4.02.2014

His Marvelous Light: The Jewels of the Safe House






Ezekiel 16:12 “And I put a jewel on thy forehead, and earrings in thine ears, and a beautiful crown upon thine head.”

“My goal is to rescue women, but let’s do it pretty.” Allison Hale’s missions mindset pours out of every pore of her being—physically and spiritually. It is her ideology. Women’s ministry is Allison; Allison is women’s ministry. You can’t have one without the other in the Dominican Republic. It is what her thoughts gravitate to every morning, and what threatens to break her frame when she calls it another night. More than that she is the founder of The Workshop in San Pedro, and operates a dangerous outreach she calls Operation: Scarlet Thread, a team of women that go out to the red light districts of the DR and evangelize to prostitutes on the streets at night (See Josh. 2:18). This is not your typical door-knocking approach. It is a radical, but authentic, method that works best for the culture that Allison ministers in tirelessly.

But during the day one of the places she loves to just be, to disciple, and to minister takes place in a small tannish-colored cement building that stands out as one of the purer buildings on San Pedro’s dingy streets. The Workshop is a beacon of hope, a talked about location that is rumored to be a refuge for women at risk along with their children who are as vulnerable as their mothers. 

The Dominican Republic is a spiritually dark place. Numerous forms of sexual evil rampage the streets every night, and probably during the day. The facts are stark. Women are exploited and prostituted. 25,000 of the Dominican Republic’s children are trafficked. And because of these moral atrocities the DR has gained a hard-earned reputation for ranking fourth in the sex industry. They are famed, promoted, and touted as being a destination spot for sex tourism. Like sin, prostitution when full grown brings death. The horrific cycle is complete when women and children are lured with the promise of a better life only to be sold to foreign countries to repeat the same nightmare, albeit on foreign soil. And the United States is one of their buyers.

In the DR the price of purity is cheap. It’s auctioned off at an average of $2.50 for a good night’s work. Women are used and cast aside, hopefully with enough “filthy lucre” to buy groceries for their children the next day. The next day. That is why they find themselves on the same corners every night. Not because they find their job pleasurable, but because they need bread, and eggs, and milk. This perpetual cycle creates a generational heritage of prostitution, conditioning women and their daughters. They are in bondage, and unaware that there is a way out of the trade. The women, like ancient Israel before the incarnate Christ, sit in darkness. Without hope. Without dignity. Without purpose. And worst of all, without salvation. 

Yet God has His chosen generation and royal priesthood in every country. His scope of salvation extends as far as the east is to the west, from the remotest, undiscovered island to the most populated city. In the DR, God is reaching down and faithfully plucking His Beloved out of the darkness of prostitution and into His marvelous light. And He’s doing it through The Workshop ministry (See 1 Pet. 2:9).


On the streets of San Pedro, the Workshop is a city on a hill. The Light of Christ saturates its interior, and can’t help spilling out of the windows. Its brightness illuminates those passing by on the street. We would call it a safe house in the States. It’s nothing to boast about. The streets leading up to its door are broken, narrow, and off-puttingly slanted.The building stands humble in appearance, but without price in the eyes of the Precious Redeemed who take refuge within its walls. 

What beautiful symbolism. Our world is broken, full of the narrows of sin, and slanted. Yet inside the secret place of Christ there is refuge, peace, and beauty. 

These are the greeting truths that welcome the women into this Christ-filled home. Hospitality is foreign, something they haven’t experienced before. So Allison has reached into the well of her natural creativity, and used it to set the example of what a model home looks, smells, and sounds like. Pencil sketches of the women’s hands capture the beauty of restored dignity. Gone are the hands that once extended to sin and shame, here are restored bodies that glorify God through honest living.The rooms are clean and orderly, reflecting God’s desire for holiness, and a non-chaotic atmosphere. The decorating scheme is designed to showcase the worth and warmth of hospitality, and to reverence the beauty that God has grafted into the fiber of each woman's soul. The Workshop is a haven of rest from the pressures of the street.

It’s called The Workshop for a reason. Allison is intent on restoring the dignity of women, and referring to them as employees of the Safe House does not do that. Instead they go to The Workshop, and are taught the precious truth that they are Christ’s workmanship. While there, the women are taught to sew, crochet headbands, or make jewelry. The point is to repurpose their hands. Ropes of necklaces hang from pegs waiting to be shipped to their future owners. Containers stand on shelves full of coral, turquoise, and jasper beads of every color. This is M.E.R.C.Y Jewelry, handcrafted jewelry with a heavenly purpose. You can find it on Etsy, but visiting in person is 100 times better. All proceeds go back to the safe house and benefit the women who work at the tables to make one-of-a-kind bracelets, necklaces, and earrings. But it’s not all work and no play. Their purpose isn't merely to punch the time clock and collect an honest day’s wages; it is a place to learn and share Christ.

The Bible has just as much power in the Dominican as it does in America. The dedicated servants of the workhouse scoop women off the streets and give them a second chance with a bowl of soup, and the Bread of Life. Around a few plain Jane tables a fellow disciple opens the Word of God, and begins feeding these women spiritually. Many of the safe house refugees do not have the privilege of literacy. What glory God receives when a once-stained Soul reads her first words from the Bible! Slowly but surely, with patience and much love, hearts are softened, washed, and set free with the water of the Word. Proof that God’s grace and restoration knows no bounds or geographical limitations. 

Allison loves and values these women, because God has loved and valued them first. They are His Treasures. The Safe House looks like any other Dominican dwelling, but like every geode, if you looked inside you would see the most beautiful jewels being grown. Like the jasper, and turquoise they handle daily, these women are Jewels in the kingdom of God. Blood-bought sinners that sparkle with the ruby-red radiance of mercy. It’s in this place that women sit on white slip-covered couches as the pure and precious possessions they really are in Christ’s sight and talk about their day, their kids, and their God. 


When I visited I was privileged to serve them and paint a few cement walls the color of warm terra-cotta that would in future serve as their patio. I took the utmost care, cutting in with my dollar-store caliber paint brush as best I could. My team made sure that the coverage was even and solid, no grey peeking through for these women! Some painted tires for future DIY projects, others quieted a screaming toddler or played with the kiddos with necklace kits and coloring pages. And in the middle of it all, the story of the safe house unfolded, and I was struck with its theme of redemption. I can tell you honestly that there are Jewels living in the safe house. Pearls of great price that have been grown in what used to be a shell of human existence, but now are returning to their original purpose—to glorify God. 






4.01.2014

Overthrowing the Tables: Reclaiming Worship






Luke 19:46, “Saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.”

I was in love with the bones of the building the minute the van cozied up to the sidewalk outside its wrought iron gates. The members of the church call it IBEM, a quippy acronym that saved me from saying Iglesia Bautista Evangelica de Macoris in an American accent. This was not only our cafeteria for the remainder of our stay, but iss the local church that is the driving force behind the ministries we visited and served each day.

It was sunset, and the golden fireball played up the buliding’s strong points. The doors are something out of a Spainard’s castle with cathedral length creaky doors, and huge cast iron hardware with locks that match.The architecture was beautifully Spanish—brick, weathered—with just as much character as the average Dominican national. A lot!

We eat dinner prepared by some talented cooks. They can cook rice, beans, and chicken seven different ways and make it taste good every time! Our Dare For More group dines in a courtyard with stones for our floor, and folding tables set up underneath the roofed section of the space. That is my first glimpse of IBEM. It’s dark when we leave, and the streets are beginning  to awaken, so my impression is based off what I ate for dinner—good.

The next day however, at a comfortable not-too-hot time of morning, we return for a second look. Pastor Gary Hale reminds our leaders we are on a schedule with the many facets of ministry still begging to be visited in one day. We are quickly funneled through the same creaky doors and into the heart of the building—the sanctuary. I look up while women take their seats. The dome-shaped roof, and vaulted ceilings give it an airy, dusty feel. Like you’re in an old, friendly library with golden light streaming through your study window. The pastor begins to give us the history of the building, and more importantly the ministry. I sink into my chair. I don’t know if it’s my second cup of rich, smooth coffee, his story-telling voice, or the Holy Spirit, but I feel like a kid at story hour hearing my favorite tale. Only this one is rescue and redemption, and it bathes the building in a glow, almost like it’s listening proudly to Gary’s words as he shares the before and after of the building.

What IBEM calls home is a 100 year old building that was once purposed to brew rum. How fitting. The platform where the Gospel is preached and worship is led used to be the sight where the selling of rum was bought and sold. Ironic. It threw me back to the classical Bible story: when Jesus purged the money changers from the temple. No doubt, some cleansing went into the building—physically and spiritually—before IBEM moved in. Still, Pastor Gary Hale and his wife Allison are in the business of restoring. Usually it is restoring souls to the kingdom of God, but when He says otherwise they restore buildings, schools, and Haitian villages according to His will. 

Now, the altar is clean. The piano Allison plays every week sits kitty-cornered between two large windows that are always open to the public during a Sunday morning service. The worship team stands there and belts out in beautiful Spanish the same songs we sing in the States. Oh how beautiful the areas that have been reclaimed to worship the God of the universe! How He must receive their whole-hearted praise as they stand in a place that mirrors each Christian’s testimony—restored, redeemed, and rescued. 

The building serves as the cusp where church and ministry meet. There are so many ways to present the reality of Jesus’ love in a needy place. IBEM’s Ministries spring up to bring greater fruition to the Great Commission. Mouths need to be fed. Women taken in. Children given a refuge from the harshness of life. The Hale’s are all about sustainability—giving the people something practical that they can survive with. It’s the teach a man to fish principle in the DR. They begin by giving the people something they can do to keep them from poverty, while giving them the one thing they will ever need—the truth of Jesus Christ. In the end if they know how to rise above their culture, and bear the culture of the Kingdom the Hale’s have succeeded because God has been glorified.

IBEM takes on many shapes throughout the week. Church doesn’t end with the Sunday evening service. The church is where God’s people are. It continues in the baseball ministry where boys perfect their curveball. Or in the Garments of Praise Dress Shop sewing and selling special occasion dresses. The safe house is a beautiful setting for the Gospel to be read as women make necklaces. Monday through Friday the church is at The Palms Christian School. Here 327 young souls are schooled academically and spiritually. This is IBEM Monday through Sunday—teaching, preaching, and ministering to the needs of the people of the DR.

But it’s here in the sanctuary where we learn it, where we can envision it with Pastor Gary. It’s here in the sanctuary where he tells us oh-so-transparently that his wife is the greatest missionary he has ever met. He believes it as much as He believes that Jesus is the Son of God. He proudly glories in his Lord, telling us about the five missionaries they support, one being a church plant not too far away. Our eyes are riveted to a wooden missions board that was made by a man, a piece of wood, a magnifying glass, and the sun. We are inspired by the diversity of the congregation, the idea of the once-prostituted singing praises to God next to the woman who is flirting with the idea of coming off the street. That is IBEM.

It’s not ornate according to mega-church standards. Rather, the humility and sweet-smelling savor that is offered to Christ Jesus is its most beautiful adornment. On Sundays the people of San Pedro gather. They sing. They pray. They listen. And lives are changed. Not because of what Pastor Gary and Allison are doing, they are merely instruments, but because of what God is doing. Souls were saved the service I  attended, assisted with a much needed headset that fed me the message via the gifted bilingual translator at the back of the sanctuary. My heart sighs just as it does when I’m home in my cushioned seat, eyes slammed shut, praying, yearning for someone to grasp God’s salvation that is dangling in front of their nose. 

My eyes filled with tears as Pastor Gary shared his vision for the church that has yet to unfold. I was impacted by the scope and depth of the ministry, profoundly impacted. But that wasn’t the source of my tears. There would be tears for that cause later. My eyes watered because I realized the weight of the Great Commission is just as great and needy in the states as in the DR. I thought of my beloved New England, my home church at CBC and ached with a sense of belonging. I wanted to get back to work. I guess you could say hearing Pastor Hale speak about his calling, only made me more sure of my own. 


The Lord has given each of us a mission field. The Hales are living out the Gospel in the Dominican Republic; I live it out in Rhode Island, with the exception of when God calls me to other places to see the Great Commission obeyed in a different light. Some will find it on other continents, nestled in out of the way places and in foreign people groups.  For others it will be in the churches they were born in. Location doesn’t elevate our usefulness. We are equally called, equally gifted, and equally enabled to do that which Christ has asked to, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”





3.31.2014

Forbid Them Not: Gaining Christ's Heart in the Batey







But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” 
Lk. 18:16

It was another hot day in the Dominican. I had gotten used to the high humidity. The poverty, not so much. It still shocked me afresh as I turned each corner. My western civilized heart continued to ache over pockets of street children with no light in their eyes or food in their stomachs. I wanted to hold each one, to let them come unto me just as Jesus provided them comfort so many years ago. 

Each day I was shown a different ministry of IBEM (Iglesia Bautista Evangelica de Macoris) a local church, and each day I saw how God was moving in the lives of men, women, and children through its far-reaching impact through the city of San Pedro and straight into their hearts. On my last day, I boarded a mini van to visit the batey, or Haitian country village. The goal was to observe the kiddos. To see them at play, doing their chores, and where they tucked themselves in bed each night. The purpose was far greater than observation. The ministry needs a curriculum written for these children to introduce them to Christ. And as much as Christ is in me, I was there to do it.

The batty (pronounced baa-tay) is not just another poverty-stricken town in the Dominican Republic. It’s a shanty town that many displaced minorities in the DR call home. An intense, and complicated political feud has placed the Haitian and Dominico-Haitian people group in jeopardy (about 7% of the population). Haitians began entering the DR in the mid 1920’s in response to the promise of work in the booming sugar cane industry. Attached to employment came the ever-present hope that is packed in the belongings of every immigrant—the promise of a better life.  

Now the boom has ceased, but the bateyes remain, growing larger with every birth. They still face opposition, persecution, and poorest of the poor living conditions. Last year, many citizenships were revoked by the government, and that only affects the registered group of immigrants in the country. Many of the children are without papers and birth certificates preventing them from obtaining paramount necessities—an education, passports, citizenship, etc. As with all cultures, I believe that it is the children who suffer the most from these injustices.

Life for the least in the bateyes does not stand still in the midst of political struggle. While the DR government and Haiti bicker politically, the immigrants continue to work, love, and live. Houses are built one wall at a time. Children are born. And many do not know Christ. Their plight has put them in an incurable state of limbo. The reality is they are without a country, without nationality, and despised by many Dominican nationals. Most importantly, the majority of 500,000 are without hope of eternal life and escaping the poverty that breathes down their neck. And I was going for a visit. 

As we bumped along the pitted dirt road I could see the decline. Poverty goes from bad to worse.The garbage began to grow in crops and flanked each side of the road as we skirted the outer rim of the batey. From my experience, there is not much in the DR that isn’t gated. Barbed wire is their white picket fence. Boundaries are not purposed for beauty but making sure what little you have is protected. Children for instance. 

Oh, there were children. Precious in His sight like the song says. They became precious in mine too. They ran around without supervision, barely clothed, kicking up dirt with their bare feet. The van stopped. The doors were opened and our group was ushered into the community center, a.k.a. four cement walls with a black cross painted across the door. There different ladies from our group worked with capable hands to pass on a trade to the village women. There was one problem, I was there to see the kiddos and we were separated by an industrial looking chain link fence manned by a one-armed guard. Yes, I said one-armed guard. Irony is present in the Dominican Republic. 

My mind frantically searched for a way to get on the other side of the fence, but as the men from the village swarmed—wondering who we were, what we were doing, and why the village women were ferreted away playing with curling irons, and hair spray—I found that I was stuck. Stuck on the wrong side of the fence. I know boundaries are for protection. But this protection was keeping me from what I wanted the most, to play. 

I stood in the doorway and looked out. I saw sheep without a shepherd, many of them lambs really. It would have been inhuman not to feel compassion well up in my soul. Suffer the little children, I thought. Let them come. Just when I thought compassion would spur me to action, the guard seemed to cross the language barrier and read my thoughts. The little girls and boys that were beckoning me with beautiful brown hands were given access. Like a steady trickle through the gate, they came. A large handful of all different ages, sizes, and shapes. All beautiful. All excited. All in need—be it spiritual, physical, or emotional. 

We sat down on plastic chairs and began misunderstanding each other. There are many universal languages—love, forgiveness—but with the children I found it was laughter, hugs, and a rousing game of Miss Mary Mack. I lost much to their approval! I’m glad. They are winners in my book, as well as in hand clapping games. We learned each others’ names, and ages in my very broken Spanish. Just like their mothers and caretakers, they wanted their hair to be pretty. Over and over they pulled at me to do their hair. Couldn’t they see they were already beautiful? Then they discovered my camera, and wanted to document this special meeting with a frenzy of clicks that produced a mass of slightly blurry, out of focus pictures that I treasure and hold close to my heart because they held my camera close to theirs. Our fun changed every five minutes as their attention shifted to something new in the barren room.

It was hot, un-air-conditioned fun. But it was the best kind of dirty I ever got. They crawled on my lap, gave me wet kisses, and did an updo to my hair that only frizzed me out more. And it wasn’t until I saw a mother craning her neck, hands tied to her small infant that I knew I needed to extend my hands in help. Without a second thought she handed off her little one, and I felt the weight of a thousand responsibilities placed into my hands. I made sure the mother stayed in my sight, while trying not to fall to pieces as this two month old bundle of sweetness was threatening to slip through my fingers. No muscle tone, just a few pounds of baby that seemed to want to go everywhere and wouldn’t stay cradled in American fashion. I attribute it to jostling rides on motoconchos and the fact that Dominican babies are brought everywhere and in every fashion. Someone said her name was Danielle. I began praying for this little life. Praying that God would save her soul, praying that maybe, just maybe, these stories would one day be read to her. I blinked back tears, and kept playing with my new friends to keep my mind off of what I was holding—the hope of the Haitian village, a child.

The Bile says, “For of such is the kingdom of God.” It’s the child-like faith, the ability to play Miss Mary Mack without second thought that can lead to trusting Christ with such unwavering faith. But Christ must be given. That means we must be given for Him, so they can be led to His lap and play with His nail-scarred hands, and see…oh to see what He has done to prove His love and secure their freedom.

God’s love has reached into the batey. It is coming, slowly but surely. Hopefully as more servants dedicate themselves to this cause, it will become steady and sure. The goal is not to improve their quality of living, although that would be wonderful and will come in time. The goal is to improve the quality of their soul, to shine a Light in their electricity barren homes. Jesus’ light being shed in their hearts is much better than a thousand humanitarian efforts to lift the oppressive weight of poverty. I have noticed that when Christ claims the individual, He takes care of His sparrows, no matter how destitute.

We left too soon in my opinion. After another round of hugs, another batch of pictures, after returning Danielle to the right set of arms to steer her through life we piled back into the van. But I was a different person. Jesus had opened and illumined my eyes too. Now these children were not just a 7% statistic, they were dark expressive eyes, kisses that had been freely given to my cheeks, hands that had held mine. They were souls, each one significant.


I am home now, but I never want to get out of that plastic chair. It’s the place where I saw that Jesus is the hope for those in poverty. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for those who don’t have electricity and running water just as much as He is to those who flick a light switch without a second thought. Those beautiful children made me regress and toss out my adolescent faith for child-like faith. Child-like faith is the type that gets stuff done. It’s the brand that becomes the hands and feet of Christ in a hurting, poverty-stricken world. That Dominican Republic day it was the type of faith that saw locked gates opened by one-armed guards. Until I die, I will always remember with the clarity and freshness of a May morning the impact of Jesus’ words, “Forbid them not…” They are the words I will look to as I seek to somehow write with humility that which Christ has put in my path. Why? For of such is the kingdom of God.



1.16.2013

There is an Answer

My church has a theme we work towards every year. This year it's Be Ready Always, taken from 1st Peter 3:15. Praise God that in a world full of questions, Christ provides the answers we need! I was privileged to be able to write for this, and pray that as you see words come to life through video it will be a blessing to you as well.

Enjoy!




1.07.2013

Due Time...



Pocketwatch by randomvintage
photo by random vintage


Psalm 1:3 “And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in his season, his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

In high school I was asked frequently what I was going to be when I grew up. It was a popular question that, at the time, I hadn’t nailed down. As a result I felt directionless, and pressured to hurry up and pick something. My worrying didn’t make my path after high school clear. It also didn’t pick my major for me. God did that, in His time.

Some days I still feel that heat, only now I’m the one questioning myself. I now know what I want to be when I grow up. I’m doing it right now. But there are days, when the words come slow, that I wonder if I made a mistake. I fret if I will ever “make it.” Inwardly I want out-put. A bestseller among Christian books. A book written and published on my time table. Time doesn’t change worrying. It still doesn’t answer my questions. It doesn’t do anything except steal the time God is trying to do a work in me.




.2657 by hildagrahnat
photo by Hilda Grahnat

I am reminded of this verse. It’s from a wonderful Psalm (one I encourage you to read, live, and commit to memory) that is highly referenced in Christianity. While reading it the other day a phrase of the verse highlighted itself for me in new meaning. The tree that soaks its roots in the water will bring forth its fruit, now get ready, in its season. Not out of season, not every season, but in his season. In the same way the young woman who puts her roots in the live-giving water from the Bible will bring forth her fruit in due time. God’s time, not her own.


We live in a culture of instant gratification. Culture promotes action, and a healthy dose of stress and chaos so it feels like we’re going somewhere when really we’re not. A literal example is found at every grocery store in America. Browse the produce section with the grocery cart and you’ll notice that farmers force food to grow in greenhouses so consumers can have fruit all year long. But pick a strawberry at the peak of the season and it tastes much sweeter. Fruit grown in its own season is more fresh.

 
So it is with the fruit Christ longs to bestow to His daughters. If we position ourselves beside the life-giving water of Christ and His word, anchor our roots into it by meditating on it day and night God will take care of the rest. If we jumped into trying to change the world for Christ without being prompted we would find that we were ill-prepared, stressed-out, and have no peace. But God in His perfect timing grows and prepares us during the waiting seasons so we will be ready to act when He wills. It is then that we will find that we won’t wither under the heat of trial. Whatever we do in His name and for His glory will prosper, and there will be fruit. Much fruit. 


So wait. Prepare.Drink from the rivers of water. God knows the time. He knows the place. And He knows you. Take heart. 

alice in wonderland by plasticdreams ~
photo by plastic dreams

12.19.2012

{It's My Wonderful Life}

Vintage ♥ by loretoidas
photo by loretoidas

Christmas movies are coveted traditions in my house. My entire family thoroughly enjoys cuddling up with cocoa and a blanket on a chilly New England night to watch classics like Muppet Christmas Carol, White Christmas, and let's not forget Jimmy Stewart's classic It's a Wonderful Life.

I love to get lost in the nostalgia, the themes, the sparkle that is Christmas on film for an hour and a half. In them I watch meant to be couples find mistletoe. I witness true goodwill and gratefulness acted out to others on screen. I see the value of a wonderful life, the blessing of a white Christmas, and most of all the fact reaffirmed by others' mouths that our God is with us, and a Christmas Child was born to all people.


.vintage prettiness. by polkadotandplaid
photo by polka dot and plaid


This year it felt like the movies were just out of reach. I cracked open a few to relish, but there were still many to be had. Festivities and everyday events had kept me from pushing play.

At first this was a point of frustration for me. I even went to the calendar and counted how many available nights there were for Christmas movie watching opportunities. Christmas just wasn't Christmas if I hadn't watched everything twice. Right? Wrong.

I felt like George Bailey for a moment. Joyless because my pre-Christmas prep wasn't going according to my frosted candy caned plan. It wasn't a Grinch feeling, but the opposite. The feeling of trying to grasp Christmas spirit by a means it was never meant to be grasped. Like every time, it doesn't fulfill and only leaves me wanting more.


.mini brights. by polkadotandplaid
photo by polka dot and plaid
Today as I was baking some of the first Christmas cookies of the season I realized that I was living, actively living, the scenes depicted in the movies I watch to get the same experience. This year we haven't couched and pushed play because we're busy being the hands and feet of Christ. Because we're donating food, and visiting New York City instead of living it vicariously through a movie. My aim was off. My aim for the imaginary, a mere silver-screen, when I have my wonderful life taking place before my very eyes was wrong.

Getting ready for Christmas is drawing close together. It's living simply and meaningfully. It's finishing up work so we can get ready to play. It's the smell of gingerbread and raspberry thumbprints. It's a new tree with classic ornaments, poinsettias in a red vase, and gifts yet to be wrapped. My life is life lived under the mistletoe of God.

Jimmy Stewart can keep his wonderful life because I have my own. The movies will only decorate the season further. They are no longer my fulfillment. Living every December day to God's fullest is my real  live movie. And I wouldn't trade it for anyone elses.


Il Natale tra le mani by Just a Click {♥ Sara Photography ♥}
photo by Sara Photography
Merry Christmas!

12.11.2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...All Year Long

Les petits soldats by Carmen Moreno Photography (BUSY)
photo by Carmen Moreno Photography

I was in Walmart's toy aisle on Black Friday when I heard Amy Grant over the loudspeaker singing that song. My first Christmas tune of the season. While Amy sang like she meant it I had to refrain from waltzing down the aisle's affected by the music. Thanksgiving leftovers were stocked high in my fridge, but the Christmas season had already moved into stores across America.

I heard the song five times while in the same store. It's as if the radio stations were trying to broadcast Christmas spirit through subliminal shopping tunes to manufacture the joy all people seek during the month of December.

On Monday upon walking into work my coworker already had the 24/7 Christmas station playing in the background, something our office did only a few days before Christmas last year. Still, it was a warm thought, and it made menial tasks pleasant. Once again Amy Grant sang, "There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow."


Gingerbread Christmas Trees by gmwils
photo by gmwills


After five hours of sound-byte Christmas I looked up from my thoughts and out at the office and saw my coworker. She regularly wears something new, has bi-weekly polish exchanges, and frequent highlights, and a new granite counter top. Still it's not enough. So she puts on the tunes to drown out the ache God was supposed to fill, because all of the stuff in the world can't.

 In that instant it clicked--the music, the message, the commercialization--secular America only has one day to find true Joy. But that isn't enough time. So they stretch it out as long as possible. For the unbeliever it is the most wonderful time of the year because it's the season they are closest to God, the very reason for the twenty-fifth of December. That is a short time span in which to fill an empty cavern, called the soul, if Christ doesn't reside in it.

Without Christ humanity clamors for more. With Christ believers battle against it. Christmas reveals the state of our hearts on the subject. It reveals how much access He has in our life. I used to wonder why some people lived in houses decorated for Christmas all year long, or why some planned all year for a holiday that lasts the months of December. There is a tie there, a tie from God to the soul. We all know it's special, but many don't know why, or refuse to believe it.

.peppermint sticks. by polkadotandplaid
photo by polka dot and plaid

The opposite end of the spectrum are those who are deemed medically depressed after the holidays. The wrapping paper is in the garbage, only broken sugar cookies remain uneaten. The "magic" the "spirit" is gone. Now they are back to feeling empty. For these, the most wonderful time melts like a snowman on a warm day. All that's left is a scarf, a carrot, and other ordinary objects from their houses.

How sad! For me the most wonderful time of the year lasts all year long! As born-again children of God everyday can be Christmas, because everyday we live in the reality that Christ was born for the cross. Daily there is joy exceeding available to us. As Christians, joy is actually one of the presents, or spiritual gifts, of the Holy Spirit (the portion of Jesus all believers have inside of their hearts). There is no let-down because Christ came, died, and rose again. Because of that, each day here on earth is a gift to be used for His glory. I don't need songs to produce a fleeting high of happiness. I have the very inspired word of God, the Bible.

The world is trying to do their best to get the "Christmas spirit" to stay all year, but they will never succeed. 24/7 music stations, black Friday beginning on Thursday, and perpetually decorated houses won't keep life tinsel-colored. Only a real understanding of Jesus Christ can.


GingerMan by Just a Click {♥ Sara Photography ♥}
photo by Sarah Photography
You are reading the words of a girl who particularly loves Christmas. The baking, the music, the sacred aspect that the season brings...I am all there. For example, just this year on the night before we decorated our tree I could barely sleep for excitement! I am a child again at this season, and I am in no way saying that the gifts, the food, the lights are wrong. I am saying that while they enhance the season, they are not the reason for the Christian's rejoicing.

 It convicts me to think I have the advantage of experiencing Christmas twelve months of the year, but sometimes I don't think of taking it. Some days I leave gifts underneath the tree unopened. I'm too worried about the here and now, or about the there and then. I leave joy behind and worry instead.

Lord, may I do better to keep my God-give Christmas spirit all year long. And may those who don't know you, but long for you at Christmas find their way to true, everlasting joy!

Amen


348/365 there's a light that never goes out ♥ by Honey Pie!
photo by Honey Pie!