A Familiar Carol

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.*

This was the song I replayed most often on my “Mercy Me” Christmas album as I drove around town this past week.  (Unless, of course, my 12-year-old daughter was with me, in which case we were “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.”)  It was a familiar carol.  But I seemed to hear the lyrics in a new way this year.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Something about this particular verse really resonated with me.  And that was before the terrible events unfolded yesterday at a Connecticut elementary school, interrupting Christmas preparations and shattering a quiet community’s peace.  I can’t stop thinking about the parents whose children’s beds lay empty last night.

It is easy to despair.

Christmas carols seem jarringly out of place in the face of such grief and devastation.  Hate is strong and mocks these songs.  Peace on earth?  Good will to men?

Where are you, God?

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

At times like this we need the message of Christmas more than ever.

God is very much alive.  He sees.  He knows.  He cares.

Jesus came to bring us peace with God, with others, with ourselves.

He is our only Hope.

And the babe that once lay helpless in a manger will return, with fire in His eyes and judgment in His hand.

He will fix this broken world.  He will right all that is wrong.  He will triumph over evil.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Newtown, our nation, and our world need You this Christmas.

 

*Lyrics from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1867.

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Just Passing Through

I first met Diane when she joined our weekly “Moms in Touch” prayer group.  She and her family had recently moved to the prairies of Wyoming from the beaches of Georgia, where she had belonged to a similar group.  She knew the value of consistent, focused times of prayer for her children and quickly sought out a group to pray with here.

It’s funny how you can feel like you’ve known someone for awhile even though you’ve just met.  Fellowship in the Lord is like that.  Mothering children of similar ages and stages also creates an instant connection.  But opening up your heart and soul in prayer develops an understanding and an intimacy that goes even deeper.

I’m thankful for the time I had with Diane, for she and her family moved back to Georgia within a year, preferring the humid coast to the arid high plains. (And who could blame them?)  Wyoming was not their home.  It was almost as if they were just passing through, never meant to stay here permanently.

Today I received a call telling me that Diane had been diagnosed with cancer this past fall, and had passed away last month.  I hadn’t picked up on the one or two subtle references to health issues and difficulties on her Facebook page during that time.  But then, Diane wasn’t one to draw attention to herself.  Her focus, during the brief time I knew her, was always on others, especially her three kids.

And just like that, she’s gone.

I bet she prefers the crystal seas of heaven to the barren, in comparison, landscape of this earth.  (And who could blame her?)  This world was not her home.  She was just passing through.  She was never meant to stay here permanently.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20)

And now I’ve got another friend waiting for me there.

Beautiful Diane, on her GA beach

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Safely Home

We anticipated some snow as we returned home from Colorado yesterday afternoon.  We just didn’t expect the roads to be this bad.  Cars were off the road on both sides of the highway.  Emergency vehicles, red lights flashing, were arriving at a couple of accident scenes.  Traffic in our northbound lane of the highway slowed to a crawl.

I gripped the wheel more tightly and began praying, out loud, since I was alone in the van.  Chris was a few miles ahead of me driving our daughter Emily’s car, which we had taken to the closest dealer for some repairs.  We had decided to forego our dinner plans as the snow began coming down there.  When we received the call that the car was ready we headed out in hopes of beating the worst of this winter storm.

The drive took twice as long as it normally did.  Going 30 mph for 30 miles would account for the extra time.  At one point I noticed my foot was shaking as I tried to keep even pressure on the accelerator and not cause the tires to lose traction.  I literally “prayed without ceasing,” and breathed a huge sigh of relief when the sign for our exit finally came into view.  As I eased the van off the highway, I was tired, tense and pitted out.

And very thankful to be safely home.

A couple of hours later we received another phone call.

“What I’m about to tell you is going to rock your world,” my friend said.  She proceeded to inform us that a mutual friend of ours was also traveling back to Wyoming that evening, from Colorado, on that same stretch of highway.  Only there had been a fatal accident.

And she didn’t make it home.

Shock.  Grief.  And…Guilt.  We were out there earlier.  Why did we arrive home safely when she didn’t?  Why had God answered our prayers for protection but not hers?  I spent the next few hours trying to wrap my brain around what had just happened, seeking to make some sense out of it all.

As I was getting ready for bed, it hit me.

She HAD made it home.

She was with Jesus, after all, the One who promised to prepare a place for us.  The One who said He would come and get us when it was ready.  The One who assured us that we would be with Him forever.

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, and trust also in me.  There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.  If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?  When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.”  (John 14:1-3, NLT)

She was home.

Safely Home.

SNOW_CABIN

(Goodbye, dear Liz.  Please set a place for me at your table.  I will look forward to having tea together again with you someday.)

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When Tears Fall

It has been a sad start to the New Year for the F.E. Warren AFB community.  One of its own, TSgt. Matthew Schwartz, was killed in Afghanistan on January 5.  He leaves behind a wife and three young daughters.

The news was brought even closer to home when we learned that his oldest daughter, Aliza, is a member of the Cheyenne All-City Children’s Chorus, along with our daughter Laurel.  Although we do not know this family personally, our hearts and prayers go out to them.

What can you possibly say to a ten-year-old girl who has just lost her father?

That is the question that kept running through my mind as I checked the choir members in before yesterday’s rehearsal.  I didn’t know how I might react if I were to look up from the attendance sheet to see Aliza’s sweet face.  I was worried I might burst into tears.

Should I hug her?  Say I’m so sorry for her loss?  Or just try to carry on without comment and allow her some sense of “normalcy”–whatever that might be for a young girl who has just said a final goodbye to her dad?

Aliza stayed home from choir yesterday, understandably, since the base memorial service was only Tuesday, the day before.  So I didn’t have to figure out what my response should be.  But I have a pretty good idea of what Jesus would do…

John 11 records the story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection.  Jesus, this man and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, were friends.  Lazarus became ill and died.  When Jesus arrived at their home a few days after the funeral, he encountered the sisters, whose emotions were still raw with grief.

Joanna Weaver, in Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, describes what happened next this way:

Even though Jesus knew Lazarus was about to be raised from the dead, he understood Mary and Martha’s pain.  He did more than understand it.  He felt it too.  John 11:35 tells us, ‘Jesus wept.’  The word for wept denotes a deep sorrow with great emotion.”

Jesus wept.  It’s the shortest verse in the Bible, but perhaps the most poignant.  It reveals something almost unbelievably tender about the heart of God.   He sees our tears, and adds His own.  He feels our hurt, right in the center of His own gut.  He enters fully into our grief.

Weaver goes on to say:

Because Jesus loved this family from Bethany, he wept, and he weeps with us as well.  Though Jesus knows our triumphant outcomes, though he sees the joyful ending just around the bend, he still gets down in the middle of our sorrow and holds us close, mingling his tears with our own.”

How I love this about Him.  He doesn’t distance Himself awkwardly from our heartache, unsure of how to respond.  He is, after all, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3a, NLT)  He can go there with us.

While I don’t always know the right thing to say or do when faced with someone else’s pain, I know the One who does.  And so I pray for a little girl named Aliza and her two sisters.  I pray they will climb into the Daddy-lap of Jesus, feel His strong arms hugging them to His chest, and grip the nail-scarred hand holding tightly to theirs.  I am so, so sorry that their innocent young lives have been shattered by such a terrible loss.

I pray they will know that they do not cry alone.

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