The Arrival

I loving the word “Advent.” The Arrival.

Rome ruled Israel. Taxes were high and people anxious, wanting the promise of Messiah to be fulfilled as it had been prophesied multiple times in the Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and other books of the Old Testament.

And Herod, who officially ruled Galilee and Perea as a client state of the Roman Empire…well, he knew he could be thrown out of power at any time if he didn’t align himself with Rome.

Chaos was rampant as Israelites and Romans clashed in the streets. Crime was up. Waves of revolt were often led by two sects: the Zealots who sought Jewish independence, and the Sicarii, a Zealot extremist group whose name means “assassin.” Hostility was high. Roman occupation included oppressive taxes, physical abuse by Roman soldiers, and the repugnant idea that the Roman leader was a god. Repeated efforts at gaining political independence went nowhere. Whether in the city or country, Israelites were oppressed by Rome. 

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it! (I’m not making a political comment, just saying their culture and ours parallel in a number of ways.)

But the Israelites expected a Messiah Ruler; a leader who would vanquish Rome, set captives free, and give them peace and freedom and victory celebrations!

Instead, Messiah came as a baby, born in a humble stable. Not even a room in the inn. He had to be laid in a manger, probably filled with straw. This isn’t the way one would expect a King to enter the world. Pastor Tim used a statement last week that “The infinitely high became incomprehensibly low so we could be seated with him in the heavens!” God’s Son gave up everything, even the Oneness he shared with the Father, when God turned his back on the sin laid on his Son’s shoulders on the cross. Jesus gave up everything so we could have everything!

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

With Mary, I proclaim

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

Luke 1:46-48 (NIV)

This has been a difficult year around the globe. Uncertainty, hostilities, pandemic, floods, natural disasters, loss of loved ones, and isolation have taken their toll.

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And, while Jesus wasn’t born into a palace, surrounded by servants, rich damasks and silks, and the finest of infant foods, he did come as our Lord and King, the only one who could take on himself the penalty for our sins. Eight days after his birth, the elderly Simeon, a righteous man who had been awaiting the arrival of Messiah, held Jesus in his arms and prayed:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

So as we celebrate Christmas this year, let’s remember the God who holds the world in his hands and sent his one and only Son, the exact likeness of God, to become nothing, so we could have everything!

I wish you and yours a joyous Advent, celebrating not only the babe in the manger, but our Lord and King!

4 am Lights and an Object in the Road


4 am Friday. I got up to use the restroom and crawled back into our cozy bed.

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“Thwack.” I didn’t know where the soft sound came from. Was it inside? Then another soft “thwack,” and another. I realized the sound was coming from outside, so I walked to the window and looked through the blinds. Oh no! An ambulance at the home of our neighbor who has a brain tumor. Doors opening and closing. Going outside, I asked her husband what had happened. Evidently she suffered some sort of seizure.

Thankfully, our friend is home from the hospital today, worn out, but no new news from an MRI.

Later that day I received a text that the husband of one of my best friends had been in a serious bicycle accident and was airlifted to a local trauma center. Medically sedated, he became agitated during the night until doctors inserted a chest tube to help his bruised lung recover. Don’s and my prayers and tears were flowing – for both injured friends, for both families.

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How do we respond when such sad news enters our lives? I can’t imagine what it would be like not to be able to talk to my loving Father, Abba (“Daddy”) about these dear friends’ suffering. So often I want to DO something – whether it’s sitting beside a person, listening to them, flying to another state to support them. And each of these can be important and helpful.

But healing is not in my hands. It is in the Father’s, and He tells me to come to Him with all my cares, because He loves me. (Hebrews 11:5) And He has provided medical personnel to operate, assess, diagnose, watch closely over those in their care. And I can pray.

Saturday I called a dear friend and asked her to pray with me for these two and their families. She shared a hurt she and her husband are going through for a close friend of theirs. What a privilege to be able to come to God together, in tears, to beseech His watchcare over those we love.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

Matthew 18:20, NIV

I’m amazed at my girlfriend’s strength in the midst of her husband’s bike accident and injuries. “The thing is,” she said, “we know we’re going to be taken care of, one way or another.” Thankfully, it doesn’t appear this is the end for either of our friends, but, because of our trust in what Jesus did on the cross, in taking the penalty of our sin and granting us life with Him, we know that “the end” here on earth is really “the beginning.”

Jesus died the death I deserved so I could live the life of freedom He has for me.

The great scholar and “reluctant convert” to Christianity, C.S. Lewis, found love late in life with Joy Davidman. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after their marriage. He wrote about the great blow her death was to him in his book, A GRIEF OBSERVED. While he went through a period of turmoil and questioning God, he later was able to say the following.

Sometimes the pain is to awaken us — to the realities of life and death, to awareness of our priorities (as it did for me during the illness and death of my first husband). Sometimes it’s to awaken others as they see the faith with which we respond during suffering, the grace God gives for the long haul.

What’s on your heart this week? Family, friends in need? I’d love to join you in prayer for them.

Moldova and a Shepherd

They stood near the door of Safeway, a Safeway I rarely frequent. A man and his son. The man held a sign saying

Please help.

No money for rent or food.

Jesus loves you.

I wondered whether this was another scam, but approached them with a smile beneath my mask. “Do you know Jesus?”

It was the son who replied. “He’s my Lord.” I told them Jesus is my Lord too, and asked what they needed. The son told me they needed gift cards to buy food for the rest of the family at home. He and his father had just eaten.

“Ok, I’ll be back,” I promised.

Taking my groceries to the cashier, I asked for a gift card, then handed it to the boy as I exited the store.

“I am Carol. What are your names?” I asked.

The older man was Johnny; the younger, Dennis. He was thirteen.

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I asked more about them. The family is from Moldova, the poorest country in Europe. It is located between the Ukraine (where my father was born) and Romania.

What made this meeting even more of a God-moment is that dear friends, Walt and June McCuistion, had a significant teaching ministry in Moldova for several years after the country declared its independence from Russia in 1991, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As Moldova declared their indepence, Walt became acquainted with some of the country’s leaders (certainly divine appointments!).

“Coming out of communism, we have no system of morality. Can you teach us morality?” they asked.

Walt said he would, using the Bible as his textbook. They agreed.

We prayed for the country as it tried to find its way out of communism.

“We don’t want to be here, begging,” Dennis told me. “But my father lost his job two weeks ago and we don’t have enough to pay the rent and buy food.”

I promised Don and I would pray for them and their family, and for a new job for Johnny. They thanked me multiple times, asking God to bless me.

And He did! Sometimes I feel tight on money because of bills I know are coming; but this family needed that gift card so much more than we do! It was a precious God moment, given by a loving Shepherd who loves and guides me, and who loves this family who was doing what was necessary to care for each other.

I don’t often give money to people on the street or outside a store. But on occasion, and this was one, it seems the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, our Good Shepherd, puts it on my heart to respond. And when He does, I want to listen and obey.

One day Johnny, Dennis, and their family will be with Don and me, and many of you, in heaven. While many of us have enjoyed sweet repast with family and friends this week, Psalm 23:5-6 promises so much more.

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You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:5-6

I pray God’s goodness and mercy for this family now; but know that one day, the trials they face will fade in the presence of our good God, who Shepherds His flock with love and care. And what joy when we have the privilege of being part of His avenue of blessing to someone in need.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:10 NIV

Twinkling Lights and a Shepherd

Twinkling lights spreading warmth through colorful shopping markets. Cuckoo clocks, shawls, candles, handmade porcelain and other gifts. Lighted carousels and Christmas trees and snow! Weinerschnitzel, where the tender veal covers the edges of the plate. One dish definitely enough for two!

Photo by Thomas Schmidt / Eyeem

Don and I were looking forward to visiting the Christmas Markets on the Danube, leaving the day after Thanksgiving. Seeing sparkling lights in beautiful old villages along the Danube.

Then Austria locked down, and our cruise was cancelled.

Surprisingly, we were almost relieved. There had been so much “will we, won’t we, can we, can’t we” as we gathered warm clothing, tried to ensure we had all our needs covered, that we were stressing about it. We didn’t realize how much until, the night after we got the cancellation notice, we slept ’til 9:30 am!

As much as I would love to take this trip, I have a Shepherd who watches over me. He knows what is best for us, even when it doesn’t feel so great. And in light of the trials so many are experiencing, this is a small thing.

Last week I wrote about how the Shepherd guides me, my GPS, directing my steps and leading me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. This week, Pastor Tim talked about God’s name in Psalm 23, Jehovah Rohi, the Shepherd and Companion. He covers not only my physical needs (rest, refreshment, guidance), but also my emotional needs.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

He is not surprised by our valleys–death, illness, loss, hostility, depression, fear, plan changes. While these things can mess with our minds for a time, we can walk through them with Him at our side. My Shepherd is with me. His rod guards, like a club, to protect. His staff guides and directs. With a shepherd’s crook he can hook a wayward sheep and pull it back into the fold. I want that kind of Shepherd!

We’ve all experienced losses these past two years–family or friends who have died from Covid or for other reasons. Friends who have gotten Covid, walked through the valley and come out on the other side. Loneliness and fear have become prevalent companions for many, as fear was for me last year.

I don’t know what valley you’ve experienced recently, but I do know you’re not alone. You have a Shepherd, and hopefully other companions who have walked with you through your particular valley.

We can’t walk from mountain to mountain without going through a valley. But we walk through by realizing the valleys are not our final destination. We must keep walking through them to reach the mountains on the other side.

So instead of traipsing through the snow and looking at Christmas wonderland in Austria and Germany, Don and I will put our tree up earlier than expected, will have Christmas carols playing through the house, will reach out to our neighbors, family and friends to extend love and hope and joy.

I wish you a joy-filled Thanksgiving filled with praise for our Good Shepherd!

GPS and a Shepherd

I had just gotten into my SUV after the Sunday school class and had not asked for directions. But my phone’s GPS popped up with “17 minutes to Evergreen Valley Church.” I have been attending a Sunday school class at another church, then scooting home to pick Don up and go to Evergreen (EVC), our home church. How did my GPS know where I was going next? Hmmmm, think someone/thing is tracking?

Pastor Tim is teaching on Psalm 23 this month. He challenged us to memorize this psalm, and to use it as a basis for thanksgiving. There is so much wealth in this poem. We need to start with God–always; it’s so easy to start from my point of view, my circumstances. But the Psalmist begins, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3, ESV
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When I start with my circumstances I can easily become disheartened, overwhelmed, and even numb. But when I look to God first and ask what He is doing through my circumstances, I have a different perspective.

He is my shepherd, right now. My GPS, my personal guidance system, from now ’til eternity. You don’t see sheep running around on their own, like you might wild Mustangs. Sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd for food, water and protection.

And so am I. I live in a country where independence is highly valued. Self-reliance can become a barrier to trusting God. But I’ve often been reminded of my need to rely on my Good Shepherd…

  1. When I, and the staff women with whom I lived in the inner city, were threatened with death and mutilation
  2. When I had to trust God for financial provision while working in a non-profit
  3. When I have choices to make that will either further my agenda, or His
  4. When I lost a beloved husband to death
  5. When I’m weary and my husband needs help with his computer and I need my shepherd’s “green pastures” and “still waters” to respond rightly
  6. When my neighbor is critically ill and I feel helpless in knowing what to say, and God just helps me love her
  7. When family members and dear friends suffer with chemo and Covid and loss, and I cry out to Him for them

We are made to have companionship with the Lord, to rely on Him, to trust in Him. These words of Isaiah are familiar to many because they are repeated in Handel’s MESSIAH:

He will tend his flock like a shepherd;

    he will gather the lambs in his arms;

he will carry them in his bosom,

    and gently lead those that are with young.

Isaiah 40:11

Within the twenty-third Psalm is the wonderful truth that as our Shepherd, God leads, guides, and directs our paths. How often have I headed one direction to have Him turn me around, sometimes painfully.

  • The man I thought I’d marry (which would not have been His best for me)
  • The career choices I made with His guidance
  • Asking forgiveness of others where needed because of His Spirit’s conviction
  • The two lovely men I did marry, and the blessings of each
  • And the joy of serving God in a variety of ways over the years.

There’s much more in this Psalm yet, but for this week, these scriptures will be my focus.

Where have you experienced God as your Shepherd?