Turn It Up!

One of my greatest delights is standing between my children in church and hearing their sweet voices join mine in worship. Now before you get the wrong idea, my two little ones are experts at disturbing these idyllic moments.

The truth is, it’s not unusual for me to lose a child during the worship time. Eventually, I notice one is missing and start glancing around; someone behind me usually catches my searching eye and points under a seat somewhere down the row. I smile my thanks and bend over to remove my child from under the seat and return to singing only to get tapped on the arm by the seven year old asking what does that or this word mean, you know, weird words like “hosanna” and “worthy.” It’s delightful that she wants to know, but this is like the seventh time she’s asked. I once again return to singing and soon realize the five year old is now lying in the middle of the aisle, I whisper loudly to her, “someone’s going to step on your head.” I silently blame myself for forgetting to bring a coloring page and crayon packet once again. At last I hand the little one the pen and “welcome card” from the pocket in the seat in front of her to entertain her.

I wouldn’t change it.

singingNo, mine are most definitely not the perfectly dressed in their Sunday best little girls with white tights and bows in their hair. Mine are the children who look like they dressed themselves (they did) and I am the mom licking my thumb to remove dried icing from the little one’s cheek before she exits for Sunday School – and yes she got it on there by clandestinely licking the icing off her big sister’s cinnamon roll before church. This child seriously needs Jesus.

But it is those brief moments of unified voices in praise with my girls beside me that I cherish. A combined 120 seconds of that? I’ll take it. Joyfully.

Three years ago my daughters and I stepped onto a plane with nothing but the clothes on our backs. We flew across oceans and continents from one country to another. The first six months in the US are still a blur. The girls were not yet in school. The younger two children did not even speak English and the older two were barely bi-lingual. They could not read. They could not write.

But they could listen.

Almost from our first day in the US we listened to a Christian radio station and we learned every song. I consider it the number one most healing influence in our life at that time. Even today, it is all we listen to in the car.

The other day I borrowed my dad’s car to drive my daughter to the dentist. His car’s dial is set to Sports Radio. That, of course, was unacceptable. As I was driving I scanned through the channels, trying to find something a ten year old might like. After about ten minutes of skipping from song to song she said, “Mom, can we put on our regular station?” Gladly.

We might not have a wide variety of songs in our repertoire but there are few things in this life that give me as much pleasure as listening to the sound of my children singing worship songs in the car and hearing them say,

“Turn it up, Mom, this is my favorite one.”

Copyright © Rebecca Onkar, Moms of Faith®, All Rights Reserved

This post was originally written for Moms of Faith®.

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What I Found At The End

I have a confession to make. For years I avoided reading the Psalms in my personal devotion time. I think that somewhere in my prideful heart I assumed that the Psalms were for people who couldn’t handle the rest of the Bible. In my mind they had become a kind of “Bible Lite.”

This attitude was full of pride, obviously, and since I’m confessing this to you, you’ve probably guessed that at some point I must have had a change of heart – and you’d be right. It wasn’t many years ago that I reached the end of myself.

Have you been there? The uttermost, absolute end of yourself?

While I stood there at the end–the end of me, the end of me knowing where my life was heading, what my purpose was, what to do and not to do, say and not to say, it was there, in that place of utter desperation and brokenness that I discovered The Psalms.

Oh where had they been all my life? How could I have possibly disdained them? Why did I never devour them before? What a prideful fool I had been.

So there at the end I opened the psalms and I read.

I read one after another and each spoke volumes to my shattered heart. When my prayers had dried and my pain was too deep to find the words to speak I read the Psalms aloud to God, my Savior. The Psalms themselves became my very own words spoken from my heart and through my tears. They were my cries for help. They were my cries of pain. They were my cries of confession. And at last, they were my cries of Hope.

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It saddens me that I had to reach the end of myself to discover the beauty and significance of the Psalms. I love the entire Word of God and every verse is precious to me, but no matter what else I read each day in the Word, I always first open to the Psalms.

If you have not yet discovered the joy of reading the Psalms or if your heart is hard, or broken or maybe you’ve run out of words to cry out to God, there is hope. It’s not too late. I encourage you to take the Bible in your hands, open up to Psalm 1 and start reading.

Read day after day until you reach the last one, and when the final verse of Psalm 150 is read, flip back and begin again.

Copyright © Rebecca Onkar, Moms of Faith®, All Rights Reserved

This post was originally written for Moms of Faith®

Not Awesome

Everything is not always awesome. If you’ve been a mother for any amount of time you’ve probably experienced your child being hurt. Not physically hurt, although that happens often enough, but hurt emotionally. Recently my teenage daughter texted me and asked to be picked up early from a school event. Once home she asked me for a hug and cried in my arms for a while.

Feelings were hurt. Kids were mean. My heart breaks.

On those less than awesome days I’ve found that the best thing is to just hug, be there for her, and not try to fix. Can I be real honest here? My flesh urges me to tell her to go upstairs, get a bowl of ice cream and relax in front of the TV, as if that would make it all better. But that is the response of my flesh and the ice cream will provide no real comfort. In these moments, a bowl of ice cream teaches my daughter to find her comfort in something other than the True Comforter.

So while we hug, I pray.

God knows, He saw, His heart breaks too.

I was recently reading the passage in Luke 18 where Jesus told His disciples to let the little children come to Him. How many times have I read that, seen it, heard it? Yet on this particular day I understood something new about our Heavenly Father. Honestly, who among us doesn’t melt at the sight of a newborn or enjoy making a nine month old laugh? Whose heart doesn’t fill with joy while watching the freedom a four year old feels to pirouette through a parking lot or at a ten year old’s excitement and anticipation over the one line she gets to say in the school play?

Our hearts swell with love, often for no other reason than because these precious creatures are children. I forget that God looks at our children and that He also experiences that same warmness and joy that we feel in their presence – but He experiences it in perfection – even better. Then, even so, when our hearts break with our children, it is only natural that we turn to the One whose heart is breaking with us. He is the True Comforter, not just for me in my sorrow, but my child’s Comforter in her own sorrow.

Her sadness is not too insignificant for Him to care.

I must constantly remind myself that my children’s faith journeys are their own to traverse and I am here to guide. The God who comforts the downcast is as much their Father as He is mine. And as I have personally experienced His comfort time and time again, the greatest response I can give to my daughter in her own moment of sorrow is to lead her to The Source of all comfort and The Healer of all wounds, so that when the day comes that I am no longer with her, she can find her way to Him.

Then after a little while, when the tears subside, she and I can share another hug, and maybe a bowl of ice cream.

not awesome

Copyright © Rebecca Onkar, Moms of Faith®, All Rights Reserved

This post was originally written for Moms of Faith®

The Story Behind Makes the Song So Good

It’s no secret that I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, a poem written during the Civil War by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, is my favorite Christmas carol.

The history and background of the poem/song can be found all over the internet, but there is a nice description here.

In light of current events and the climate in the US, and around the world today, the words to this poem still resonate strongly.


I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!


“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,…”

True words written by a man who knew true sorrow.Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow,_photographed_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron_in_1868

I offer you words of HOPE this Christmas.

God is not dead.

The Red Journal

photo 1

Since 1999 my older brother has kept a Christmas journal that contains reflections on Christmas written by members of the family. Each Christmas one family member writes in the journal and then does a reading at the annual party.

journal

I recognize each person’s handwriting. What a special tradition.

2014 was my year. 


I wrap my children’s Christmas gifts early and put them out a couple weeks before Christmas day. If the gifts are out, you may wonder, how do I keep my children from squeezing and shaking and peeking at their packages in the days and weeks before Christmas? Wouldn’t the temptation to take a peak be just a little too strong? And what about the beautiful packaging – doesn’t it get bent and torn and worn away?

Yes and yes.

In fact, in our house there is a lot of movement of the gifts (by the children) – from upstairs in my bedroom, to down under the tree, to back up in the bedroom again. As you can imagine, there are repairs on the paper from holes and rips that, “accidentally” appeared there.photo 1 (3)

None of this bothers me. You see, I know that the majority of the pleasure derived from the gifts is experienced in the anticipation of opening them and seeing what is inside. Once opened, gifts often lose their luster and it doesn’t take long on Christmas day or the days following for the open gifts to be pushed aside and forgotten. Sweet treats from the stocking are found under the couch partially eaten and collecting dust, little makeup boxes lay empty and discarded while the eyeshadow they once contained is caked on my children’s faces or, occasionally, smeared into the sofa. The device they’ve wanted all year is discarded in preference of mom’s iPhone – as usual.

That’s OK too. As much as gifts and even lovely traditions (like this journal) are important and we hope they last for generations to come, gifts and traditions don’t make Christmas – Christmas. And Christmas will certainly not cease to be Christmas if all the gifts and traditions and trappings were taken away. The Whos taught us that.

Every Who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming! IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling:

Grinch: How could it be so?
It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!

Narrator: And he puzzled and puzzled, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more.”

-Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

So, what does Christmas mean?

I think most of us would agree that Christmas is the Celebration of the birth of a Savior. Everyone here tonight knows that. We come together at this time of year to celebrate the BIRTH of a Savior. Emphasis on the word, Birth.

Now, I am not against Jesus’ birthday, Christmas traditions or gift giving; the Bible encourages traditions and even the wise men gave gifts, but if that is where our Christmas celebration ends, our disappointment is guaranteed. We are left with emptiness, much like the feeling we experience after the gifts are finally opened and we wake up on the morning of the 26th to a house full of discarded wrappings and empty boxes. It’s not enough, it’s never enough – all the amazing and beautiful, best gifts in the world or fun Christmas events and parties can never truly satisfy the longing inside of us. In fact, once Christmas is finally all over, we are often left feeling relieved.

Now let me try to say this again, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a SAVIOR, emphasis on the word, Savior. “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

The gifts will never satisfy because our hearts are longing for something much greater and more lasting – our forever home – heaven, Eternity with God Himself. A place and a time where the celebration will not be focused on the Savior’s birth but a place and a time where the celebration is focused simply, on the Savior.

Think of the generations of worshipers from the very first; those of old who looked forward with anticipation for a Savior who would one day come, to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, the disciples, the apostles, the early church, the very first believers in nation after nation as the Gospel spread all over the world and even to this present day. Imagine all those who have gone before us, and the true believers who are celebrating Christmas all over the world far and near even this very night. We, every true follower of Christ who has ever lived and is alive today, are invited, not just to celebrate the birth of this precious baby, but, in fact, we are all members of the wedding party in the most glorious wedding supper of all time. Rev. 19:9 “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” 

This same baby, God in human form, who entered this world in a stable and was laid in a manger grew into manhood and was victorious over death and the grave in order to give us the greatest gift ever given, one that can never be damaged or outdated or unsatisfying; the gift of Grace to save us from our sins.

And this gift, He is still offering it today. At this very moment, he is calling out to the lonely. The sick. The brokenhearted, The imprisoned. The depressed. The hungry. The dying. The lost. The deceived. The fearful. The poor. The proud. The haters. The smallest child and The aged. Those near and those far away.

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. Rev. 21:3-7

It’s why we celebrate – it’s what we celebrate – not just the birth of the savior – but what his birth represents – Emmanuel – God with us – our Savior has come.

Thanks for Being Rude…no, really, Thanks.

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On Saturday I had the opportunity to join with friends and strangers to pack and deliver Thanksgiving food items to five families in a very poor city in NJ. I’ve written about it here, Loving with My Eyes Wide Open. This post is not so much a follow up as it is a reflection on one particular aspect of the day’s deliveries.

Nine of us, three adults and six children, piled into a 12 passenger van with our boxes full of frozen turkey and gravy, cans of green beans and boxes of stuffing and miscellaneous other items, and headed to our first address. It was like the weirdest treasure hunt ever.

It seemed best if everyone stayed in the vehicle and I went alone to knock on doors to make sure someone was at home before opening the van and allowing the children out. Sadly, we struck out at Home #1. Not to be deterred, we plugged another address in to the GPS and off we went with high hopes for better results.

After knocking on the door of Home #2 a few times, I heard a man’s voice call through the broken front window, “Who’s out there?!”

“I’m here from Seeds of Hope. I have a turkey and some Thanksgiving food to deliver.” I shouted back.

I heard some shuffling inside and the door was opened to reveal an older woman. When I told her who I was and why I was there, she broke down and said, “Praise Jesus,” and I called in the children.

The six kids happily spilled out of the van like clowns out of a clowncar and grabbed the frozen turkey, roasting pan and the box of goodies from the back. Everyone needed to carry something to the front door, even the four year old. He walked up to the house carrying a bag of mini-marshmallows in the crooks of his elbows like a Wise Man presenting a box of frankincense to Jesus.

How uplifting! What a wonderful experience!

We piled back into the van and rushed back to the home base for another address. This is great!

Home #3, however, was a somewhat different experience. As we pulled up to the row home there was a woman standing on the porch. Maybe she was waiting for us. Maybe she just recognized a large van full of middle class white people driving around town the weekend before Thanksgiving as most likely being Thanksgiving Meal Deliverers. Whatever the reason, I was just happy someone was home and I stepped out of the van to speak with her. I explained who I was and why I was there and she nodded. I called in the kids. Once again they enthusiastically piled out of the van and elbowed each other out of the way to be the first to carry the goods to the lady on the porch.

She never cracked a smile. Her “thank you” was begrudgingly given and her attitude was anything but friendly. Although she didn’t protest about the food, I sort of felt like I was the delivery guy for the supermarket – Hey Lady, here’s your Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks for your order.

This second experience was vastly different than the earlier one. Everyone felt it. We sat silently in the car for a moment after loading back in and seven-year-old Asher finally commented, “She had a lot of beer caps in her yard.” 

As the day went on we were blessed to deliver three more meals and received varying responses to the deliveries, some quietly grateful, others exuberant and heart-wrenching (like the one with the little boy with a medical device inserted in his throat.) But none held a candle to the response of the lady at Home #3. Memorable. Extraordinary. Unforgettable.

In hindsight, as I reflected on the day, I have one thing I’d like to say to the woman in Home #3. Thanks for being rude…no, really, Thanks. 

You see, her attitude reminded me of others who were presented with a much more marvelous gift and responded, not with gratitude, but with rudeness, hate, disdain and ignorance. Jesus. On the cross. Making a way for sinful, hopeless humanity to once again be with God. Emmanuel, God With Us. And what has been the response to this most excellent gift over the centuries? Gratitude, yes, thankfully, occasionally, yes; but much more often, the response to this gift is rudeness, hate, disdain and ignorance.

So, Ms. Home #3, thank you for being rude. I don’t know what was going on in your heart or your life on Saturday and I am not judging you. I was as blessed (maybe more) to deliver to you as to any other and we were seeking no praise or gratitude anyway. Yet your response impressed our children so deeply that it allowed me to organically and practically speak to my children on the drive home about the truth of God’s love for us, even, and especially, when we don’t deserve it. Thank you also for the opportunity to remind them (and me) of the many who view God’s love with anything but a grateful heart. I think they understand a little better now. Happy Thanksgiving.

Dana’s Story

The following was written by my dear cousin and life-long friend Dana. She shared it yesterday on Facebook and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind me sharing it here at Clothed with Joy. She agreed.

Dana embodies being clothed with joy more than anyone I have ever met.

When you read this brief summary of her story you will catch a glimpse of what I mean. I came into Dana’s life three years after she was born, but from my early teen years we were always together (except for the brief period of time when she stole the love of my life at my thirteenth birthday party – but whatever. I’m over it. 😉 )  I can tell you from the point of view of a first hand account that she has sugarcoated much of the agony (yes agony – I was there, I saw it on her face) she experienced during her first 21 years.

Here is her story:

This morning, as I was praying with my kids on the way to school, I was convicted by the shallowness of my own prayer even before the final “Amen.” Here’s a recap. Help my kids to be nice. Help them to pass their tests. Help my husband and kids to be healthy. Help us all to be happy. I used fancier words, but the message was clear. God, I want everything to be neat and tidy; no struggles, please. Seriously?

42 years ago, I was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that usually hits kids under the age of 5. Devastating news for my parents at the time? Absolutely. Over the next 17 years, my mom and I spent countless hours together in doctors offices and hospitals. The end result? A genuine, honest, real relationship between me and my mom right smack through my teenage years and into adulthood. What mom doesn’t want that?

At age 14, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and was the proud owner of big ugly back brace. Some of the perks? I got to shop in the boys department at JC Penneys and wear hideous baggy pants with elastic waists. Despite the brace, the curve continued to get worse and I had back surgery at Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia. The hospital was full of girls with scoliosis and boys with broken necks. It would make for a cool love story if that was where Dennis and I met, but it wasn’t. The whole experience did, however, give me a real life look into the lives of these other kids. They were kids just like me. Many of them confined to wheelchairs, but their hopes and dreams were often just the same as mine.

That big clunky back brace may have made guys run in the opposite direction, but it little by little prepared my heart to one day run into Dennis’ arms, paralyzed or not. The cancer may have taken away my ability to get pregnant, but it carved a space in my heart for adoption and two precious children the Lord knew would one day call me “Mom.” So here’s to the end of praying for a struggle-free life and a renewed desire to pray for the Lord to use whatever struggles He allows to touch our family, for our good and His glory!

I love you my beautiful friend. I'm so thankful for the example you are.

I love you my beautiful friend. I’m so thankful for the example you are.

When I Had Nothing

It’s not Christmas. It’s not even July. But today’s word of inspiration, NOTHING, brought to mind White Christmas.

Blessings

Betty & Bob sitting by the fire singing, Count Your Blessings (Instead Of Sheep).

“When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings”

A few years ago my girls and I were moving into our own apartment after living with my parents for a couple months. We had nothing. Absolutely nothing. I used to tell people, we don’t even have a toilet brush.

On the day we moved in, there it was – a brand new toilet brush. But not just that, there was furniture, kitchen appliances, bedroom fixtures, curtains and so much more. We had blessing after blessing poured out on us by family and friends and loved ones from our church. Someone even had leftover paint in their garage that was the exact color I had chosen for the walls. To this day I’ve saved the color sheets from Home Depot to remind me of that blessing. I never want to forget.

This post was written a part of 5 minute friday where you are given 1 word and only 5 minutes to write. Find the link here and join in.

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