The Gifts of God

At Christmas time we focus a lot on gifts. Making gift lists, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, receiving gifts. I wonder if you’ve ever had a time when you opened a gift you didn’t want. As you pull it out of the box you’re thinking, I don’t like this color or pattern. But the person who gave it to you is watching so you put on a fake smile and say “thank you so much …” Meanwhile you’re still looking for a gift receipt. At least you could exchange it…? But no. Your only option is to accept the gift. 

Have you ever had to accept something in life you didn’t want? Illness, job loss, miscarriage, infertility, divorce, death of a loved one.

About 9 years ago my husband and I were expecting our first child. But halfway through the pregnancy something was wrong. I was rushed to the hospital where the doctors told me I had to deliver the baby that night, but that he wouldn’t survive. A range of emotions and thoughts filled our minds over the next few hours as we waited for labor to intensify. But our main focus was, we didn’t have a name for this baby. What do you name a baby who will go straight to heaven?

There was one bible story that kept coming to mind. It’s the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They had miraculously left Egypt, survived the plagues that God sent to Pharaoh and the people, they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground as God parted the waters.. and now they’re in the desert. They were on their way to the Promised Land. It’s called “the Promised Land” because God promised to give this land to the Israelites. That simple.

Moses decides to send 12 men into the promised land to spy on it, to check it out and report back to the people what they find. These 12 men come back and say the land is amazing. It’s exactly how God promised – flowing with milk and honey, filled with the best fruits. BUT 10 men said there are giants living there. And we can’t beat them. The other 2 men said yes there are giants, but God is giving us this land. Let’s go! Those two men were Joshua and Caleb. Unfortunately the Israelites caved in to the fear that the 10 men had. They were afraid of the giants. They didn’t believe God’s promise. They doubted God. And so God said that those people would not see the promised land. The entire generation would die, except for Joshua and Caleb.

They roamed around the wilderness, the desert for 40 years, waiting for that generation of Israelites to die. Then Joshua and Caleb, now in their 80s would lead the people into the promised land.

What does this story have to do with a baby? I knew there were going to be “giants” in my future. There would be fears about having children, trying to get pregnant again, losing more children. I did not want to live in fear.  So I said to my husband, how about we name the baby Joshua? He said there was a Josh in kindergarten who punched him in the nose. So how about Caleb?

Naming our baby Caleb was a reminder – is still a reminder – to me to not give in to fear and worry, but to stand firm in God’s promises. God didn’t promise me a baby. But there are 3 promises I want to share with you today that we can depend on 3 GIFTS God gives us. 

First, God promises to be with us. Immanuel – God is with us. Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” When a friend betrays you, when those who are supposed to love us walk away, when the world leaves us lonely, God will NEVER leave us. When you are walking through sadness, grief, despair, God is with you.  Matthew. 1:23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”

Second, God promises to give us PEACE. We live in a world where anxiety is a common word, a common ailment. You can get a prescription to fix your anxiety. And certainly there are a lot of things we can be worried and anxious about, IF we didn’t have God to call out to. Philippians 4 tells us that PRAYER is the antidote to worry. Verses 6-8 says “Do not be ANXIOUS about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Can you even imagine your heart and mind being so guarded, so protected by peace in Christ, that no worries, no anxious thoughts can even get in?!

The peace from God doesn’t make sense. Not by any worldly standards. When Caleb died, I was grieving deeply. Yet I had peace. When I got pregnant again months later, I should’ve been afraid and worried. But I wasn’t. God had given me peace that is beyond our understanding. He wants us to live in that peace. When we bring our worries to Him and we pray, He will give us Peace.

Third gift God gives is the promise of JOY. True joy does not depend on circumstances but on the presence of the Lord with us. This joy is not a continuous smile but a satisfaction in what the Lord has done and in his presence with us. Jeremiah 31:13 God says “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” There are a lot of verses about God turning our sorrow into joy. Sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And I read all of them after Caleb died. But I didn’t understand it. How is God going to turn this despair into joy? There’s never going to be a time where I am happy that my baby died, but there is a joyful contentment that God is in control. I’m thankful for the two boys I have at home, but neither of them replaced Caleb. You can’t create joy. Getting married won’t bring you joy. Getting divorced won’t bring you joy either. Your kids getting to a certain age won’t bring joy. Your bank account getting to a certain number won’t bring joy. A job promotion, a retirement, a cure… it won’t bring joy. It might bring happiness, but that’s not permanent. 

Joy isn’t based on our circumstances. In fact, joy is mixed in with the other gifts God gives us. Joy and Peace are BECAUSE we have Immanuel. Because God is WITH us we can have JOY in any circumstance. Because He is a God who is faithful, who is good, whose love for us is beyond compare. We can trust Him. Because He is a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins so that we who believe in Him can have eternal life.

Do you know Jesus as your Savior? Are you longing for the peace and joy that only He can give? Do you want God with you? Then you just have to tell Him. If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10:9). You will have Immanuel – God with you. You will have Peace that passes understanding. You will have Joy instead of sorrow. 

These gifts from God are for you. You just need to accept them.

Getting Old and Staying Young

A few weeks ago I celebrated my 38th birthday. Just saying 38 sounds old. It doesn’t seem like too long ago that I was waking up late and rushing to catch the bus to high school. Or waking up late and rushing to class in college. Now I wake up late and rush to get my kids to school. I’m sensing a pattern. Seriously though, I’m in that stage where people just say “30s” or the 15th anniversary of their 21st birthday. Why do we hide our age? What are we so ashamed of?

Most of the time I don’t “feel” 38. I walk around thinking I’m 20-something until I actually see a 20-something and they look so childlike. I’m reminded of my age when I look closely in the mirror and see wrinkles on my face, or a few gray hairs on my head (I blame Parker for that… they started to appear when he was born). I’m reminded of my age when my friends and I play co-ed indoor soccer against the recently graduated college soccer stars. Or maybe they haven’t even graduated yet. While admiring their impressive skills and high energy, our taunts turn to “It’s past your bedtime!” Or “Don’t you have to get back to the dorm and study for finals.” Or “Your mom just called and you missed curfew!” We may not have won the game, but we did make them laugh.

I’ve always felt like the young one. Maybe because I have two older siblings and I was often too young to stay up and play with them at night. I have a fall birthday, which during school years always made me one of the youngest in my class. My husband is the same age as me (he’s a few months older!). Most of my friends are within a couple years of me, give or take. So I’m not ashamed of my age. Or at least, I’m going to try never to hide my age.

Every day is a gift. We are reminded of this when we hear of someone who died young, or when we have a friend battling cancer while she parents her young children. Each day is a gift. Each day of my 38 years has been a gift. I haven’t always felt like that at the time. Certainly not every day has felt good. But every day is filled with the hope of blessings more amazing that I could imagine.

The next time your age comes up, I hope you will proudly declare the truth, gratefully acknowledging the blessing of each day.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

It’s a Love Day

I could write about the Valentine’s Day when Jeff got me a muffler for my car, or how our exciting plans tonight include possibly attending a high school indoor track meet (how romantic!) or how all of my pajama pants for at least 10 years had hearts on them because my mom always bought me some for V-day and I racked up quite a collection. But there’s a love greater than parent & child, husband & wife, me & vanilla chai.

For I am convinced that 
neither death nor life
neither angels nor demons
neither the present nor the future
nor any powers
neither height nor depth
nor anything else in all creation
will be able to separate us from the LOVE of GOD that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Not your death or the death of a loved one. Not the concerns of today or your worries about the future. Not your singleness or your marriage. Not your parenting. Not your sins, not your fears, not your desires, not your selfishness, not your faithlessness. Nothing. Nothing can separate you from God’s love for you through Jesus Christ.

God’s love is so strong for you that He sacrificed His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross and pay the penalty for all of our sins so that we can have a relationship with God. The only thing we need to do is accept such an incredible gift. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Say it and believe it.

Thanksgiving JD

No matter what your relationship status, today and everyday you can celebrate the incredible, unfailing love of God for you. A love that never runs out. A love that gives better gifts than mufflers.