Friday, December 19, 2014

One Small Child

This sweet photo of my grandson, Chris, soon after birth , captures the essence of the vulnerability and helplessness of a newborn child. 

Hearing a newborn cry out for the very first time is emotional to the core.  Especially if, for a few heart-pounding moments,  that cry is delayed due to complications at birth.  This happened with one of our daughters who was not breathing immediately after delivery and had to be stirred to life. When she finally cried out, that soulful, unmistakable sound was music to our ears.  The cry of a tiny infant resembles no other.

When Jesus was born and took his first breath, I like to think his poignant, emotive newborn cry resounded throughout the vastness of the entire universe. Why?  Because suddenly heaven erupted into euphoric, jubilant rejoicing and praise. A tear in the fabric of the firmament revealed a glimpse of the celebration of a great company of herald angels who knew earth had finally received her king.

The birth of Jesus as a tiny, helpless and vulnerable baby is unlike any other event in human history. There is such richness to be gained by honoring and worshiping the babe in the manger.  Not the least of which is the recognition of the astonishing humility of the Creator of all that is.  He "made himself nothing" (Phil.2:7) and miraculously became a part of his own creation.  It is nigh unto impossible to find words to adequately convey exactly what that represented.  In her book Bright Evening Star, Madeleine L'Engle, using her poetic literary style, comes close.  She writes:

"Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing.  Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough, and it is time for birth....  Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe...willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we out to be and could be...."

And so it was, the Holy One, out of the depths of eternity, broke into the limitations of time and space for you and for me.  Fully human and fully God, this was divine love incarnate in a baby.  A real baby with a little wrinkled brow, wispy, raven-colored hair and enormous questioning eyes that stared into the eyes of his young mother, Mary. She wrapped him snugly with swaddling clothes and held him tightly so he would feel secure. I'm sure her heart melted with each soft gurgle that came from his mouth.  And as she cuddled and nuzzled her beloved new son, did tears of joy trickle down her cheeks and fall tenderly onto his? That's easy to imagine.  When she kissed her little baby, as she surely must have, she kissed the face of God.

The incarnation, in it's entirety, from Jesus' conception and birth to his death and resurrection, was planned from the foundation of the world. The instant he was born, he was the Son of God, the Son of Man and the Savior of the world. It is significant that almost half of his 33 years on planet earth were spent either as an infant,or as a child or as an adolescent.  He didn't skip over those years, rushing to achieve manhood.  Every minute of his life carried profound meaning. The wonder of Jesus' nativity is more than worthy of thoughtful reflection, grateful worship and highest praise.

"One small Child in a land of a thousand
One small dream of a Savior tonight
One small hand reaching out to the starlight
One small Savior of life."*

*Words from song One Small Child by David Meece

Friday, July 25, 2014


There's a photo circulating on Facebook of a super-cute, fluff-ball of a kitten who thinks his name is "Aww..." because that's what everyone says when they see him. Very few can resist having a softhearted reaction to a kitten.  And what about a newborn baby or adorable toddler?  It comes quite easily doesn't it? So why is it often challenging to have this same gentle reaction towards everyone we cross paths with? Oh yeah, that's right.  We're not all cute little things, are we? We sometimes have our off moments and can be downright annoying. So when that happens, instead of going "aww..." we're wondering why in the world did he or she say that?  Or what's their problem anyway?

It's so human to misjudge or misread someone.  Wouldn't it be remarkable if we could read hearts like Jesus did as the Son of Man on this earth? Things would be decidedly simpler. But since that's impossible, the next best thing is to sympathetically assume he or she has a reason for getting up on the wrong side of the bed or falling short of our expectations of them.  The underlying motives for people's actions are not always bad, for the most part, they are completely understandable.

In her fascinating book My Stroke of Insight, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, an advanced brain scientist, speaks of the relevance and necessity of being sensitive to the plight of others.  She describes suffering a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain.  Losing her left brain consciousness and functions caused her to fall out of sync with the external word.  But Jill retained right brain consciousness allowing her to continue processing information as a scientist.  Within a few hours, she observed her mind deteriorating to the point she could no longer walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her past life, including family or friends.  Ten years later, after her long recovery, she documented her experience in her book.

It was easy to judge Dr. Taylor as less than what she had been before because she could no longer function like a normal person.  Even though everyone was a stranger to her, she could read volumes from facial expression and body language.  Hospitalized immediately after the stroke, she felt safe with some medical staff and unsafe with others.  One staff member, oblivious to her needs, spoke loudly to her as if she were deaf. Others were impatient, brusque and abrupt in handling her.

Yet she remembers another's eyes were soft and kind as she reassuringly touched her foot, then her shoulder and came close to her face so she could hear as she spoke softly.  Dr. Taylor says, "Although I could not completely understand her words, I completely understood her intention."

She describes how, as she lay on a hospital bed unable to speak, she perceived sounds, touch, light--any incoming stimulation--as highly discordant and unbearably painful.  Vulnerable and confused, Jill recalls desperately wanting to tell those around her: "... Bring me your gentle spirit.... Be kind to me.  Be a safe place for me...."

Her mother arrived on day three after the stroke. Of course, Dr. Taylor didn't recognize her when she walked into the room.  But her mom went straight to her bedside, lifted the covers and crawled into bed with her.  Jill explains how her mom "....immediately wrapped me up in her arms.... I felt perfectly content all wrapped up in my mother's love.  She was kind and soft and obviously freaking out a little, but overall, I thought she was nice and I liked her."  Her mother understood exactly what she needed--tender loving care in the wake of a life-changing calamity.

We usually have no idea what difficulties or life lessons the person standing next to us may be experiencing. So assume for the moment there are valid reasons for their conduct, rather than superficially judging and reacting negatively. This gives us time to mellow out, allowing for a more gentle response on our part and the opportunity to reflect the graciousness and tender mercies of Jesus.

Quoting Maya Angelou, beloved and celebrated poet and author: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Doubt It!

It's taken me years to accept there is room for doubt in my life and it can turn out to be a good thing. There was a time when I felt I had all the answers, tied up in a neat little package. Not just answers to the big questions of life and death, but answers to all the in-between questions as well .  Admittedly this gave me a feeling of security and control over my existence.  But it left no space for dealing satisfactorily with doubt, mystery, time and chance, miscalculations or the unexpected sharp curves that life tends to throw at us.

I didn't see the need to "question the answers" provided dogmatically and authoritatively by others in whom I had put all my trust.  This is not uncommon as many people do automatically accept the belief system of their childhood.  And then one day I began to ask questions and discovered my cherished answers were seriously lacking.  But, in the asking, the bottom of my neat, organized, knowledge package came apart and everything fell out. I was left to pick up the pieces, some broken, and realized they would never fit together perfectly again.  It was like starting all over and I felt very vulnerable, yet the process was so very necessary.

Here's the thing: we can't presume to spell out what God himself has not spelled out.  To quote author Philip Yancey, speaking of his own personal experience which closely resembled mine: "The church environment I grew up in had no room for doubt.  'Just believe!' they told us. Anyone who strayed from the defined truth risked punishment as a deviant...."

It shouldn't come as a surprise--no matter how many rules we follow or who we are, life and all its highs with joys and triumphs, and lows with loss and pain, happens to all of us.

Philip Yancey's book, entitled Reaching for the Invisible God, has a basic premise:  God's invisibility guarantees we will experience times of doubt. A relationship between an invisible God and visible humans will always involve an element of uncertainty. To pretend that doubting never happens or that it is an indication something is very wrong with us isn't necessary.   Unavoidable, seemingly-unaswerable questions that arise from time to time, especially in seasons of sore trial.  Some answers will be opaque.  So do be prepared for mystery.  A finite mind will never be capable of completely grasping the infinite. We often see through a glass darkly. Life is not destined to always be easy or predictable.

Quoting Philip Yancey again: "The only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship."  And strangely enough, the closer our relationship, the more questions we may have about his involvement in our lives.

Though some things may remain clouded, that which is absolutely crucial in order for us to establish a deep and lasting relationship with God can be clearly seen and understood. During times of uncertainty, we have only to open our eyes wider to "see" the invisible God in the marvels and intricacies of his creation, nature and the cosmos.  There is goodness, which comes from God, all around us if we would only look for it. There are miraculous interventions, all shapes and sizes, that surround us. And knowing in advance how perplexing his "invisibility" would be for us, the Son of God actually came to earth in visible flesh to live with us for a period of time to show us who God is and what he is like.

Maybe it's just me, but it has been stimulating and liberating to ask questions, ponder and meditate on life's penetrating issues such as death, eternity, suffering, the existence of God. I am no longer reluctant to doubt and question nor am I afraid of the obscure.  Even though I don't have all the answers as I once thought, I have a more profound certainty than ever before. You would think it would be the opposite. Having all the answers is not a requirement nor is it meant to be.  I have found seeking to personally connect and bond with the Creator of Life and the Universe is what counts.  Of that, I have no doubt.