Sunday, November 30, 2014

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (Strength in Hymn: Advent)

"Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee"
by Henry Van Dyke

Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee,
Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

All Thy works with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain
Call us to rejoice in Thee.

Thou art giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living,
Ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother,
All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

Mortals, join the happy chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
Father love is reigning o’er us,
Brother love binds man to man.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife,
Joyful music leads us Sunward
In the triumph song of life.

It's the first Sunday of Advent,
time to sing carols in church,
time to light the first candle of five.

This morning we sang
"Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."
I love the lyrics,
which aren't just for Christmastime.

Read them again.
These aren't sappy holiday sentiments.
This is the real stuff of life for every day.
Love. Sadness. Forgiveness.
Doubt. Praise. Strife.
Triumph. Darkness.  Light.


I was thinking today,
even before I sang this carol,
that I need to "march onward" and
 move forward in 2015.
I need "big picture" progress 
in several areas of life.

Before January comes, though,
getting ready for Christmas
in a busy, busy household
 will keep me quite occupied.

I only wish I could say that
doubt, darkness, sadness and strife
never visited our home
at Christmastime or any time.
Like many other families,
sometimes the holidays are hardest.
We're expected to be jolly.
We don't always feel like it.

All the more reason
to lay it all aside for a while,
to drink deeply of joy,
to fill my soul with fresh courage.
All the more reason to pause
and adore, praise, worship, and love
the one who made me, redeemed me,
and still comforts and guides me Sunward.

Here is a prayer for the start of Advent,
for when joy and faith don't come easily.

"Merciful God, always with us:
We confess that we do not know how 
to prepare for your Advent.
We have forgotten how to hope in miracles;
we have ignored the promise of your kingdom;
we get distracted by all the busyness of the season.
Forgive us, God.

Grant us the simple wonder of the shepherds,
the intelligent courage of the Magi,
and the patient faith of Mary and Joseph,
that we may journey with them to Bethlehem
and find the good news of a child born for us.
Now, in the quiet of our hearts,
we ask You to make us ready for His coming.

More posts for Advent in real life:

More hymns for the season
from last year's Advent series:

A Few of My Advent Poems:

God bless you!
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Love Looks Like: Reaching Out to the Homeless

This is what love looks like:

Every month, a team of volunteers 
from Local Impact (a ministry of Metro Life)
sets up tables in the parking lot of a local motel
where many homeless people live.
Folks who live in the nearby woods also come.

Dinner. Clothes. Toiletries.
Blankets. Laundry detergent.
All free.

Allison and Greg sing,
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!"

Heather gives her testimony
of when she was a homeless single mom,
and how Jesus rescued her
from her addictions.

Daniel shares the gospel with passion.

Guests and volunteers line up for dinner.

Two happy young volunteers serving food
- that's my littlest daughter on the left.

Tables beautifully decorated
- even the napkins are adorned for Thanksgiving

Guests and volunteers enjoy the meal together
at picnic tables set up right in the parking lot.

They were giving away Bibles this month,
and I know one of the women who received one
was so excited that she started reading it right away.
One of my friends suggested
that she start in the Gospel of John.
I totally agree.
It's all about Jesus and his love.
This meal is all about Jesus and his love.
Also on this table?
Lists of local resources for
housing, food, job assistance,
health care, and more.

My daughter Julia organizes this monthly event
with our friend Allura.
I can't even begin to tell you
how much this blesses her Mama's heart.
I am so grateful.
I love to follow her example.

I'm so glad to be a part of this.
Can you tell from the smile on my face?
I mingle among the guests, seeing what they need.

It's sprinkling by the end,
but at least the rain held off until after dinner.

There is more to it than just serving the meal.

So much work goes on ahead of time and afterwards: praying, planning, publicizing, sorting clothes, assembling toiletry bags, buying and cooking the food, setting up tables and sound equipment, decorating, cleaning up, tearing down, loading up, more praying. We all work together.

And then there are the in-between times, because they are homeless every day, not just once a month. At least once a week or so, I try to stop by the area where many of them hang out during the day. It's less than a mile from my house. This time of year, to keep them warm and dry at night, fuzzy blankets and plastic tarps are in high demand. Fortunately, the Deals store nearby sells them inexpensively. Sneakers and socks are a good pick because theirs wear out fast with so much walking around. Water bottles and juice boxes are always appreciated. Bus fare cards help them get from one place to another so they can look for jobs and get to places like the Christian Sharing Center for assistance like job searches, food, housing aid, health clinic, clothes, laundry, and showers. 

It's time to watch and listen. What do they need? One of the ladies lugged around her heavy belongings in a big black plastic garbage bag. I could see she needed a rolling suitcase, and I had an extra at home. She also said she had been interviewing for jobs without success, and it was apparent that she lacked decent clothes for that. Time for me to share, even if it meant raiding our closets and driving around to the thrift stores the next day. I also got black dress pants for one of the men who was starting a new job, and another pair for one of the others. 

You see, it's not all about handouts, but a hand up, too. Let's them back on their feet so they can support themselves and get off the streets. But let's also remember that they are people, not projects.

You know what else our friends like? Hugs or handshakes. Smiles. Looking them straight in the eye. Remembering their names. Warm words that can be trusted. (They've been betrayed way too many times.) One of the newer ladies told me, "I have a really hard time trusting people, but when I saw how well you treated the ones that have been here awhile, I thought maybe you would be kind to me, too." That's why she came to the dinner.

What do they really want?
What do we really need to give?
They ask, "Why do you do this for us?"

The answer to all three questionsLove.

More of my posts on homelessness:

Grace and peace,

(P.S. Some of the photos in this post were taken by Amber Carroll. I took the rest.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Oh Scatter Seeds of Loving Deeds (Strength in Hymn)

"Oh Scatter Seeds of Loving Deeds"
Jessie H. Brown

Oh, scatter seeds of loving deeds
Along the fertile fields;
For grain will grow 
from what you sow,
And fruitful harvest yield.

Then day by day,
along your way,
The seeds of promise cast,
That ripened grain
from hill and plain
Be gathered home
at last.

Though sown in tears through 
weary years,
The seed will surely live;
Though great the cost,
it is not lost,
For God will fruitage give.

Then day by day,
along your way,
The seeds of promise cast,
That ripened grain
from hill and plain
Be gathered home
at last.

The harvest home of God will come;
And after toil and care,
With joy untold
your sheaves of gold
Will all be garnered there. 

Then day by day,
along your way,
The seeds of promise cast,
That ripened grain
from hill and plain
Be gathered home
at last.

Thanksgiving is next week, and we traditionally think of gratitude for the harvest. In England, they celebrate a holiday called "Harvest Home" in the autumn. 

This hymn reminds us that we are all sowing seeds -- and that ours should be those of loving deeds. In God's economy, when we invest in those who cannot repay us on earth, we receive an even richer reward in heaven. Truth be told, I'd even be quite satisfied with just seeing a harvest in the lives of those I serve. That is enough. I want to make an impact.

As we approach this holiday season, let's remember kindness, especially for those who are enduring difficult times. Look out for the lonely, the sick, the homeless, the hurting, the vulnerable.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

"Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness." James 3:18

"I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together." John 4:35-36

Thanksgiving hymns from last year, with an emphasis on kindness toward others:

Other posts on practical kindness during the holidays and winter: 

And one more on sowing seeds:

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles