, but because God had taken me through the process and allowed me to sit in the Liturgy of the recording booth to be drawn into the Word and nourished with the Savior's sweet sacrifice on behalf of the world!

The Divine Drama of Salvation

The response to the play when it aired that Good Friday was very positive, and I was pleased that it had moved hearts to a deeper appreciation of the Passion of Christ. But the greatest work it had done was to help me discover just how much the Savior of the World loved us. From the eternal realms He set in motion a divine Pasion Play, complete with a cast of characters and a soundtrack of the Spirit, and let it unfold on the stage of creation. Like the Liturgy, it carried us into the heavenlies, sharing the great mysteries of God's love and Christ's sacrifice on the cross. That this profound truth could in some small way be acted out in a moment of time through an audio drama spoke to the power and presence of God – the incarnational God – who lives and moves in His Church and in each individual heart open to hear the sweet words of salvation!

I have continued to write and have produced other dramas, but “Greater Love” will ever hold a special place in my heart. It has taught me that worship is more than just a performance; it is a holy drama that unfolds in the hearts of the People of God, a sacred Passion Play that moves us ever onward toward the end of the salvation story. I pray that sharing this story will help you to listen for the Savior in your worship, the world around you, and the openness of your heart. 

Lent: A Holy Pause that Shakes the Soul

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When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. (Revelation 8:1)

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There is a deep need within the human heart to pause in the presence of profound events, moments so significant that we feel compelled to join ourselves to them and reflect upon the change they bring to our lives. These experiences, where the world seems to stop and we are transfixed in time, become a part of us, shaping who we are like the potter shapes the clay. Lent is holy pause that happens every year, calling us once again to take hold of what it means to believe.

I have always been a restless soul, constantly seeking new experiences, but at the same time, desiring to be at rest. I love to hike up mountains; and yet I love also to sit in front of my fireplace and dream. And when Lent comes around each year to interrupt the confusing bundle of unsettled emotions that is my life, I find I must heed its call to pause and remember the Passion of Christ and all it holds for me.

Pausing for the Passion

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 When I was younger, one thing I liked doing during Lent was going to Stations of the Cross. Around the inside of the church were carved images of the last hours of the life of Christ: from his condemnation before Pilate to the lonely Tomb. At each station the priest and acolytes would pause and kneel while we read from the Scriptures about the Crucifixion and the Old Testament prophecies that pointed to it. It was a solemn and sorrowful ceremony, but it reminded me in very clear terms just what the Son of God went through to win my freedom.

It saddens me that in non-Catholic churches the Stations are missing and sometimes even ridiculed as ritualistic. Many pastors refuse to interrupt their preaching schedule during Lent to talk about the last days of Jesus on the earth. They limit their special sermons to the Good Friday and Easter services and spend the rest of the time seeking to save lost souls. While that may reflect a noble sense of urgency, I think they miss the richness of the season and the power that pausing more often to consider the Crucifixion can bring to those who are seeking God.

Afraid to Pause for the Pain

 2000 years have softened our collective memory about the suffering our Lord endured on our behalf, so much so that some have forgotten the necessity of pausing to gaze upon the bloody and beaten form of our Messiah upon the cross. They are shocked at the thought that Catholics want to focus on the agony our Savior underwent for the Salvation of the world.

Years ago, when the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ came out in theaters, churches held discussions about the Crucifixion. I remember hearing people who saw the movie say things like, “All they did was beat him up for two hours!”  They found it distasteful to see their Savior subjected to torture on the big screen. At one such event I remember the pastor asking people to estimate the length of the very graphic scourging scene. Most said it was 20 minutes or more. In actuality, the scene took less than 7 minutes.

Many people said that the scourging scene was too difficult for them to bear. YouTube places a warning about the intensity of the scene before the viewer is allowed to click on the video. We turn our faces from the suffering of Christ. Why is this? Some of the same people who were disturbed by The Passion of the Christ are quite content to watch graphic movies of war or scenes of rotting zombies and think nothing of it. Perhaps we would rather ignore the humiliation and excruciating torture our Lord endured because it is too real and reminds us of our sin, the same sin that led our Lord to be crucified.

 Shaking things Up

 When I shake off my cowardice and come trembling before the cross, truly taking in the reality of what our Savior suffered for me, his scars become so beautiful that my heart is broken and my sin becomes so ugly that I can no longer bear it. In that sacred moment I experience the weight of my transgressions pressing down upon the brow of my Lord like the thorny crown, striking His holy flesh like the blows of the bone-tipped whip, and mocking His great love for me like the jeering crowd.

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And yet, in that moment of shame, I hear His tender voice, saying “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34a).  With His words I am lifted from the pit of my despair and drawn into the depths of the love that shed every drop of blood to save me. I am able to shake off my sin and rise redeemed, knowing I am forgiven and free because of His sacrifice upon the cross.

Heaven’s Holy Pause

 In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus lay prostrate before His Father, praying that the cup might pass Him by. Then, after the briefest and most profound pause, Our Lord bowed down to the Father’s will and took upon Himself the sins of all the world. He was bound, tried before sinful men, beaten, scourged, and crowned with thorns. In the end He took up His cross and struggled up the rugged hill to Golgotha, where He was lifted up before the people and crucified.

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After a time, the sky grew dark and Jesus uttered the words from the 22nd Psalm: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” What followed was the most overwhelming silence the world has ever known. At that hour, the Father turned His face away from His Son and Jesus bore the full weight of the sins of humanity. He experienced separation from His Father and the silence of heaven, and took the full punishment that was ours! There was darkness and then death, a holy, pregnant pause.

Then, a great earthquake shook the city and traveled right to the Holy of Holies in the temple, where the heavy curtain was torn in two! The barrier between humanity and heaven was forever removed and from that moment on, we were reconciled to God! Such glorious truth demands that we take time each Lent to pause and come to terms with the incalculable price Christ paid for our Salvation.

Another Holy Pause to Come

In the Psalms, the word “Selah” is said to mean, “Take pause and consider this!” Lent is a time when we pause to consider the awesome reality of our salvation and what it cost our Savior to obtain it for us. Jesus, the Great King of Heaven, paused in eternity so that He could enter into flesh and endure the cruelest physical torture, mental anguish, and spiritual suffering the world has ever seen. His sacrifice deserves that we drop to our knees and consider what it means for us to have been saved by the Suffering Servant of God.

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Someday there will be another holy pause in heaven, right before the time of the worst judgment the world will ever know, right before the end, when those who reject Christ will suffer His wrath and we who believe will experience the joy and peace of eternity with God! Let that sink in. Try not to let this Lent pass you by without stepping back from your busy world to pause for a moment as the miracle of the cross overwhelms you. Thank Jesus for your salvation and pledge to walk your journey each day, taking time over and over to allow His love to move in your life.

A Lenten Holy Pause Prayer

Father, forgive me for shying away from the crucifixion, for watering it down and numbing myself to the actual agony your Son suffered for me. Help me to meditate on the last hours of my Savior and to marvel at the love that held Him fast while He was mocked, beaten, crowned with thorns, made to walk the painful path to Golgotha, and hung upon the cruel cross, all for me. Help me to pause in fear and trembling at the thought of you turning your face away from the sin placed upon your Son. Help me to fall to my knees in worship and praise of the One who went through death and hell and came out on the other side – for me! I offer this prayer in His precious name, Amen!

Desert Days

I love to hike and spend time in the "wilderness." I like to imagine that I'm some type of urban "Survivor Man" although I freely admit that I'm very careful to prepare for my trips and pack all the essentials to make sure I'm comfortable, safe and well-fed. Still, there is something truly inspiring about getting away from the civilized world and spending time outdoors in the deep woods or atop a lofty mountain. It's an adventure, a test of one's stamina, resolve and courage. It's also a time to let go of the day-to-day concerns of  life and commune with Nature and its Creator. A good hike, whether for a day or a week is a way to hit the "reset" button on my spirit. I come back from my outdoor excursions a much more rested, renewed and balanced individual.

God has a purpose for His people when He calls us to spend time in "desolate places." Whether we're in an actual wilderness or not almost doesn't matter. Often, we find ourselves in a place where we go deep into that dark and deserted place inside us where we hear the voice of the accuser whispering to our inner ears that we're a failure, full of falsehood and destined for a life of mediocrity and unworthiness. Many times that accusing voice is our own, built up by years of mistakes, sin and selfishness.  For the most part we avoid shutting down the busyness of our lives and going to that inner chamber because we're afraid of what we might hear and afraid to face what we perceive as the awful truth of who we really are.

Jesus spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness just prior to starting His earthly ministry. There He was tempted to turn stones into bread to satisfy His hunger; to throw Himself down from the temple and allow the angels to bear Him to the ground; and to claim all the earthly kingdoms in exchange for bowing His knee to the Prince of the Air. Yet, each time the tempter tried to sway the Savior with quotations from Scripture, Jesus answered with the Word of God in order to put the great deceiver in his place. (See Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus was a man who was completely at home in the wilderness, for it was there He could meet with His Father and gain strength for the days ahead. He had no skeletons in His inner closet, no fears or failings to have to face with trembling. He knew His purpose and found Himself more in touch with that purpose when He went alone to those lonely places to pray. (Luke 5:16) 
Just because Jesus is God and we are not doesn't mean we can't explore our own internal wildernesses in order to come to terms with God's plan for our lives. Psalm 139 is a wonderful song of self-examination, one that can help us to appreciate our connection to the God who knit us together in our mother's womb. Here, the psalmist lays his life before God, acknowledging his total dependence on the One who knows him so intimately that he is overwhelmed by the power of His eternal presence. In this blessed communion, he knows that there is no place to go to get away from God, and that all his inner turmoil and darkness is not hidden from the One who is Light and Love itself! In that sweet surrender of sacred fellowship the struggles and strivings give way to a love so powerful that it casts everything outside the realm of God's presence with a holy hatred and washes over the psalmist in a flood of grace. It is so wonderful that leaves him calling for God to search out all his inner rooms to eliminate anything that will come between the Lover and the Beloved. 

That is the power of our Desert Days! Don't be afraid of getting real with God, of walking into the darkness and desolation of your self-centered soul. Let Him cleanse you and free you to continue the journey toward home! As you read Psalm 139 below, take the words to heart and make them your own. Let them be your prayer to close this devotional today!

 

O LORD, you have searched me and known me!

 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

 You search out my path and my lying down,

and are acquainted with all my ways.

 Even before a word is on my tongue,

behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

 You beset me behind and before,

and lay your hand upon me.

 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

it is high, I cannot attain it.

 Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!

 If I take the wings of the morning

and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,

even there your hand shall lead me,

and your right hand shall hold me.

If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,

and the light about me be night,”

even the darkness is not dark to you,

the night is bright as the day;

for darkness is as light with you.

For you formed my inward parts,

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am wondrously made.

Wonderful are your works!

You know me right well;

my frame was not hidden from you,

  when I was being made in secret,

intricately wrought in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance;

in your book were written, every one of them,

  the days that were formed for me,

when as yet there was none of them.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

18If I would count them, they are more than the sand.

When I awake, I am still with you.

O that you would slay the wicked, O God,

and that men of blood would depart from me,

men who maliciously defy you,

who lift themselves up against you for evil! 

Do I not hate them that hate you, O LORD?

And do I not loathe them that rise up against you?

I hate them with perfect hatred;

I count them my enemies.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any wicked way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139 RSV2)

 

Let There Be Light: A Message from Genesis During the Dark Days of Winter

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In the beginning, from ageless eternity, Almighty God looked down upon the formless void and willed creation into being. Where there was nothingness, there would be life. Where there was disorder, there would be order. The perfect, infinite love of God hovered above the shapeless sea of emptiness that was the cosmic chaos and spoke His life and light into being.

God said, “Let there be light!” and there was light. He simply spoke and the light came to be. He breathed His laughter and love into the void and the perfect, pure light of His grace and goodness burst forth upon the nothingness and brought life. Like a beautiful scroll, the story of His love was opened and stretched out upon the universe, revealing awesome truth and seamless harmony. The light stood in contrast to the darkness; and everything that would come into being would be touched with the light of the Creator’s presence. God’s perfect thought breathed the universe into existence and brought wholeness where there once was formlessness, the sound of coherence where all was separation and obscurity. The light gave a voice to the forces of the universe as they took their place in the celestial order of creation. The earth would form and be suspended in space. There would be distinction between the seas and the land, the waters above and the waters below, the darkness and the light. Day was born and began the dance of the hours with the night. In speaking the light into being, order and grace filled creation and set in motion the story of God’s eternal, joyful song.

The first day of creation describes what is essentially indescribable. It is only in the poetry of the words that we gain a sense of the beauty and perfection of God’s creative power in speaking everything into being. The inspired author takes us back to the beginning to teach us the awesome truth of who God is. In attempting to define what cannot be fully comprehended, he shows us a God who is first and foremost, all-powerful. In the creation stories of the ancient world, the earth came into being through the violence of the gods, through conflict and battle, death and destruction, as one god defeated another and out of the ruin brought the order of the universe. This is a distortion of the true manner in which God brought forth His creation. He stood alone, with no one to challenge Him. He existed in eternity, in timeless perfection, and spoke all of creation into being with the breath of His word. There was no effort, no struggle to conjure up the cosmos. God simply kissed it into being with a puff of His Spirit, His “ruah” – His breath. Like a holy sigh of love, God made all that was and is.

Creation begins with light. Genesis was written with the fall of humanity in mind. In a universe cursed by the darkness of sin, God stands as the light. Light overcomes darkness. Darkness represents incomprehension, confusion, and veiled thinking. Light represents the brilliance of perfection, order, and clarity of all thought and being. The day and the night were separated to present a contrast between God’s perfect light of love and the destructive influence of hatred and sin. Because sin would eventually come into the world, God set up the light and separated it from the darkness as a great sign of His divine purposes for the universe. Genesis stands as one bookend with Revelation, with all of Scripture in between, punctuating the truth that the perpetual light of the resurrection will one day eliminate the darkness, and there will no longer be a need for sun and moon, day and night, for all will be light once more.

The passage speaks of God hovering above the “waters” of the deep. Water has a powerful meaning in the Word. It represents the swirling chaos out of which new life emerges. Noah and his family were shut in the ark and taken through the overwhelming waters of the flood, when all the wrath of heaven and earth burst forth in judgment upon the earth. They were brought through the dark storm to the dawning of a new day, where light and life would be renewed. Moses and the Israelites passed from the darkness of Egypt to the light of the Promised Land through the waters of the Red Sea. In faith, they made the passage through the mighty wall of water to come out of the place of slavery and subjugation to the place of freedom and provision. Jesus was dipped into the Jordan and rose to face the dark forces living in the desert, armed with the light of the Word of God! He brought His light to bear upon the Prince of the Air, and through His life, death and resurrection, opened the way for humanity to come out of the darkness into the dawn of a new creation in Him. The early Christians plunged men and women into the waters of Baptism where they were buried to the old sinful ways and raised to new life, cleansed and healed. In this new life, they were graced with the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to live as children of love.

It is the light of God’s Spirit that brings life and order from the watery chaos. At the end of the first day, God calls the light “good,” and evening gives way to morning. His creative act is not for some selfish end, but for His glory and our good. The weight of His presence overwhelms us and brings us the light of salvation, freedom, safety and peace; for that is what glory really is – the overshadowing power of God’s love being brought to bear against the frailty of our own existence. It is only in the light that we find salvation. As God installs creation at the beginning, forming everything out of nothing, so too, does He restore us from the emptiness of sin through His Son. In Jesus, the Light of the World, we are once more made “good.”

The power of the first day of creation finds fulfillment and understanding in the opening verses of John’s Gospel. Like God’s light that overwhelms the chaos of the deep, so too does the light of Jesus overcome the darkness of sin and lead us to a new paradise, as we become new men and women in Him. Like the powerful breath of God that spoke creation into being, God’s love has spoken His final Word into the world. Jesus is that Word and Light. He has come to overwhelm the darkness. The darkness cannot comprehend the perfection of love that manifested itself in the person of Jesus. John continues this wonderful theme throughout his Gospel, as the images of Word, Light, Water, and Love spill out onto the pages through the wonderful stories he narrates. John’s Gospel is the expression of the new creation we experience in Christ!

We who know Jesus are called to live out those sacred signs of water and rebirth. Like Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel, we must be born from above, born of water and Spirit. Though we cannot enter our mothers’ wombs a second time to be born again, we can be healed by the creative Word of the Gospel, buried with Christ in Baptism and breathed with the new life of the Holy Spirit as we live out our lives day to day in His name. As we put aside the old ways, drowning them in the watery chaos of our submission to God’s powerful breath of life, we are made new and given a new path to walk, with the light of God’s grace guiding us evermore on the path to heaven.

The signs of God are all around us. We cannot see the wind that blows, but we feel its influence. We did not witness the first moment of creation, yet we see its beauty and witness the working out of the order of the universe around us. Every stream, every river, every lake, and every ocean are reminders of the depth of God’s love for us. Though water can be a powerful force to flood the land and swallow ships at sea, we know that to God, all the waters of the earth are a drop in the vast ocean of His perfect love. Each day, as the dawn greets us once more, we are reminded of the hope we have that in God’s perfect time there will come a perpetual day, where darkness will be banished forever, where our sins will be thrown as far as the east from the west, and where we will live in everlasting joy in the light of God’s eternal presence. From the first moment of creation, God had all of this in mind. In His perfect plan, He spoke creation into existence, knowing that we would all come together in the perfection of his creation when the purposes of His great love would find their fulfillment in Christ.

One day, there will be a new heavens and a new earth. The old order of things will pass away. Creation, which has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth from the sinful fall of humanity, will be reborn in a baptism of fire, in a powerful cleansing that will remake all of creation once more into the perfect reflection of the Creator. Until then, we have been blessed with the beauty of all that is around us. The sun and moon are signs that God is in control of creation and is bringing His plan to completion as the cosmos ticks on like a divinely wound clock. The waters of the earth that are held at bay by the mighty arm of God are signs of the refreshing and sustaining power of rebirth that is ours in Christ. The Word that ever speaks into the world the Good News of the One who came as Light in the darkness, is our guide and our power for daily living and purposeful outreach to a lost world. As you experience God’s light this day, let it draw you closer into His presence and bring you His joy, His peace, and His love!

Tears and Transformation in Communion

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One of my favorite books I used to read to my children is Owl at Home by Arnold Lobel. It contains a series of sweet, short pieces about a child-like owl and his little adventures in his humble home. My favorite of the tales is “Tear Water Tea.” In the story, Owl decides he wants to enjoy a special hot drink. He sits with his tea kettle and begins to think of very sad things: chairs with broken legs, unsung songs with forgotten words, spoons forever lost behind the kitchen stove, unfinished stories from books with missing pages, clocks that have stopped with no one to wind them, uneaten mashed potatoes, and pencils that are too short to use. With each sad thought, he fills the kettle with tears, and afterward, savors a cup of salty tear water tea.

This simple story has been a powerful reminder to me of how Communion is a joyful celebration of transformation from brokenness to becoming, an experience where we bring the tears we have stored in our hearts to the Lord’s Table, so that we may savor the bitter-sweet satisfaction of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Surrendered Tears, Rest and Restoration 

As Christians we have been taught to come to the Communion table worthy and ready to receive the Bread and the Cup; and yet, we are reminded just how undeserving we really are, like the Centurion who said, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word…” But that is the beauty of Communion. Christ calls us to come before Him, bringing our brokenness and our battered lives, our trials and our tears, so that we may receive the food that brings us newness of life. As we receive, we partake of the healing our souls so desperately seek.

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Believers in Christ have discovered that only when we give our tears to the One who is big enough to bear them, can we find the satisfaction for which we long. Anything else just leaves us empty. We cannot bury our hurts or cover them up. Nor can we wish the burdens away, drown them in addiction, or share our pain with a therapist or a friend in order to find rest and restoration. As we surrender our sorrows and our very lives to Christ in Communion – making our own tear water tea – we experience real and lasting peace.

The Blessing of Tears, The Longing for God

The Bible has a lot to say about tears. To David, they are the natural expression of his grief and anguish (Psalm 6:6-7), and become his “food” when men seek to mock the God he loves (Psalm 42:3). Here the man after God’s own heart is so distraught and his tears so many that they become his food and drink, his tear water tea. His suffering is so great that he becomes completely caught up in his desire for God, to the point that his tears become his sustenance. Nothing else matters except pouring out his heart to the Lord. David teaches us that it is in our deepest sorrow that we discover our deepest need for God. 

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In Psalm 80:5 we read, You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. Instead of manna from heaven or water from the rock, God gives His ravaged, exiled people the bread of tears. In their sinfulness and sorrow, it is their tears that draw them back to God, making them thirsty for the Living Water of heaven. When we experience the trials and troubles of this life, we too taste the bitterness of our tears, and it makes us long for the satisfaction only God can give us in Himself as together we share in Communion

A Bottle of Tears, A River of Restoration

 Another thing we learn about our tears is that they are very precious to God. For example, in Psalm 56:8 we read: You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle! Are they not in your book? This is a picture of God being so concerned for the griefs of His people that he records their tears, collecting them in a heavenly container to preserve them. This is how dear our sincere sorrow is to our heavenly Father. In New Testament times, people were known to store their tears in bottles as an expression of sorrow, usually for someone who had died. These bottles were known as “lachrymatories.” Loved ones would place these bottles into the graves of the dead as a precious sign of love for the person.

This is what God does with our tears. He collects them and stores them, only in a much greater and more blessed way. He keeps a record of tears shed in genuine faith and places them in the tomb of the One who gave His life for the world. Our Father deeply desires His people to weep openly for sin, injustice, and the lost. Consider what the book of Jeremiah says in chapter 9 verse 1: O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people. And in Lamentations 2:18 we read, Cry aloud to the Lord! O daughter of Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite.

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The prophet knows that he could cry an ocean of tears but they would never be enough to pay for the sin of God’s people. Yet he understands that God accepts our tears of repentance and records them. He takes our tears and turns them into blessings as He draws us to His Son. He turns rivers of tears into pools of restoration, renewing His people so they may go from strength to strength (Psalm 84:5-7). In Communion, we can draw from this great source of strength because we pour ourselves out to the One who has poured himself out for us.

Pouring Out Our Tear Water Tea

Perhaps one of the most moving stories of tears takes place in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 7, verses 36-50. It is the story of the sinful woman who anoints our Lord’s feet with her tears and dries them with her hair at the home of Simon the Pharisee. The language and the context of the story suggest that this woman is someone given over totally to a sinful life – most likely a life of sexual sin. For so many men she has dared to let down her hair, to disgrace herself in defiance of the Law of God. And yet, we see her pushing through the crowd in the courtyard of this prominent Pharisee to touch the One she knows can rescue her from her sin.

Most likely this woman had witnessed the words and deeds of Jesus. She had heard Him call for love and repentance, and offer rest for the weary and light for those in darkness. She had watched him eat with sinners, heal the sick, and welcome the outcast. Perhaps she had been present when Jesus fed the multitudes with the five loaves and two fish. She may have known of other women who had come to our Lord in tears, like the widow whose son had died and was raised to life again. She had been so moved by this mysterious man that she was compelled to seek Him out. And so she braided her hair, made herself look beautiful, and put on her finest clothes. She took a jar of her most expensive perfume and came looking for something to fill her empty soul, ready for whatever was to come.

When she arrived, she met a man who looked at her with love and forgiveness. She let go of her past life of sin, broke the flask of her heart, and poured out all the secret tears she had stored up over a lifetime, flooding His feet as she wept unceasingly. Then, she let down her hair, this time to wipe away the tears and surrender herself to the One who would free her from every sin and sorrow, and offer her a new beginning.

Tears Transformed into Heavenly Bread

Jesus then proceeded, in a masterful way, to contrast the actions of the woman with the behavior of Simon. Simon gave Jesus no kiss of greeting, no water to wash His feet, and no oil to anoint His head. He offered no real hospitality to Jesus, making the meal they shared meaningless. Yet this woman could not stop kissing our Lord’s feet. She washed His feet with her precious tears and anointed them with her most costly perfume. She brought all she had to the meal – her sins and sorrows, her hopes and desires, and a sincere repentance born of a deep love. And in return, Jesus offered her new hope and the Bread of His very Life.

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The woman came and made her own tear water tea with Jesus. She took all the tears she had stored in the bottle of her heart and then let it be broken and poured out before the Master, giving them meaning and bringing cleansing to her heart. In fact, if we look deeper into the story, we can see that all she did for the Lord, He did in a greater way for her. He cleansed her with the water of His word of forgiveness, anointed her with the oil of gladness, and gave her a kiss of divine peace. He gave her the gift of Himself, restoring her life by taking her tears and giving her Living Water.

Communion and Tears

This is a perfect picture of what Communion is all about. As we approach the Table of the Lord each Sunday, we bring all that we are to the celebration. We break open our hearts and pour ourselves out before the altar, knowing that Jesus gives us His Body and Blood, the perfect gift of love that can restore our brokenness and strengthen us for our journey of salvation. Our Lord takes our tears and stores them up, recording our love in His Book of Life, as He empties out His life for us in the once-for-all sacrifice of the cross. In the celebration of Communion, we hear the words that restore our lives, strengthen our weary souls, and bring lasting peace. Like the women who followed Jesus and served Him out of their means (Luke 8:1-3), we who have received freely, are free to give all we have in service to the Kingdom of God.

Our tears are a precious gift that lead us to the Table where we experience the very life of Christ. Rather than withdrawing from the bitterness of our sorrows, let us come unashamed before the altar to open our hearts and offer our lives to the One who forgives us of sin, causes us to love much, and exchanges the bread of our affliction for the Bread of Life.

 

Christmas Poetry

As we approach Christmas Day, I am reminded of what the celebration of Advent means. For four weeks before Christmas, we light a candle and take time to read the stories that relate to the incarnation and the coming of Christ. I thought that for this blog post, I'd feature some poetry/songs I've written that carry that theme of remembering the story and celebrating the wondrous fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy and the fulfillment of all our hopes and dreams. I hope you enjoy them!

 

The Glory Comes Into the World

Come, come rejoice at the sight,
Of the Glory of heaven, the true guiding light.
For the people in darkness on this Holy night,
The Glory comes into the world.

Hark, hark as angels descend,
To the city of David, they call and they send,
Hear the voices that echo from World Without End,
The Glory revealed to the world.

See the child sleeping, in stable so lowly,
In small earthen manger upon the sweet hay.
Sing, sing out with heavenly chorus,
The Savior is born now this day,
The Savior is born now this day.

Smile, smile at mother and child,
At such tenderness cradling love undefiled,
For in meekness and virtue and purity mild,
The Glory is born in this world.

Hear, hear the Shepherds draw near,
With a heavenly calling, no more do they fear,
At the sight of this baby, the message is clear,
The Glory shines forth in the world.

Chorus…

Watch, watch as Wiseman and king,
Follow starlight’s true rising, as new anthems ring.
Bowing low as they offer the treasures they bring,
(To) The Glory who walks in this world.

Look, look as future is told,
Of cross and of Calvary of new made from old,
Rising up from the grave the refiner of gold,
The Glory who reigns in this world.

Chorus…

Oh…sing, sing now rejoice at the meeting,
Of heaven and human, of Godhead and man,
Praise, praise for the coming of Jesus,
The fullness of God's holy plan!

 

Chosen Mother

Quiet morning, breath of heaven, lights so soft upon the door,
Lowly maiden, terror rising, swoons and lowers to the floor.
Mighty angel, now appearing, speaking words of purest praise,
Of the coming King Messiah, and of distant future days…

“Greetings highly favored daughter, may the Lord now be with you,
Cease your trembling, calm your worries, for the words I speak are true.
Do not fear for you are blessed and will soon be wide with child,
You shall name the baby Jesus, He is God’s Son undefiled…”

Chosen Mother of the Savior, was it fear or was it joy,
Causing you to kneel at heaven’s mighty plan?
Did you wonder, did you ponder, that this sweet young baby boy,
Would grow up to be the Chosen Son of Man?

She a virgin, was bewildered, longing now to know the pow’r,
That would cause her, not yet wedded, to conceive this very hour,
“Heaven’s light, celestial shadow, Holy Spirit, will embrace,
So the child shall be called Holy, and restore the human race.”

Mary answered, “I am ready, here the handmaid of the Lord,
There is naught beyond His sovereign will, whom David so adored.
As you did for barren women, for my cousin, once was she,
So now grant what you have spoken will now here unfold for me.”

Chorus...

Lonely journey through the country to the home of dearest kin,
She expectant, though once barren, takes the sweet young woman in,
Marvels that her Savior’s mother should now walk upon her ground,
Baby leaps within her womb for joy at mother’s greeting sound.

“How my soul exalts my Savior, who has looked on me with love,
I am blessed by Mighty Father, Holy Helper from above.
For His mercy and His power is extended age to age,
Now His promised plan unfolds upon this humble earthly stage.”  

Bridge…

Great will be His honor, Son of God Most High
Born to sit on David’s Royal throne,
Ruling Jacob’s kingdom, heaven drawing nigh,
His the glory and the pow’r alone.

Virgin mother, waits and wonders, ponders all within her heart,
Yields her will to heaven’s myst'ry, takes her place and does her part.
Though she knows not what will happen as the future now unfolds,
She her will has now surrendered to the One her womb now holds.

Chorus (Repeat)

 

Long Ago in Bethlehem

Once upon a lonely night on silent city street,
Walked a man with wife, her days with child now complete,
Searching for a sheltered room, for the child within her womb,
His appearing once foretold, prophecy to now unfold,
Long ago in sleeping Bethlehem.

No room in the place where travelers gather for the night,
Led to lowly stable dimly lit by shepherd’s light,
Child is born at break of day, in the manger he will lay,
Born to save the human race, purest look upon his face,
Long ago in waking Bethlehem.

Out beyond the hills where lowly shepherds watch their sheep,
Lonely outcasts solemnly their faithful vigil keep, 
Hear the news of coming King, child for whom the angels sing,
Rush to witness his repose, wrapped in humble swaddling clothes,
Long ago in breathless Bethlehem.

High above a blazing star burns brightly in the sky,
Glory of the Mighty God shines forth as love draws nigh,
Follows to the baby’s birth, here to show his matchless worth,
Pausing at the precious sight, heaven’s awesome holy light,
Long ago in shining Bethlehem. 

Least among the princes, unregarded, so obscure,
Heaven opened, glory emptied, undefiled and pure,
Chosen to receive the King, star now shines and angels sing,
Ruler of the nations cries, Shepherds pause and mother sighs
Bethlehem, O Bethlehem, long ago in Bethlehem,
In the chosen town of Bethlehem. 

Magi come from far away to greet the new young king,
Bowing low with royal gifts, their treasures now they bring,
Frankincense and myrrh and gold, for Messiah’s hands to hold,
Sacred signs of glory, fame, man’s rejection, sorrow, shame,
Long ago in wondrous Bethlehem.

Jealous king inquires of men the birthplace of the child,
Rages now against the One who entered life so mild,
Searches through the ancient text, so disturbed and much perplexed,
Issues now a cruel decree, man and wife and child flee,
Long ago in weeping Bethlehem.

Chorus...

Sleeping child now resting silent at young mother’s breast,
Came in pure obscurity to bring to us our rest,
Born to die for sinful man, living out the Father’s plan,
Soon to face the cruel cross, we to gain from heaven’s loss,
Long ago in chosen Bethlehem. 

Bethlehem, O Bethlehem, long ago in Bethlehem,
In the chosen town of Bethlehem.

 

Lullaby for a Savior

A great light breaks forth in the new dawning sky,
A small flame flickers in a warm stable stall,
As angels chorus to a newborn King’s cry,
And shepherds marvel at a wonder so small…

Sleep now little Savior, rest and be warm,
Your tender voice will rebuke every storm.
Your gentle hands will bring healing and grace, 
Your perfect life will redeem Adam’s race.

Oh…sleep Savior sleep,
Treasure the joy of communion so deep.
Oh…seek now within,
Dreaming the dream of our rescue from sin.
When you awake may you drink deep of love,
Touching the grace of your Father above,
But for now…Oh…sleep Savior sleep.

The Godhead is draped in humanity’s vein,
A tiny form wrapped up in swaddling clothes.
Cries out for comfort, in hunger or pain,
And weeps too for sorrows that nobody knows.

Hush now little Savior, mother is here,
She your disciple when the hour draws near,
Joseph your guide and protector will be,
(But) your Father’s plan is for Calvary’s tree.

Chorus…

Oh, how can it be that the Father’s dear child,
Should lay down the glory of His kingly pow’r.
To come to the earth as an infant so mild,
And travel the path to the cross and the hour.

Rest now little Savior, for this hour is mine,
Now but a child, but in manhood a sign,
Time soon for teaching and mission and plan,
Time soon to live as the Great Son of Man.

Final Chorus…

Oh…sleep Savior sleep,
How can I measure that tears that you weep
Oh…dream child dream,
One day the lost you will seek and redeem.
When you arise I will watch as you grow,
Loving with joy only mothers can know
But for now…Oh…sleep Savior sleep.

 

Hymn for the Holy Child

In the fullness of the ages,
Word of God in flesh was born,
God from God, the light of Heaven,
Came to earth on Christmas morn.

Hope for man, our sinless Savior,
Infant child at mother's breast,
Sleeping still in straw-filled manger,
Holy Lord and Sabbath's rest.


Shepherds in the wasteland watching,
First to hear the angel's call,
Hasten now to lowly stable,
To their knees in reverence fall.

Host of Heaven now united,
Mighty chorus, hymn of praise,
Yahweh’s presence shining brightly,
Blessings ‘till the End of Days.


Star shines brightly, Sacred Godhead,
Fills the sky with radiant light,
Perfect peace and Holy Power,
Bringing day to darkest night.

Wisemen seeking, search the heavens,
Follow star to House of Bread,
Bowing low to new King rising,
At his feet their gifts they spread.


Men rejoice for your salvation,
As our God breaks into time,
Fall before the child in worship,
Pure transcendent truth sublime.

Sing with joyful hearts surrendered,
Praise the babe on manger throne,
All creation in submission,
He is God and God alone!

 

When You Came Down (on that First Christmas Day)

Sweet quiet evening, pure blessed hour,
Night steeped in wonder, birth dressed in power,
Word now descends from the Heavens to earth,
Veiled in the child but revealed by His birth.

Leaving your throne and the praise of the host,
Humbled yourself so that no man could boast,
Taking on flesh to face tempting and trial,
Wearing the garment of man’s sin denial.

You are the Savior, born as a child,
Helpless and holy, lowly and mild,
Bethlehem's treasure, Heaven's sweet prize,
Glory of Godhead shines through your eyes.
Why did you favor your children with grace?
Leaving your throne and your true righteous place,
I'll never know all that you had to pay,
When you came down on that first Christmas day.

Son of Man weakened yet still Son of God,
Great Shepherd King, gentle staff, mighty rod,
There is no measure to value your worth,
Or your great grift of our new second birth.

Still little baby at young mother's breast,
Godhead in form yet in slavery dressed,
Singer of stories with your infant sighs,
Speaking your truth into man’s empty lies.

Chorus...

Prophecy spoken, this child to fulfill,
Following fully in your Father’s will,
Earth’s sinless Savior, so Holy and free,
Loving the lost one and still loving me.

Jesus my Savior, my brother and Lord,
One who by Heaven and earth is adored,
Rest by your mother, for morning is near,
Now by your Advent no more do we fear.

Chorus…


Unto Us

Unto Us a Son is given,
To our Race a Child is born,
In Him all our sins forgiven,
Love fulfilled on Christmas morn.

Bethlehem of Judah’s numbers
Not among the least you be,
In you now your ruler slumbers,
Israel’s Shepherd God is He. 

In the wilderness preparing,
Way made straight and hill brought low,
Broken reed His life repairing,
Seed now planted, soon to grow…
Our Messiah, King and brother,
Sinless Savior, One so mild,
Holy God alone, no other,
Born to us as lowly child.

Days are coming, branch increasing,
King from David’s royal line.
Righteous Judgment, never ceasing,
Sacred ever-living sign. 

Holy Scepter rightly reigning,
Kingdom rule without an end.
Promised Land forever gaining,
Broken staff His law will mend.
.
Chorus…

Lo the Virgin, hour nearing,
Calls His name Emmanuel,
King of kings in flesh appearing,
Saves us from the pow’r of hell.

Chorus…

Unto Us a Son is given,
To our Race a Child is born,
In Him all our sins forgiven,
Love fulfilled on Christmas morn.

 

The Reason Why He Came

Firelight and candle glow, festive greens and Christmas snow, 
Carolers who stroll along, lifting up the season's song,
All remind me Christmastime is here.

For there is a light that came, to a world of sin and shame,
Shone as angel voices praised, and as shepherds stood amazed.
For the Savior of our race drew near. 

Sentimental Manger scene; what can this great myst'ry mean?
Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, mother poised in calm repose,
On a sweet and silent, holy night.

As the infant Jesus cried, God with us did now reside,
Came to earth to suffer loss, to be raised upon the cross,
All our wrongs the Savior would make right. 

The days they come, the days they go, it's Christmas once again,
The treasures and traditions stay the same. 
And yet the story's ever new as once more I'm reborn, 
Salvation is the reason why He came. 

And in each gift and blessing shared, my spirit sings with joy,
The child in me comes once more shining through, 
For Christmas brings alive again, the hope of life redeemed,
The love He shared that lives in me and you.

 
Ornaments upon the tree, signs of love and family,
Secrets shared and Memories made, never from our hearts to fade,
Warmth and welcome, precious times to hold.

Every sacred living sign from eternity is mine,
Linking past with future hope, climbing Zion's joyful slope,
This our journey in the stories told.

Chorus... 

So I seek the creche and cross, my life broken, heaven's loss
For they lead to empty tomb, resurrection, heaven's womb,
Christmas links my life to heaven's peace.

All I celebrate with grace, now creates a sacred space,
Where in awe I grasp the love, that descended from above.
Christmas joy within will never cease. 

Chorus...


 

 

 

Our Advent Journey – Days of Comfort and Restoration

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Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service has ended, that her guilt is expiated, That she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. (Isaiah 40:1-2)

For as long as I can remember, Advent has been for me a time of great personal loneliness and deep spiritual restoration. I think the reason is because I have learned to view Advent through the lens of my own restless heart. I freely admit that finding contentment and satisfaction has always been a struggle for me. I further admit that my personal human condition has caused a great deal of distress in the lives of my family and friends. Transformation is a painful process that leaves many casualties in its wake; but it is certainly a necessary part of what it means to belong to Christ. Advent is a deep reminder of how God has spoken into our lives through the incarnation.

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If we are to gain any meaning from the Season of Advent, we must come to terms with the fact that we are restless sojourners, traveling a singular path that each person must walk in his or her own way. We need to embrace our aloneness in order to take hold of the powerful message of Advent: that God has come to our world as one of us to bring comfort, forgiveness, and peace; that the poverty of the Nativity leads to the nakedness of the cross; and that the Savior who faced separation from the Father longs to manifest His presence in our solitude. Only then can we experience the joy of restoration that Advent brings.

Double Punishment, Singular Joy

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The beautiful words from Isaiah were spoken to a people made weary by their sin, wayward children who were to be transformed in the fires of suffering and captivity in order to experience the incomprehensible joy of rebirth. It seems odd that comfort should be linked with punishment; yet this is the message of the prophecy. There is more joy in the ending of hostilities rather than there is bitterness for the years spent under the heavy hand of the Lord. The time of penance has past. The voice of God has turned from judge to tender Father. The days of trial are over. The Messiah has entered the world and salvation is at hand!

God uses the time of Advent to remind us that our lives are an ongoing journey of transformation – from sin to salvation and from tribulation to triumph. Our sufferings, our struggles, and our lonely searching for peace find their answer in the ever-unfolding work that is the coming of Christ. Jesus arrived on the earth as a helpless baby so that He could share His life with ours. He walked the same roads, suffered the same temptations, and experienced the same joys as all humanity so that He could overcome it all and rescue us from the slavery of sin. Our suffering finds meaning in the cross He endured for our sake. As we work through our sufferings we are renewed in our character and driven into the arms of Hope:

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Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

The Wonder of Discovery

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Advent is a time of self-discovery, where our journey moves from faith to faith, through trials to the victory, and from sorrow to the joy that is ours in Christ’s coming into our hearts at Christmas and in our daily lives. The rest of the reading from Isaiah goes on to talk about the voice calling, "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!" (Isaiah 40:3) The rough road shall be smoothed over and the burden made easy and light. The glory of God will be revealed and our fragile lives will be forever transformed. We are like the flowers that fade, like the grass that is here today and tomorrow is burned in the fire. And yet, in Jesus, we are given eternal life. Our meaningless, dead, sin-filled existence is transformed by the cross and given new birth in Christ. As we wait for Christmas, we are comforted by the hope that the baby brings by his humble entry into the world. As we look forward to His Second Coming, where every tear shall be wiped away, where every knee will bow before the throne of heaven, we become bathed in the light of hope that shines so clearly upon our lives. As we meditate on the story of the Bible through the lens of Advent, we see that every page points to the coming of the Messiah and the victory that He brings.

In the End, Peace…

Though the time of waiting in the dark days can be painful and lonely, the message of Advent brings us joy and peace. All our restless wandering through this life gives way to a purposeful walk centered on the Word made flesh who left the realms of heaven to pitch His tent among us. I know that I can continue to travel the road to heaven because my Lord and Savior travels with me. Therefore I embrace this time and take in its wonderful lessons. My solitude becomes the empty womb ready to receive the new life that is mine by the miracle of Christmas. My sorrow becomes the power that breaks the shell of my hardened heart, so that I may surrender to One who entered this world to take away my sin. My restless heart beats with the anticipation of the days of Christmas to come and I ache within for the coming of the Lord on that final day when together we will experience the perpetual rebirth of the resurrection. That is peace indeed!

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No matter where you are on this Advent journey, through the incarnation of Christ God offers us comfort, restoration, and new life. Our time of turning back brings us to the place where we may receive the blessings that Christmas brings. Rejoice in that hope as you meditate on the story of the birth of Jesus today! Meditate on the generosity of Christ and how His perfect, complete, and total surrender to His Father has gained for us the comfort and peace of eternal life. Let that truth penetrate your mind and heart as you wait for Christmas to come!

Thanksgiving, Traditions, Gratitude and Grace

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Every year, my family and I must make one of the toughest choices ever: where to eat Thanksgiving dinner – my siblings or her parents. I seldom see my brothers and sisters, so it is always nice to have a mini McCann family reunion. However, the Davinos sure know how to put together a food-filled traditional Italian Thanksgiving feast! It is a difficult pick – decisions, decisions, decisions!

Thanksgiving always reminds me of my need to look upward and offer my praise and thanksgiving to the One who provides those great family times that fuel my growing faith. My life is a journey through triumphs and trials, steps of faith that build on the traditions and the ever-unfolding graces that come my way. As all of us move along the narrow road to heaven, let us not forget to be thankful for all we have been given.

 

Family Traditions We Follow

We have a number of traditions we follow at Thanksgiving. For my family, we meet at my brother Tim’s, sample from a big buffet of foods my siblings bring and grab a seat around the house for beautiful recollections late into the evening. My wife’s family gets together and gathers around the extended family table to eat until we drop and laugh until we settle into a place of peace so wonderful we know we are home.   

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There is a realm that exists in the heavenlies where God inhabits the praise of His people, where joy fills our hearts and joins us to the grace that flows from the celestial city. When we enter those places of peace that have grown out of our traditions, we discover just how solid our faith is. The struggles of life are no less real in those moments; but they are given perspective from the vantage point of the rock of refuge upon which we stand.

Being with family is as real as it gets; and I know that not all family interactions are so wonderful. There are past hurts that may remain or personal struggles that are ongoing. There is the pain of loved ones lost or family members not present. Tomorrow’s tasks will still be there for us to face. Yet, in this precious moment of solidarity and love, we find the strength – the grace – that comes from the One who has knitted our family together and ever holds us in His heart.

 

Feasting and Memories

God has given us all stories to share and paths to follow. As we sit with our loved ones around the banquet table and remember the past, we join our hearts to the greater story of our salvation. We recognize that we are all on a continuing journey toward our heavenly home. Our memories bring to mind the struggles we have overcome and the blessings we have been given in one another. In our laughter we see our humanity. In our tears we witness the divine. As we remember, we connect those who have come before and those who will come after us, for we all share the same journey.

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The Thanksgiving feast is a place where the pain of our past can find revision and restoration as we heal our memories by the grace of the love we now share. It transforms us by opening our eyes to the miracles that have come our way. We look at one another and realize that our family is a great gift that has been given to us. Our stories help us to see the depth of the divine love that has held us together and continues to lead us forward day by day.

Being together with my family in this way helps me to hold each person in my heart. I bask in the warmth of the love we have shared in good times and bad. I discover ever-deepening understandings of just who these family members are and how much they mean to me. Our memories tie us all together and reveal the Savior who has given us all purpose in our common bond. Our journeys are intimately connected because of the past we share and the future for which we all hope.

 

God Moments and Goodness Given

My greatest joys at Thanksgiving, however, come in the new stories we share with one another. Hearing that my niece’s new daughter is beginning to walk recalls those similar moments with my own children. Learning about the achievements of my family members – everything from violin recitals to new jobs to home projects completed – brings me contentment. Even sharing our current struggles brings us closer as we lend our strength to one another and offer hopeful prayers and healing words.

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I see God’s presence in each word we speak and experience we share. His goodness lies in the reality that we are one in Him as we walk the journey together. We may not see clearly the road ahead, but we know we will make it because we have one another and we share a common faith that cannot be broken by trial or snuffed out by the world.

Like taking photographs at Thanksgiving, I know I must store up within my heart each conversation, every tender exchange and all the laughter that takes place. These are the God moments we must never miss or ever forget, the gifts of grace that pass all too quickly, but become a part of who we are and what we are to one another in Christ.

 

Gratitude and Grace

In the end, no matter where we choose to spend Thanksgiving, our family remains a vital link to the God who has made us to live and love in His name. Family is the great sign of our Savior’s love for the world and a reminder of the way in which He relates to His people of faith. This yearly celebration helps to ground me in the joyful reality of what family love is all about. I am grateful for my family members, their caring support, their wonderful spirits, and even their many flaws and failings. They are to me a conduit of the grace that is ours because of the God who created us for gratitude.

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This year, as you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family, take time to remember the past and find healing and hope in the future, to share memories and new happenings, and to bask in the joy of what it means to be grateful of heart. Give thanks to God who has placed you together on the road that leads to a wonderful heavenly home. Strive to overcome the hurts and seek the blessings that are the grace-filled inheritance of being part of a family under the care of our heavenly Father. Enjoy the feast and find peace and God’s presence in the prayers of thanksgiving you share. God bless!

I Know a Man: Gratitude and the God of Thanksgiving

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I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:2-5)

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Every year in November I look forward to that special Thursday when I get together either with my family or my wife’s family to celebrate Thanksgiving. I confess that while I miss my brothers and sisters and the craziness of a road trip to Pennsylvania, I truly enjoy when we choose to visit my wife’s Italian family for a loud and loving festival of food and fun that is their yearly holiday dinner. Such a joyful feast causes me to reflect on what it means to be truly thankful, truly forgiven in Christ, and truly caught up in the glorious journey that is my Catholic faith. This year, at this point in my walk of faith, I wanted to reflect on the life of a man I know and hope that seeing his struggles turned into strength in Christ will inspire you to experience the gratitude and grace of God.

I Know a Man, and the Boy He Was…

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I know a man who remembers a lost and lonely childhood without a father, a special box of secret treasures that only a boy could cherish being lost in a family move, and the struggles of coping with so many days of confusion, insecurity and uncertainty. But that man remembers also the father who worked so hard away from home to provide for the family he missed, and the mother who labored in love to keep her family together on her own. He remembers days when disaster struck, when lives were almost lost, and when there was little to go around. But he also remembers the strength that came from pushing through the hard times and holding onto hope that the days to come would be better.

I know a man who saw his boyhood home submerged in the waters of a local flood, who experienced the loss of material possessions, security, and safety. But the man also saw a refuge in the home of distant relatives who took his family in; and he experienced unconditional love, despite his misbehavior and acting out. I know this man experienced the challenge of helping his father and mother rebuild and resettle in their flooded out home, and deep down, learned the power and the joy of personal sacrifice for the sake of those he loved.

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I know a man who struggled with loneliness in school, as he tried so hard to fit in and to make sense of the fears he faced every day from bullies and those who rejected him for who he was. But this man determined to study hard, find true friends, and search for simple joy in the everyday experiences of adolescence. That man grew stronger as he attended daily Mass and learned to pray to the Savior who was becoming more and more real to him with each passing year. 

I Know a Man who Found His Way into Adulthood…

I know a man who stumbled his way into young adulthood, finishing his high school studies and attending college, where for the first time he felt truly connected to his faith and future. The man continued to learn and to grow, to stumble and to get back up again, and to seek his way in the world. That man made many mistakes and went down many wrong paths; but that man also found his way back to the things that meant the most to him: his family and his faith. That man experimented with bad behavior and saw the worst of himself; but he also discovered a deeper relationship with the God who had been carrying him through. He watched his parents part ways, but found ways to deepen his relationship with each of them. Day by day, he walked his way into a his grownup world.

I know a man who failed in many relationships, lost jobs, ventured away from home only to return a broken soul. But that man found new strength and new hope in the family who always welcomed him back again. And he found beauty in the woman he would eventually marry. Though he had many missteps on the journey of courtship and marriage, he experienced great joy in beginning a new life of joy, sharing his faith with the one he had come to love. And when there were no children due to unforeseen events, that man and his bride prayed and trusted in the God who never let them go. In time, a son was born. Then the joy that man knew was powerful and precious and perfect indeed!

And I know a man who experienced the loss of a mother, the struggles of a lost job, the fears of bills piling up, and the frailty of a strained marital relationship. That man became ill and discouraged and began to re-experience all the same fears and fragility of his early childhood all over again. But God spoke to that man through faithful believers and though that man found himself uncertain about his finances, his family, and his faith, he discovered an even greater stability in the strength that God provided in the woman he loved, and the miracles that came into his life one by one. And though that man strayed from his faith, he never lost hope in the God who never gave up on him.

I Know a Man Who Has Been Truly Blessed…

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I know a man who fathered two more children, who moved to an unfamiliar place and saw the sacrifices his spouse made on his behalf, though he was unworthy of the love she gave. I know how the man continued to stumble along the way, changing jobs, watching dreams fade away, and forgetting the things that were truly most important. But I know also how that man slowly came around once more to a place where his faith was central to his life. Though he could never take back the mistakes and failures, the unkind words and selfish actions, he found in the forgiveness of Christ a way to become a better man and to spend his days seeking to rekindle the love he and his family shared together.

I know a man who has regained a sense of himself, who has rediscovered his love for the written word, who has also reclaimed the incredible gifts of his family and his faith. I know this man has walked a lonely road, a rocky road, a broken road; but he has found the narrow way and planted his feet firmly on the path toward heaven. I know the man has set his face toward heaven, has recommitted his life to his Savior and his family, and has determined to never let the failures and fears of the past dictate the direction for his journey in the days to come. That man is flawed and often floundering; but that man is also graced and gifted. He looks back on his life and sees the blessings of eternity that broke into his life from the realms of eternity. The sorrow has given way to solace. The brokenness and bondage have given way to forgiveness and faith. The confusion has given way to courage and the regret to recommitment. 

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As you reflect this Thanksgiving on all for which you are thankful, perhaps you will remember a man – or woman – whose life has been guided every step of the way by the One who knew us from eternity, formed us in the womb, and guided our lives along the narrow path through Calvary to heaven’s joy. Happy Thanksgiving! 
 

Just for Fun: The Raken

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Just for fun, I thought I'd print the words to my "scary masterpiece," The Raken! It's a fun parody of Edgar Allan's Poe's The Raven! Enjoy! (PS - Catch the video as well!)

 

The Raken

Once upon an autumn dreary, while I pondered raking, weary,
Over this my summer’s browning and forgotten grassy shore.
While I labored, fairly hustling, suddenly there came a rustling,
As if something lightly bustling, bustling through my tedious chore.
“Tis a squirrel,” I muttered, “looking for some nuts to store –
Only this, and nothing more.”

How distinctly I remember, should have done this in September,
Not a dear longstanding member of the neighborhood’s décor.
Eagerly I wished to borrow, lawn machine brought on the morrow,
But had only rake and sorrow, sorrow for this horrid chore –
For the everlasting and back-breaking tedious garden chore –
Thrust upon me evermore.

And each leaf, so gently falling, job completion now forestalling,
Chilled me, filled me with such apprehension never felt before;
So I raked, my heart its beating, tempting my faint soul’s retreating
And with wife and child’s entreating, rake until my sinews sore
Bearing now their sad entreating, bones, and sinews aching sore -
Tis a job and nothing more.

But my pleas on deaf ears falling, kept this pace though it was crawling,
Yard my earnest prayer was that there be an ending to this chore;
Vainly was my nervous talking, for to me I felt a stalking,
And so faintly I kept walking toward the gloves I wore – 
Gloving now my hands and taking rake resumed my awful chore,
Raking piles of leaves once more.

As I contemplated napping, heard the sound of thunder clapping,
Wishing for the clouds to now descend and drenching rain to pour
But the thunder soon it ended, so my respite now suspended
Bade me come to spot untended, and to take up rake once more –
Vainly now I whispered, “Horror!” and I heard the sound once more –
Scraping, chanting, “Nevermore!”

‘Round the yard my head was turning, all my soul within me burning,
Still I heard the scraping voice say what it called out twice before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is, some young squirrel upon the lattice,
Or a bold stray dog or cat is, clawing at my cellar door –
Let my raking still itself now and this mystery explore –
But the sound was heard no more!

Then turned I to do some bagging, yet above my family’s nagging,
Was the cold hard sound of something, calling as it had before.
Wished that I had leaves been blowing, for the blower’s rage bestowing
Would have drown the sound now growing, growing as I raked some more –
Still its hideous form not showing, haunting now this wretched chore,
Calling, calling, “Nevermore!”

Gazed down toward my two feet trembling, clarity, my thoughts assembling,
Knowledge of the true cause mocking heart and mind and soul and core.
Long and jagged teeth descending, to the grass as I was bending,
So reproachful, my heart rending, as the stiffened rake began to roar
Scraping on the crimson foliage, causing stiffened form to roar,
Quoth the rakin’, “Nevermore!” 

Marveled I as wood and plastic, making sounds so brash and spastic,
Spoke its harsh reproof so coldly, into flesh and marrow bore;
Contemplated I the science, of this object’s gross defiance,
Yet on this was my reliance, still my darkest heart it tore,
This which lacked a soul or feeling, still it mocked me all the more
Scratching out its “Nevermore!”

But the rake it seemed so fitting, here to do my very bidding, 
That one tool, so fashioned thusly, did perform yet offer more.
“So absurd!” I came to mutter, “that this rake should choose to utter,
Cleaning yard and walk and gutter, could this implement implore?
And with such a tool before me, would I win this raking war?”
Then it answered, “Nevermore!”

Startled at the stillness broken, from a rake, a word thus spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “This is madness, my mind’s wanderings, nothing more.”
I this moment should be tarping, heeding not this objects harping
Else this siege of my mind’s warping, should delay this daunting chore,
‘Til the hope of job’s completion, should recoil in me no more.
Yet it called out, “Nevermore!”

But with all my futile raking, goal unmet and thirst un-slaking,
Straight I wheeled around this forest, gazing down at leafy floor.
There upon I set to thinking, and in horror set to linking,
Fancy upon fancy, thinking that this drama must mean more – 
Stuff of tales, so gruesome, ghastly, drawn from fearful days of yore,
Meant by rakin’s, “Nevermore!”

Thus I paused, my mind engaging, in a story newly paging
Here within my mind a tempest – leaves be gone and fall no more!
Fighting now a futile battle, herding leaves like many cattle
Hearing still that dreadful rattle, haunting me within my core.
Seething terror, my transgression, being frozen at death’s door
Shall it cease now? – “Nevermore!”

Then methought, the leaves fell thicker, causing me to rake much quicker,
Wondering if unseen hand hath shaken bough and branch once more,
“Rake!” I cried, “the ground is covered, with the leaves that one time hovered,
Respite, I am not recovered, thou dost vex me, wretched chore!”
Calling thus in desperation, to the sky I did implore,
Quoth the rakin, “Nevermore!”

“Prophet!” said I, “Demon garden. Rake, yes still, but without pardon.
Whether tool or instrument of hell I cannot now ignore
Your unceasing leafy taunting, filling this my yard with haunting
For the gruesome task so daunting – tell me truly, I implore?
Is there end to falling foliage – thus that I may cease this chore?”
Quoth the rakin, “Nevermore!”

Horror upon horror dancing, on my grass these leaves advancing,
By that Heaven there above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this man with leaf piles laden, up to knees so he must wade in,
If I may with my rake made in, distant land triumph once more –
O’er this sea of leaves and pots of flowers dead by front porch door!
Quoth the rakin, “Nevermore!”

By that word, I thus departing, threw the rake and stopped my carting,
Shrieking now to lawn and branches, “Thou wilt have my heart no more!”
Let these piles stand as a token, of the soul that now has broken –
This my final word has spoken! Quit have I, to rake no more!
Take thy tines from out my heart, as now I leave you at the door!”
No more hear I, “Nevermore!”

But the rakin, never stirring, leaves by wind are still there whirring,
In the yard now buried under rustling rotting leafy floor.
There to mock my vain evicting, with now winter storm’s predicting
Flakes begin to fall convicting, endless shoveling in store…
Wilt there be an end to this my chilly wintry shoveling chore?
Quoth the shovel, “Nevermore!”

Click the Image to the right to watch “The Raken”