Coping with Change

“When [the wise men] had gone, an angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:13, 14)

Mary and Joseph were Jewish, used to Jewish ways. Comfortable, small-town- Jewish ways. They were almost getting used to conversations with angels, but Egypt would mean the challenge of learning new, strange ways and a different language.

When life is at risk, caregivers – parents and others – face the often-difficult challenges of change. They may not hear guidance from angels, but they learn to listen to trusted guides, to loved ones, to the inner voice of our caregiver LORD. We learn toadapt to new life-patterns, to changing ways and the “foreign” language of medicine. We change because life and safety are at risk. We change because we love and draw from the bottomless well of our LORD and life-supporter. Draw deeply…and be safe in the sometimes strange land of caregiving.

Prayer – LORD, give me the strength to learn to face change with grace. Amen

Lessons from the Wise Men

Ancient wise men saw a new, bright evening star. You might say that they were “captured” by that star, for what their eyes saw, their hearts chose to follow. They began their journey with no idea how long it would take. We call them “kings” because their gifts were costly, but their kingdom is unnamed. We call them Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar, because people who do important things need names and recognition, but the wise men remain anonymous. We do know their gifts: Gold- discovered, flame- fired, then melted and fashioned by a master’s hand. Frankincense and myrrh- the “tears” gathered from “weeping “ trees, sweet savor to serve as sacred anointing oils for priestly service. And what of the wise men themselves? They came searching, following and finding…then choosing to kneel in wonder and worship before the young King of all Kings. Then, as newly awakened listeners, they are guided home by a new, safe untried route.

But what are the “lessons from the Wise Men”? What can today’s wise caregiver learn? While we see no heavenly stars, we are called to follow our suffering- servant LORD. We serve a loved one and Him quietly, often unknown and unrecognized. We bring costly gifts of love and sacrifice to our daily service, gifts fashioned in testing fires, and gifts for the holy anointing of ourselves and the one we serve. We learn to kneel…often. And with the newly opened ears of our heart… we hear our Father’s direction and the certain promise of his abiding presence on this journey of caregiving.

Prayer, LORD, teach me the true wisdom of following you. Amen

An After-Christmas Carol

(Not so much for singing, as for pondering)

The rush is over, routine has returned.

There’s no deep silent night. No heavenly choirs.

The skies are quiet, but the heart can still sing,

because the manger’s baby is now our life’s King.

Bright lights on our hearts’ hillsides now shatter our darkness.

There’s no star to be followed, but our hearts still search

and in searching…find life…God’s Son sent to die

so that wise seekers and searchers still find the peace that he gives,

and faith-filled caregivers find a strength not their own,

drawn from deep inner springs of our Father’s refreshing.

Oft’ weakened and weary, yet never truly alone.

The wee babe from the manger is now our source of all strength.

Come shepherds, come wise men, come the doubters and defeated,

come the troubled and trusting, come caregivers all.

See our King – EMMANUEL, GOD with us, GOD in us, no more at a manger, but

in each day’s routine caring and life’s loneliest vigils, depressions and doubts.

May you know the eternal brightness of his hope and his inner light

in the darkest of your darkness. Amen

Come blest Savior, Friend. Be my sure LORD of all.

The Power of Pondering

Mary’s months of anxious waiting were over. God’s baby boy was here, “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”. Out-of-breath shepherds had come from the hill country with stories of angel choirs singing of a Savior’s arrival. But they were gone.

And now, in the quieter awe and wonder of that holy night, Mary’s soul stirred within her. This young girl from Nazareth, the one with the impossible-to-explain pregnancy “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”.

We may not hear choirs of angels or have visits from excited shepherds, but in our quietest, holiest moments God speaks to us. A promise of Scripture becomes real and personal. A quiet comes to your searching, praying heart. Like Mary, “treasure” it. Hold it close to your heart. Then learn to “ponder” God’s promise to you. Meditate on it. Let the wonder of that Word of encouragement or guidance become a part of you. Be willing to take the time to let it grow in you. Like Mary, we may have a hundred questions about what God is doing in us, and what our next steps should be. Learn from Mary…the power of pondering.

Prayer – LORD, teach me to wait in wonder for you to fulfill your promise. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Shared Watching

There it was…right in front of me…and I didn’t see it. “There were shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.” It wasn’t a really big discovery. Just that one single letter “s”. But it changed the story for me. Each shepherd had his own flock, his primary responsibility. But they shared in the  watching.

“Watching” is lonely work. The weight is lifted when it is shared. Shepherds on Bethlehem’s cold hillsides didn’t work alone. What dangers one shepherd might have missed, another would see and sound the alert.

As one of today’s watchful shepherd-caregivers, we each need support. In the lonely times, when the weight of caring can seem so heavy…we need a trusted friend. Someone to share our shepherding. Someone to listen to our concerns. Someone to pray…for our loved one…and for us.

I woke just nights ago with that phrase in my mind: “shepherds watched their flocks”, and came to a fresh realization that both shepherding and caregiving are  meant to be shared tasks. Throughout December our Caregiver Prayer Support Team is praying that you will find one or more “shepherds” who will share in person and in prayer in the watching and caring to which we have been called.

Prayer – LORD, help me find my “shepherd/supporter” and have the courage to draw on their support. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Hurry to the Manger

Heaven’s Holy Hillside Announcement was finished. A sky once filled with the glory of singing angels…has now turned dark. But the message still rings strong: “Today a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the LORD.” But a message heard is not a message experienced. Like the Bethlehem shepherds, one has to “hurry to the manger”. The hope promised on a hillside had to be experienced in a manger.

Our LORD still promises hope that will banish our doubt, and a peace that stills our deepest inner struggles. We may not hear angelic choirs, but the good news of his liberating, releasing truth has a way of breaking into the darkness of our searching hearts. Our longing souls must “hurry to the manger”. We must let God’s heart-quieting peace become our everyday lived reality.

The shepherds could have discussed their encounter with heaven’s messengers. Or compared their differing reactions. But the angel had said “you’ll find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’. It was an invitation to come and see.  “Don’t just hear good news. Come experience it!”

Prayer – LORD, help me today to “come to the manger” – to both believe your promised peace and to live it. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Lessons for an Impatient Heart

The angels had it right. They knew the right order of the things of GOD. First – “glory to GOD in the highest”, and only then… “peace on earth to men [and women]”.

I try, and try again, to make it work the other way. My oft-troubled heart seeks peace, the quieting of my internal “storms”, and the resolution of my distresses. I don’t know if angels learn things, or if they just know the right way because they’re angels, but I’m beginning to learn from them.

Often my prayers are needs, needs and more needs. And then…I start hoping, seeking, looking for answers. I read the other day that Ann Voskamp, the writer said that she was not a writer…but a “wait-er” – waiting on the LORD for his word. That’s a quiet, stilled heart giving “glory to GOD in the highest” A heart that is learning to “wait on the LORD”, and be willing to stay there in his presence… absorbing his straightening-out, clarifying, stress-resolving glory.

I don’t hear angels singing, but I’m learning, like them, to give him glory. And I’m just beginning to learn the peace that comes from being a “wait-er”.

Prayer – LORD, help my oft-impatient heart to learn to wait on you. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

When Angels Sing

Great choirs sing in great cathedrals. Angel choirs chose to sing their good news to lonely hillside shepherd-caregivers while they cared for their sheep, and to today’s faithful caregivers tending loved ones.

Think of the extravagance and wonder of that night. The event for which centuries of God’s people had been waiting, the news of heaven’s long-promised rescue of human kind…was announced to shepherd-caregivers. Angels told of earth’s long- awaited hope, and of more earthy things like swaddling clothes and mangers. Then it seemed as if all of heaven’s voices – “a multitude of the heavenly host” – burst in the song of all songs – “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, PEACE to men [and women]”.

And that great choir still sings. Can you hear it…in your waking, watching heart? As it did for shepherd-caregivers, let hope burst in on the everdayness of your caring and concerns. Feel the sure comfort of the Good News that “unto you a Savior has been born”. Unto the whole waiting, longing world. Yes, indeed. But the news of his coming was “unto you…this day”. No wonder the shepherds went with haste to see the Savior. Come with me…now. Kneel at the cradle of our caring King.

Prayer – I may not hear angels singing, LORD, but I’m coming to you. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Good News for Caregivers

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On one lonely, long-ago night like every other night, faithful shepherds kept a protective watch over their sheep. They were Bethlehem’s patient, day after day, night after long, weary night caregivers. Nobody celebrated shepherds. They were out of sight and out of mind…until one holy night.

At first…it was a night like every other. Some slept, while others watched the fields for any sign of danger, for anything that broke the dark stillness of the night.

But then the unexpected, the almost unexplainable happened. The night sky broke open…and an angel came…with the “goodest” of all good news – “a Savior is  born…for you.”

In all your watchful nights – and days – that grandest, most glorious of all messages still breaks into your darkness. “Unto you is born a Savior…Christ, the LORD.” LORD of your darkness. LORD of your fears. LORD of your weariness. LORD of your stress. LORD of your discouragement and defeat. LORD of all.

Prayer – LORD, open the ears of my heart to hear your GOOD NEWS. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016

Finding the Joy

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I’m determined to experience this promised “joy to the world”. I like all the Christmas “stuff”. Well, much of it. Maybe even most of it. But those things are just the Christmas trimmings; the bright paper wrappings. I want the real gift. The  deep-down “inexpressible and glorious”, in-spite-of-all-circumstances joy .

I know that “the LORD has come”. But I want him to come again in me. In my dark places. In all of my stresses and struggles. And, yes…in my unanswered  prayers. And in the prayers I don’t even know how to put into thoughts, let alone  into words. In the prayers that ache and stir inside of me.

LORD, is my heart ready for your gift? Do I need to discard my “list”, the things I think I need? My preferred answers to my prayers. Like a Christmas wish list, the  answers I see and want.

Or is the true joy you offer the world – my world – found most fully in the unexpected, costly joy of surrender to your plans and choices. Like the best of all gifts, does it come as a surprise, wrapped in your wisdom and your love?

Prayer – Lead me, LORD, lead us, to surprising joy of surrender. Amen

Photo courtesy of Ken Jones, copyright 2016