Hope of the New Year

As I grew up ringing in the New Year with my family, I wondered, but never asked, why January 1st is considered a holiday. When your parents let you stay up and watch TV way past bedtime, you keep your mouth shut and let the good times roll.

Now that I’m an adult and have children of my own pleading their case for late-night privileges, the tradition of celebrating the flip of the calendar has piqued my curiosity once again. Seeing commercials for New Year’s programs and store end caps already stocked with fireworks and noisemakers reminds me of my long-held questions: What’s so special about the start of another year? Why do people around the world hail its arrival with feasts and proposals, kissing and crooning a Scots poem? Besides providing an excuse to party, why do we celebrate the New Year?

A quick search at history.com reveals its origins, dating back four millennia to the ancient Babylonians who observed the first new moon after the vernal equinox (a day in late March when the amount of sunlight and darkness is equal) as the beginning of a new year. The date kicked off an epic eleven-day religious celebration called Akitu, which involved feasts and rituals celebrating the Babylonian sky god Marduk’s victory over the evil sea goddess, Tiamat. Later, Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar, similar to the modern Gregorian calendar used by most countries around the world today. Caesar at that time declared January 1 as the first day of the year in honor of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, who had two faces allowing him to look back on the past and forward to the future.

One common thread runs throughout the history of New Year celebrations, from the time of the Babylonians and Romans celebrating and making sacrifices to their gods to our modern rituals of making resolutions and watching a giant bright ball drop at midnight. These New Year traditions we observe and pass on to future generations glorify hope. Though we can’t know what circumstances the next year holds, we rejoice in the possibility of good things to come. The potential for blessings flutters a blank sheet before us, tempting us with irresistible freshness. We grasp for it, convinced that this unknown unraveling of time will be better than what’s already transpired, and what’s ahead will finally make us happy.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

Better than Batman

My house doubles as a functional living space and a superhero lair. Come over and you’ll find Batman, Spider-Man and any one of the Avengers battling foes on the stairs, under the kitchen table or wherever my sons last deserted them.

Superhero fascination isn’t restricted to elementary school boys. A genre that was once the domain of comic book geeks has risen to massive popularity in the entertainment and retail industries. Last year alone, the six live-action superhero films released raked in more than $4 billion in worldwide box office. From the movies we watch to the clothes we wear, the realm of superheroes has expanded to become a marketing cash cow and a culture unto itself.

Our captivation with powerful, otherworldly characters reveals a deeper spiritual truth about our basic human desire to be rescued. As objects of our admiration and fandom, superheroes promise us deliverance from trouble and supply inspiration for a better future. The line between fantasy and reality blurs into irrelevance as we latch onto these symbols of hope amidst adversity.

Read full article at Intersect Project

The Shunammite Woman: Faith in God’s Life-giving Power

A short story in the Old Testament tells how a simple woman with a generous heart grew in faith after witnessing God work a miracle in her life. God’s faithfulness to his word led her to boldly request another miracle later on, as she faced the uncertainty of death and loss. Her intensified conviction provides hope that God can mature the smallest mustard seed of faith in those who seek after him, even for chronic doubters like me.

We learn about this woman in 2 Kings 4, which chronicles events that happened early in the prophet Elisha’s ministry. During his frequent travels, Elisha often passed through the small village of Shunem, where the woman lived with her husband in a large, empty house. She invited the prophet over to eat every time he came by, and eventually asked her husband if they could set up a small room where the holy man of God could rest.

Elisha stayed and, in gratitude for her hospitality, asked his servant how he could repay her. The servant mentioned she didn’t have a son, and her husband was too old for them to bear children. Learning this, Elisha delivered shocking news: The following year, she would hold a son in her arms. Her response is reminiscent of Sarah’s incredulity when God promised her and Abraham a son: “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant” (2 Kgs 4:16). She couldn’t believe it, because it was impossible.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

Enjoy the Freedom of Your Redemption

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You’ll never defeat this.

My mind recites this line like a broken record when ugly, deceptive sin threatens to trap me in its patterns. Because God has rescued me from my former way of living, I know I need to stop engaging in behavior that defies his will, and live in the way that pleases him.

But persistent sins like worry and pride are so entrenched in my heart that they seem impossible to overcome. I feel as though the weight of shame and guilt will always hound me since my sins are too heavy to shake off by my own efforts.

As I carry these burdens, unable to unload them, I forget the deeper truth revealed in human weakness: What I can’t accomplish, Christ already did.

Read full article at Unlocking the Bible.

[Photo courtesy Paula May on Unsplash]

Infertility Wrecked Me and Made Me Stronger

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For a woman who is struggling with infertility, a pregnancy announcement has the equivalent effect of a kick in a man’s groin. It knocks the wind out of you, pierces your heart, and accentuates the weight of your empty arms.

You’d think this reaction would disappear once you became a mother. When you’re almost 10 years out from those dismal days of waiting and enduring pointless treatments, and now have two remarkable boys who fill your life with joy and bedlam, you’d think it wouldn’t get to you anymore. You’d think you had moved past this pain.

I thought wrong. It still stings, even if just for a quick moment of recalled anguish.

Read full post at Her View From Home.

[Photo courtesy Patrick Schneider on Unsplash]

How my love for my son who is adopted and my son who is biological is the same, yet different

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Only one person has had the chutzpah to ask me if I love my son whom we adopted less than I love my son whom I carried and birthed.

She didn’t phrase it that bluntly, of course. And I knew she was inquiring out of genuine curiosity, as she was contemplating adoption after having two biological children. It was good for me to recognize her naiveté; otherwise, I might’ve snapped back something less than cordial in response to what is, in fact, a thoughtful and weighty question.

This mama asked me what I think countless people wonder, but don’t have either the courage or guilelessness to speak to my face:

“I know you love both your boys. But do you, you know, feel differently about them? Do you feel as close to Calvin as you do to Linus, since Linus is the one you actually gave birth to?”

Somehow, by the grace of God most likely, this didn’t shock or fluster me. I simply stated that yes, I love them both tremendously. No, I don’t feel differently about them because they’re both my children. Yes, I feel close to both of them and believe we’re securely attached through the bonding that takes place over time not just in the womb, but also in and throughout the hours of feeding them, changing their diapers, reading to them, tickling their feet, kissing their wounds, holding them in my arms however long it takes for them to feel safe.

This incident occurred about four years ago, and I don’t think I’d answer any other way if someone else would dare ask me the same question today.

Yet this concept of different feelings lodged in my head, where it was treated to days of rumination as I considered how I truly felt about each of my sons.

And when I sifted through my sentiments toward either one, and realized how all of it is so precious beyond what I could’ve ever imagined to experience, I felt moved to share how my love for Calvin and for Linus manifests in both similar and unique ways because of the two different and surprising ways God brought them into my life.

My love for both sons

My oldest son, Calvin, was the sudden surge of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel of struggling to grow our family.

After years of aching over my empty womb and paying a good fortune on fertility treatments that amounted to nothing but tears, I had almost given up my lifelong desire to be a mother.

Then, only two months after enduring the devastation of a failed IVF cycle, we got the call from the adoption agency that changed our lives.

I was a mom. I had a baby – the most adorable, perfect, happy little boy – and he was my son, from the moment I first held him.

This baby filled my heart with joy, relief, and overwhelming gratitude. Those words people spoke with good intention but in reality drove a dagger right through me – “everything happens for a reason” – actually made sense now.

I see him today – a lively, smart-as-a-whip 6-year-old – and I burst with affection for my cheerful little mister. He looks so much like his kind-hearted birthmother, and takes after her nurturing, creative personality. His appearance and character remind me of her love, her sacrifice, and the fact that he belongs to two families who care for him immensely.

He is a long-awaited miracle, the fulfillment of oft-uttered prayers, a testament to God’s faithfulness and delight in astonishing His children with blessings beyond expectation.

He is the baby I’d longed for, delivered to me via another remarkable woman’s womb, and I love him dearly.

My youngest son, Linus, was the realization of a dream that had nearly died.

When Calvin turned 1, we began talking about our options to expand our family again, and cautiously proceeded with finding a new doctor and re-starting the whole miserable process of fertility testing and evaluation.

Then came the day I was stunned to find two pink lines I had never seen before, and I have never seen since.

I was pregnant. I had a baby growing inside my body, and I loved him the moment I discovered that blessed little plus sign.

From hearing the thrum of his heartbeat to feeling him tumble around my belly, I got to experience the sensations of my son developing within me, as well as endure the fatigue and pain of carrying and delivering a baby.

I see him today – a sweet, social, wears-his-heart-on-his-sleeve 4-year-old, and I smile with amusement at my expressive little bud. He looks like me, as well as my husband, and displays some aspects of both our personalities. This combination of physical traits resulting from the mixture of our genes reminds me that nothing is impossible with Him who loves me.

He is a long-awaited miracle, the fulfillment of oft-uttered prayers, a testament to God’s faithfulness and delight in astonishing His children with blessings beyond expectation.

He is the baby I’d longed for, delivered to me via my womb, and I love him dearly.

My love for both my boys is equally deep and wonderfully multifaceted. I feel close to both because I’m their mom, and they’re my sons. Neither relationship is greater than the other, but each has its exceptional qualities.

My son who is adopted made me a mother, gave me a fuller life and larger extended family through his birthmother, and demonstrated God’s redemption of my broken heart.

My son who is biological made me a mother of two, granted me the amazing experience of pregnancy, and demonstrated God’s redemption of my broken body.

Both my babies are undeserved blessings, and I will forever thank God for the vast and varied joy they bring into my life.

Hebrews: A bright hope

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This Fall, I have the pleasure of studying Hebrews with some wonderful friends who share such amazing insights, I feel like they all should write devotionals or speak at church retreats. They’ve helped me look at this book with a range of fresh perspectives that bring some of the older – and honestly, difficult to understand – words and passages to life and applicability for our present times.

Right out of the gate, we hit this verse that speaks to the greatness of Jesus, and were fascinated by this description of His nature, captured in the term “radiance.”

In the Greek, this means “reflected brightness,” or “effulgence” (see what I mean by archaic language?). So Christ reflects the brightness of God’s majesty, which makes sense since He is the exact imprint – a precise reproduction – of God’s nature.

Our group talked about how “radiant” isn’t a label we use that often nowadays, except in a few specific circumstances to describe the faces of:

1) A bride on her wedding day
2) A woman after she gives birth and holds her baby for the first time
3) A believer on their deathbed as they draw their final breaths before entering eternal glory

Isn’t that striking, how we perceive someone as radiant or glowing when they’re delighting in an overwhelming moment of joy – even if that moment involves pain and suffering? And how much of that luminosity is a reflection of the pure brilliance of the object which the person is beholding – the bride, her groom; the mother, her child; the believer, their Savior seated on the throne.

There’s a reason so many VBS programs over the decades have utilized the pun-ny “Son-shine” theme.

Jesus is the Light of the World, the Lamb who is the Lamp; He shines in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. And the more we’re with Him, soaking in His grace, the more our lives will reflect His bright hope in a world shuttered in darkness.

May we shine like little radiant lights mirroring His glory.

Jesus radiance glory God Hebrews 1:3 Bible study