The Gifts of Epiphany

In the church calendar, Epiphany is celebrated on January 6. Depending on the particular church tradition, Epiphany celebrates both or either the visit of the wise men to Jesus and Mary in Bethlehem and/or the baptism of Jesus. It commemorates the manifestation of Jesus as God, as the Son of God. Here in the West, it is more common to celebrate the coming of the wise men, and I want to share a well-known hymn that is commonly sung as a Christmas carol. We generally sing only the first stanza and refrain, which is really unfortunate because these are really setting the stage for the second through fifth stanzas, and these are amazing! The second stanza speaks about the gift of gold; the third about incense; the fourth about myrrh; and the fifth refers to the bringing together of all those gifts–that we worship a God who is “King and God and sacrifice”! Just beautiful!

We three kings of Orient are;
bearing gifts we traverse afar,
field and fountain, moor and mountain,
following yonder star.

Refrain:
O star of wonder, star of light,
star with royal beauty bright,
westward leading, still proceeding,
guide us to thy perfect light.

2 Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never,
over us all to reign. [Refrain]

3 Frankincense to offer have I;
incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising, voices raising,
worshiping God on high. [Refrain]

4 Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb. [Refrain]

5 Glorious now behold him arise;
King and God and sacrifice:
Alleluia, Alleluia,
*sounds through the earth and skies. [Refrain]

*In some versions of this hymn, this last line is “earth to heaven replies” (and I particularly like that, as it looks forward to when it will be “on earth as it is in heaven“).

Note: the highlighting above is my emphasis and is not in the hymn itself.

 

Hymns and Hydrangeas

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of doing a Bible Telling session with a group of women. I chose for us to work with the story of Bartimaeus (partly because it’s very short), and by the end of the session, the women were telling each other the story. This was supposed to be just a quick example of a Bible Telling followed by a time of my sharing about Greenhouse Movement, but when I asked everyone to share what jumped out at them from hearing the story, they had so many insights the session stretched much longer!

Darlene Krueger hosted the event, and I want to tell you about Hymns and Hydrangeas, the business she and her friend Pam Wyma have started to support missionaries. I am one of their missionaries (which I think is so amazing!). They design and make beautiful fabrics with the words of hymns on them and then make tea towels (which would be suitable for wall hangings!), pillows, and baby blankets from the fabrics. Please check out their wonderful work and consider buying something! Your purchase supports their missionaries.

Go to the “About” page on the Hymns and Hydrangeas site to read about Darlene, Pam, and the three missionaries they support. Go to the “order” page to make a purchase. They also have a Facebook page.

One last thing: I am now sending out a monthly email update. If you would like to receive that, just fill out the form below. Thanks so much!

 

 

Shepherd me, O God~a hymn share

flw house 2.JPG

A homeschooling perk: Em and I took a field trip last week to the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park (that’s US history, right?). Em took this pic of one of his window designs.

This hymn showed up in my daily prayer app the other day, and I re-read the first stanza several times: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants/beyond my fears/from death into life.” My default wants are safety, security, comfort, acclaim… And why am I so fixated on those? Because I fear that if I am not concerned about them, God will not be either. So I also need shepherding “beyond my fears.” I need God to move me “from death into life.”

I love the shift from prayer to truth-telling in this hymn, with the prayer for shepherding alternating with verses from Psalm 23, reminding the pray-er of God’s faithfulness and goodness. It is because of this goodness that we can confidently ask Jesus to shepherd us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows our true needs, well beyond our wants or what we think will satisfy us. He will lead us through dark valleys of fear and doubt into abiding faith. He will lead us from death (which sometimes looks quite lively and self-satisfying) into true, full life. At the bottom of the post there are two links (to a Youtube audio recording of the song and to the hymn writer’s website) and a verse.

Hymn: Shepherd me, O God

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

God is my shepherd, so nothing I shall want,
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Though I should wander the valley of death,
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred,
crowning me with love beyond my pow’r to hold.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Words and Music: Marty Haugen

To hear the music, follow this link.

Visit Marty Haugen’s website for more of his music.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’sgiving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Matthew 6:33 MSG

Father Heart

This past spring, when we felt certain the Lord was moving us into Chicago, one of our first steps was to explore school options for our kids. The search for the younger three didn’t last too long. We visited two schools; one of them felt like a good fit to both them and us; and that decision was confirmed when we attended their back-to-school night this past week. Yes, they will face the difficulties of making new friends and learning new systems, but we know already they will be in a nurturing environment, one in which they already feel comfortable.

This, however, has not been the scenario for our oldest child, Emily. Our first choice fell through. Then she found a magnet school she really wanted to attend. She made it past the first round of selections, but not the second. That was heartbreaking and sudden and late. We scrambled and discovered a charter school option. It wasn’t close; it didn’t have some of the classes she wanted, but we thought it would do. So she started classes there, but we found, after a week of trying to make it work, it simply was too far away.

So late Thursday night, Dave and I discussed, again, her schooling choices. We weighed pros and cons and talked through different scenarios, and then, with exhaustion sucking us into sleep, we prayed a plea of confused desperation.

The next morning I woke before the alarm. As I lay there, quiet, I received an insight into my daughter. I got a glimpse into why the less obvious, more complicated schooling choice might be the very best thing for her.

I looked over at Dave and saw he was also awake. I shared with him the insight I’d received. He nodded and told me what he’d woken up thinking about. The two insights meshed; they fit together; they formed something that was enough of an answer for us to move forward with peace.

But even greater than the answer was this: the Spirit’s whispered insights were not just a reminder of God’s great wisdom, they were even more a reminder of God’s Father heart for our girl, for our family.

In that moment of shared insights I got a glimpse of God’s great, beating heart for my girl, who is, even more and always, HIS girl. He knows her, inside and out, through and through, better than I know her, better than her dad knows her, better than she knows herself.

And He loves her.

He loves her oh so well, so tenderly, so knowledgably.

And that understanding is the best answer of all.

 

Post script: When I opened up the Daily Office on my phone later on Friday morning—just after what I described above—I discovered the day’s hymn was “Day by Day,” one I remembered from my childhood. It was like a loving letter written just for us, but I suspect, in God’s incredible way of loving all his people, together yet so uniquely, it’s for many of us, so I’m sharing the words below.

 

“Day by Day” by Karolina Sandell-Berg

Day by day, and with each passing moment,

Strength I find to meet my trials here;

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what He deems best,

Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,

With a special mercy for each hour;

All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,

He whose name is Counselor and Pow’r.

The protection of His child and treasure

Is a charge that on Himself he laid;

“As your days, your strength shall be in measure,”

This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,

So to trust Thy promised, O Lord,

That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,

Offered me within Thy holy Word.

Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,

E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,

One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,

Till I reach the promised land.

Today I Awake

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The Garfield Conservatory is just down the street from our house–so beautiful! And free! This is the entrance to the fern room. (shot by Emily Underwood)

In the Daily Office app I use on my phone (The Daily Office from Mission St. Clare), yesterday’s hymn was “Today I Awake” by John Bell. (I’ve shared another of John Bell’s hymns, “Take O Take Me As I Am,” in a past post [click on the title above to see the post, which has the words as well as a link to a recording of the hymn].) Bell’s treatment of the Trinity is beautiful, and it reminded me of the book Delighting in the Trinity (this link leads to a blog post recommending that book–so good!)

I re-read this hymn all day long yesterday, and last night I found a Youtube recording of it so I could also hear the tune. Click on the title below to listen to the recording. Hope you enjoy as well.

Today I Awake” by John Bell

Today I awake and God is before me.

At night, as I dreamt, God summoned the

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Fish @ the Conservatory  (by Em)

day;

For God never sleeps but patterns the morning

with slithers of gold or glory in grey.

Today I arise and Christ is beside me.

He walked through the dark to scatter new light.

Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people

to hope and to heal, resist and invite.

Today I affirm the Spirit within me

at worship and work, in struggle and rest.

The Spirit inspires all life which is changing

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Another Conservatory pic (by Em)

from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.

Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,

above and beneath, before and behind;

the Maker, the Son, the Spirit together

They called me to life and call me

their friend.

Misplaced trust: the pitfalls of homeselling

family pic

A good family picture, which, for us, is an amazing feat! This was just after Judy’s graduation ceremony. She’s a college freshman now!

When our realtor, a long-time friend, came into our home for our “putting the house on the market” interview, she was complimentary overall, but she also helped us come up with a to-do list for our open house in a couple weeks’ time.

So we did the first “weeding” of the extra stuff we’ve accumulated, and we sold some of it in a yard sale and carted what was left over to the local thrift store, and then realized, as we looked around with critical eyes, there was still much to do

We often have people stay in our house, and I clean in different ways depending on how well I know them. When my sister or in-laws come, I clean mostly so they’ll be comfortable. I don’t go overboard. But when, two summers ago, we told our church pastors they could house some incoming conference attendees at our place while we were out of town, I cleaned like a madwoman. I’d never met these people; their entire impression of us would be based on our house.

I did the same as we prepared our house to go on the market. The dirt at the base of the windows, between the glass and the screen, has never bothered me, but what if it disgusted some potential homebuyer? Two days before the open house, we got a request for a showing. I was still de-cluttering, still cleaning, but we agreed to the showing.

They arrived before we’d even left, didn’t say a word to me, stood outside looking the house over as I piled the kids and dog in the car. Later that evening I got an email telling me their realtor had written an online review of our house. I shouldn’t have looked at it, but I did. “Buyer considered the lack of central AC a negative. House could have shown better.”

Well, the AC was their issue; it was clear on the listing we didn’t have it. But “could have shown better”—those four words haunted me. I went to sleep, late, thinking of more things I needed to clean, more areas to clear out. Suddenly our house—the place where we’ve become family with our international students, the hangout spot for so many of our neighborhood children, our home!—didn’t feel good enough for others.

I woke the next morning still fixated on what I could do to make our house “show better.” I stood in the laundry room, mindlessly folding, while my mind raced from one idea to another. Suddenly I realized I was humming, the same phrase over and over.

“On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.”

I hadn’t turned the radio on that morning, hadn’t listened to anything on my phone, hadn’t heard that hymn recently. I wasn’t actively trying to get my gaze back on Christ at all! It was a clear Holy Spirit nudge, and I saw my frantic thoughts for what they were, a sandbar eroding beneath my feet.

And I remembered the words from Psalm 146.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people;
    there is no help for you there.
When they breathe their last, they return to the earth,
    and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel[a] as their helper,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them.
    He keeps every promise forever.

 

 

the pursuit of Wisdom

DSC_0923I frequently get “stuck” in my Scripture reading. Sometimes this happens because it’s simply not “fun” to read (parts of Leviticus fall into this category). Sometimes it’s because I’m wrestling or struggling with the ideas (other parts of Leviticus fall into this category), but sometimes—like this time—it’s because what it is presenting is so good, so beautiful, and I want it so badly.

I’m often surprised by the passages that do this to me—like this one in Proverbs 2. I’ve never particularly been drawn to the Proverbs, but I was first captured by the fervent searching for Wisdom portrayed in the early verses of the chapter and then pulled up short by this verse that describes the result of finding it: “Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation]; yes, you will understand every good path.” (Amplified version)

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Isn’t it what we need? I know I am desperate for this as a mom. All these personalities living under one roof, different ages, dealing with friend issues and school issues and sibling issues, each needing to be trained and made ready for the time when they will leave home. I need a doctorate in psychology to keep up with all the mood swings alone.

Or I need Wisdom.

What about issues? Most days I read the news and get overwhelmed. I wonder, How should I, as a Christ follower, think about this or that? How should I respond when I talk with someone who thinks radically differently than I? What does it mean to “love my neighbor as myself” in my context?

I need Wisdom.

Organization. How do I balance family, work, a home, and life or interests outside all those? Throw out the word “balance”—how about “juggle,”  or just “somewhat manage”?

I need Wisdom.

So what is it? And how do I get it?

I began to do some studying and my head was soon swimming with ideas. Here are a few:

Proverbs 1:7 says the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge—which leads to wisdom. Then Proverbs 2:5 says wisdom leads to a worshipful fear of the Lord—so this is like a circle, with one leading to the other and vice versa. Hmm. Wisdom is also personified as a woman crying out in the city streets. Some scholars say it is the Law itself—all God’s instructions, which I would imagine would be the whole of Scripture for us. God gives Wisdom; in Proverbs 2:6 it is pictured as “coming from His mouth”—in other “words,” it IS His Word. That leads me to this thought: Christ is called the Word—and I Corinthians 1:30 says He became to us “wisdom from God.” *

The studying and resulting ideas were wonderful, but…

But how do I get Wisdom? How do I get what I so badly need?

James 1:5 tells me to ASK! To simply ask! Proverbs 2 shows me, though, that this asking is not half-hearted. The passage uses phrases like “treasure up my commands,” “make your ear attentive,” “incline and direct your heart,” and “seek (it) as for silver.”

So it’s a whole-hearted endeavor! But the end result is worth the pursuit!

I’ve been thinking about this for nearly a week now, so when we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” on Sunday at church, I noticed the reference to Wisdom right away. It’s in the second verse: “O Come, thou Wisdom from on high,/Who orderest all things mightily;/To us the path of knowledge show,/And teach us in her ways to go.” Ah! Wisdom shows up even in my favorite Christmas hymns. (Here’s a link to an instrumental piano/cello rendition of it–beautiful!)

I’ve got a long, long way to go to become truly wise (and every day I understand I’m not nearly as far along on this journey as I thought I was!), but I’m asking today—and tomorrow—and the next day—and the next—for “skillful and godly Wisdom (to) enter into (my) heart…”

…so I will understand “righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation];” so I will “understand every good path.”

*Some of these ideas came straight from Scripture. Others came from a great article I found related to this question titled “Does Proverbs Speak of Jesus?

Christmas hymns: a small step

This is Emily's creation, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

This is Emily’s creation, who both took the pic and added the graphic. using the app Rhonna. Merry Christmas, everyone.

We’ve had the morning scramble: lunches, clothes (and accompanying issues), backpacks, breakfasts (with the battle to get Patrick to actually sit down and eat it.) Whew, all set. With instructions to PJ to “Stay right there by the window; watch for Mrs. Kristine. She’ll be here any minute to take you younger ones to school,” I hustle the older ones out to the car.

The car is silent because it’s full of teens on an early morning before school. It will be another couple hours before they really wake up.

But the quiet doesn’t last.

“Mom, can we have music?”

I punch the radio button, and Andy Williams singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” blasts out from the Christmas station Em recently programmed as one of the pre-set stations on my car radio. It plays the same peppy, loud, fast-paced Christmas songs over and over all day. I reckon I have already listened to Andy Williams sing this song at least 20 times.

This morning the song seems even faster than usual, as if the DJ  sped it up. I feel my pulse jump in time to the beat. My shoulders tighten.

“I want a station that plays reflective Christmas music, with hymns,” I say.

As if on cue, the next song begins and it is one of the rare hymns the station plays–one that was recorded at least 40 years ago.

It, too–somehow–is fast!

“There you go, Mom,” Em says.

I glance in the rearview mirror and see Kelly making a face. I agree.

I pick up, drop off, and drive away from the school. I turn the radio off and enjoy the stillness.

I love Christmas–but I refuse to “do” it the way the advertisements and blinking decorations urge me to. These all tell me to move faster in this season of advent, as if rushing and doing more will create a magical moment and get me to it faster.

Popular Christmas music, it seems, has the same message.

It’s false. Advent is a time to slow down, to be still, to rejoice in His first coming and remind ourselves that it is the proof positive that He will come again. We can wait with patient, certain expectation. He came to die; He WILL come to reign.

So I begin my withdrawal from the busyness through music. I place a hymnal in my car so we can sing all the verses of songs about the REAL Christmas, so the rich theology can sink into our souls and satisfy us deep, deep down. I write the titles of some of my favorites on sticky notes and put them on my dashboard, over my stove, on my desk.

In “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”–near the very top of my favorites, I delight in lines like “God and sinners reconciled,” “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” and “Light and life to all He brings/Risen with healing in His wings.”

It’s a small step–this conscious choice of Christ-centered song–but it is a beginning, the right beginning for me.

Would you be willing share some ways you are choosing to slow down and savor this season of Advent?

“Take, O Take Me As I Am”–followup to “Meanderings on BEING”

The last post I put up–with my questions and wonderings about individuality and how it relates to my being a creation of God–came from a journal entry I wrote over a year ago. It’s been sitting and sitting, but when I finally was able to post something (sorry for the gap), it came to my mind rather than something written more recently.

I posted it on Friday, and that night I went to a church service and we sang the song “Take, O Take Me As I Am”. “This,” I thought, “relates so beautifully to that blog post.” I have found myself singing/praying it off-and-on ever since, and I want to share it with you. The link above (the title) takes you to Hymnary.org, which has information on the song’s author, Scotsman John Bell, and, when you scroll the bottom of the page, the actual music (so those of you who are musicians can play it), and this link is a Youtube video of a choir singing the song.

Hope you enjoy.

Needing and finding

Speaking of Chai (she's mentioned late in this post), here's a shot of her lounging on the only piece of furniture she's "supposed" to get on.

Speaking of Chai (she’s mentioned late in this post), here’s a shot of her lounging on the only piece of furniture she’s “supposed” to get on.

This morning* I crushed the spirit of one my children.

At least that’s what it felt like.

It was over an organizational issue we’ve been wrestling with ever since school started (well, actually, for years). It’s also an issue that this child refuses to really face as a problem. I hear “I’ve got this” and “No big deal” often enough that it makes me want to scream.

And this morning I did.

“When are you going to see this as a problem?”

“When are you going to admit you need help?”

“When are you going to stop telling me ‘I got this’ and start listening to what I and so many others are telling you?”

Oh, there was more—though God, in His grace, stopped me from saying at least some of the destructive things that were on the tip of my tongue.

But I went on and on. Not a dripping faucet, oh, no, a full-open tap.

And my child cried.

And I felt like, pardon my French, shit.

During it, following it, twinges of it even now.

After the tears, after my anger, I pulled my child aside in the kitchen, held this precious one close and said, “I can’t let you go to school without you understanding that my frustration doesn’t mean I don’t love you just the way you are.”

(And at the same time I said that, I thought, but that’s not what my earlier words and anger communicated!)

I affirmed this child’s wonderful qualities of kindness and generosity and oblivion to differences in other people and unawareness of standards that others set. This child is individual and easygoing and full of so much love.

“But you’re running into some things that are showing you that you have some areas of weakness, too—just like we all do—and until you admit them, you can’t grow in these areas. Do you understand that?” I asked.

My child nodded.

“I’m so sorry for the way I said it, though. There may have been things that needed to be said, but they shouldn’t have been said in anger, and I know I blew it and hurt you. I was wrong.”

My child nodded—but I knew that my apology, which also included “something to work on,“ was a lot for a kid to process.

We got lunches packed. We drove to school.

This child was the last to get out of the car “It’s really okay for you to be mad at me,” I said. “I did you wrong this morning.”

My child paused. Then said, “I love you, Mom.”

I was thankful there wasn’t an immediate statement of forgiveness. I was thankful this child was taking the time and the right to process.

But I barely made it down the carpool lane and around the corner before I began sobbing.

Oh, God, please heal the hurt I caused, I cried. Please come behind me with love and grace and mercy.

Heart churning, I tried to remember all I’d said, tried to sort out the good, the bad, the ugly. Some things felt as if they needed to be said—but in that way?

Then I simply quit, stopped my sorting and picking. “You’ll have to show me, Holy Spirit,” I whispered. “Reveal to me what You want me to see, help me to simply acknowledge my wrong, and then show me how to communicate that to my child. And, please, oh, please, draw this child close to Your heart.”

Home again, I cried more, on my knees, next to my bed.

It wasn’t completely about this morning any more. I’d just had a glimpse of how very fragile we all are, how easily relationships are damaged, how easily I could have said (and maybe did) something my child will carry through the rest of life.

And here's a much better pic of her, taken, of course, by my daughter Em

And here’s a much better pic of her, taken, of course, by my daughter Em

The dog heard me and came into my room. She pushed her way between me and the side of the bed and nuzzled my ear, and I was grateful for this warm-bodied creature sent by God Himself to comfort.

I found myself suddenly singing, the song itself a gift:

Lord, I come, I confess,

Bowing here, I find my rest

Without You, I fall apart

You’re the One that guides my heart.

Lord, I need you, oh, I need You,

Every hour I need you.

My one defense, my righteousness,

Oh God, how I need You.

What followed was a day of living into that song, cycling through needing and finding again and again.

Finding rest and rightness with God, and later, blessed reconciliation with my child.

And then, at the close of the day, another gift.

From the bathroom, where my child was getting ready for bed, I heard singing.

When the door opened, I heard it clear.

“Lord, I need You, oh, I need You/Every hour I need You.”

“Hon, why are you singing that song?” I asked.

A smile. A shrug. “Don’t know. Just came to mind.”

We have a Lord who guides—and heals—our hearts.

Oh God, how we need You.

*I wrote this yesterday–about yesterday.