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Memorial

Gentle Reader,

This afternoon I attended a memorial service for one of the former occupants of the shelter where I volunteer. While admittedly not having been to very many of these types of gatherings, the ones I have been to in the past have been rather somber affairs, full of tears. Though I cried today with the sense of loss that comes from all partings, I came away feeling like I’d been to a great party. Totally blessed. Full of joy.

She knew Jesus. She really knew Him. And she got to see Him face to face on Sunday evening.

To listen to an auditorium full of women sing praises to God; to watch as tattooed arms reached out to proclaim His amazing grace; to see faces marked with drug use and abuse shining with the imagining of Heaven…

Blows me away.

These women aren’t kidding around when they praise Him. Their chains really are gone. They really have been set free.

And she was among them.

Grace and peace along the way,

toujszda2


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Just a Shepherd

Gentle Reader,

The following is a short story written for the children’s group I help teach on Wednesday evenings. I hope it blesses you.

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Sometimes I feel little. Unimportant. I think that nobody notices me, that I can’t be part of anything special. I get focused on the bad things I’ve done, the bad things people say about me. I get worried that they are right.

But then I remember…

Luke 1:26-37

God sent the angel Gabriel to a city called Nazareth, to a girl engaged to a man named Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary. The angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

When Mary heard what Gabriel said, she was afraid. She didn’t understand. “Do not be afraid, Mary,” Gabriel went on to say, “for you have found favor with God. You will get pregnant and have a Son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor, King David. And He will reign over Israel forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”

Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen, since I’m not married?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will wash over you; therefore, the Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. … For with God nothing will be impossible.”

Matthew 1:18-25

Joseph was sad when he found out that Mary was pregnant. The baby definitely wasn’t his! But Joseph was also a kind man, so he decided to end their engagement quietly. He wouldn’t expose her to public shame.

As Joseph was sleeping that night, after he had made his decision, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph … do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the baby in her is from the Holy Spirit! She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him. He kept his engagement to Mary.

Luke 2:1-7

A few months later, the king, Caesar Augustus, issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. He wanted to know how many people were living in his empire. Everyone had to sign in, and they had to go to their hometown to do it.

So Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of his ancestor, King David. He went there to register with Mary, who was engaged to be married to him and was expecting a child. When they got there, the time came for the baby to be born! There was no room for Joseph and Mary in any home or hotel. They had to settle for a small space in a dirty, stinky barn with lots of noisy animals. Mary gave birth to Jesus there. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in the manger.

That’s where I come in.

I’m a shepherd. I live out in the hills with my sheep. People don’t like me very much. They think that I’m dirty and smelly and that I steal. But I don’t! I eat the meat and drink the milk that comes from my sheep, and I use the wool they give me for my clothes. I get sad whenever a sheep has to die, but I thank God for how He takes care of me.

I love my sheep. I have names for each one of them, and they will only follow me. I’ve been their shepherd since they were babies. Lambs. They know my voice and they won’t listen to anyone else. They are my best friends.

That one night, the night that Jesus was born, I was young. I was hanging out with my sheep on the hillside near the town of Bethlehem. I had to go there to sign in on the census for the king. There were some other shepherds who had to sign in, too. I recognized some of their faces, but we didn’t really talk. We were all used to being with the animals.

It was quiet. The flocks had settled down for sleep and only the occasional “baaaa!” could be heard. I leaned against my crook, feeling tired myself. Suddenly…

Luke 2:9-20

An angel of the Lord appeared! The glory of the Lord was bright and it was all around me and the other shepherds! We were terrified! But the angel said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

And then too many angels to count appeared behind the first angel! They praised God, saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Just as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. We were all quiet for a second, but then we all started talking excitedly. We were all saying the same thing: “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about!” We didn’t even think about the sheep, but they followed us anyway.

So we hurried off and hunted through the town. In that tiny, stinky, noisy barn, we found Mary and Joseph. They looked so tired and…I can’t put my finger on it. Surprised, maybe. And the baby! The baby who was lying in the manger. I was the first one to get to Him. I knelt down and my heart stopped. He looked just like a normal baby, but I knew. I knew. I was looking at the Savior.

I didn’t realize that I had started crying. I was just a shepherd. Insignificant. Unimportant. People didn’t like me. They thought I was bad. But God sent an angel to tell me – me! – about this Baby. This Savior. The other shepherds crowded around the rough manger and, one by one, I looked at their faces. I could tell that they felt the same way.

I don’t know how long we all sat there, but the sun was up when I finally noticed the stiffness in my knees. The Baby began to fuss and his mother, Mary, gently pushed us aside and went into a corner to feed Him. I heard voices complaining about all the sheep crowding the narrow street. In a rush, I darted out of the barn and told the first person I saw about what had happened, about what I’d seen. We all did.

We spread the word concerning what had been told us about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what we said to them. Slowly, we returned to the hills, glorifying and praising God for all the things we had heard and seen.

I am old now. Many years have gone by. But I haven’t forgotten. Jesus grew up in Nazareth; He helped Joseph in the carpenter’s shop. Then one day He left and went all throughout Judea. He told people about God, and His kingdom and about how we needed to be saved from our sins. When I heard about His preaching, I tried to find Him, but we never seemed to be in the same place. And I had to take care of my sheep.

After three years, Jesus was arrested. My heart hurt. I thought about the little Baby I had seen. I thought about how the angel said that He would save us. I didn’t understand. It got even worse when I found out that they had put Him to death on a cross. I lost my hope. I was even mean to my sheep.

But then! Then! Jesus rose from the dead! I was just bringing my flock into the hills around Jerusalem when it happened. Somehow everyone knew about it. My heart did a flip-flop and my brain did a twist.

But then! I saw Him. I SAW JESUS. The little Baby was now a Man, a Man with holes in His hands and in His side. But it was the same face. It was the same eyes, the eyes that had looked into mine when I peered into the manger. I knew it was Him. I knew it was my Lord.

Sometimes I feel little. Unimportant. I think that nobody notices me, that I can’t be part of anything special. I get focused on the bad things I’ve done, the bad things people say about me. I get worried that they are right.

But then I remember. I remember the angels and Mary and Joseph and the animals and the Baby. I remember the stars and the empty tomb and the holes in His hands and feet. And I know that He loves me. I know that He died and rose again. I know that He did it for me.

And I know that He did it for you, too.

Romans 10:9

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Merry Christmas,

toujszda2

 


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There is Freedom

Gentle Reader,

With Independence Day tomorrow, it seems appropriate to write something on the topic of freedom. At the same time, the political expression of my theology often leads to awkward or heated exchanges. (I’m a hardcore pacifist and honestly can’t see how the ethics of Christianity can lead to any other conclusion. A feminist of the old-school sort, meaning that men definitely aren’t evil but women should be treated with real fairness and respect. Against capital punishment. In favor of European-style socialized medicine. Against abortion).

So I’m not going to write about any of that.

I’m also not going to write about how the Revolution wasn’t this glorious, holy, just war that some think it is. I’m not going to write about how the phrase “Christian nation” has several layers of meaning may of which those Founding Fathers of ours may well have scratched their heads at. I’m not going to write about the lack of prayer in schools, how God’s purposes are somehow tied to our national interests or how legalizing homosexual marriage rips at the heart of all that is sacred (which I don’t believe, but that’s a big topic for another post).

And of course this is all completely tongue-in-cheek.

Looking back over the last year, even the last six months, I am…breathless. The Lord has brought me into confrontation with my fears and vices time after time. Occasionally He’s been quite blatant, such as when my mother spoke the words, “You can’t spend the rest of your life avoiding things that scare you” (or something close to that). Most of the time, He’s been more subtle. But I see, day after day, the way in which He’s been peeling back the layers. Taking down the wall of wrong-thinking and false-believing. Forcing me to confront things like:

Gossip

I’m not sue that we ladies realize just how many of our relationships are built on talking about other people. It seems that nothing bonds two women together faster than being snippy about a third. I’ve become more and more conscious of this over the last few weeks, and have resolved to avoid speaking about anyone in a non-honoring way. And to make it right when I forget that resolution.

Drama

While I don’t consider myself a drama queen, I have consistently chosen to forge relationships with those who are. Maybe it’s because I battle an overbearing sense of guilt and want to “fix” things. Maybe it’s because I’ve never believed myself to be worthy of healthy people. But over and over, I find myself getting sucked into places where I have no business being. No more. I’m done with that.

Confrontation

Yes, I have had to confront my fear of confrontation. Part of the problem is that I simply don’t have the first clue how to respond in many situations. I need time to assess what the other person has said or done, to decide if there was any sense or value in the words or actions and to formulate a response accordingly. Some call this being “level headed,” and I am grateful that I’m not emotionally explosive. But there are times when I need to say something, regardless of whether or not it comes out eloquently or whether or not the other person takes it well.

Friendship

My social circle has shifted. We’re not the same people we used to be. That’s a good thing; who wants to stay exactly the same, never growing or changing? There was a string of years where Chris and I were always busy on the weekends. Our tiny apartment and then our little house were usually bursting at the seams with people. I genuinely cherish those memories, but I’m ready to let it go. I no longer expect having relationships with people to look as it did in high school or college. And I’ve never had the desire for friends a mile wide and an inch deep. Give me a few people who know who they are and where they are going.

Work

I believe in libraries. I believe in having access to all sorts of information from all sorts of viewpoints. I don’t agree with all of those viewpoints, but I like being able to look at them and figure out exactly why I don’t agree. I threw off the last vestiges of shame about my job this year. If you don’t like that I work at a library, if you think that’s lame, then…well, you’re probably lame and that’s not my problem.

Work 2.0 

People who want to slack off can smell a good work ethic a mile away. This has been a problem for me for as long as I can remember. I was always the kid who ended up doing all the work in a group project. (Loathe group projects). Now I’m the coworker who will pick up the pieces and make sure it all gets done. I think it’s time to start letting things go. Letting others feel the pinch. It sounds mean, but it’s not. We’re all adults and we should all be able to take responsibility.

Writing

I’ve gotten really excited about the blog. I’m writing in my journal frequently. I honestly don’t think I have a book in me right now. Short bursts on wide-ranging topics are where I roam. And that’s okay.

Hair

I flat-iron less and less often. I only washed my hair once last week. Letting the curls go and do their thing is a BIG DEAL. I’ve always fought them. Always wished them away. Always wished I had thick, straight, red hair. I’ve got fine, curly, brown hair, and it’s developing a white streak on the right side. I can honestly say that I now love the curls just as they are.

Money

It comes. It goes. Bills get forgotten. Mysterious overage checks arrive in the mail. Stewardship is a fine thing, but, at the end of the day, I have to trust that God will meet all my needs. Most days I do.

Salvation isn’t just about Heaven, although I’m very much looking forward to being there. Salvation is for right here, right now. It does no good to know a lot about what God has to say based on the Scriptures and then never go that step further and try and live it out. Head knowledge doesn’t give you anything but answers to trivia questions. Asking the question, “Now what?” brings freedom. Allowing the Spirit access to all the secret, difficult places brings freedom. Submitting to His authority brings freedom. Obeying His guidance brings freedom.

Are you freer than you were a year ago? Six months ago? A week ago?

My friends, Jesus didn’t come to earth in the mystery of the Incarnation so we could keep on living in those same musty prison cells. No! He came to set us free.To make us into the people we were meant to be. He transcends race, class, gender and country. He extends that beautiful, nail-scarred hand to each of us and waits for us to let Him pull us out of the mire.

Whatever it is you think is keeping you safe probably isn’t. The thought that you have about God’s boundaries ruining your freedom isn’t true, either. The safest, freest place for you to be is not within your carefully constructed, sterile little world where you plan for every contingency. (As the possessor of four mental illnesses, I know what I’m talking about). If you want freedom, go where God leads. No matter how painful it is in the moment. No matter how scary. No matter how little you understand.

Take that hand.

Step out into the light of liberty.

Grace and peace along the way,

toujszda2

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