'Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7
Twinkling lights on a luxuriant Douglas fir bedecked with oh so many school-made ornaments—and baubles that sparkle too. Stockings hung on the mantle—an additional one this year, each representing the personality of its keeper. The fragrance of peppermint and gingerbread and cinnamon swirling inside while icy gusts or the promise of snow transforms the neighborhood into a Winter Wonderland (or Washington’s verdant version). And the gatherings! Parties with work friends and church friends and family… it’s a season I’ve treasured for as long as I can remember.
There’s another reason I enjoy the holidays. For my extended family, it becomes a season of prayer.
My parents, brothers, sister and their spouses and children, wherever we're gathered (because for most of the year we’re scattered) amidst the festivities, collect in a room, bundle in blankets on overstuffed couches, usually in my parents' front room, and pray. Sometimes someone is Skyped in because geography kept them away. One time friends joined us and we sang Christmas songs together.
We’ll spend time talking and laughing about the craziness of life. We’ll share personal things too—about loss or unmet expectations or looming uncertainty. Then my dad, or one of my brothers, or me or my mom or anyone else who wants, will open the Bible to read scripture, maybe say a bit about it, and we’ll bow our heads and talk to God.
Most of us were together during Thanksgiving. We prayed as a family united— as Christians who seek to know God more, seek to do His will more often and desire to love others in deeper, meaningful ways. We prayed for restoration too because, probably like your family, there are some menacing issues ahead of us.
We certainly want life to go well for each other and we’re clear about asking God to send relief. He alone gets to determine what that looks like, but all of us get the gift of peace that steadies our racing hearts and calms troubled minds.
It made me wonder how many other believers share this habit.
Many of us say grace before meals and prayers before bedtime. We anticipate quiet time with the Lord in the morning, over a cup of coffee before the day begins. But how many of us gather with other believers—maybe our extended family (if we’re so blessed) or friends (also, if we’re blessed) and pray together in groups small enough for everyone to speak…and care for each other?
I believe Christmas is about restoration; God restoring us to Himself through the work of his son by the power of the Holy Spirit. I heard a pastor say once, “God doesn’t make new things—but makes all things new.”
Perhaps the newness is a changed situation in the form of returning health, financial provision or renewed relationships...I hope so for all those who we love. Mainly though, our newness is something greater than this fragile world can provide—it’s a deeper understanding of the God who loves us so, a profound opportunity to know the one who came to save—the one who even now guards our hearts and minds. And in knowing Him, we discover who we were created to be.
To be honest, our extended family has done this for many years—all seasons of the year—not just Christmastime. But as time quickens its pace, I appreciate it more than ever.
The Lord is near to you, Paul's words ring from Philippians. That is reason enough to rejoice! That He wants to hear from us is too good to be true. Ask for what you need, Paul writes, and do so with gratitude and humility. Then rest, in the protection and security His peace affords you.
Maybe that relentless obstacle you're being crushed by will be banished from your life by prayer--or maybe God will allow it to linger long enough to become your servant. How? By causing you to cry out to the Lord for its removal, acknowledging your dependency and His Lordship, as you submit to the One who loves more. And the power of the peace that surpasses comprehension will allow you to climb atop that burden with arms outstretched to Heaven. Closer than ever you were before.
It's now considered vintage, the Creative Circle Embroidery Kit #1004. The finished work shows a solitary robin standing a branch of budding flowers in the top left corner. A small nest with three turquoise eggs rests in a tangle of flowers and greenery bottom right. And in the middle, in tawny letters, big and bold, it reads "Life is fragile: handle with prayer."
My mom was all about Creative Circle in the 1980's and her 18"x24" embroidered masterwork, hung in our home for several years. But just like shoulder pads, teased hair and the video rental superstores that were common in that era—its popularity diminished.
What didn't change though is the truth it references: The call for believers everywhere to pray: individually, collectively and frequently.
Life is fragile. We are fragile. But the God who made us--is not.
Everything by prayer.
Recently, I was walking an elderly friend of mine to her car. We often talk about God and family and I’m frequently blessed by her wisdom—and humor. This day, she asked me how foster care was going. Smiling broadly, I assured her it was one of the best things our family has ever done. She met my eyes, and let me know how incredible I am—how saint-like and selfless I must be—how blessed our little one is to have us.
My smile fell.
I picked it back up—thanked her…and started thinking.
I remember feeling like that about other foster parents. Like they must be cut from a different cloth—because how else could a family do this kind of work? Then I remember going through training and wanting to quit and run away and was convinced of it.
Then there was that evening I told God, I can go no further, and decided to squash this little desire that had been burning in my heart for so many years.
It happened months before our first placement, while we were still in training, learning some particularly difficult truths about trauma and the dreaded “system.”
I hadn’t even told my husband or children yet, I just decided that we were done.
Too much effort.
Too much pain.
Too much vulnerability.
God wants me to be a victor—not reduced to some puddle in the corner made ineffective due to grief (when we finally say farewell to our beloved foster child) or handicapped due to restrictions from the state (regarding travel, or babysitting or where we keep our vitamins) or expose our home and lives to a litany of social workers and case managers (I mean, I like you an all…but not in my house).
I can't do this, Lord. I want out. So much for selfless and incredible.
His response was so…Godlike…and it was something like this:
“I’m not demanding this of you, Dionne. I’m offering it. This is not meant to be a curse—but my gift to you.”
Keep in mind, my dear friend who heaped flowery adjectives in my direction when you hear my response.
Keep in mind I said this after just learning about the atrocities of abandonment, neglect and abuse happening to children in my neck of the woods.
“Thanks. But no thanks.” Not me Lord, send another.
I would have walked away, right then and there--so close to the finish line. Too close.
If you’re a Christian who believes the Bible is God-breathed (that’s the definition of ‘inspired’ by the way); If you believe the Father sent his begotten son to restore this world to Himself—that he "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" to expend divine effort, endure incomprehensible pain (separation from the Father) and massive vulnerability (dying at the hands of those he came to save)--you will see how unfounded my rejection was.
Thanks, but no thanks? For my life story, foster care had ‘JESUS’ written all over it. Yes Christ came to make me a victor—over my own selfishness, fear and rejection of Him as the Lord of my life. He came to enable me to love--not just in word, but in deed. He came to enable me to give--not merely of my excess--but all I have. That's why I wanted out. It was starting to get costly.
But there’s more…
God spoke to me again (oh the grace!)
“You can deny me and walk away—if you want--” He seemed to say.
(I’m off the hook? Yea for mercy!)
“But what I won’t do, is remove the desire you have for these children.”
And that, dear friends, is when the selfish, timid, uncertain part of me collapsed at the foot of my Lord.
Because it was true.
For so long I had the desire to grow our family with children who were not biologically my own. At times I tried to extinguish that longing but through a series of wonderful occurrences the faintly burning spark had grown to crackling fire. It was both beautiful and terrifying.
I’m still tempted to think other foster families are cut from a different cloth than the rest of us, especially those who care for medically-fragile children, or sibling groups…or teenagers! But I suspect they have their own story too.
Maybe we’re not incredible, or selfless or saint-like so much as we are obedient to the call God has on our lives. It is after all, one of the hallmarks of faith in Christ.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” Jesus said. (John 14:15)
I do. And I will…Help me!
You don't have to be selfless or incredible. You need only submit to the One who is and trust He will keep you.
A bruised reed he will not break and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. Isaiah 42:3
What is God calling you to do? Find out and hop to it.
"Lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race set before you. "