And, it keeps getting better.
Happy Anniversary, my love. I can't wait to kiss you at midnight…all over again.
"And you? Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it's all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward." Daniel 12:13 (MSG)
I've felt a heaviness all week. I'm not sure if I feel this every year during the holidays, but I've felt it acutely this year.
That's what I feel. What is the coming year going to hold? Will we prosper or suffer? Will God realize our desires or not? Will Taylor and Clayton build a strong foundation for their marriage? Will Madison make the right decisions about school? Will it be a good year for our business, or will we find ourselves having to scale back? Will this be the year for the Cubs? I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I'm uncertain. I woke up feeling the uncertainty gnawing at my heart.
And then, I got out of bed, made the commute upstairs to my office, and read today's chapter. Some days it's as if the chapter was meant only for me. "Mind your business, Tom," Holy Spirit whispers as I read. "Live wisely. Live well. Relax. When it's all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward."
It's a pretty good note on which to end one year and being the next.
Those who keep their heads on straight will teach the crowds right from wrong by their example. Daniel 11:33 (MSG)
As I've read historical accounts of crisis and battle, I'm struck by a common theme. Great leaders are able to keep their heads on straight when bullets are flying and circumstances seem to spiral out of control around them. God's message says that character is proven in the midst of trial, and I believe it to be true. Though, the truth of it is not generally revealed in the moment, but in hindsight and reflection.
This week has been a time of reflection for me. Looking back at the journey, there is no doubt that I have traveled through some difficult stretches of road. Certainly, like every wayfarer, my feet have stumbled. Nevertheless, here I stand. I'm still pressing on. I'd like to think I've been able to keep my head on straight when life seemed to be crumbling around me. The crowds can choose to think what they will. I'm just going to keep walking towards the finish line.
As a young man, I used to be really intimidated by people of prominence or worldly fame that I had the chance to meet. In their presence, I acted much like Daniel describes his encounter. My heart would race, it would be hard to breathe, and I would feel paralyzed by fear that I would say or do something really stupid.
Then, along the journey, I was given the opportunity to meet and spend time with a few people who would be deemed prominent in certain circles. I was able to hang out with them, watch them, and listen to them. I found them remarkably human. In fact, in most cases I found myself scratching my head and thinking, "why does everyone think this person is so great?"
These experiences really changed my perspective and the way I react to people I meet. However, today's chapter is a reminder to me of a theme throughout God's message. When human beings come in contact with God or His messengers, the reaction is always fear, humility and being paralyzed. Heavenly presence is, indeed, something with which we all will be impressed. In heavenly presence we will all appropriately fall to our faces. It reminds me of Jesus' words:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt 10:28 (NIV)
Weather. That was the big news this Christmas. A huge storm front stretching from the Gulf of Mexico into Canada dumped rain, then ice, then snow over the state of Iowa. It disrupted travel plans and family get-togethers, but didn't dampen our spirits. Here's a recap of our Christmas celebrations.
Christmas Eve is traditionally the get-together for Wendy's family in Boone, but this year the plans were changed to be at our house on the day after Christmas. With the girls at their mom's for Christmas Eve, it left Wendy and me alone. We volunteered to work on the video crew for the Christmas Eve service. I directed while Wendy worked one of the cameras. We were home by early evening and Wendy made a wonderful dinner for the two of us which we ate by candlelight, then snuggled in to watch television and enjoy the rest of our evening.
Christmas morning the girls and Clayton gathered at our house about 10:00 a.m. to open gifts. Being the newlyweds, Taylor and Clayton had approximately 3,467,293 Christmas celebrations to attend. So, we enjoyed the hour alloted for us that morning. For those of you who follow this blog, you may recall Clayton's need for a personal grooming tool, so he was pleased to find one in his stocking. Madison was excited to get a keyboard (she's been taking piano lessons but has to scrounge a way to practice). With Tay & Clay off to Clay's mom's house, we debated and flip-flopped on whether to try and make it to the Vander Well's in Des Moines for Christmas in the afternoon. We even attempted to drive out of town, but I didn't like the feel of the roads or the weather situation, so we turned around and came home. Wendy made a wonderful Christmas dinner for the three of us. We sat around the dining room table and enjoyed conversation with Madison. Wendy and I then crashed on the couch while watching "While You Were Sleeping."
With the Hall clan celebration at our house, Wendy bustled around the house after our nap making goodies and preparing for the invasion. Jesse, Heidi, & Sophia arrived in the evening and we sat up chatting until late that night.
On the morning of the 26th the whole Hall family arrived. Nathan, Bonnie and the kids did not make it, nor did Josh, who was skiing in Montana. We enjoyed brunch and then opened gifts and lounged around until about 2:00 p.m. when we headed over to Grandma Vander Hart's for potluck with the extended crew.
Back home in the evening, Wendy and I crashed and enjoyed a quiet evening.
Sunday morning I played bass at church and then Wendy and I headed to Des Moines for the Vander Well's postponed celebration. We had dinner with the family and then opened white elephant gifts downstairs. The adults of the family agreed to pool gift money and give to a needy family, then give white elephants. The hit of the party was Wendy's white elephant of one of those funky 3D images from the 80's where you have to stair at this funky picture that looks like a Jackson Pollack painting but if you look at it the right way this three dimensional image appears. Wendy had one from high school that showed Jesus on the cross with a nativity scene in one corner and an empty tomb in the other. Totally tacky, and we laughed as everyone tried to see it. Madison came after dinner with her boyfriend, Phil, and the two of them were then headed out to spend their Christmas money.
By last night Wendy and I felt a little tuckered out and enjoyed another quiet evening together.
"Darius, son of Ahasuerus, born a Mede, became king over the land of Babylon." Daniel 9:1 (MSG)
This is the week that 2009 winds down and we look in earnest at the coming year. It is the week we'll hear every television and radio station giving their list of the Top 10 this or that from the previous year. My wife and I have already noticed the increase in quit smoking pharmaceutical commercials on television as the drug companies try to capitalize on those new year's resolutions.
On the eve of a new year it's natural to look back and to look forward. The past year was a difficult year in many respects and I don't know what 2010 will hold. Yet, I'm reading through the book of Daniel and thinking about the mega-shifts that Daniel experienced in his life. He was torn away from his family and home as a young man and taken captive to a foreign land. He rose to prominence under the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, then survived brief reigns by Nebuchadnezzar's offspring. In today's chapter, the Medo-Persian king Darius has taken power. Nevertheless, Daniel remains secure in his position.
Daniel's life was spent focused on serving God and being obedient. As a result, he remained secure in tumultuous times. While all around him there were tremendous shifts in power and government, Daniel seems to have stood in the eye of the storm.
As I look forward to 2010, I take that image of Daniel standing in the eye of life's storms. No matter what the coming year(s) hold, my responsibility is to remain focused on being obedient and content.
"I, Daniel, walked around in a daze, unwell for days. Then I got a grip on myself and went back to work taking care of the king's affairs. But I continued to be upset by the vision. I couldn't make sense of it." Daniel 8:27 (MSG)
Life is a balancing act. Daniel's visions and dreams rattled him and left him incapacitated for a short period of time, but he eventually had to get a grip and get back to the mundane tasks of his job and everyday life. I've witnessed individuals who are so consumed with the everyday distractions of life that they make no time for the things of God. I've also witnessed those who are so consumed with spiritual matters that they neglect their everyday responsibilities. They are "so heavenly minded they are no earthly good."
God, grant me the ability to so balance life that I may manage my everyday responsibilities well while, at the same time, living in the conscious, consuming Light of your presence.
Children see and perceive things through the limited lens of their knowledge and experience. There are certain things that they simply cannot grasp or understand. At the same time, children possess a simple, abundant faith that tends to fade with time in direct proportion to the increase of knowledge and experience.
"Get your coat on. Get in the car. I'm taking you somewhere special," I said to my daughters when they were small. They did not know the destination, how to drive the car, nor which streets to take. They simply trusted me to get them to that special place. When we arrived at the amusement park, toy store, or donut shop they finally understood where I was taking them.
I have studied the prophetic writings of scripture numerous times. I have read books, listened to lectures, engaged in debates and meditated on the passages in an effort to wrap my mind around the images and their metaphorical meanings.
In the end, I find myself standing before the prophetic writings like a two-year-old holding a road map. For the life of me I can't completely grasp or understand their message. I kind of get it, but a clear understanding constantly eludes me. Nevertheless, I do have simple faith in my Heavenly Father who has said to me, "Pick up your cross and follow me. I'm taking you someplace special."
My wife has great friends. We discussed the fact on Saturday night. Today is her birthday, but we celebrated two nights ago with her friends and their spouses. We gathered at Noah's Ark, arriving early to meet our friend's Chad & Shay for drinks before dinner. The folks at Noah's set us at a large, round table which was just perfect for enjoying conversation as a group. The meal was spectacular and the fellowship was sweet. For almost three hours we all sat, ate, laughed, and caught up on one another's lives.
As Wendy and I drove home we talked about what a blessing it is to have friends who share the journey with you. We arrived home late, feeling full in more ways than one!
The king caved in and ordered Daniel brought and thrown into the lions' den. But he said to Daniel, "Your God, to whom you are so loyal, is going to get you out of this." Daniel 6:16 (MSG)
It's interesting to read these stories from the book of Daniel once again. Most of these stories, like Daniel in the lion's den, are tales I remember learning in childhood. As I read them again from this place in my journey, I find new lessons in old stories.
For example, I was struck today by King Darius' response to the trap in which he and Daniel found themselves. I remember Daniel being trapped by the conspiracy, but I'd forgotten that Darius was equally trapped by his own counselors. We all know about Daniel's incredible faith, but it was Darius' faith that jumped off the page at me today as I read the verse above. Daniels life, example, and faith became a conduit through which Darius could, himself, believe.
Today, I'm inspired and reminded to live out my faith in quiet, daily discipline. I hope that my life, like Daniel's, might be a conduit through which others can put their faith in God.