Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Holiday wishes

I hope you won't mind a shorter post this week, as I'm still catching up on rest after many blessings this Christmas: presents to wrap and open, many good things to eat, and a house filled to the brim with loved ones. Most especially -- I found the blessing of forgiveness at our Christmas Eve service in offering a communion cup to someone who had deeply hurt me. The moment was the best gift for me this Christmas.

I wish these same things for you in the coming year -- blessings that fill your home and heart to the brim, forgiveness for those who need it, and, most of all, the comfort of loved ones near you. Thank you for reading through the year. You -- my blog readers -- are a treasure to me.

A gift from a dear friend, a favorite "treasure" on this year's tree

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A psalm to light dark days

Since Monday, I've had three friends tell me they're battling the blues, despite the joy they're *supposed* to feel during this holiday season.

This can be a tough season. Tomorrow is the shortest day of the year (and by that, I mean the number of hours of sunlight, though for those of you with Christmas errands left to run, it may feel like a day with fewer than our usual 24 hours, too). For many of us, the lack of sunlight creeps into our bones and seeps into our hearts and our minds, and the dark tries to set up shop for the winter. Christmas is also a difficult time for those who have lost a loved one or become estranged from a family member or a close friend. For those sitting next to a hospital bed, or otherwise waiting with an ill loved one, the merriment and twinkling lights of the season can seem empty and even annoying.

If you find yourself sitting in a dark place, might I offer you a psalm of light and hope? It's a psalm a pastor friend of mine, Matt Ashburn, preached about a couple of weeks ago in a sermon titled "Needing Sonshine." This psalm is not one you normally think of as a Christmas psalm. But I think it's perfect for those struggling with the dark, perfect for looking toward the Light promised at Christmas.

Psalm 80
O give ear, Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock;
You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power
And come to save us!
O God, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
How long will You be angry with the prayer of Your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
And You have made them to drink tears in large measure.
You make us an object of contention to our neighbors,
And our enemies laugh among themselves.
O God of hosts, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.

You removed a vine from Egypt;
You drove out the nations and planted it.
You cleared the ground before it,
And it took deep root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered with its shadow,
And the cedars of God with its boughs.
It was sending out its branches to the sea
And its shoots to the River.
Why have You broken down its hedges,
So that all who pass that way pick its fruit?
A boar from the forest eats it away
And whatever moves in the field feeds on it.

O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You;
Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine,
Even the shoot which Your right hand has planted,
And on the son whom You have strengthened for Yourself.
It is burned with fire, it is cut down;
They perish at the rebuke of Your countenance,
Let Your hand be upon the man of Your right hand,
Upon the son of man whom You made strong for Yourself.
Then we shall not turn back from You;
Revive us, and we will call upon Your name.
O Lord God of hosts, restore us;
Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.


In Matt's sermon, he spoke of the psalmist's call to God to repent. You read that right. The psalmist is begging God to turn back toward His people, not because of any sin He has committed -- after all, as God, He is without sin -- but because His people feel like He has hidden from them. Likened to a vine tended carefully by a gardner, these people are starving for light. They are hungry for more, thirsty for more than the tears that have been their fill (v. 5).

Notice the psalmist pleading for the light of God's face to shine on them again. Three times: "Cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved." Through the light, we will be saved. The psalmist had a profound faith and an audacious hope -- one that freed him to plead with God to turn back to these desperate people. And by turning back to them, God and His light would restore them, heal them, and cause them to flourish again.

Friends, as you approach this Christmas, may you feel the warmth and the nourishing light from the face of God looking upon you. May you be reminded of His unfailing love for you, proven through the gift of Jesus. And may His love fill you with peace and brilliant light that overcomes whatever darkness you face.

I wish you a Christmas filled with peace and blessings and joy and laughter, but most of all, filled with His presence and His light.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Christmas tree psalm

                                                                < * >
                                                             LORD is
                                                          my shepherd,
                                                        I shall not want.
                                                  He makes me lie down
                                                in green pastures; He leads
                                          me beside still waters. He restores
                                         my soul; He guides me in the paths
                                       of righteousness for His name's sake.
                                     Even though I walk through the valley of
                                    the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for
                                You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they
                              comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the
                           presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head
                          with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy
                        will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the
                                                               of the
                                                             Psalm 23

'Tis the season to feel stressed out, to feel that Time cares little whether we have crossed off our to-do items for the day and definitely won't slow down to let us catch up. We can't tackle Time and make him give us more hours in each day. So instead, what if we focus on what we can change: our mindset.

I've shaped Psalm 23 into a Christmas tree here to help you think of it in a new way this season. The psalm tells me that because the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. In this season of so much want (both real and fabricated), the promise is true and bears repeating again until it sinks in: I shall not want. I shall not want. As we hurry about our Christmas preparations, let's cling to this Christmas tree psalm in the coming days. It promises much.

Because of His promise to give me rest in green pastures and beside quiet waters, I shall not want.

Because He is with me always, whether I am in the valley or in the presence of enemies, I shall not want.

There's a feast prepared and a dazzling home promised, and, therefore, I shall not want.

Remember these promises, my friends. Repeat the truth of this psalm to yourself during the long wait at the traffic signal that you always seem to catch as it's turning red, or the security line at the airport when the elderly couple in front of you has clearly not traveled since 9/11, or the line at the cash register that doesn't budge as fast lines around you disappear quickly.

Repeat the truth of this psalm during the shark-circling tactics looking for a place to park at the mall and while the screaming baby (yours or someone else's) distracts you from your shopping list.

Repeat the truth of this psalm while you visit the hospital or the graveside, a visit that leaves you feeling cold about celebrations and bells ringing and carols and laughter and merriment.

Repeat the truth, as often as it takes, until it transforms your thinking. And then, perhaps, you will find yourself wanting to repeat the sounding joy.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The power of paper

Back in March, I wrote about why I love paper and real books more than e-readers. In that post, I shared some of the artwork of a book artist, Brian Dettmer, who takes a scalpel to books and transforms them into works of art.

This past weekend, I got to see Dettmer's work in person at Pulse Miami, just one of many art festivals that took place in the Miami area as part of a larger celebration of art, Art Week Miami.

Now, I love art, and experiencing art is one of the ways my life flourishes. But I don't generally love ultra contemporary art, and since Pulse Miami is billed as a contemporary festival, I wasn't sure what to expect. As my husband and I walked through the expo halls, we were wowed by