Anna: Peace in the Waiting

“I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.” John 16:33 MSG

The idea of happily waiting doesn’t resonate with many of us.  Like me, some of us like lists and accomplishing and tangible results, and although I don’t like it about myself, I like time and structure. There are others who more readily relax, but I can’t think of anyone who enjoys being out of control … who receives peace in the waiting. Yet that is what faith is and it is what we are called to: trusting God and accepting His peace as we await the fulfillment of his purpose for our lives.

Like Ruth and Mary, we often experience a different reality than we had dreamed. We see our strengths, gifts and “callings” and we wonder when they will be used. Dreams are trampled, hope fades, love falters, joy disappears.

I am currently living a life that might be ideal for some, but is certainly not what I ever envisioned for myself.  I live in this big city, with this little crew of kids and we home school, and I confess I worry about what others think of our craziness.  The disparities between my reality and my dream of living in the suburbs of a smaller city where I have a successful career and my children are well educated in an award winning school district are extreme, but in the middle of the chaos that is my life I hear Him whisper to me about calling and waiting, His dreams for me and His love for them. I have absolutely no answers, but often I have His peace. A peace that doesn’t make any sense as I look around my cluttered play room and a dining room table littered with elementary school assignments, and legos and cheerios scattered on the living room floor. But it’s there, and He calls me to trust and rest in His peace.

Toward the end of the Christmas narrative we are briefly introduced to Anna (meaning grace), a prophetess from the tribe of Asher. This woman who was at least 84 years old and had been widowed for all but seven of her adult years, gave herself to worship and service in the temple. Considering her tribal background, it’s ironic how she finds her fulfillment in God alone. In Genesis, when Asher was born to Leah’s servant she said “Now women will call me happy!” (Gen 30:13 NCV) Like many of us, Leah worried about appearances. But where Leah thrived when others thought highly of her, Anna forsakes all that was expected of her.  She lived against societal norms and truly relinquished everything for God.

I see this short account of her life, and I know that losing her husband prematurely and never remarrying could not have been her dream, but as she waited for God’s will to be revealed, she was faithful.  She was at peace in His presence, and she gave thanks.  Her faithfulness was rewarded by seeing the Prince of Peace face to face. Anna, undoubtedly knew that all is grace.

I have been thinking more about Anna this Christmas than ever before.  This year is the first I’ll live without my grandmother Anna Jane on this earth.  For years, Grandma suffered from Lewy Body Dementia, a Parkinsons-like disease that stole the vitality from her years too soon, and eventually left her unable to care for herself or communicate with the world around her. But though her life was dotted with regrets, she had lived hers to its fullest – she had loved, she had given, she had laughed, she had forgiven and been forgiven, she had praised. What a gift it was to visit her last Christmas Eve … to play worship music for her and see her try to sing along with the carols we sang. Though grandma was only able to lay in a bed the last few times I saw her, her heart and the recesses of her mind and soul that no human could reach, still remembered the grace that had been bestowed on her before she became a captive of her mortal frailty.  Grandma was always at peace in His presence.

When we lose someone it hits hard.  I remember wondering how I could ever live in a world where grandma wasn’t, and yet we move on.  And when we’ve lost someone that truly lived and left a legacy, we are graced with a gift – the gift of their example.  This Christmas, even when the world seems far from it, I’m looking for the peace that Anna knew … the peace that comforted Grandma Janie when nothing else could.  The peace that will one day welcome us into the presence of the Prince of Peace.

SCRIPTURE:
Monday: Amos 3:7; Luke 1:42-45
Tuesday: Phillipians 4:6-8; Psalm 29:10-11
Wednesday: Proverbs 3:16-18; Luke 2:22-32
Thursday: Luke 2:33-40; 2 Thessalonians 3:16
Friday: Matthew 2:1-12; ; Romans 8:5-8
Saturday: Matthew 2:13-23; John 14:27

Mary — Joy in the Waiting

Week 3: Mary – Joy in the waiting

“My brothers and sisters, when you have many kinds of troubles, you should be full of joy, because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you patience.” 
James 1:2-3 NCV
 
In life, there are a few things that I’ve made myself just accept and I’ve gotten good at not thinking about them. Without grumbling or trying to find a way out of it, I just do the laundry, wash the dishes, vacuum the floor.  No questions asked. This is reality.

We get good at accepting the little things in life or the hard things that just seem unchangeable.
We trust that they will always be there.

What would happen if we did the same with a really significant thing? What if we didn’t question the goodness of God, no matter the circumstances?  But we do, and we are not faithful.  It is beyond us to see the bigger picture.  We see these broad strokes, in one corner of the canvas, but we cannot see the vision in the Master’s mind – we have to wait.

I was reminded of this when I was holding my little boy the other night.  Fourteen months before we brought him home, I had a miscarriage, and this resulted in not a loss of faith, but one that was truly rocked.  Time has passed, and my heart is healing, but frequently when I count these four little heads, I feel that aching void. There are still days when I grieve, and I always long to hold that baby someday. But when I look at Nicholas, I get a glimpse of the bigger picture.

I’ll never know why our third baby didn’t make it, but one thing I do know is that we needed Nicholas.  He is not just happy; he is joyful.  He loves to make people smile and laugh and an inner happiness just radiates from him. Day by day, I’ve watched God use the gift of this tiny boy to bring joy back to my heart and our home.

There are parts of our stories that we wish we could escape; things too painful to mention … experiences beyond our control that send us reeling, and we wait for answers.

Mary experienced that. She had always been faithful, her heart pure, her mind fixed on God. You’d think God would honor that by making her road smooth, and yet He brought about circumstances that would shame her, could cause her to lose her husband, her family, and to be cast aside by those who shared her faith. She could have complained and tried to run away, but when we look at her story, we see a faith that persists and a heart that follows hard – and she praises, in the midst of an unexpected pregnancy, outside of marriage and her control.

Her joy is unspeakable as she first awaits the arrival of His promise, and then only partly realized as she holds that new baby, knowing that eternal joy will only come through great pain.  And I think she understood that sometimes He uses the things we are least expecting to form us into His image. She had learned to trust Him in the midst of questions, and knew that sometimes joy is a gift, but often it is a choice — an act of faith.

SCRIPTURE:
Monday: Psalm 19:8-9; 28:7-9: Isaiah 7:14
Tuesday: Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 9:6-7; 61:1-3
Wednesday: Psalm 30:4-5; Galatians 4:4-7
Thursday: Luke 1:26-38; Galatians 5:22-23
Friday: Luke 1:39-56; Micah 5:2
Saturday: Luke 2:1-21; Isaiah 9:6-7

 

Love in the Waiting

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
St. Augustine

My family was visiting some friends the other day, and Matt noticed a sign on a piece of furniture in the dining room.  This wasn’t just any sign. It was an invitation, but not just any invitation. The teenaged girl had been asked to homecoming.  We started to ask her about it, and her excitement could not be contained, as she grinned from ear to ear and told us about the boy and how he asked her, and how happy she was to be going.  This was a big deal.  I’d never experienced being asked to a dance or some other school event by “that boy.” In fact at that age I mostly hadn’t been invited anywhere, and so being a part of this girl’s excitement, stirred up happiness and hurt in me all at the same time, and why?

We are trained from a young age to desire being wanted. Disney does an incredible job of making all little girls want to be princesses, not for the sake of being royalty, but to be desired. Romantic comedies carry these dreams into our adolescence and adulthood, and so often we are chasing not after a person, but fulfillment. It’s as if we’re screaming, “See me. Notice me. Choose me!” And sometimes we are chosen and other times we’re overlooked, and we end up feeling unattractive, unwanted, unseen. There are these deep soul wounds inflicted by the unknowing, and they attach themselves to a spirit hunger that a friend, parent or man was never meant to fill, and we are disillusioned.

We think that once we have a date or a boyfriend or when he finally asks me to marry him … if I can just have kids, if my kids will just obey me, if they would trust me … if I had a best friend, a kindred spirit who just “gets me,” then I will feel loved; I will be complete, but we’re not. We just hunger for more.  What’s worse, we can quickly give our love to the wrong thing, the wrong cause, the wrong purpose, and we are challenged again to wait.

During the holidays, we can feel the longing for love more acutely.  In fact, there are times when I am surrounded by my husband, children and extended family and can give way to an aching void … times when I forget that my worth, value, and identity come from Him alone.

This season, in those moments I am trying to recenter myself on the fact that so many years ago, love came down.  That the season is about love, and not the flawed human sort, but the kind that gives itself up for me, for you … for the world, for all eternity.  Throughout scripture, we see Him gently drawing our attention to the kind of love He will send — sends to Bethlehem — is sending again.

When we look at the Song of Solomon we get lost in the romantic language, declarations of love, descriptions of beauty, but when we focus just on that we may miss the lady urging her peers to not awaken love until the right time … until the right person comes along. They are encouraged not to give their love to the wrong thing instead of waiting for the right thing.

The way that Solomon loved his lady, how he’d found in her a great treasure, that is the way God looks at you. In fact, His love for you couldn’t be contained. No swaddling clothes or grave could hold it back. It had to leave heaven’s majesty and travel through all history to find you right where you are, just the way you are, and He poured out his love all crimson and beckoned you to Himself, because “many waters cannot quench love,” and in Him, we need no longer wait for love.

 
SCRIPTURE:
Monday: Song of Solomon 1-2; Psalm 13:5-6, 17:7-8
Tuesday: Song of Solomon 3-4; Psalm 23
Wednesday: Song of Solomon 5; Psalm 33:4-5
Thursday: Song of Solomon 6; Psalm 59:16-17
Friday: Song of Solomon 7; John 1:1-5, 3:16
Saturday: Song of Solomon 8; Matthew 1:18-24
 

Active Hope

 Hope: To cherish a desire with anticipation; to trust; to desire with expectation of obtainment.

I can’t remember a time in my life when I have not struggled with fear.  As a child, I hated bedtime and remember sneaking into my parents’ room in the middle of the night, because I was scared.  I would get nervous when I moved to a new school because of the uncertainty of who I’d eat lunch with or play with at recess, but I soon realized that I didn’t need to wait around for someone to ask me to join them, I could initiate friendships on my own, even as the new girl.

When I’m active, I am less likely to fear.  When I am focused on others, rather than my own insecurities, I am more likely to notice the blessings around me, and in turn bless others.

I love that Ruth took care of Naomi. She trusted that she was in the right place, but she didn’t just wait for Boaz to redeem her.  She hoped – she  desired with expectation and she approached him and asked him to restore her dignity and vitality – to redeem what was lost.

I believe God calls us to wait in hope – whether we are waiting for a change in our current situation or we are waiting to be more like Him; regardless of whether we waiting for something here on earth or for His second coming, we should be waiting in hopeful anticipation.  And as we wait, we can rest in his presence, but I am so thankful that he doesn’t require that rest be passive.

I can still become weighted down with fear … I can lose sight of the work that Jesus in doing in me and those around me.  Fear of the unknown can paralyze me, but I am thankful that God does not wait for me to overcome my fears alone.  He invites me – he beckons you – to follow Him; to walk with him.  He calls us his own and he invites us to action.

 
You are Mine.  I will be with you when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. 
You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.
(Isaiah 43:1-2)

And as we walk through difficult seasons of life he instills in us hope.

Look at the birds of the sky:
They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns,
yet your heavely Father feeds them. 
Aren’t you worth more than they?
(Matthew 6:26)

God is still in the business of redemption.  He created us for relationship with Him, and He brings about healing and reconciliation and renewal so that we can know the hope that only comes from Him.

Scripture:
Ruth 3-4

Hope in His Presence

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High
dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say to the Lord,
‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’
He will cover you with His feathers;
you will take refuge under His wings. 
His faithfulness will be a protective shield.
Psalm 91:1-2,4 HCSB

I have two courageous children.  They are confident in a way that sometimes leads to danger, and yet as their mother, I am thankful for this naiveté. My kids don’t go running away from bugs – this absence of fear is how we discovered a severe allergy to bees.  Lucas has no fear of heights.  We frequently find him sitting on the wood beams in his room, having used only the doorframe to get up.  Bethany is totally unselfconscious.  She will sing off key, at the top of her lungs, no matter who is around, and assume everyone wants to hear her.  They can go wild with energy, and while my personality anticipates the worst thing that could happen as a result of their behavior, they do not fear.  We were once told that they are so willing to take risks and are able to express their feelings to us so clearly, because they are totally at ease and comfortable with Matt and I — they know what to expect, and while I wish that they would heed my warnings, I am glad that they do not struggle with fear.

As I’ve thought about hope, I’ve realized that it is easy to hope and trust when we know what to expect.

When Lucas and Bethany watched an unfortunate version of The Cat in the Hat, we saw the first glimpse of fear in our kids.  The cat would show up in unexpected places at unexpected times and as a result the kids were scared to go into another room alone, for fear that the cat would show up in their home. Uncertainty bred fear in my children.

As I read the story of Ruth today, I noticed Ruth’s resolve to go with Naomi to a land she did not know — she seemingly had no fear.  Ruth came to know, trust and love Naomi, and while she was unfamiliar with Bethlehem and its people, she knew her mother-in-law.

Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
(Ruth 1:16)

When we look at our circumstances, it is difficult to hold on to hope.  We become discouraged and doubt that things will ever be better than our present reality. The unexpected bumps in the road make it difficult to trust and to hope.  That is why our hope cannot be in the temporal.  Our hope must be in His presence.

Even when Ruth did not know how she would gather enough food to eat, there was one who knew her, her circumstances and her faithfulness (Ruth 2:11-12).  Like Boaz knew and protected Ruth, you are known … your situation is understood … though your mind sometimes doubts, your trusting heart is seen.  You are valued by One, more than you could ever imagine, and you can count on that.

Today as you go through the busy-ness of the season, rather than becoming discouraged by all that needs to be done, instead of becoming overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, when you feel like you have nothing to place your hope in, remember that He is with you, gently guiding you throughout your day.  He came that first Christmas to bring peace to the world and He is coming again, but as we wait in expectation, He is here.  Emanuel – the God that is with us and our hope is in His presence.

 
I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  
You will have suffering in this world.  
Be courageous! I have conquered the world.
(John 16:33)

Scripture: Ruth 1-2

 

Hope in the Waiting

 
“I would have been without hope if I had not believed that I would see the loving-kindness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord.  Be strong.  Let your heart be strong. Yes, wait for the Lord.”
 Psalm 27:13-14 (NLV) 

I spent my childhood moving across Canada and the United States.  My Dad was a pastor and from birth until I married, I started over every two to three years.  It was not the life my parents envisioned for their family, nowhere near ideal, and yet whether through the influence of men or the Call of God, we were modern day nomads.  Going to seventeen schools is part of my story. I look back on my life, and there was a lot of pain in the leaving, but I would not change a thing.  

Uncertainty taught me the importance of a personal faith and relationship with a God who is undaunted by our questions and sympathizes with our weaknesses.  Hard endings and new beginnings forever sealed in me the necessity of family, whether that which we were born into, or those we make our own. 
 
There are few stories in the Bible that resonate with me deeper than Ruth, a young woman who chooses to go to a land not her own. She’d lost everything; her husband – and with his death her vitality, her acceptance in society, as a penniless outsider – a despised widow.  Yet she remains faithful to her family in all circumstances, no matter the cost. She leaves her home, her traditions and religion.
 
I love that she is patient and persistently hopeful as she gathers and trusts.  Boaz, a distant relative of her now-dead husband, becomes for her a redeemer. He takes her, as she is – poor. He removes her shame through marriage. He sustains her life and creates life with her.  This redeemer completely changes the course of her story.
 
God looks down on Ruth, once an alien, with no apparent reason to hope and he sees faithfulness. And what she cannot do for herself, he will do through her. As she has been redeemed by Boaz, so he will use her Descendant to redeem the world.
 
Ponder that … God saw Ruth’s faithfulness and through her brought redemption through the Hope of the world. 

Today I confess that I struggle with hope.  There are days when I hope to get a shower, to have a quiet moment to enjoy something I want to read.  In my house, it can get loud quickly with four young and very active kids, and I find myself hoping for an opportunity to call a friend without kids crying in the background.  I’ve hoped to make something of myself, and can often forsake the present with a longing for something different.  I struggle with wishing for the other side of the proverbial fence that is perpetually greener than the grass of my own life.  

During the holidays it is easy to focus on what needs to be done and what we don’t have — we can become consumed with the aches of Christmases past. We feel the void of loved ones who have passed on or with whom our relationship is not right.  Feelings of loneliness and inadequacy seem closer to the surface during this time of year.  It is easy to despair when our hope is placed in these lesser things.  This week, let’s trust in the God who bears the weight of our troubles; let’s place our hope in the Hope of the World.

“The nations will put their hope in His name.” 
Matthew 12:21 HCSB