Archive for December, 2010
It’s that time of year again.Â The time of year when our calendars explode with parties, get-togethers, and activities.Â The time of year when our days are filled with errands and shopping.Â The time of year when our to-do lists become overcrowded with baking and cleaning and decorating and wrapping Christmas presents and addressing Christmas cards.Â The time of year when our cars become our offices, with places to go and people to see.Â The time of year when we sing carols like “Silent Night”, “Joy to the World”, and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” but our lives are far from silent or joyful or restful.Â The time of year when we are easily overwhelmed.
That’s how it is this year for me.Â I’m completely overwhelmed.
But not by the busy-ness or the shopping or the decorating.Â In fact, that’s been the easiest, most stress-free part of my Christmas season.Â I’m overwhelmed for a completely different reason.Â Maybe this clip will help you understand why.
At this season of hope, peace, and joy, we found ourselves much like George Bailey.Â Hopeless, despairing, wondering…does God really hear our prayers?Â Why is He so silent? And although we weren’t to the point of wishing we had never been born, we began to ask the hard questions about ourselves, about our situation, about God.Â As we celebrate the birth of Immanuel – God with us – it seemed as though we were alone, without answers or leading or direction.Â And so, in my desperation, I cried out to God for hope.Â Needing a touch, a word of encouragement, a tangible expression of His love and care, I put my emotions “out there”…hoping that someone, anyone, would be that voice.
Two weeks later, I’m simply overwhelmed.Â Overwhelmed by my God, who has sent His angels in the form of friends and family to demonstrate His presence.Â Not a day has gone by in the past fourteen days that we haven’t received a surprise blessing.Â At first, it was with words…words of encouragement and healing.Â Words of hope and promise.Â Verbal hugs and the reassurance that we are, in fact, not alone.Â That we have friends and family interceding for us, bearing our burdens with us, and standing in the gap for us.
But then things began to change.Â One day, out of the blue, I received a Target gift card in the mail…from “A Friendly Elf.”Â An elf who felt led to provide us with enough money on the gift card to stuff all four stockings hanging on the mantel.Â Then it was a single large bill tucked into a sweet card handed to me by a close friend, along with a bag filled with gifts for all four of us and gift cards for the kids.Â The next day, Matt found a significant amount of cash slipped into his hand…enough cash to purchase all our family’s Christmas presents, Mom and Dad included.Â On Sunday, as I was serving at church, a staff member handed me the official Promiseland Christmas card along with another envelope…containing another large bill placed in an unsigned card.Â And then a Kroger gift card appeared in our mailbox with enough funds to purchase our family’s groceries for nearly two months.
On and on it has gone.Â A ham now sits in our family’s refrigerator, thanks to the generosity of friends.Â Santa has been able to provide gifts not just for Trey and Crisana but for Matt and I, too, thanks to our families.Â Someone dropped by with a plate of cookies this afternoon…with a generous gift card attached.Â A sweet friend and partner in ministry handed me a bag filled with gifts for the children and us, along with a PF Chang’s gift card which – along with another generous gift card to Cinemark, from a different friend – funded the Inaugural HMS Architects Christmas Party this week.Â Trey’s Sunday School teachers are purchasing a much wished-for DS game for him.Â We’ve been told to expect a visit from a true “St. Nick” this week, along with the promise of help in the future should it be needed.
I’m deeply humbled.Â Humbled by the staggering amount of love and support we’re being shown.Â Humbled by the help that’s being offered.Â Humbled by the grace God is showing me, despite my unbelief.Â Humbled to be the recipient of such amazing generosity.
Clarence the Angel said it best: “No man is a failure who has friends.”
And so we are deeply grateful to our friends.Â We are truly overwhelmed…and wonderfully so.
God meets me in the strangest places these days.Â I’ve already shared how God met me in Target and while visiting The Big Guy.Â This morning, He met me in my kitchen, over a plate of Eggo mini-pancakes, Zippy Zoo vitamins, and a plastic Ikea cup of orange juice.
He met me in the tear-filled eyes of a 10-year-old boy.
Most mornings, breakfast is a time of hurry-up, we-gotta-get-to-school-on-time, quit-talking-and-eat-your-breakfast.Â But not today.Â Today, breakfast was a time of being still, of listening, of pondering…and of learning.
I noticed Trey seemed a bit emotional as he was preparing his breakfast.Â I asked him if he was okay.Â In a shaky voice he replied:
I was getting dressed this morning and I just started thinking about what a sinful man I am.Â Â And I realized…that…I just don’t deserve to go to Heaven.
He wiped his eyes, took a deep breath, and in a sorrowful voice continued:
Sometimes, I just feel like there’s a demon running around inside me…and…I just don’t deserve to go to Heaven.
And before he could stop them, the tears splashed down onto his cheeks.Â His chin quivered.Â He struggled to compose himself.Â And so did I.
Because…he gets it. That whole redemption story?Â That whole idea of the total depravity of man, the concept of grace, the theology of unmerited favor?Â He understands that.Â Far greater than many twice, three times – heck, even TEN times – his age, Trey has grasped in his heart what so many have rejected.
That’s the whole point.Â That’s the whole reason for Christmas.Â That’s the real reason we celebrate Christ’s birth.Â Not simply because He came, but because of what He came for.Â Not simply because He became a man, but because of what He became for us.Â Not simply because He lived on earth, but because of what He lived on earth to do.
Trey’s right.Â We don’t go to Heaven because we deserve it.Â Even at our best, we fall woefully short of God’s standard of absolute perfection.Â Despite our best efforts, we never could attain it.Â And that’s what makes Christmas so special.Â That’s why we celebrate the gift…the gift of sacrifice, the gift of atonement, the gift of eternal life, the gift of Heaven.
And as I stood in my kitchen, I held that precious boy in my arms and assured Him of God’s promise of forgiveness, of the certainty of His salvation, and the protection of His spirit.Â I’m almost certain there was another pair of arms enfolding us in a loving embrace, as God’s smiled from Heaven at the treasure He had placed in my son’s heart.
Once again, I realized just how undeserving I am…of this child God has given me, of the blessings I enjoy in this life, of God’s love and salvation…and of Heaven.
Texas weather is aÂ funny thing, particularly in the months from October – May.Â Wet, dry, hot, cold…it’s never quite the same from day to day or even from minute to minute.Â The constantly changing atmosphere certainly keeps our forecasters on their collective toes.
But in the midst of this meteorological unpredictability, there is one thing you can count on with nearly 100% accuracy: on any given night, between December and February, you’ll find me relaxing – whether it be snuggled under my warm comforter in bed, or lounging on the living room couch, or even puttering in the kitchen or working on a project upstairs – in my comfy & cozy flannel pj’s.Â It’s not that I don’t have other options to wear.Â I do.Â But nothing else soothes my tired soul and relaxes me after a long, busy day; nothing else gives me the excuse to stop and be still; nothing else forces me to slow down and gives me permission to rest than donning the soft warmth of my flannel pajamas.Â They’re comforting.
This week in particular, I’m grateful for comfort.Â In the midst of an emotionally exhausting season, I’m grateful for those people and things that remind me that God really *does* care.Â He does listen.Â He really *is* there.Â He does understand, and He knows how I’m feeling.Â Over the past seven days, I’ve felt – almost tangibly – God’s comfort and encouragement, wrapping me in His warmth like my favorite flannel pj’s…and reminding me of all I have to be grateful for.
I’m grateful for the warmth and comfort of my church. Even when the message or worship doesn’t quite reach where I am, I’m grateful to be part of a church that is committed to teaching Truth, to worshiping God Most High, to truly being a place where people help people find and follow Christ, even when the journey is difficult.
I’m grateful for the simple truths expressed in children’s worship.Â As we enjoyed the children’s choir performance on Sunday evening, we were reminded of the true joy of Christmas: the celebration of Christ’s birth, ushering in God’s plan of salvation for a lost world.Â I’m grateful for those who pour their hearts into my children’s lives, helping to develop their faith and deepen their understanding of their Creator.
I’m grateful for our Life Group. We’ve been privileged to be part of 3 (yes – count ‘em – THREE) Life Groups in our 2+ years at Christ Fellowship.Â And all three of them have been amazing, wonderful groups that forged friendships we still enjoy and introduced us to people we still cherish.Â We’re grateful for each of them.Â But our current group is different.Â Over the past year, the members of our group have dealt with very difficult circumstances, which have allowed us to truly reach out to one another and “do life” together.Â We are not just members of the same group…we are truly friends, connected and interconnected in ways that go beyond a mere discussion or study group.Â And on Sunday, our Life Group gave us an unexpected gift of encouragement (and I’m not simply referring to the yummy meal at Fuzzy’s Tacos) that was a tangible expression of God’s care and provision.
I’m grateful for my virtual friends. If you’re my friend on Facebook, it’s because I know you personally.Â It’s because at some point in my life, we shared face time.Â So I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts, feelings, and emotions through that social medium.Â I’m okay with having my blog feed into my notes.Â It’s okay that my life is “out there” on facebook.Â Because this week, you have been my “flannel pj’s” in a virtual sort of sense.Â God – in His infinite creativity – used different ones of you, people who I have known through many different and varied seasons of my life, to be His encouragement.Â You have written the words I needed to hear.Â You have spoken His life back into the dying places within me.Â In some cases, you have been the slap in the face that dragged me out of the pouty, pity-party, self-centered mush pit I had been sitting in and set my focus in the right place.
I’m grateful for co-laborers in ministry and service. This week, I helped coordinate the annual teacher’s cookie exchange at Webb Elementary, the school our church has adopted.Â Even as late as the night before, we were doubting we’d have enough cookies to allow the teachers even ONE dozen.Â Honestly, I was hoping and praying for a miracle like the loaves and the fishes, wondering if God would consider cookies for 70 staff a worthy enough cause.Â He must have, because on cookie day we had enough cookies to fill FOUR large conference tables full to overflowing.Â The spread was beautiful and festive, thanks to several other women who gave generously of their time and talents.Â And, in true “feeding the 5,000″ fashion, we not only had enough to give teachers their fill, but boxes of leftovers to spare.Â I’m grateful to the women who baked, the women who helped, and one particular special friend who offered my family a gift of encouragement out of the generosity of her heart.
I’m grateful for our families. It’s hard to ask for help.Â And so a lot of the time, I don’t.Â I think my family recognizes that, after sharing life together for so many years.Â And without asking, without me even trying to play the sympathy card, they have reached out and gone above and beyond what we would have expected or even anticipated.Â They have assumed – and correctly so – that this Christmas would be difficult, and have given ALL ofÂ us the opportunity to enjoy the holiday.Â Though we live far away, the little surprises we’ve received in the mail have reminded me how close we are in spirit, and how blessed I am to claim them as my own.
I’m grateful for El Roi, the God who sees. I’m grateful that God saw my tears last weekend as I cried out in desperation for encouragement.Â I’m grateful that He saw my frustration on Tuesday as I sat, with tears in my eyes, in the aisle at Albertson’s…and sent a manager my way to give me a blessing I certainly didn’t deserve.Â I’m grateful that He saw our desperate financial situation and has provided the funds for us to stay solvent as we face year-end obligations.Â I’m grateful that He saw my broken heart and gave me joy through my children’s accomplishments to end this semester on a positive note.Â I’m grateful for friends who reach out with offers of free Starbuck’s or fro-yo or Saxby’s eggnog chais…but whose real gifts are the time we spend together, talking and laughing until our sides hurt, sharing our hearts and our lives in small cafes, giving hugs and smiles and friendship and love.
Comfy, cozy, soft and warm.Â God’s wonderful gift of encouragement.Â I’m so grateful for that this week.Â Even more than my flannel pj’s.
Hold on to your hats, friends, because I’m about to do something I don’t do very often:Â I’m going to ask for help.
Seriously, “the funk” has descended on the Speer home in full force during this time of joy and cheer.Â The depression and discouragement hangs like the thick, wet blanket it is, so heavy it’s almost tangible.Â Though we’ve decked the halls and trimmed the tree, strung up the lights and hung the holly, I’m still searching the depths of my soul for that elusive “Christmas spirit.”Â And though I’m trying VERY hard to be excited for my friends, who in their excitement are sharing pictures and posts of their new cars, ipads, giant tv’s, jewelry, trips, and new houses through the wonder that is Facebook, I can’t help but feel a great sadness when I look under our tree and see…NOTHING.
For so many reasons, and in so many ways, this is foreign territory to me.Â I’m usually an optimist.Â I can typically find the silver lining to any bad situation.Â I’m pretty self-reliant and will find a way to plow through whatever hardship, or difficulty, or pain I’m experiencing.Â I’m not used to depression.Â I don’t like feeling down.Â I try hard not to be a regular attender at pity parties, whether they be mine or not.Â But reality has hit us full force, and we’re in *that* place:
We’re out of money.
We’re out of options.
We’re out of hope.
And through it all, God seems to be silent.
As this unemployment drags on to unprecedented levels in our experience, we see no answers.Â We have cried out to God constantly.Â We have brought our requests, we have approached boldly in faith, we have asked…and asked…and asked, persistently.Â We have humbled ourselves, opened our hands, and sought His leading.Â We have committed ourselves to His purpose.Â We have searched our hearts and opened our minds to allow Him to remove whatever may be in the way between us and Him.Â We have thanked Him for the provision He has given thus far, and been grateful for the way He has sustained us.Â We have entrusted this whole process to Him, believing that He knows what’s best for us.
If I’m being totally honest, this whole “faith” thing is hard.Â This “trusting” is difficult.Â And there are moments – like yesterday – when we are tempted to give up.Â To quit the struggle.Â To give in to the doubts, fears, and depression that nag away at our soul and weary our spirit.Â To allow the stress and pressure to divide us from one another and tear us apart, internally and externally.
It’s at times like these that I desperately need to know that God’s word is true.Â That He is who He says He is.Â That those promises He made throughout scripture are real.Â That He will stand by and honor His commitment.Â That nothing – and I mean *nothing* – about Him is in any way flawed, or misunderstood, or corrupt, or wrong.Â That He is as solid and unmoveable as a Rock, that He is absolutely, completely, and utterly secure.Â That He is totally faithful.Â That I can count on Him, no matter what.
As I look into the stories of the great men and women of faith, I long to be like them.Â I desire to leave a legacy of godliness and faith in the midst of desperate circumstances.Â I want to be characterized by an obedience and commitment to following Him in the face of great challenges and difficulties.Â I crave the kind of intimacy and fellowship they had with Yahweh…Jehovah…Adonai…Abba.Â Despite their shortcomings and failures, they were chosen as His examples to us: examples of faith, of trusting, of obedience, of commitment.
So how appropriate is it, then, that this funk descends during the time of year when we celebrate Immanuel…God With Us.Â The fulfillment of hundreds – even thousands – of years of promises, of waiting, of searching and hoping and dreaming.Â God with us physically, as His Son shed his kingly robe of God-ness for an earthly suit of humanity.Â God with us existentially, as the One not bound by time stepped out of eternity for a lifespan of 33 years.Â God with us philosophically, as His teachings became living epistles, a spoken word, a healing touch.Â God with us spiritually, as He conquered death to live again.
It is that nearness that we so desperately cling to.Â It is that closeness that will assure us of an end to our troubles.Â It is that intimacy that will be our strength through whatever may lie ahead.Â It is that promise – Immanuel, God is with us – that will be our joy, our hope, and our strength.
It is that promise – Immanuel, God is with us – that will be our help.
And it is on that promise - Immanuel, God is with us – that we will have peace.