Posted in Celebrations, Christianity, To trust in God

The Lord’s Bright Blessings: The reality of a Christmas more glorious than grand

 

Christmas is coming. What should be a season of excitement is, in far too many circumstances, a season of stress for parents who can afford little for their children. Having been in that situation for so long myself, I can easily identify the longing in these parent’s eyes. You see the moms stare at, then turn away from, what they long to buy but can’t possibly afford; the dads distracting their children, suggesting items much smaller, cheaper. The older children in these families are often resolute, knowing that the shiny thing they want will never be under their tree. The younger children simply fail to understand. But, soon enough, they will. How the parents handle the situation will make the difference between encouraging bitterness or contentment in their children.

My daughter wants a bike and crafting items. My son, a Wii U. Another son, games for the Wii U. I’d love to find a way to give them to them but such a thing is impossible. Knowing upfront that they can’t have these things helps them to be prepared for the things that they will get. My older children have let me know that they will be satisfied with anything–or, if need be, nothing. Christmas wish lists, as they have been for so many years now, will be guided by me towards things I’ve already managed to pick up or know that I can get cheaply. It wasn’t always like this. Though money was always tight, we used to have enough. I once bought toys for underprivileged children. Now my children could be counted among them.

Christmastime, or any time of celebration, is hard when poverty is a constant companion. Being poor doesn’t take away the desire to buy your children things they want but knowing you’ve done everything you can do, both to make things financially better and to bring them a bit of happiness, helps. Like so many others,  our family faces poverty due to circumstances beyond my, or my children’s, control. Fighting against it is all I can do. I stretch every dime as far as it can be stretched and do everything that I can to bring in additional dimes and dollars. Still, as far behind as we are, it is never enough. Earlier this year, we came close to being evicted due to being behind on our rent. Our van remains unusable because I simply can’t afford to repair it. Two children, and possibly a third, need braces. Things that break or wear out simply aren’t replaced. Our needs pile up and sometimes the pile topples over. But the Lord is our Helper, our Provider. His blessings are sometimes financial. Other times, they come in the form of teaching us to be utterly dependent upon Him. Of learning to trust Him in total darkness.

No matter how broke one is, life still must be lived. And birthdays, Christmas, and other days meant for celebration, won’t wait. Months ago, I came up with a plan to provide a kinda-sorta nice Christmas for my children: Taking five dollars or so a week, I’d hit a yard sale or two to look for things they’d be sure to love. But many weeks, even that small amount was out of my reach. Then we came down with mononucleosis and for several weeks I was too sick, or my children were, for me to go anywhere. Still other weeks, my husband needed the car on Saturday or it was pouring rain. I ended up able to go to yard sales once.

Christmas presents this year will mostly be thrift stores finds and a few carefully chosen items from on-line. In place of a bike will be a bracelet, a pretty scarf, and a small but lovely keepsake for my daughter. In place of my son’s Wii U will be some sketching pencils, a book on sunken ships, and a small knife. Instead of the games my youngest wanted, he will receive a movie found on sale and an action figure or two. When Christmas morning comes, they, like in so many other years, will be happy with what they’ve been given. They are really great children, children who have learned what it means to find joy in the little things. They want things at times but they don’t brood over what they can’t have. I’m so proud of them. Sometimes I think it’s harder on me wanting things for them and not being able to afford them, than it is for them not getting them.

Our family has been blessed in so many ways and this year, like others, we’ll thank the Lord for those blessings. Instead of having a big celebration, we’ll focus in on the little things. Instead of the roast beef that I want to cook for them, I’ll prepare a well-loved chicken casserole. Instead of over-flowing stockings, there will be candy canes and chocolates. We’ll focus on being happy for what we have rather than on being sad for what we don’t. We’ll sing Christmas carols together and bake some Christmas cookies. We’ll make a paper chain for over the door, and put on the old Andy Griffith Christmas special as we decorate our tree. We’ll laugh. We’ll love. And, little as we have, we’ll celebrate the most important gifts of all: the gift of the Son of God who died to save us, and the gift of one another.

Our Christmas, like the old Magoo Christmas special proclaimed, will truly be a Christmas that’s far more glorious than grand.

Merry Christmas, y’all!

Soli Deo gloria!

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Posted in Anna Wood, To trust in God

The marriage of joy and sorrow: a personal story

 

 

Tonight as I head to bed, my heart is heavy. Our family is facing so many difficulties. Hard times brought on by circumstances beyond my control seek to overwhelm us. Hard times that I have had nothing to do with but that I am paying the price for nonetheless. As are my children. The rent has come due, and passed, and come due again, and there’s no way to pay it. No way to prepare for Winter–clothes that were carefully packed away were rained on. I didn’t know the roof to the storage shed leaked. When I discovered it did, it was too late. Our Winter clothing–gone, given over to mildew. No way to fix those things that so need to be repaired–the dryer, the van, the stove, the fridge all are showing their age at such an inopportune time. Sometimes the van simply doesn’t work at all. There’s nothing I can do to repair them, no way to do much of anything, to pay for much of anything–and there’s so many needs.

And Christmas. Oh, Christmas. I just don’t want to think about it. What should be joyful is instead overwhelming.

My little son came to me the other day wanting to talk. He’d overheard his father talking to me about our finances, heard him saying things a child shouldn’t know. He wanted to know if we’d ever be so poor that we’d have to live on the street. “Mama, I don’t want to live on the street.” My heart broke. I assured him that God would take care of us, that that wasn’t going to happen. But, fear rises up because we’re so far behind….

My story is a melding of twin realities, the marriage of the joy of trusting in the Lord and the sorrows that seek to overwhelm us. The burden of seemingly endless struggles and trials mix and mingle with the trust that nothing will happen to us that God cannot handle. Jesus is the beginning and the end of my story. If He weren’t, I couldn’t hold on.

Sometimes, I just beg Him to help me to know what to do, to have the wisdom to just get through the day. Even though I know better, sometimes I foolishly worry that something might somehow interrupt God’s plans. That, despite all of my promises to my child, things might indeed somehow fall apart.

Then I shudder at how weak, how small, my faith is.

Our God is a God who isn’t limited by time or space. He’s a God outside of those things, outside of normal limitations because He’s the One who created everything–including what is ultimately somehow “limiting” me and my circumstances. But how to believe it? So much has gone wrong for so very long. So many unexpected expenses, so much family pain, so many sorrows–the financial has been, in many ways, the least of it. So this is where we end up, struggling, hurting, doing our best to stay one step ahead of utter brokenness. The utilities are so high and are past due, the rent remains unpaid, the the landlord could show up any day asking us to leave, and we’d have no choice but to do so. And no place to go, no one to turn to. And with all of that, we’re still struggling just to get through one more day.

What do I make of this, God? How do I trust when there’s no place to turn for relief?

No one to run to…but You. And You’re enough. 

God is always enough

God’s faithfulness is ultimately the end of my story even when there is no end in sight. Somehow God is going to help us, somehow something somewhere will turn and things will work out. I believe that…most of the time. But what if He doesn’t? If He doesn’t, there’s a reason and I can still trust Him. Even if things fail, He never does. Even if sorrows multiply, so will His faithfulness.

As this long night goes forward for me, I remember the story of Elijah running from Ahab and Jezebel. He was spent, worn out, exhausted. Fearful and consumed with “what if”, he was ready to give up and die. God didn’t scold him. He didn’t correct his theology. No, He remembered that Elijah was dust, a man exhausted from his struggles. A man needing to rest. So God let him. Elijah slept and, when he awoke, God fed him. God took care of his physical needs first–then he prepared him to go forward. This wasn’t the first time–or the second–that God had made a point to provide for His prophet. The first time God used ravens to feed him (1 Kings 17: 2-6). The second time, God used a widow woman’s oil and flour, which God kept from running out, to feed not only Elijah but the woman and her son (1 Kings 17: 8-16). This time God sends an angel to feed him and give him water (1 Kings 19: 1-9).

Elijah’s God is my God–One and the same. He’s unchangeable, and He’s good. And, in the deafening silence of our struggles, in the dark night hours when I feel so overwhelmed, so afraid, so alone, I remember that God cared for His prophet–not just spiritually but physically also–and I rest in Him.

Soli Deo gloria!

Posted in Anna Wood, discernment, To trust in God

Confronting Fear With Faith

Maybe you’ve been there. You’re doing alright, struggling a bit as usual but still making it. Then, out of the blue, what can go wrong, does go wrong, and then some. What do you do? Do you give way to fear? Or, does your faith take over?

Faith is knowing God, trusting in His sovereignty, and accepting whatever comes along as a gift from His hand, even when the gift is pain. It’s easy to say, yeah, I trust God, but when push comes to shove, can we really say we do? When our child is rushed to the emergency room in the middle of the night, are we resting in His peace, trusting in His grace, accepting of His mercy, even when the mercy takes us down roads we’d rather not travel? When our refrigerator goes out, then the washer does, then our car does, what do we do? Do we bow our heads, put our problems in His hands, and give God the praise He deserves? Or do we sit around bemoaning our circumstances?

Faith trusts God…even though. Faith praises Him…even when. Faith rests in Him always.

I’ve walked down a trouble-filled road more times than I can count. I’ve been there, and am there even now, where every single thing that can go wrong, does go wrong, and then some. I know how easy it is to say we’re trusting God, and all the while we’re snatching back out troubles from His loving hands because we’re not quite certain, He, the God of everything, is capable enough, smart enough or loves us enough, to really see what’s going on and what we think we need Him to do about it. “Uhm, here, God, if You could just do it this way…NOW.” That’s our tendency, but it’s the wrong one, one born of fear, not faith.

God is sovereign over every single thing in the universe, in heaven and earth, including over the details of our lives, however easy, however painful, they may be. What is going on with us is for His glory and for our good, of that we can be assured.

As I write, my son Matthew is quite sick. The doctors are not sure what’s going on but he’s hurting. They’re trying to figure it out. On top of that, our old truck needs a new battery, and that’s money we don’t have. And, our van isn’t working. More money we don’t have. And our refrigerator is leaking internally. And, struggle and try though we might, we’re behind on utilities and rent, too. Last month, we sold things just to keep food on the table. There’s just not that much left to sell. These on top of other problems, and those on top of others, some financial, some otherwise. Faith or fear must win this battle. I know my God, so I choose faith.

That’s really the issue here, knowing God. He is capable. He is trustworthy. His Word declares it, we simply must ask for the faith to believe it, and to rest in it.

When causes for fear come, and come they will, meet them with rock solid faith. Not faith in yourself, your plans, or capabilities, but faith in the Sovereign God of everything. The Great I AM. He who was, and is, and is to come, is God over every single circumstance in your life. And He’s good, and kind, and loving, and wise. And He can, and will, do abundantly above all that we can ask or think–for His glory and for our good–when we bow down, lay down our fear at His holy feet, and trust in Him to do what He deems necessary.

Faith must conquer fear and, by God’s grace, and through His help, it can.

 

Posted in Anna Wood, To trust in God

In Memory of a Boy I Never Knew

The sign in front of the school caught my attention. Just a name and two dates, one the date of birth, the other of death. A little boy, one of the students, had died just three days shy of Christmas and the school was in mourning. I went home and looked online for information about him. Who was he? How did he die? How was his family holding up? I found a photograph, his sweet smiling face showing no signs that the end was near for him. I found an online memorial with remembrances, prayers and letters of encouragement to his parents. I found out where he attended church and the hospital where the end came. How he died remains a mystery to me. This child’s death was a blow to me, though I didn’t know him. Any child’s death is a tragedy and as a mother, I realize it could be me in mourning and I hurt for his parents. But this is more personal: this precious little boy was born just eight days after my youngest child was born. He is now dead and my child is alive. But what if it had been my child? My sweet boy who finds a reason to laugh no matter what is going on around him–I can’t imagine losing him so young. It could happen, of course. It happened to these parents. And I ache for them.

No, I didn’t know this lost child and I do not know his grieving parents but I think about them, wonder how they are coping. I pray for them every time their loss comes to mind. There are many prayers…. Their loss of their precious little boy, so near my own son’s age, reminds me to hold my child a little closer, a little longer. To pray deeper prayers for him, to be more diligent to teach him the everlasting truth of God’s holy Word. It reminds me daily to simply to love him, breath in his sweetness and never lose sight of the fact that life is so very fragile. As long as God wills that we live, nothing can get in the way. But we simply don’t know how many days, how fleeting the hours, that have been appointed to us and to our loved ones.

So tonight, I am remembering this little boy that I did not know. I am thanking God for his life and wishing he were still living. I am saying a prayer in a long line of prayers for parents who are hurting. In three days, the one month anniversary of their son’s death is coming up. I can’t imagine their pain. I wish I could see them, tell them I am praying for them and simply say “I’m sorry for your loss”. I’m sorry–there’s very little else that could be said except I’m praying for you, which I’d also say. I can’t do that. I’ll probably never be able to do that. But I can remember their son’s life and praise God for it. And I can cherish my son’s life, indeed all my children’s lives, just a little bit more.

May God be praised.

In memory….

 

Posted in Anna Wood, To trust in God, Womanhood

Vienna Sausage Dumplings, a Mother’s Love, and Thanksgiving Dinner

Have you ever heard of vienna sausage dumplings? Ketchup soup? Lard sandwiches? No? Then you probably don’t read many Depression era cookbooks. My mother was raised during the Great Depression and, because of that, I feel a strong connection to the people and events of that time. I love reading recipes from back then. They speak to a creativity not often found today. Things were hard, really hard. Folks did what they could with what little they had. There’s an old saying from that time that goes: Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. Some folks substitute “eat” for “use” as the first word. But the sentiment is the same: Stretch things as far as you can and be glad that you’ve got it to stretch.

Yesterday I was reading about times of celebration during the Depression. The story went that the mother of this particular family had managed to secure some vienna sausages for her family and it was near Thanksgiving. Now vienna sausages might not sound like anything special and you might not like them at all but, to this family, this was a promise of a feast to come. They didn’t have the luxury of complaining and were glad for what they could get. When Thanksgiving Day rolled around, the mother took out the vienna sausages, cut them into pieces and dropped them into a pot filled with water. While the pot began to boil, she made some simple flour dumplings and dropped them in one by one. Setting the table with her nicest dishes and placing a bowl of apples in the middle, she called her family to the Thanksgiving feast. The children were enchanted. They’d not seen anything so fine in a while. The memory of those vienna sausage dumplings and fresh apples, their thankfulness for the love and creativity their mother showed in doing the best she could to have a celebration for them during such difficult times, stayed with them forever.

I may never get around to making vienna sausage dumplings for Thanksgiving or for any other day for that matter. But should times ever be that hard, I’d hope that I had the grace that this precious woman had to go all out even though her “all out” was small compared to what we expect today.

This Thanksgiving, may we all rejoice in the good gifts that the Lord provides for us. Even if those good gifts come in the form of vienna sausage dumplings.

Posted in Anna Wood, To trust in God

Roses in Winter

Last night about 9:00, I went outside to walk our dog. My little boy followed me. He sidled up to me, cuddled close, and looked up at me. His words melted my heart. “I really love being with you, Mama.” I felt like crying, I felt like laughing, both at once. Those words warmed my weary heart like nothing else could have.

I don’t know what the good Lord is doing. So many things have failed, so many efforts to get our family back on track have gotten derailed. Some whom we’ve trusted have turned against us, stabbing us when we’re down. Pain keeps getting added upon pain. We keep praying, trying to come up with a plan, something, anything, to help us to dig out and get back on our feet. Despite our efforts, we just keep getting deeper. Our bills are behind, our rent is late, and food is getting more and more plain. The cupboards and the fridge are pretty bare. But God is good and whatever He is up to, I know He’s got a purpose. I’ll keep praying for the faith to trust Him. And He keeps giving me reason to. Sometimes God sends us roses in deepest, darkest Winter. Just when we think hope is gone, just when it seems all is lost, God shows up.

God showed up in my little boy’s words to me last night. They warmed me all night. They’re warming me still. God is good.

Thank, You, Lord, for showing up when we are faint of heart. Thank you for sending the roses that we so desperately crave in the darkest days of our lives. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Posted in Anna Wood, To trust in God

Moments of Joy

My littlest boy studying hard to learn his words, asking me “Did I do alright?”.

My woman-child daughter settling into the ways of womanhood one moment, teasing and chasing her younger sister the next.

My nearly teenage son seeking me out just to chat.

My youngest daughter using her own free time to diligently care for the animals.

My second oldest son’s joy when he got accepted into college.

Another son’s hugs every time he gets near.

My oldest son standing for truth, no matter the cost.

These are dark days for our family. So much uncertainty, so many trials. Yet, in the midst of the sorrow, God has blessed us with so many moments of joy. I don’t deserve such joy, such happiness, none of us do. I’m so grateful to God that, no matter what befalls us, there’s always a reason to rejoice. I’m reminded over and over of God’s goodness. Every single time I’m able to put food on the table, God has blessed us. Every single day we are alive, God has been good. Every single time God awakens me in the dark night hours to seek Him in prayer, He has bestowed His grace.

God is good. Even when everything seems to be going against us, there’s so much to still be grateful for.

I’m grateful, Lord. Thank you for your goodness, for the riches of your mercy, for the gift of your Son, for the blessing of my children, for the many moments of joy You bless us all with every single day. May we be aware of each and every one.