Advent Photo-a-Day: Joy

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
― Rumi

It took me a while to find a photo that fit today’s theme. For reasons I won’t go into at the moment, I don’t feel very joyful.

Feelings are hard to overcome, especially when facing some of the crap life throws at us. But joy is not based on circumstances; it is based on facts. For those of us who walk through Advent towards the promise of Christmas, joy is real. It speaks through silence. It dances with the pain. It seeps through the cracks of brokenness and reminds us that there is more to this life than we can experience with our human senses. And above all, it reminds us that God waits for our invitation to walk us through whatever is next.

When I looked over some of my photos from last year, I found this one, taken in early April when an uncharacteristically late snowfall blanketed my flowerbeds. The irises still bloomed in all their beauty in July. But for a moment, their greening was thwarted. It was all in the timing.

Joy is that place of rest, where God’s care and promises out-trumps the worst thing this world can throw at us. I’ll hang on to that thought. Hope you will too!

Merry Christmas!

You now rejoice in this hope, even if it’s necessary for you to be distressed for a short time by various trials. This is necessary so that your faith may be found genuine. (Your faith is more valuable than gold, which will be destroyed even though it is itself tested by fire.) Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you’ve never seen him, you love him. Even though you don’t see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. (I Peter 1, Common English Bible)

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Advent Photo-a-Day: Neighbors

Today I did some fun Christmas shopping with our daughters. Also some serious browsing and “hmmmmm I like that” shopping too (which is always free! 🙂 ) We ended up at 10,000 Villages, which is a company that specializes in fair-trade gifts and crafts.

I was taken by one of displays which had small hand-carved, hand-polished stones. There were different words: peace, strength, love, joy, and hope. They were words I could wish for anyone, for any neighbor (even that grouchy one on the back edge of our property…)

The artisan that carved this stone is as much my neighbor has the guy down the street with the seven blown-up santas, multi-color icicle lights and tacky dancing snowman. For all of these neighbors, as well as for my family, and myself, I chose this one:

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It fits nicely with what a wise friend reminded me of today…

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,”
declares the LORD,
“plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.”

Advent Photo-a-Day: Sign

A Sign
A Sign

This is a banner created by the kids of our church. It made me smile. The joy of the Nativity is coming soon – “good news of great joy’!

There is a temptation to assign importance to the things we can see as “signs.” But in my limited understanding, they can more often be “coincidental sightings” — not signs from God. Funny how that works…

One way for certain to know a sign is from God is to see if it brings others JOY. If it does, then it could indeed be “a sign.” A sign of Good News for all people. A sign of The Promise yet to come. A sign that is seen not with the eyes, but the heart, as God shows up in the unexpected, the surprising, and the unprecedented.

That’s a sign to watch for!

As Ann Weems wrote:

Those who wait for God
watch with their hearts and not their eyes.
Listening
always listening
for angel words.

Advent Photo-a-Day: Mercy

I have to admit I struggled with this one  a little bit. What does “mercy” look like? Do I have a picture that expresses it? How have I experienced mercy personally?

From Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology:

Mercy is a concept integral to an understanding of God’s dealings with humankind. In English translations of the Bible, it comes to expression in phrases such as “to be merciful, ” “to have mercy on, ” or “to show mercy toward.” The corresponding term, “merciful, ” describes a quality of God and one that God requires of his people. The noun denotes compassion and love, not just feelings or emotions, as expressed in tangible ways.

Several Hebrew and Greek terms lie behind the English term “mercy.” The chief Hebrew term is hesed, God’s covenant “lovingkindness.” In both the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX) and the New Testament, the term behind “mercy” is most often eleos in one form or another, but oiktirmos/oiktiro (compassion, pity, to show mercy) and splanchna/splagchnizomai (to show mercy, to feel sympathy for) also play roles.

Mercy is not just a “gut feeling” (splanchnabut is an outward expression of something tangible and real. It is acting towards someone not in a way that is deserved. It encompasses self-humility instead of self-righteousness, honesty instead of false pride.  I thought of times where I had said or done something that was unkind, where I made an assumption instead of making a loving choice. I considered attitudes which are not merciful towards others. And then I realized, it all came back to how merciful I am towards myself. If I don’t understand God’s mercy towards me, then how can I show it to someone else?

Above all, mercy is showing restraint. Instead of exercising power over someone, to show compassion and care. So that’s why I chose this picture to express “mercy”:

Mercy
Mercy – Photo by Sara May, used by permission.

Jesus said,
God blesses those people
who are merciful.
They will be treated
with mercy!

Matthew 5:7