The Coming

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here, 
until the Son of God appear.

This time of year is so festive.  I enjoy the decorations and gift buying/making.  I love the baking even though I don't do much of it anymore.   This morning, outside, the ground is white with frost so I know that it is cold out.  The Christmas lights on the houses are coming out and they were even before Thanksgiving.  All the shops are decorated and massive amount of people are there looking for the perfect gift.  My house is turned upside down.  Not only is the transition from Thanksgiving decorations to Christmas in swing but I have four to five projects that I'm working on scattered about.  The wrapping of gifts is done in our bedroom and there is no fixing the mess until after the wrapping is done (usually on Christmas Eve or later).

But, today is the first day of Advent.  This probably doesn't mean much to most people but to the believer in Jesus it is the start of remembering why we celebrate Christmas in the first place.  When I remember Advent all of the fun of Christmas becomes more crisp and brighter.  Because of Advent I can shop looking for that gift for that loved one with joy.  Remembering Advent even helps me navigate the crowds and keep the frustration to a minimum.   The sparkle of the lights on the tree  remind me of the star in Bethlehem so long ago that brought me the ultimate Gift.  The moments of wrapping all the presents can be over whelming but when I remember Advent, even though I can't replicate the gift of Jesus, I can decorate the present with extra ribbon and make the gift look pretty.  

Putting Advent in front of all I do for this season gives it meaning far above just what is fun and enjoyable.  It magnifies all of the moments of Christmas so that each memory is imbedded in my heart and continues on long after the season is gone.  I guess I also need to remember Advent when it is time to clean it all up too.

Often, we go way overboard at Christmas.  The whole family is guilty of this.  We have all tried to scale down or, at least, that is what we tell ourselves.   But it never comes to anything.  It is so enjoyable to give a present.  I'd like to think that in the giving we are reminded that we can never out give that ultimate Gift of the Saving One.  This is a noble thought and I'm not that fooled by my own motives.  God, help me to remember Advent!

So, here it is in a nutshell:  The reason that Advent is so precious is because I am a sinner in need of a Savior to be close to God.  I couldn't do it on my own.  Didn't even know that I needed to.  But Jesus, in His extraordinary love for His people,  came to us (imagine Deity confining Himself to a womb) and took our place of judgment.  
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan's tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save, 
and give them vict'ry o'er the grave.

It is a wonderful time of year.  Today Dan and I went and cut down a tree (well, I watched as Dan cut down a tree).  It is now in the corner where our Christmas tree is every year.  Dan has put on the Christmas music and I write this with a bit of nostalgia.  So many Christmases have come and gone since the first one.   Yet, every Christmas is dependent on that very first Advent.   There is such a sense of gratitude and over whelming wonder in pondering the coming of Jesus.  It really does help put all things Christmas in perspective.
Rejoice! Rejoice! 
shall come to thee, O Israel.

May you enjoy this wonderful season as you remember His advent and coming.



". . . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus . . . . "
Hebrews 12:1b

She sat in her rocking chair a bit stunned by what had just happened.   The information that Honora had received, surely, must be a mistake.  But no, she had her new orders right there in her hand so it wasn't a dream or a mistake.  The new orders read thus:
You are now a rider.
Report to duty on the 1st day of the month.
By order of the MC

Honora was by no means a young woman anymore.  In her youth she had ridden with the best of them.  She remembers riding fast, almost flying.  The thrill of it brought back feelings of freedom.  Of course, years ago there was no fear in the ride.  It was all excitement as the horse and her became one with abandon.  But so many years had past and she wasn't young anymore.  What would it be like now?

Of late her orders had been to guard her daughter and help her see the light.   This, by the grace of the MC,  had been accomplished and the mother had wondered what she would do next.  Both of her children had been given new orders long past.  Her husband was now a commander.  Honoria would get to see him as often as he could come home.  These were pleasant and cherished times.  But most days she spent doing what she had done for so many years.  The garden needed tending and the flock needed to be cared for.  There was wheat in the field that needed to be brought in and farm hands to be fed.  Now with the new orders so much had to be done in a small amount of time.  One cannot just leave a working farm.  

Itchy, the farm cat, meowed at her as she passed by on the porch.  It's as if he knew that Honora would be leaving soon.  She scratched behind his ears because he always was itchy and talked to him as she always did.  Loving words to the master of keeping the mice at bay.  Itchy also had a job to do and he did it so well.  She would miss Itchy.  His purring brought comfort to Honora like the sound of the ocean crashing against the shore.  It was rhythmic.  Many nights the older woman would scratch and Itchy would purr.  Now her feline friend would be left behind.

Two weeks ~ that's all the time she had before the first of the month.  Her head was swimming with details.  Details for organizing what is to be done on the farm.  Who should be in charge while she is gone?  All of her farm hands were trusted, friends actually, as they had worked side by side for so many years.  Not only did they work together but shared burdens and carried each other's sorrows.  It would be a difficult decision for all were capable of the responsibility.  Honora knew that she wouldn't be getting much sleep in the coming nights because of all the decisions that she had to make.  And this was just concerning the farm.  She also couldn't stop thinking about her own packing.  What should she leave and what should she pack?  It couldn't be much as most of the time she would be conveying messages back and forth from the castle to the battlefield.  One can't take much on a horse.

By the end of the first week much had been accomplished.  Honora had decided, after much prayer, that the Burdeborns would be in charge.  Not because they were more equipped to do the job but for the simple reason they needed more space for their growing family.  They could move into the farm house and work from there.  This also seemed to please the crew as Mrs. Burdeborn was an excellent cook and they knew what that meant for their digestive happiness.

It was a bit harder for Honora to pack her own bag.  As she walked through the house she tenderly touched mementoes of a life well spent.  Loving memories in the form of a picture or glass figurine.  The rocking chair had been in the family for centuries and it showed the marks and scraps of the years of holding babies and knitting socks.   Honora meandered to the front porch and stood breathing in the crisp fall air.  Well, she better pack things for warmth because even now she could feel the changing of the season.  It would be getting colder and wetter.  So, by the end of the second week her pack was full of mostly wool clothing.  She would wear her sturdy boots and bring another pair just in case.  The only memento that she stuff in her back pack was a picture of her family.  The rest she would have to commit to memory.

Early in the morning on the first day of the month she awoke and got ready to leave.  She was surprised when, slipping out the front door, she was greeted by all of the farm crew.  They had said their goodbyes the night before but such was the fond respect for the owner of the farm that they wanted one last time to see her.  One last moment to encourage  and impart whatever strength they had to this woman who had already fought so many battles even on their own behalf.  It was hard to leave but she couldn't stay.  So with goodbyes said again she started down the road that would lead to the castle and her new life.  Those left to the farm continued to wave and shout until Honora was around the bend and out of sight.

To the woman's amusement, Itchy followed her.  Oh well, she thought, the cat knew the woods well and would travel back and forth from the farm to the castle often anyway.  It was nice to have a companion even though it was her cat.  At least she wasn't alone on the walk.  The farm really wasn't that far from the castle.  At a certain place in the field one could see it.  Honora's walk wouldn't be long.  She found it to be enjoyable as the autumn leaves would fall around her.  She remembered all those autumns collecting leaves with the children and the joy of all the fall colors.

As she came closer to the castle all thoughts of the season and memories of times past began to fade away.  The future was becoming more predominant and questions started to fill her mind.  There was a certain trepidation as she took each step.  She could sense the fear starting to rise up in her.  With each movement forward she would swallow as if to keep the fear at bay.  Talking to herself with the remembrance that the MC always, always knew what was best.  If He had decided the direction she must go then all was good.  Fear of the future would just have to take second seat to the obedience of the Master Commander and the furtherance of the Kingdom.  Even in trepidation each step was sure with determination.   And Itchy seemed to approve.

The next day Honora was detailed with directions of what her responsibilities would be.  It was as she thought ~ she would be running information from the castle to the battlefield.  It was pretty straightforward.  She would go with information and then come back with information.  The details came in the coming and going.  Today she would meet her mount, the horse that would transfer her and the precious information that would be conveyed.  In reality, she was of lesser consequence than her horse because it was the swiftness of the journey that lay in success.  Everything rested on a horse that was faster than the wind, smart and unafraid.  All Honora had to do was hold on.

In the distance she saw him.  He was as brown as the dirt that lay underneath him but with a glow of the sun.  He practically sparkled of bronze.  There was a hint of black on his mane and tail but one hardly noticed because of the sheer glow of his stance.  This horse was every bit a war horse as he stood proudly waiting to be noticed.  As Honora came closer the two locked eyes.  The bonding began as horse and rider sized each other up.  The rider raised her hand to touch the warrior horse's forehead and he bowed as if knowing that this was the one who he would carry.  In that moment Honora knew that they would work as a team.  The horse and his rider would be as one.

Normally, there would be a month of working with horse and rider before they were sent out.  But in a weeks time it was evident to all around that this union was something special.  It was as if the horse knew it's rider's wish even before it was commanded.  And so, after this short time the order came.  Honora's first dispatch would be in the morning.  Early she would get up, prepare herself and her horse and leave for the front of the battle with the very important papers from the castle.

The fear came over her again but this time like a hurricane.  All the "what if's" imaginable haunted her.  She needed sleep and with great force laid herself down for the night.  On her bed she recounted promises given:

"Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold  you with my righteous right hand."
Isaiah 41:10

Surprisingly, she slept soundly and woke refreshed.  She knew it was a gift from the MC who gives his beloveds rest.  Gathering the few things that she could take with her she quickly headed toward the horse's area.

The old woman heard the war horse before she even saw him.  It was as if he was calling to her to hurry as he was ready.  Honora smiled as she came closer and spoke gently to this stead whom she was becoming to care deeply for.  The war horse had been given the name of Abiddon by the MC.  Strange, to be sure, but Honora had come to find out it was a combination of two names:  Abide and Abandon.   She had quickly learned that this horse could run with abandon.  And yet, with further time and energy spent together there was an abiding, a togetherness that was uncanny.  The horse was not only strong but steady and sure.  He made her feel safe and secure.  All of these qualities were of great necessity and would be stretched to the limit in the coming days.

Everything was ready as Honora sat high in the saddle on Abiddon.  He pranced sideways in eager anticipation of the race before them.  The aged palms were clammy underneath her leather gloves.  She gripped the reins and tightened her legs as she commanded her ride forward.  They went through the gate and toward the headquarters where the precious papers/commands would be handed to her.   Then they would be off, practically flying to their destination.

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded,
set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you
at the revelation of Jesus Christ."
1 Peter 1:13

*Every day is filled with the choices of getting on the horse or choosing not to ride.  Everyone has a race to enter.  Do we ride for the Kingdom or for a race of our own making?  May you enter the race that He sets before you this day knowing that He will give you the perfect horse to ride. 


Valley Wisdom

"Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, 
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants, 
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, 
and establish the work of our hands upon us,
yes, establish the work of our hands!

For years, maybe ten, I have had knee pain.  It has gotten so bad that on the 7th of October I actually had knee surgery.  The doctor did say that I am a bit too young for this (I like this doctor) but my x-rays show that I'm a prime candidate for it.  So under the knife I went and now am in the process of healing.   One would naturally think that you should rest and recover after such a surgery.  But, nooooo, they get you up the same day walking.  The same week I had my first physical therapy session.  Yes, it hurts but I have to admit that after I could walk better.  I'm already scheduled to have the other knee done in December.  So, it's looking like the rest of 2014 will be looking like pain is gain kind of thing.

It is an odd concept that we have to have pain in order to get better. You've heard the saying, "no pain, no gain".  I've never really appreciated this slogan because it always referred to exercising and I'm not fond of exercising.  Right now, though, I have no choice but to exercise because if I don't the knee starts to seize up and becomes more painful than the exercising itself.   So, with each day passing my knee becomes stronger and I can walk better.

"I have said these things to you,
that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart, I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

We don't have to look to far and there is always someone who is hurting.  It can be physical, emotional or other.  And the question isn't, "Will I suffer?" but "When will I suffer?".  Ever since the Garden of Eden when our first parents ate the fruit, suffering and pain were introduced into the world.  This affects our own world and there is no getting around it.

Some do suffer more than others.  My knee pain has no comparison to my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world who are dying for their faith.  Any pain and suffering that I encounter doesn't even come close to that.  Nevertheless, what we do go through in our lifetime, whether good or bad, has it's effect on us.  Those experiences that come into our lives mold us and shape us, help us to turn right or left, gives us perspective in the long run.  We don't like it and would rather have a life of ease and comfort.  I've told this to friends before:  really what I want is room service.  Which is absurd because for one, it isn't realistic nor is it healthy for the human experience.

Thinking of pain and suffering brings a certain amount of fear.  Most likely it is fearing the unknown in the midst of all of that.  So, logically, if one can omit any so-called bad circumstances then the fear will cease.  As a young mother, years ago, I remember trying to bargain with God asking him to spare me a list of painful circumstances.  I was afraid of the future and what that would mean for my family.  The sovereignty of God wasn't part of my thinking even though He was very much a part of my life.  So it went something like this:  "I will serve you like this if you will spare me and my family from this".  Foolish, to be sure, but was part of the fear I felt for any possible future catastrophe.  For some reason I didn't want John 16:33 to apply to my own life.  I don't really remember what was on this list that I had concocted but I wouldn't be surprised that now I have experienced a good portion of it.

Does this mean that God is unkind to this fearful creature?  Not at all!  For I am learning from many of these circumstances that the mere going through them has taken part of the fear away.  Hard times and unpleasantness is not fun.  I really don't ever want to go through bad times again even though it's probably just around the corner.  But what I can say for sure is that the Lord gives grace in the midst of unpleasant circumstances.  Hard providences can and are a tool of a loving Creator who has my best interest at heart.

To be brave and courageous in the face of suffering does not mean one isn't afraid.   The mental picture to consider is this:  A child walking in the darkness.  His heart starts beating faster and the breath is shorter.  The undeniable feeling and temptation to flight comes over him.  In that instant his hand reaches up to grab hold of the one who is bigger, stronger.  As the larger hand engulfs the smaller one the panic that was felt starts to subside.  Maybe it doesn't totally go away but he knows he isn't alone.  To be brave in the face of suffering is not to run away.  No, it is to reach for the One who is stronger as you keep moving forward.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Psalm 23:4

Pain and suffering are inevitable.  At some point in our lives we will experience it.  Whether it is caused by outside influences or by the choices we make it is part of the rhythm of this mortal life.  Of course, I'm not saying that we should look for trouble or pain.  Jesus did say that, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."(Matt. 6:34).  But when it does come to you,  turn to the One who will be your sufficiency and comfort.  There is wisdom to be gained in the valley.

So, come December 11th, right before I go under anesthesia (which also causes some anxiety), I will again commit my life to the Lord asking for strength and courage to go forward.  It's going to hurt and I will probably cry (I had to apologize to the physical therapy guy last time).  But I am confident that, come next spring and summer,  I will be walking differently.  I will be able to look back at the hurt and say, "It was worth it".  

At the end of it all, pain and suffering are not the goals.  They are just tools, opportunities or stepping stones to bring us closer to the only real heart's desire.  Hebrews 12:2 says, "looking to Jesus, . . . .  Consider him . . . ."  In the same way a child runs to the parent when they are hurt, we are to turn to the Savior in our moment of need and all the other moments of our lives.  

Jesus, what a guide and keeper!
While the tempest still is high, 
storms about me, night o'er takes me,
he, my pilot, hears my cry.
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Hallelujah, what a Friend!
Saving, helping, keeping, loving,
he is with me to the end.