Denise’s Blog

Lights are for Shining!

     As my eyes glanced over the Christmas curios on the shelf in Hobby Lobby, I reminded myself, “Only stuff of the true Christmas”.  It has become my safeguard against the wanton spending I am tempted to engage in at this time of year.

1200px-Christmas-2874137_1920     I rehearsed under my breath as I browsed: “The nativity scene—Mary, Joseph, the Christ-child, angels, shepherds, animals; bells to proclaim His birth ; silver and gold for The King; evergreen for the eternal life His incarnation would provide; red—poinsettias, bows and ribbons—for the blood He would shed; ribbons—His cords of loving-kindness reaching out through the Gospel to draw us to Himself in saving grace… out of darkness into light…always light… Oh! Stars!” Continue reading “Lights are for Shining!”

“Down From His Glory” – Condescension

     I remember the crazy rocking of the plastic flowers on top of the little pump organ in response to Aunty Patsy’s efforts.  She coaxed the Christmas carol through its ancient fittings, pressing the pedals below with exuberance. Continue reading ““Down From His Glory” – Condescension”

A New Generation of Women’s Magazine

So, today I received my copy of the Premiere edition of The Joyful Life Magazine! It is beautiful! Over the course of this year, I have had the privilege of watching this project come together. In the process, founder/ editor Sandi Sutton and her team have created a virtual community on Facebook and started a blog to which I am also privileged to be a contributing writer/ affiliate. They threw out the welcome carpet to the female Christian writers and creatives community and, by lots of sweat and hard work, produced a gorgeous coffee table, quarterly holiday edition, titled ‘Abide’.

It is laden with substantial articles, grappling honestly with real down to earth circumstances, yet has a trendy feel and other scrumptious content to which women in any season of life would be drawn. But meaningful content was not attained at the cost of aesthetic flair; this magazine is positively beautiful. It is a restful experience to simply leaf through its satiny pages.

But don’t take my word for it. Click here to learn about The Joyful Life Magazine and to subscribe for your copy of the ‘Abide’ edition. Happy Thanksgiving and have a wonderful Advent season!

“Going Back Home” – Pt. 2: ‘Unpacking the Baggage’

‘Sight-seeing’ in the land of your birth, as a visiting migrant, is a whole different ball-game. Every little thing becomes infused with significance — every bus stop, corner or fence a landmark; every tree, every flower, every fruit an event to re-live, an incident to memorialize…

      ‘Sight-seeing’ in the land of your birth, as a visiting migrant, is a whole different ball-game. Every little thing becomes infused with significance — every bus stop, corner or fence a landmark; every tree, every flower, every fruit an event to re-live, an incident to memorialize. The blue of the sky, the green of the hills and the white of the limestone scar in the Rockfort hillside: everything, ordinary or especial, comes at you fresh-laden with meaning they did not originally pack Continue reading ““Going Back Home” – Pt. 2: ‘Unpacking the Baggage’”

“Going Back Home” – Pt. 1: Why you can’t ‘Just Do It’

I promised in early August to do a weekly post chronicling highlights of my trip home to Jamaica, taken at the end of July 2018, BUT I forgot to add ‘Deo Volente’ (God Willing)! Well, life happened, as they say, complicated by schedule-altering transitions. Nonetheless, here at last: “Going Back Home” (in four parts); ‘Deo Volente’ Continue reading ““Going Back Home” – Pt. 1: Why you can’t ‘Just Do It’”

Does God Expect Joy to Always Look Like Happiness?

The moment I entered my new friend’s apartment, I could tell that Gabby was the life of the party. I burned calories just watching her enthusiastically engage in activity — turning cartwheels, parading her fashion dolls and savoring her fries and fish sticks. Her eyes twinkled with a million thoughts and unanswered questions, which she eventually directed at Siri, when her mom required a reprieve…

I was visiting my homeland of Jamaica when I found out that Joyful Life magazine, a new magazine for women, would carry this essay. Read the full essay here.

Join me on my blog next month for more on my trip!

Holy Week Reflections (2018) – Fruit on the Road From Bethany

fig-tree-1    I think Jesus liked figs.  At the top of His last week, He curses a fig tree for its leafy show without fruitfulness, just as He had referenced another fig tree in a parable earlier in His ministry.  In the parable, the keeper intercedes for the tree, buying it some more time for fruit-bearing.  The middle-years can find you seeking to buy more time for fruitfulness. But perhaps neither time nor seasons are the issue if eternal fruit is the goal.

     My own words, to the college-aged young man sitting beside me on the flight back from my Grandfather’s funeral in Jamaica, have come back to try me often.  In response to my questions, he had described several opportunities and gifts that he had possessed but that he did not pursue because, as he put it, “He didn’t have the time for it”.  After listening to him repeat this several times, I finally could not help but ask “So, what are you saving up all this time in your life for?”

     Before I knew it, I was again filtering someone else’s life through my own impatience-pocked spectacles – striving to get a young college-aged student to view life through the eyes of a woman in the midst or near the end of her parenting years.  My craving to see ‘tangible fruit’ from my life, other than my precious children, was a false hunger pang.  And that stripling’s life story was his alone to live in the timing determined between him and His Maker.  My stated quest was for eternal fruit, but maybe I also just wanted what the world would regard as worthy fruit and, then again, perhaps those are distinctions only the Almighty is capable of making and is evidently quite willing to assist us in discerning.  The definition of fruitfulness for women in Jesus’s day was generally assumed to be homemaking and childbearing.  Yet, a careful reading of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, reveals more.  1 Samuel 1:9a reverberated when I read it this Holy Week.  It was as if I were seeing the words for the first time – “So Hannah stood up…”.  The sound echoed again in my heart, when I later read in the Gospels that, at the start of Jesus’ last week before His great atoning mission was fulfilled, Mary of Bethany, also stood up, and taking expensive perfumed oil, anointed Jesus.

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     The action of both these sisters required risk and resolve and sacrifice – it required their ‘standing up’.  Was it false hunger pangs, as I assumed mine to be, that stirred them to unusual action?  No, there was more, much more.  They broke with the ‘status quo’ to pursue a heavenly vision that met them in the midst of their day-to-day lives.  They were devout women who, while faithfully doing the ‘day to day’, refused to deny that the need to accomplish something more than their lot dictated pulled at their souls.  They both exhibited unwavering trust in God despite what they observed in the natural.  They knew and obeyed God’s Word, as their worshipful declarations and devout lives demonstrated.  They remained faithful to their families, despite the trials of polygamy and singlehood, respectively.   And in the process of offering up their prophetic hunger to God their desire was purified:

     Through Hannah, instead of just another Hebrew male child, Israel received a judge, Samuel, who was also one of their most significant prophets.  For Mary, the oil, believed to have been intended as her future dowry, was sanctified through her hands, as sacrificially she poured it out on Jesus’ head – anointing Him with the fragrance that would follow Him throughout His approaching ordeal.  For such a time as that, Israel did not need another happily married young woman but a bold young hand-maid, willing to carry out a prophetic act that would bless the Savior.

     Initially, their action resulted in harsh judgments and misunderstanding of their hearts and motives: Hannah’s husband thought she should be satisfied with him and her ‘lot’ of infertility; Eli the priest thought she was drunk, as she stood silently pouring out her desire and resolve before the Lord.  Had Jesus not intervened, Mary could have been thrown out as improper for touching a man, and was indeed derided for wasting what could have been sold to aid the poor.  But, in both instances, heaven smiled and gave a hearty stamp of approval and wove them into the Divine Tapestry of God’s eternal story and redemptive work.

jesus-crucifiction1-e1522547095147.jpg       The lives of these two women reminded me that a Divine alchemy takes place when we turn over our lives, humble or privileged, to Jesus’ use: a ‘barren’ home-maker can alter the course of a nation; a young unmarried woman can see beyond learned priests and teachers and wordlessly declare the obvious – that God’s Redemption sits among them.  Even the surrendered ‘time’ of a young roving college-aged kid might yield vast eternal returns.  The trail was blazed when the Holy Son of God, in obedience to His Father, ‘stood up’ saying “Here I am.  Prepare me a body…” and, in complete trust, gave Himself away for the redemption of a rogue race, bringing many sons to glory.  With such fruit, God is pleased.

 

Holy Week Reflections (2018) – The King’s Ride

I love Easter!

     I love ceremony that helps seal my awareness and that celebrates the restorative, reconciling events of life on planet earth, and Easter is just about the most important Bridge Event that ever was. This, my first post this holy season, will not have any specifically cross-cultural references, such as the all-important Jamaican Easter bun 😋. But stay with me and you might actually be sweetly surprised🇯🇲. This Holy Week, stick to the theological term The Atonement if the etymology of the word ‘Easter’ bothers you but don’t deny yourself these reminders of the ever true, ever-relevant Work of Christ in reconciling God and Man, through His substitutionary death on the Cross, and His Glorious Resurrection! “Hosannah!”

Palm Sunday

black panther2     By the time Palm Sunday 2018 had come around, the wave of The Black Panther movie had crested and was seeking fresh patterns of box office ebb and flow, in the entertainment world, beyond America’s shores. Most of the political and socio-economic mileage had been juiced out of it by the various talking heads. Late-comers to the conversation would never have the chance to just enjoy it as the aesthetically rich, clean, exciting Afro-centric fairy-tale that it was. A wholesome plot line and humorous scenes such as the tech-genius ( played by Letitia Wright) sister of T’challa King of Wakanda, left sitting unceremoniously in a holographic driver’s seat – all that was left of the King’s Ride – tempted us to believe again in a promise of goodness in the world, that God is in His heaven, even in Hollywood. But the smiles did not last too long, as fresh issues of racial injustice and systemic bias promptly filled the posts on our church’s ‘Be the Bridge’ * (BTB) Facebook page.

     As I entered the church’s fellowship hall, converted to represent the various Stations of the Cross on Palm Sunday, I was reminded of the struggle I have been having this Easter season. Even here I realized a losing battle was on, as I strove to keep my eyes on the historical Jesus in period garb, placidly entering Jerusalem astride a donkey. The scenes of all the down-trodden of ancient Israel crying out “Oh save!” to Jesus, soon morphed into the various scenarios from today’s news about America’s ongoing racial, and socio-economic struggles and the seeming powerlessness and disconnectedness of the Christian community. I realized that I had been “ruined (again), for the ordinary” and yearned to see through the eyes of the Man of Sorrows who alone has always seen it all, understood it all, and whose shoulders alone can bear it all.

cross-1     Sitting at the station of the cross representing the Via Dolorosa, I caught a new vision of the One acquainted with our grief and realized that He has been answering my prayers – tears flowed silently, as I held a 12″ cross in my hand, intended to represent the burdens of others – I acknowledged my total inability to carry burdens myself anywhere but to the feet of Jesus! Relief washed over me as I felt oddly like a little child taking a young friend with an adult-sized problem to the only One I knew who could fix any and everything – My Heavenly Dad.

Almost without my knowing it, the awareness, acknowledgement, lament, confession and forgiveness stirred by sharing with brave souls, across ethnic lines in the BTB small groups, along with going through the Prayer Counseling Ministry of our church, and earnestly reading thru Scripture had changed me, changed the way I looked at the world and its sorrows: IT WAS NO LONGER UP TO ME, and in fact, never was. I could now look at pain and even let myself feel …without despairing!

picture2-palm-sunday-entrance-e1522213092601.jpg    Looking at the ancient scene in my mind, one last time, I recognized my place in the montage — I am the little colt, the little donkey sure-footedly ploughing through the crowds, freshly awakened to the fact that the cheering is not for me but rather for the King — the One I bear to the place of His Divine appointment. My only job is to be the King’s ride, responding to His whispered instructions and gentle nudges, without resistance or implosion, to prayerfully re-present Him to the various sites of my world’s egregious issues, wherever He steers me, from Heaven’s control tower. To arrogate more to myself is to risk winding up on my rear midst life’s troubled highways, in all that’s left of a virtual driver’s seat. He will do what only He can do — defeat the arch-enemy, destroy his works, heal the orphan’s broken heart and tame the zealot before he warps into a Judas or a ‘Killmonger’— establish His Kingdom’s reign where justice will freely pour down like a river. So, “Ride on King Jesus! Ride on!”. Come ride on my life; colt or Chariot of fire, this woman won’t “a-hinder Thee!”.

* ‘Be the Bridge’ is a small group curriculum designed by lover of King Jesus, Latasha Morrison. Available online, it provides content, reading recommendations and a framework for small group engagement of the sticky topic of racial reconciliation, across ethnic lines, from a Biblical stand-point. It is further supported by a FB community

Slow walk to Refreshing

Antsy…! That was the word! I had stuff to do – projects to start or finish – but wandered around the house dictated to by the demands of existence rather than accepting the invitations of Life. My devotional routine seemed fine. I was keeping up fairly well with the church’s Bible reading project (I had made it to Leviticus, for Heaven’s sake!). I was feeling productive at church, and home felt on fairly good footing; yet, feeling like a starving soul, seated without appetite at a feast, I hungrily scanned a friend’s blog site – ‘Set Apart Warrior‘.

Aliyah wrote winsomely of taking a walk with The Good Shepherd; she kept wanting to climb mountains and ford streams and find dreams. He just wanted her to tarry awhile with Him by gently running brooks and savor His beauty all around her — the profound beauty He liberally wove into the created order, that we daily overlook though our souls ache with the need for a sip of it.

walk in nature1That was it!  I realized that I had not taken a slow walk with the Lord out in Creation in the longest.  The Winter temperatures, the flu, the daily grind, the world, the flesh, the enemy, all conspired to keep me diligent, indoors and dry …physically and in spirit. Alive but not lively, I ached to write but inspiration eluded me so when Aliyah’s blog post showed up in my email I grasped at it in hope.

The child-like voice of her post lured me back to a place of wonder reminding me of days hiking in the foothills of the Blue Mountains with friends, to a place where we paused for food and unashamed worship sessions.  We had tasted of that Beauty and love of the Lord, that source of spiritual vibrancy and were ‘ruined for the ordinary’.  Just like my post-Winter garden needed some aeration, hydration, and fertilization, so my hard-packed soul longed for gentle rains, erupting buds,  birdsong and waving wisps of forsythia to awaken me to the presence of the One who turns Winter to Spring in climes tropical, temperate or frigid.

I needed a walk in the woods.  I purposed to do so first chance but till then I pulled out a poem from the Fall to tide me over, like the last of Winter preserves.  I remembered His Beauty then and anticipated the rejuvenation of His coming reign, in the Spring.

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I WATCHED THE MORNING KISS THE WOODS

I watched the morning kiss the woods

Dispensing Golden grace

And knew the washing of the Word

That lets me see God’s Face.

Like precious ointment on the head

A-coursing down the beard,

It slowly leached the night-pall-grey

And Mercy’s story mirr’d.

Salvation’s miracle early wrought,

Like earnest: promise paid,

Descending upon Adam’s head,

Before his feet had strayed.

This, God’s Good Work, that saved our souls,

Displayed upon a tree,

That took the curse and drank the night

That Day on Calvary.

The Dawn is His and His alone

Who layers on the gold,

Who paints our dark with Glory’s light

Till Life’s full day is told.

 

“The path of the righteous is like the light at dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the Full Day” (Prov. 4:18)

 

Denise S. Armstrong (early morning, the day after Thanksgiving 2017)

The Danger (and Safety) of Burning Evergreens

IMG_0867    A few years ago, having given in to our nature-loving daughter’s pleas, we once more purchased a natural evergreen for our Christmas tree. Truth is I could hardly wait for the twelve days of Christmas to pass to move the shedding alpine from the living room. Then, in my pragmatic, Jamaican, ‘Tu’n you’ han’ mek fashi’n’ mode (patois for re-purpose and recycle), I thought cutting up and then burning the tree in the fireplace was a perfectly frugal and efficient idea.

     Mercifully, the outdoorsman and the Eagle Scout in the house were quick to put the quabash on that evidently hazardous suggestion. To which I am sure our first-born safety guru gave hearty agreement. They explained that the pine-oil in the needles and branches makes them super flammable & fast burning and that the creatine produced would leave a sticky deposit on the walls of the chimney — a nightmare to clean off etc. So, limbing it and saving the trunk for our Easter Cross, we hauled the bramble off into the woods where our cul-de-sac dead-ended.

     This event came to mind recently for two reasons. The first was the ease with which we now put away our Christmas tree – because it is artificial! – a few quick folds (after removing ornaments of course!) The other was the Bible read-thru journey on which our church has embarked; reflecting in Exodus 3, I have become freshly enamored by Moses’ encounter with God in a bush that burned but that was not consumed. Trying to picture the scene, I have wondered, was it flame-colored like the animated movies and book illustrations portray? Or was it ever…green, though burning with God’s glory, flaming fiery golden, all around it?

     The speaker I heard address the story recently on the radio was not my favorite, as far as style of delivery, but I listened and was blessed to share in his revelation that God did not speak out of that burning bush that was ever…green until Moses turned aside to see.

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     Bushes catching fire in the dry heat of the Judean wilderness was not an uncommon occurrence, he rightly explained. But mercifully, in God’s eternally good providence, Moses was paying enough attention to notice that this one was not being consumed. How long did Moses watch it from the corner of his eyes, I wonder? All day? Half-a-day? How long did it take him to decide that the trouble of securing the sheep prematurely or else of risking leaving them untended for a while was worth taking a closer look at that bush? Again I am filled with gratitude for the persistent, pursuing love of the Divine Trinity who hovered in radiant glory upon that bush until Moses, like a fly to a flame, was drawn irresistibly.

361C9377-7D34-4060-8B8E-C643F6A60914    Except, this was no fatal attraction that ran the risk of crisping a critter, setting a forest aflame or of burning a house to the ground, like my burning evergreen bid threatened to do a few years ago. Rather, it was God’s redeeming love and His holy restraint revealed simultaneously. He was following up on promises made Millennia and centuries before – from Adam and Eve to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and now his progeny – that would have repercussions for the redemption of all who will believe in the Messiah issuing from this people. That Burning Ever…Green was not about saving energy, but saving Mankind from the consuming fire of God’s righteous holiness; not to destroy but to restore fellowship with Himself and secure a return to the sweet communion of Eden. Praise the Lord!

     Despite the trouble of using a live Christmas evergreen, from purchase to disposal, I must admit that like fresh flowers, its fragrance and vibrance add an amazing element of life to Christmas decor. My reflecting on it in the light of Scripture, proved the radio preacher right – turning aside from the daily grind, in faith-filled anticipation of encountering the God who is there, ever seeking our errant hearts, prepares us to experience a foretaste of that Day, while yet here on earth. Elizabeth Browning and Ann Ortlund lyricized about this (the latter inspired by the former):

     Omnipresence

“Oh praise the Lord!

The earth is cramm’d with heaven!

Oh praise the Lord!

And Christian look around!

For ev’ry bush with Fire is flaming!

And ev’ry place you walk is Holy Ground”

Praying a season of constant turning aside to see the Lord, during this first round of Ordinary Time.