By Joel Bates
During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, I took Abigail on a date. Abigail, my youngest daughter, is known for her enthusiastic joy, her explosive emotion, and her unabashed affection for her daddy. She is also one of the millions of little girls across the country who have been counting down the hours until the release of one of the most infamous horror movies of them all, “Frozen II.”
I decided to surprise her by simply saying, “We’re going on a date.” After a quick pizza supper, I said I thought a movie sounded good. She nodded while stuffing another piece of pizza into her mouth. “It’s opening night for “Frozen II”…if you are interested in seeing it, that is.” Her eyes got wide, and she almost choked on a pepperoni. Her squeal of delight told me I had just achieved fatherhood legend status.
We stood in line with all the other dads and their little girls, many of whom were dressed in various “Frozen” attire—the lacy Elsa dresses and Olaf the snowman costumes. Abigail just grinned as she sidled up to me. I did have a fleeting moment of hesitation as we passed another screen room showing the war movie “Midway.” I felt lured by the sounds of guns and planes and people dying, but Abigail had a tight hold of my hand as we marched onward to “Frozen II.”
We found some good seats near the center of the theater and sat down. Abigail, still grinning said, “I just love ‘Frozen’!” After a few moments she asked, “Do you love ‘Frozen,’ daddy?” I’m a Christian. I’m not supposed to lie. So I dodged the question, “I just love being here with you, sweetie.” I could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t entirely satisfied with my answer, but just then the movie trailers started, so I was spared.
I’ll not give too much away for the few of you who don’t want me to spoil the movie. (I submit that Disney beat me to it). But, I was wooed right along with all the little Elsa-dress-wearing-lasses when the 3-D snowflakes filled the room kicking off the cinematic magic. Part way through the shameless montages, complete with everything little girls love—princesses, cute Bulgarian hunks, and a sea-galloping aqua horse (Yes, Disney you’ve outdone yourself!), I suddenly felt my daughter’s hand on mine. Then kneeling in her seat, she leaned over, laid her head on my shoulder, and just stayed nestled up next to me.
On the drive home, Abigail chattered away about how much she loved Olaf’s and Elsa’s songs and Kristoff’s hair. She put me on the spot when she asked if I liked “Frozen II” better than “Frozen I,” but again I was able to conceal my disdain by simply saying, “I liked them both about the same,” which is to say I like them both not much. I changed the subject saying, “My favorite part was just being with you.” She pondered that a moment and said, “Yeah…me, too.” Eat your heart out H2O princess stallion!
I was reading from the gospel of Matthew the other day with my kids. It was the passage in which Jesus tells people about the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven. One of my children spoke up, “What exactly is the Good News?” The first thing that came to my mind was the cross of Christ, that single sacrifice done once for all people. The next thing that came to my mind was the resurrection of Christ, that moment when He walked out of the grave completely conquering death. As we read the parable of the merchant looking for a pearl of great value, I realized that God is the merchant in the story, and we are the pearls. He was willing to purchase us at a great price, giving that of greatest value to Him.
The Good News is about a heavenly Father reunited with His children. As hard as it is to imagine, God the Father actually wanted to be with us. He wanted an intimate relationship with us. He wanted us so badly that He was willing to send His Son Jesus to die for us. It was through Jesus’ coming to earth as both God and man, dying, and then rising again--bridging the gap of separation—that declared just how far God was willing to go for us. The Good News is all of this interaction and sacrifice, which can be truly captured in a common word heard at Christmas: “Emmanuel.” It means, “God….With….Us.”
I experienced a little bit of “Emmanuel” truth while taking my daughter to a movie I had no personal interest in seeing. I did it because I love her and desire a wonderful relationship with her. That moment of closeness between this father and his child, having her rest against my shoulder, was priceless and made all the effort worthwhile.
I hope you will experience some “Emmanuel” truth this season. The truth that God wants to be with you. He proved it by sending His most cherished gift in the form of a baby. So, clear out the distractions and turn off the noise of the season to spend some time just nestled up with the Father of all creation. Celebrate Christmas—God with us…the Good News.
By Leah Fuller
I was all alone. Well, alone with my paddle, my boat, and my life jacket. A few weeks ago, some friends and I journeyed east to go whitewater canoeing on a few rivers there. The trip was partially for training purposes and partially just for the excitement and challenge of paddling an unknown river and some bigger rapids.
Before we launched, we tried to gather as much information as possible. Where were the big holes or trouble spots? What were the best lines to take? Consistently the response was “Well…you don’t want to swim Grumpy’s,” the entrance rapid. With scouting reports complete, we donned our life jackets and helmets, prepared our canoes and paddles, and headed to the river as our anticipation and tension mounted. I can’t speak for the other members of the group, but I know my heart was pounding loud enough I could hear it over the roar of the water. We quickly planned who would lead out, and I was to bring up the rear, the assumption being that I would surely survive the first onslaught of rapids. My friends departed one by one, carefully making their way to various eddies downriver. Giving myself a pep talk, I took a deep breath and headed into the current.
Almost immediately, I felt a sniper rock jump up and grab the bottom of my boat, and just like that, I was in the water. Self-rescue is a requirement for paddling on any kind of whitewater, so I knew that I needed to grab my canoe, my paddle, and swim for shore. As I began my self-rescue, I faced the daunting reality that I was now swimming Grumpy’s! Surely, it couldn’t be that bad, could it?
My canoe hit a rock, and I found myself spinning in a wave. My ankle made contact with another rock, then my hip and chest. I had become a pinball, careening back and forth, forwards and backwards, under the water and above the water for what seemed like an eternity. It was painful, to say the least. My body recoiled as it was battered on the many rocks in the shallow descent; my vision blurred from water and submersion as I tried desperately to swim to the shore. I was alone! There was no one to help me this time…I thought.
For a brief moment, I became aware of my friend David paddling up next to me, telling me to grab the stern of his boat, but I refused for fear I would capsize him. And I remember my friend Joel encouraging me to keep swimming. Finally, I made it to the shore and collapsed in a heap, shaken and breathless. Tears welled in my eyes as fear, disappointment, frustration, and pain washed over me. It had been brutal, and I wondered if the adventure of continuing down this river would be worth it.
Life feels this way sometimes. Most of us have felt beaten up, disoriented, and pummeled by the pain of life’s circumstances. We feel we can barely catch our breath before the next round of adversity overwhelms us. Oh, Satan is very cunning—capitalizing on our wounds, helping us fixate on the pain, telling us that we’re alone and that nobody cares. It can be difficult during those times to lift our eyes above the waves to find God’s care and plan for us. In fact, we wonder if He is present at all!
Later that evening, our paddling cohort gathered around a campfire to relive our harrowing and heroic tales from the day. As I re-counted my swim through Grumpy’s, I shared my pain and fear, the hurt that it had caused, and how utterly alone I felt in the midst of it. Joel looked at me with deep compassion in his eyes and said, “Leah, didn’t you know that David and I were paddling right next to you the entire time?” Tears filled my eyes as I realized that while I could not see these friends in the midst of the struggle, they stayed beside me, escorting me, making sure that I made it safely to shore, encouraging me to keep swimming the entire time. It was true that there wasn’t much they could do to physically save me from the swim, but they were with me.
Don’t we often struggle to see where God is in the midst of adverse circumstances? He promised He would be with us always, but we can’t always see Him. We can only see and feel the pain and forget Him. Feeling alone in the struggle, we take matters into our own hands to get ourselves to safety. In reality, God is like my paddling friends David and Joel; He is with us, no matter what. We may perceive Him to be afar or even absent, but even when we can’t feel Him or see Him in the midst of the painful trial, He is there. He has not and will not abandon us.
So, when you find yourself struggling to see God in the midst of life’s whitewater rapids, may you experience the reality and comfort of His promise: “I will never forsake you!”
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you…The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8).
By Leah Fuller
I often find myself challenged by the very concepts and questions we instructors ask participants. On a recent expedition, two participants gave evidence to prove they were at the correct destination. Despite obvious evidence in several directions, one or two directions had seemed a little less clear. As the two completed their proof, I nodded and asked them, “Are you satisfied that you are at the destination?” The women looked at each other with uncertainty and after a thoughtful moment replied, “Well, we would feel more secure if you would just affirm that we are in the right place.”
How often have I longed for or even sought out affirmation from another in order to gain some form of security for myself? And often I think I need the affirmation because I do not trust that which I know to be true. When it comes to love, words allow me to communicate love to others, and words are a way I desire to receive love from others. Living with our own deep fear of inadequacy, we can start thinking that we need another’s words to confirm our identity or our worth.
I often find myself thinking that God’s silence pronounces a condemnation or judgment of me. I’m not doing enough to please Him, so He is withholding Himself. Let’s face it, I think that about others, too. If I go for a few days without connecting with a good friend, I think she must be upset with me or doesn’t want to be around me anymore. I’ve seen it create insecurity for couples in a new dating relationship. Lack of communication or contact can create fear that maybe the other person has become disinterested or doesn’t care anymore. We can experience silence or lack of communication as rejection.
What if God’s love went beyond words? What if I was secure enough in God’s love for me to know that He is with me even when I cannot hear Him? What if God’s silence is not a condemnation of me, but is instead a communication of His trust in my love? David Benner in his book Opening to God puts it this way: “Intimacy demands that talk be balanced by attentive openness in silence, and only as this happens do we begin to know the deeper communion of shared presence that no longer depends on words.” As we grow in our relationships with God and others, we can learn to trust. We find that love is less about what we do or say and more about who God is and whom He says we are. That lack of communication or contact that once led to insecurity can lead us to the only One who can fully satisfy.
I desire to grow in trusting that being with God is enough. He loves me, period. He doesn’t need to keep saying it for me to trust and know I am fully loved and that His love for me won’t change. 1 John 3:18-20 says it this way: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” (NIV)
If you find yourself struggling to trust that God’s love for you is enough, consider praying the following prayer. I have found it to be helpful for me on this journey.
Jesus, may I know Your love in the depths of my heart. May I trust in truth that I am Your child and I do not need to say or do anything to gain or earn your acceptance and love. Help me to learn to walk in the security of simply being in Your loving presence that is beyond words. And may Your loving presence overflow into my love for others as I learn to love not with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.