Category Archive: Blessings

Blessing in an “Annus Horribilis”

In case you missed it, I’m reposting this blog I wrote, and which my author friend Laura Bennet posted on her site when we swapped two weeks ago. May you find blessings in this season of Advent, of waiting for the arrival, the celebration, of the Christ-child, our Savior and Lord.

By Carol Nicolet Loewen

In a speech marking the 40th anniversary of her succession, Queen Elizabeth II referred to 1992 as an “annus horribilis,” a horrible year. Many of us would say the same of 2020.

Our country is in the midst of an ever-expanding pandemic as we wait and pray for an effective vaccine. We have isolated, masked, attended church, family, and business meetings on Zoom. We are hitting new highs for COVID-19 hospitalizations and are cautioned against being together with family members for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa holidays. Fires and floods have taken lives, homes, animals, property. And our election results are still in question, with the media quick to step in with their interpretation before waiting for the final electoral vote in December.

We need hope. And out of that hope we need love that goes beyond our differences.

I heard a statistic recently that more than 80% of Americans–whether Democrat or Republican, Christian or non-Christian, church-goer or non-church goer–say they have no friends who see the world differently than they see it, politically and theologically. We prefer to stay in our own comfort zones rather than deliberately choosing to know and learn to love someone who is “unlike” us. And nothing divides us like fear. Fear of loss … of control, safety, rights, freedom, health, power, economic stability, and on and on.

We look for affirmation, security, and love in a variety of ways, many of which are not only unproductive, but potentially dangerous.

  • The sexually abused daughter who grows up to become promiscuous, believing physical intimacy is the way to gain security through the approval of men.
  • The son who has never been able to please his father, continues to push himself, trying ever harder to get an “atta boy”. He becomes a workaholic who is almost an absentee parent.
  • The tycoon who thinks his business success will buy him security. 
  • The perfectionist who continually beats herself up because she could have “done it better,” never satisfied despite awards and recognition.
  • The rioters and looters who attack and destroy businesses of those they claim to defend.

What we’re looking for is a blessing. “Blessing” is defined as God’s favor and protection; a special favor, mercy or benefit. Three thousand years ago, God gave Moses a blessing for the people of Israel, which my lovely mother sang at my wedding. It has carried deep meaning for these millennia, and still does today. 

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
 Numbers 6:24-26

Only in the blessing of God do we find unconditional love which remains constant, not because of who we are or what we do, but because of who HE is.

“Thy love is uncaused and undeserved. Thou art Thyself the reason for the love wherewith we are loved.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 97)

God has chosen to delight in me. What an amazing, life-altering fact! I don’t have to earn His love. I can’t. I simply need to receive it, bask in it, find my security in it. And when I am secure in His love, I am able to love others and fear begins to evaporate.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. I John 4:18

So then how can I GIVE a blessing to others? In a video, an impatient man is given a pair of “all-seeing” glasses. People who before were irritants or interruptions are seen through a new lens—recognizing one needs a hug, a woman just lost a dear friend, a man lost his job. Seeing their pain, the man responds very differently than before.

I pray for eyes to see and ears to hear, so I can bless those around me … with a warm smile, a listening heart, a “thank you” to store clerks, health care professionals, and others. I want to intentionally affirm those I love and those who need encouragement.

I have needed a blessing these past weeks. Have you?

What choices will you make this week to receive and give the blessing? I’d love to interact with you at carolshope.com.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17b-19

Paradigm Shifts

What’s the paradigm behind your world view? I’ve been wrestling with this these past months. I wonder if you have been too.

In this time of tensions within and outside our nation, pandemic fears, destruction of life, property, animals, and finances through fire, flood and violence, we see different paradigms at work.

  • The paradigm that we are in control of our lives. (2020 has shattered much of that one, hasn’t it!)
  • That politics, OUR politics, whatever they may be, has the answers we need to right the wrongs in our world.
  • That we are subject to external circumstances that control our lives; or
  • That God is sovereign over our lives, nations, world. His Throne is still occupied! He gives us freedom to choose our behaviors and responses to the world around us. He loves us with an everlasting love, to which we must choose how we will respond.

It seems to me that if we go with either of the first three paradigms (and there are others), we lose hope when a) we lose control over our lives because of illness, election results, loss of loved ones; b) our politics fail to provide the answers we seek; or c) the external circumstances we believe control our lives are unfavorable to us.

Our paradigms, our belief systems, affect our lives. And we can’t change our lives until we change the paradigms. We come to faith through a host of life experiences, education, and belief systems we have learned from our childhoods. These help form the lens through which we see the world.

  • Think of the woman who hates men because her father abandoned the family when she was a little girl, pushing them into poverty and insecurity.
  • Or the one who was abused as a child and doesn’t trust anyone, always fearing the raised hand or voice.

Pastor Rene Schlaepfer spoke last night about the shape of the gospel–a bell curve from weakness to power. Christ’s death looked like an absolute tragedy, a picture of complete weakness. But it was in reality the ultimate in power because of His resurrection from the dead three days later.

A gospel shaped paradigm gives me a pattern for my life when I realize that I can expect both crosses and empty tombs (perhaps figuratively, perhaps literally). If I expect only crosses, I can’t rejoice in the empty tombs. If I expect only graves, I fall into despair.

It changes how I see my future, because my future is in the hands of my loving Father who has promised never to leave nor forsake me. The apostle Paul said it this way.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 

II Corinthians 4:7-11

And, changing my paradigm gives me power for life, because God is strong when I am weak!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

II Corinthians 12:9

Pastor Rene said one way to get this gospel shaped paradigm into our heads is to expose myself to a new idea over and over, for example:

  • “God loves me and has already given me eternal life.”
  • “I know life has its crosses but they lead to resurrection.”
  • “I can trust the God who loved me enough to send His Son to die in my place, who knows my past, present and future. And one day I will worship at His feet, rejoicing in the grace He’s given me.”

Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I’m working on my paradigms. How about you?

Like a Tree

As we drove home the other day I saw this striking live oak tree – arms and elbows all akimbo. It struck me as very beautiful.

How did those branches twist and turn as they did?

I read that oak trees don’t usually have a single, straight leader after branching begins, but spread out into several large branches. Given enough room, they tend to be as wide as they are tall, but growing conditions have a larger effect on this than species alone. An oak growing in the forest will be tall and thin like its neighbors, while oaks growing in large, even spacing along a planted row are short and wide.

The reason oak branches are not very straight is because the leading bud rarely grows. Instead, stems grow out around that leading bud in an alternate or spiral pattern, with no two branches coming from the same node. The result – a crooked shape.

Obstacles–those single buds that don’t grow into straight branches. But what those obstacles do is create a shape that is artistic, unique, and quite beautiful.

Isn’t that what God does in our lives? He desires that our roots go deep into the soil of his incomprehensible love; that we trust him in every circumstance of life; and that we continue to bear fruit for his kingdom.

Obstacles change us as we work through or go around them with God’s help. Most of us carry battle scars of one kind or another. But in His love, our God molds us more into His image. He promises that…

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:8 NLT

Let’s encourage each other in this time of turmoil. Rather than worrying, let’s trust the God who will always be with us. Let’s continue to bathe our roots in the water of His love and care.

I encourage you to build connections with others who will encourage and strengthen you. Join a small group to study the Bible and pray together (even if on Zoom, as we’re doing!). Find a church with safe options where you can be fed with the rich abundance of God’s Word. These are some of the ways that help us not to be bothered by the heat or worried by drought, and to keep producing good fruit.

I just found a cute children’s song whose lyrics express this well.

I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water. Trusting in the Father to keep me strong. I’m gonna be like a tree, planted by the water. Trusting in the name of the Lord.

The deeper the roots grow. The better the fruits grow. The blessings bloom out for all to see. The deeper the roots grow. The more of my life shows That Jesus is the Lord of me, Lord of me.

Integrity Kids

How can I encourage you this week? Pray for you?

Glory to God in the Highest

Music has always touched my spirit. When I was a child, my mother, a soprano soloist and voice teacher, taught each of us children harmonies. My oldest brother, Melvyn, learned bass; Arnold, tenor; me, alto; and Mom sang soprano. We sang our way across the country several times.

Dad enjoyed listening. And wherever I was in the world, I knew that at Christmas Mom would be soloing on Handel’s “Messiah”; and at Easter she would sing “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth.”

At times Arnold and I sang duets together as children. As adults, we periodically sang in trios or quartets. Music has always been a significant part of our lives. To this day, I may listen and learn through a sermon, but be emotionally touched by a song. Tears came to my eyes Sunday morning as we sang about Jesus’ coming to earth.

So you can imagine my delight as Don and I attended two musical events Saturday–the first, “Expectations,” written by Trent Smith, worship pastor at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, our former church. It tells a contemporary version of a young woman and man, Mary and Joe, to whom an angel appeared and gave the good news that through Mary, a virgin, a Child would be born of the Holy Spirit, who would save His people from their sins. What a promise! And what a message to take in as an unmarried, righteous young woman. Would others scoff at her pregnancy and story of an angel’s visit? In faith she responded. “‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled.'” Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:38)

Then at Mount Hermon, we enjoyed a Christmas concert by the Foto Sisters. These three lovely 20-something women are incredibly gifted. Along with lovely singing voices, they play the piano, viola, violin, and cello. More important, they are committed to Jesus Christ, who came in the flesh …. born of Mary, a Hebrew woman. That’s significant: Jewish heredity is tracked through the woman, giving Jesus both his humanity and title to the messianic throne as a descendant of King David. And He was conceived by God through the Holy Spirit, giving Him a sinless, holy nature — fully God, fully man.

I hope you’re enjoying the sounds of the season, and especially those that speak of the Messiah. Don and I were recently in a restaurant whose background Christmas music included some songs that were clearly Christian. We were thrilled to hear God’s truth being quietly broadcast in this venue.

So, to encourage you this Christmas season, I’ve attached a link to a youtube video of the Foto sisters singing “The Shepherd Knows Your Name”. May it touch your spirit and heart as you focus on what Jesus did for us by becoming a tiny baby, growing up to die and then come back to life, conquering death and granting us the incredible privilege of knowing God through Christ.

May your spirit be blessed this Christmas, knowing the Shepherd knows your name.

https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-symantec-ext_onb&hsimp=yhs-ext_onb&hspart=symantec&p=foto+sisters+the+shepherd+knows+your+name+song#id=1&vid=d7bd97c59261672236c1f2324a8a42cf&action=click

Thanks Giving

My third-grade kids were seated around a table in the school gym. I asked questions about keeping promises. Several related incidents in which someone had kept a promise.

Then Erica spoke up. “I promised to be Tracy’s best friend forever, but now she’s not my friend any more.” Erica had confronted Tracy about some behavior and Tracy told her she’s no longer her friend. Matthew, who can be disruptive at times and has a very short attention span, turned to her. “I’m sorry that happened to you.”

I was amazed and thankful for his sensitivity and kindness.

I found a poem on the back cover of a book about my heritage: Jacob’s Journey, edited by Barbara and Timothy Dyck. The poem’s author is not named so I assume it is unknown. But it touched me as we think of all who have gone before and prepared the way for the lives, freedoms, and the hope with which we live. I am copying it here.

“Lord, we keep forgetting all those who lived before us,

We keep forgetting those who lived and worked in our communities.

We keep forgetting those who prayed and sang hymns in our churches before we were born.

We keep forgetting what our parents have done for us.

We commit the sin, Lord, of assuming that everything begins with us.

We drink from wells we did not find,

We eat food from farmland we did not develop.

We enjoy freedoms which we have not earned.

We worship in churches which we did not build.

We live in communities we did not establish.

This day, make us grateful for our heritage. Amen.”

SONY DSC

So, as we enter a week when we focus on giving thanks, I am grateful for third graders who have a tender heart toward others, for the children with whom I have the privilege of sharing God’s love and mine.

I am grateful for my forbears, who fought for freedom, who left a country where they could not worship as they chose to establish roots in a place where they could, and I can, worship the God of our fathers.

I am grateful for my husband and family, whose love has challenged, encouraged and sustained me through the years.

I am thankful for you, my readers, who respond and give feedback to my ramblings.

I am eternally grateful for the love of Jesus Christ, which gives me hope, forgiveness, salvation, peace, love, joy … and who will continue his good work in me until he returns or takes me Home.

” …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 1:6 NIV

For what are you most thankful?