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Friday, December 23, 2016

When the "Where Are You, Christmas?" Question becomes a Blessing

The winter sun wears a crooked smile as it slants angle and warmly contrary through bare branches, across crunchy leaves, over my bare feet, and it grins wide open and as delighted as spring on my upturned face.

It's the day before Christmas.

Gingerbread Men are stacked on the kitchen counter. Thumbprint cookies rolled in toasted walnuts with dabs of fig preserves in the centers are wrapped in parchment and stored in the Christmas cookie jar painted all festive red poinsettias and green leaves on an ivory background. A neighbor friend gave it to me many Christmases ago when our children woke before the sun rose on Christmas morning. The cookie jar was filled with Christmas cookies then, and every Christmas since the jar has held a belly full of cookies.

The tree is lighted and decorated, and so is the house. Christmas music plays and gifts are arranged on the fireplace hearth.

"It doesn't feel like Christmas!" It 's not really a complaint, because who complains about Christmas. It's an observation. I've heard it many times this month from my own family and from the store clerk.

Songs like, "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," and "We Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute,"play.

Well, I'm sitting in by backyard just bathing my face in 70 degree crooked smile splayed oblivious across the face of the sun and, yeah, it doesn't feel like Christmas. It doesn't.

Crispy leaves lift and skitter in the sun. A bee bumbles inches above patio stones and a cricket is swimming in the pool and,"Praise God! It doesn't feel like Christmas!" My Bell Pepper plant is still green and roses blush like the rouged cheeks of a woman advanced in years who just learned that she is expecting her first child.

I open my Bible and gentle gusts of warm wind help me turn worn aged pages to the gospel of Luke. I read about a certain priest named Zacharias who was visited by the angel Gabrielle who told him, "Your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John" (Luke 1:11-13).

He said to the angel, "I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years." I read it and I hear it the same way as I hear, "It doesn't feel like Christmas!"

"She's too old! I'm too old!" sounds like, "There's no snow! I'ts not cold!"

The angel Gabrielle muted Zacharias.

Elizabeth conceived, and what could Zacharias say? Nothing!

I decided to mute myself after hearing, "It doesn't feel like Christmas," one time too many, and agreeing one time too many.

"Christmas isn't a feeling," is how I choose to silently respond.

I'm feeling a warm sun and balmy breeze this morning, and "Praise God! Christmas isn't a feeling!" rustles through the likes of barefoot me.

Christmas Cookies

Elizabeth "Hid herself for five months," I read.

So, Zacharias is mute and Elizabeth is on retreat. How quiet! How quiet the preparation for the birth of the one named John who would prepare the way for the Savior. The very Prince of Peace!

"Thus the Lord has dealt with me," said Elizabeth in hiding, "in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among people."

"Oooh, Lord," I quietly amaze. "Haaa," my breath draws up long and it's whole sentence. "Elizabeth delivered the baby, son of Zacharias, whose birth would take away her reproach among people."

I think of the Babe who Mary would deliver; the Son of God, born to take away our, your and my, reproach.

Jesus, only Jesus, can take away our reproach; our sin and shame.

This feels like Christmas!

I continue to read that after five months in hiding, the "sixth month the angel Gabrielle was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary" (Luke 1:26-27). The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

"This feels like Christmas to me, Lord." It does. This is the quiet, hidden, holy Selah pause which mutes and slows the foundation of my soul. Snow mutes and slows things like traffic and busy noise; but not the soul.

Leaves rattle, birds sing, yellow dog nudges me for a biscuit. We, rather yellow dog, goes to patio door wagging and panting all happy anticipation.

But I stop half-way across the patio. I stop because the wind builds suddenly and loudly. It rushed forward till bare Pecan branches and the full Junipers wave madly and pant with the exertion. I watch, half expecting to see a dove fly all white overheard. Something holy in that rush.

"Is this what it sounded like when Gabrielle spoke?" I wonder about wind and angels' wings.

Yellow dog insists, and we go inside.

Christmas music is playing. My Bavarian German husband has Christmas in his genes. "Silent Night" is playing as I come inside on this soul silent morning.

I've done all the traditional Christmas things.

I've braved the traffic and stood in line at the post office.

I've gone a little over budget, just a little, because I keep wanting to give.

I wonder to this Prince of Peace, "What does the exchange of gifts, the decorated tree, the trimmed up house, the baking, and the needy desire for snow have to do with unfathomable gratefulness that You were born to gift me with eternal life?" I honestly don't know because these things seem far removed from Elizabeth's five month retreat to ponder the miracle of the babe in her elderly womb; and from muted doubts, and from the overlapping nine months on nine months, Elizabeth's and Mary's quiet pregnancies.

Two babies would be presented and loudest baby cries wouldn't be heard in a ranting, rushing world.

What's a baby's cry to anyone but the mother who drips milk at the sound?

What are trees that breathe furious fast in a sudden wind that raises every branch in it's wake to anyone except those who somehow hear something holy in it all?

Who hears and who responds except those who listen for such things and can tell the difference between voices and winds that blow?

Elizabeth and Mary

Joseph had to go to Bethlehem by Roman tax decree. Mary join him, full of the Son of God.

"Did they rush to Bethlehem?" I can't imagine rushing a pregnant woman on a donkey across the wilderness.

The world rushed. Even then. The boarding in Bethlehem would be first-come, first-served, and no one wanted to be sleeping on the street.

"Who noticed the star announcing the birth of My Son?" He asks me.

Truth is, bright as that star was, the only people mentioned in the Bible who noticed were those calm enough to notice. Slow enough to look up, and quiet enough to hear an angel,

"The shepherds." I begin to answer Him, "and the magi came later, right?"  They watched and waited, and knew when to come.

I pause.

"Why not most of the people in Bethlehem? They were right there!" I'm picturing it and really, weren't crowds the same then as they are now? Elbows out. Heads down. Looking out for number one. Crowds are competitive like that, I think.

I want to be as shepherd. And as Elizabeth; and Mary. I do.

"You are hidden in Me." I know that's what He says. "I've given you sheep to tend with a quiet and gentle spirit." This is also what He says.

I'm hidden. Set apart to care for sheep, and I'm grateful.

I 'm pondering these things in my heart, as Mary pondered and, I'm certain, as Elizabeth pondered while in retreat for five months.

I'm preparing and delivering the Prince of Peace to a rushing loud world.

I'm redeeming time like this in a world where the days are long and time is short and I'm learning spend the time I redeem on Jesus, the Redeemer.

I'm striving to enter peace in a world that doesn't understand that the purpose for striving is to enter stillness. I don't know how it's done, but I do know it happens somehow in the practice.

I'm practicing on purpose today. I'm busy, yeah, and hurl fast down the freeway in traffic; and then crawl in a congested construction zone. I'm practicing stillness at 65 mph, well, okay, 70 mph; and practicing stillness in the crawl. Somehow stillness and rest have little to do with the speed of rush or of standstill.

The cars on the exit ramp to a shopping center spill onto freeway lane. The ramp isn't long enough to hold them. Christmas shoppers, mostly.

Sometimes I feel like a stranger in a rushing world. I just don't fit in when I think things like, Why do we give gifts to everyone but the One whose birth we are celebrating?

Who does that? Who celebrates the birth of a loved one by giving gifts to one another and forgetting the one who the celebration is for? It's an elbows-out kind of question that jostles. The answer is that I know no one who celebrates birthday's like that; unless they're celebrating the birth of Christ. I know. It jostles kind of hard.

"It's not because we give gifts, or decorate, is it?" I ask God why we forget His Son when we celebrate His birth and the question makes me sad.

I think about this Son of God, Jesus, for whose birth Mary gave herself. She gave up so much. Her reputation, her hometown, her body, her lifestyle, her sense of security. I

I think about the presence of the Son of God. His presence, undeniable as Mary's belly swelled and divided her family, Joseph's heart, and the entire town of Nazareth before He was born.Divisions like these are awkward, and painful, ostracizing, and terrifying. Those who wanted to believe the best about Mary, wanted to believe that the Holy Spirit was the father, must have had a crisis of faith. Maybe they reasoned, "Mary is either highly favored of God, or Mary is lowest sinner deserving to be stoned to death."

Joseph woke from a dream with holy reassurance and direction.

Elizabeth believed. She carried Jesus' predecessor, John the Baptist.

Elizabeth and Mary, what a pair!

Elizabeth delivered a baby who grew into a man who ate locusts and honey and wore camel skin and lived a rag-a-muffin rough life in the wilderness. I can only imagine what he was like as a boy! "Mommy! Look!" And Elizabeth would gasp as little Johnny dipped a locust in honey and popped it into his mouth.

Mary delivered a Baby who would become a Man who was also God and who would save people from hell, and would raise people from the dead, and who would be raised from the grave and hell Himself. I imagine Him as a boy. "Mommy! Look!" And Mary would quietly ponder with maybe a worry wrinkle as little Jesus practiced carpentry with two-by-fours and nails and hammered together a crucifix. I don't imagine one of his sister's dolls hanging on it; no, I imagine it empty and His sister's grateful.

Mary yielded, and was freed from the confines of all she gave up. Isn't that what happens when we listen for, and prepare to yield to, the Spirit? I can't say Gabrielle has visited the likes of me, but the Holy Spirit has.

Isn't the breath of the Spirit, the holy exhale of everything all "God is Alive and God is Good" vapor between the choice of yielding to my will or to God's?

Maybe the breath of God is heard by those like Mary and Elizabeth and the likes of Zacharias who hears that his prayer has been heard and then doubts it because, "Surely God isn't that good; is He?" Isn't it a blessing when God just shuts our mouths mute?

Maybe the breath of God is heard by those who choose a quiet life tending sheep till they begin to look a bit wooly themselves, in a world that demeans the humble.

Maybe the breath of God is heard by those who lean in close enough to kiss His cheek; and close enough to hold Him.

Maybe His breath is felt by those who strive to enter rest in a world that strives restless.

And isn't there tension in breathing? In holding breath as thin as the surface tension of the water Jesus was baptized in by John the Baptizer? In the not-my-will, but-Yours matters as rough as Roman hewn wood, iron nails, thorns, whips, salve, and a hundred pounds of embalming ointment made from myrrh and aloes? In the matters of linen swaddling cloth and burial cloth, and of a large stone only angel strength can roll away?

Isn't there tension in the matter of preparing to celebrate the birth of the Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Prince of Peace who is Emmanuel-God with Us. Mary felt it for sure, and maybe it's still felt. Seems to me it is. Seems to me that's a good thing if it's the holy tension felt in striving for holy still all Selah pause because the birth of Christ stops the heart and soul and feet.

Manger and Cross

"Where are you, Christmas?" I may ask because some things are absent and I miss them this time of the year. Or some people are distant. Or gone. Or some circumstances are far too close to home for comfort at this time of the year.

I ask God, "Make my heart large enough to contain the holy matter which is the stuff of Your life, not mine." I don't know how else to put into words the blessing I'm experiencing by the absence of whatever things aren't the same as they were in Christmases past.

I ask, and somehow the "Where are you, Christmas?" question becomes a blessing felt for real and in real time, because the answer is free from what's absent. So I say, "Praise God! Christmas isn't a feeling! It's just an outrageously holy rush all joy and worship and cheer that has everything to do with recognizing the gift He is.

He who knew not the confines of skin and bones and flesh,was born and wore it.

He who wore glory, wore skin.

He who wore holiness, wore sin.

He who saved mankind, was Son of God, crucified.

He who slept in manger hay, is manger in whom I long to rest.

I pray and somehow the prayer which flows from my heart comes out in rhyme-

Son of man, God and flesh; Son of God, my righteousness. And sin more bitter than gall, is purposed that I would fall. Perhaps sin's calling is high;  what else is strong to fell my pride? And sin's condemning power, compelled me toward salvation's hour!

The stair rail is wrapped in lighted garland and red bows. White lights weave between red vases filled with red poinsettias and the nativity figurines youngest daughter made many years ago are arranged on the dining table with candles. Candles are everywhere.

Yeah, I like decorating for Christmas. But I do it differently now than I did in Christmases past. I stop decorating before I'm done. I stop when I hear in my spirit, "That's good. Stop." I strive to stop. It's not easy to stop before I'm done, because it's difficult to yield. But when I yield, something marvelous happens.

I am freed!

When I yield to the Spirit, I'm freed from my will.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig
(reprint from 2015)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fire Glory All Around

Crazy heights. 
Nutty hunger. 
Leaves spin and twirl, pecan nuts plummet, squirrels race and the shadows on the fence do too. I watch as if it's an old black and white animated film. 
A leaf strokes the pool water, and swims. The water ripples slightly, and I choose to watch it ripple across the rough surface of the fence in shadow form. If shadows made noise, this would sound like a stringed instrument. Water shadows ripple over fence boards as strings might vibrate over the sound board of the guitar my daughter plays.
Harmonious shadows play rippling strings as if plucked for song.
And why not? All is spinning, twirling, leaping, chattering, feasting, praising
Morning sun projects the activity onto the fence where it's played out in shadows. 
I had hoped for this in August heat. And now it's here, autumn song. It's here, clear and colorful. It fits both praise and fire.
Color explodes. 
Trees flame bright as fire yellow, orange, and red. 
Leaves fly off like sparks.
Pecans hit the ground, pop-pop-popping in autumn flame. I see it in the fire that tries it.

And what about soul fire? 
I felt it earlier on the staircase when morning sun shot flames through the upstairs window and ran down the stairs and skidded gold across the wood floor. Sparks splayed there, and I stood in them bravely. I felt them glance off the glass of framed photos on the wall.
The photos are wedding day photos. 
My oldest son stands tall and suited and with a smile unlike any other I’ve ever seen him wear. 
There’s a photo of his bride, too, in the bridal dressing room just before the ceremony.
There's also a photo of his brother and himself. The two grin into the camera, arms slung over each others’ shoulders. 
I look into their faces. 
One is smiling like a young man, moments from becoming a married man; the other is smiling like a young man, waiting to propose to his girl. 
She’s in a photo on this wall, too. The image captures delight in her eyes because she caught the bridal bouquet tightly in her hands. When she caught the bouquet, maybe she got to feel what it's like to catch faith. To catch, and hold tight, to her own marriage hopes as she grins at my son. I know there's a ring; but she doesn't. 
I squint against the sparkling glass frames. Today I do feel singe. I won’t say I don’t. God knows the depths of my heart right now and hears my thoughts-
 When a groom buys a wedding ring for his bride, she rejoices in the hope of seeing it when he slips it on her finger. She anticipates the ring, the wedding, the marriage, the new life. Her hope is active and rejoicing as she prepares for the glory of new life. When trials come as she waits in hope, she glories in them and rejoices proudly because he has poured out into her heart his love for her. She rejoices proudly because he is her hope.
“Thank You, Lord. Yes. Amen.” I know Him well enough to recognize in my thoughts things He Himself has said. 
His words are ointment, and here in autumn flame and staircase sparks, my “If this is how You treat Your friends, it is no wonder You have so few” moan is gone. St. Theresa of Avila said it. Saints do moan sometimes. But today I do not. 
Today I think, You must love me a lot to keep me in the flame so long
I recognize God in the thought, but I don’t recognize myself in it. It's because He's changing the way I think. 
I’m being changed somehow in this fire. 
Silversmith over autumn fire means to see His image in me.
I hope for it. I burn for it. I endure for it.
It’s hope, plain and simple and splotchy, too, except for the shadow strings strumming harmoniously across the wood fence. 
And across my soul’s walls.
There are so many hope shadows moving across my soul’s walls. “Show me faith, and, Jesus, help me get this straight!”
He does. “Look around you.”
I do. I approach the fence slats and touch the shadows there; and they break over the uneven surface of my knuckles. I lean my back against the fence and shadows play across my front. Face the right way and see hints of hope. 
I watch a squirrel stuff its cheeks with pecan and pumpkin seeds and feast on autumn as sun's watery rays cast long shadows toward the season coming. A season of sharing food, warmth, den and isn't that something to look forward to? I find myself hoping for this on the scale of heaven. 

Do I now nourish my soul with what I will feast on in heaven? 
The things I do, desire, think about, talk about, have an appetite for-do they take on a different form while retaining the same Spirit when the Light of the World shines on them? 
Are they more than illuminated when the Light shines on them? 
Does the Light add another dimension to these things? 
Are they cross-sectioned by the Light? 
Light does this. It cross-sections, and the cross-section of a shadow casts the object into another dimension. 
Seems to me a two-dimensional silhouette on this side of eternity hints at a shadow of things to come on the other side where the only light will be God Himself. 
Maybe it's as impossible to lean on hope as it is to lean on a shadow-yet lean on the evidence which is and watch how the Light of the World adumbrates what is to come while shining on what is.
Crazy heights, nutty hunger, autumn glory-I praise the Light Himself, here
Faith is my entrance. 

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig
(adapted from my book, PISTEUO! Connecting with God's Heart)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Glimmer of Faith

A comment made, a question asked, a tone interpreted, a misunderstanding or maybe not, I'm reminded of a past offense, and I feel the sting of tears and the bite of fear. “God, I thought I buried this all a long time ago,” I say as I wave my garden spade at Him.
I stand outside weeding among dry stalks fading in fall yellow. 
A web is tangled in the stalks. I look at it clinging to what is dead and should be buried, but isn’t., and I feel how it looks-tangled tenacity, a wild weave. 
I'm hanging tightly to life familiar; or maybe I'm caught in it. Sometimes life is sticky like that. 
I understand the suffering in the web. I don’t know why troubles stick so hard; contention without, fears within, and crippling memories still cripple.

What is this web? 
It clings to rambunctious disorder. 
It clings to weedy, stalky life just twisted around itself in the wild and I feel the offense.
The web, it catches what stings and I'd like to sever it with my spade, wad it up, and bury it deep with the same spade that I waved at God. I would, except right at this moment I can't
I can't, because how can I when sunshine catches the web in a cling of light? I see it happen. the strand the color of air. I see sunlight run up and down a thread of web the color of air like the spider that wove it. Sunlight spins on the web like that and I watch till I see what I didn’t know I was looking for. 
Faith. That's what I'm looking for; and I know it when I see it.
The web, it catches the sunlight, too. And I hear God say something like, “This is what faith looks like."

I drop my spade to the ground. 
I don’t want the weapon anymore, and I don’t want to bury anything. 
I want to see more faith, to capture that run of glinting light, to wrap the faith web around that light and drink it in—to just drink light.
The strands of the web are invisible except where the sun runs a slender finger over the strands and points them out. Faith is like that. It goes unnoticed until God points it out. 
Faith is a webby substance tested by sorrows. I don’t like it, but I know it must be this way. 
I see it this way right in front of me. 
Gold glint of light on gossamer strands shows me that faith is there. 
It's substance.
Light drapes the jasmine vine which grows along my patio wall. The jasmine drapes flower and fragrance over patio brick. 
Light cannot be touched, except by the soul. That's where I feel it real, and I'm certain my soul has fingers. 
Surely the Holy Ghost-Spirit of Light-drapes white fragrance. 
Surely His threads are gold as morning sunshine and may they drape me till I'm wrapped. 
Doesn't the holy tangle with life and death just as surely as web is both lifeline and death row?
“You are lifeline and Redeemer for those on death row,” I say in wonder and truth and marvel. 
I’ve been caught in webs before, just stuck in the sticky and unable to disentangle. Webs are too strong for me, but not too strong for light. Light conquers the web. And more. Light uses web to conduct more light-mercy of mercies!
It's been discovered that spider silk can not only propagate light but can also direct light. 
I'ts been discovered that spider silk can carry light into the body for medical imaging. I have no idea how that works, but when I read it I felt as if I’d just uncovered one of God’s secrets tucked away in His creation.
I could have said, “Conquer the web!” and knocked it down with my spade. But if I did that, I would have messed with the Light which uses what tangles me up to shine into my soul. 
Similar to medical imaging, the Light is the healer too, and web to a healed soul is a lifeline, not death row.

I Google “web.” How strong is it? 
I read that spider silk is five times as strong as steel and that if a single strand of web breaks, the strength of the web actually increases. Also, web stretches 30 percent longer than its spun length without breaking. It vibrates an unheard frequency when an insect flies into it, and the alliterating poet in me thinks-a suffering struggle strums strands, resulting in strange hum in stretch.
I need tangible evidence to help me to believe. To trust. 
Isn’t this what faith means? 
Doesn't it mean death and resurrection evidence of hope for salvation? 
Ark evidence of hope for deliverance? 
Tent evidence of hope for a heavenly country? 
Sacrificial evidence to gain testimony? To endure? 
A lifetime of things hoped for? 
Don’t trials show that faith is there just as surely as God points it out in a hallelujah glimmer? 
May I look for faith everyday! 
It will be found.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig
(adapted from my book, PISTEUO! Connecting with God's Heart)