About this Blog

The purpose of this blog is to encourage your personal, daily walk with Jesus Christ, by seeing Him through the eyes of Mark Rodriguez. Updates will be made regularly so please subscribe. Most posts are taken from Mark's private journals or written by his mother unless otherwise noted.

Friday, December 25, 2015

I want a Christmas Miracle

When I was a little girl, I remember one special Christmas.  After the present-opening-frenzy was over, my parents asked, with a twinkle in their eyes, "What is that way under the tree?" And there was hidden in the very back corner, one last gift. And in that gift resided the one thing I thought I wasn't getting that year.  To describe the joy is impossible. A hope fulfilled was the best feeling.  

This Christmas, I was the first to wake up in my house. Before I even opened my eyes, my very first thought was, "Maybe he is in his bed." For a second it seemed possible that Mark might have been given back to me and was simply snuggled down warm in teenaged slumber.  Maybe it was all just a nightmare. But no. No Christmas miracle.  

Christmas 2013
I made my way downstairs, turned on the Christmas lights and music like I have done for 20+ years. It is my job as the mom to set the Christmas mood, but my spirit was sad. Sad like a child who realizes the gift she wanted was always very out of reach. There is no "last gift" hidden way under the tree. 

I grabbed my coffee, went to my quiet spot and watched the last of the sunrise.  I shared some tears with God and asked Him to show up for me today.

And I started wondering if Christmas is celebrated in Heaven.  I wondered especially what the mood in heaven was the moment the Word became flesh on that first Christmas morning. The moment the Beloved Son left everything Beautiful to come be with us.

I am sure there are huge books on the theology of this, so don't let my musings be taken with much weight. But in my imagination this morning, I wondered if maybe there was some loss or some longing that occurred when the Son left heaven. Surely, the heavenly forces knew this was God's will and that He would come out the victor. But to witness The Word submitting Himself to reside in a human body to live, love, grieve, suffer and die had to still break the hearts of heaven.  Even for a good purpose, we hate to see those we love suffer.

Were there any angel mutterings of "Why doesn't the Father do something like just flood them again?" What was it like telling the human world the "Good news" when they knew that our gain was only by Jesus' pending pain. Good news for us, but not for the heavenly hosts who I imagine desperately wished there was some other way to bring depraved humanity back to a Holy God. How did they submit themselves to this crazy plan of redemption? They could have turned in their resignation like Lucifer. But they didn't.  

They opened up the sky and declared "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those with whom he is pleased!" Luke 2:14

And this verse is where I found my gift...the one hidden so far back behind the tree I could have missed it this year.  When faced with the suffering of one we love or our own suffering, we like the Angels, can choose to trust the character of God. We can decide that even when the story seems to make no sense, (Seriously, a baby in a barn is going to save us? Seriously, more cancer, God?  Seriously, more depression?) In the crazy, impossibly hopeless situations, God's promises will not fail. That is the Christmas miracle. What is impossible, is possible for God.  And while I really, really wanted my Christmas miracle, the one that has already happened, the Word becoming flesh, will ultimately fulfill my hope.  And I, and we, can choose to join the angels in praise, and the focus on His character will be what sustains us.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Prayer when the Future is Unknown

“It could be exciting!” I exclaimed, “It could be a great adventure for your family.” I knew my words were empty.  I had to muster up the energy to be enthusiastic for her and the opportunity on the horizon that might mean a move.  She could totally see through it too. 

She sat at my kitchen island with me, sipping water after our walk.  This friend who I have known a long time is a deep souled friend who I have known before our babies were born.  She is one of those friends I don’t see often enough and whenever we do get together I leave wanting more. 

“Yes, it could be exciting,” she said looking intently “but I know that sometimes God’s will leads us into hard places.  Sometimes those places are lonely, or hard on one of the kids, or the job stinks.  You know…you have lost Mark.”

Quiet.  There is no way to positive-think this truth away that sometimes life is hard.  She does not look forward to this change and the promise of “adventure” isn’t enough.  We looked at each other and wondered when we stopped dreaming of the bright future…you know the handsome man of our dreams, career, marriage and babies?

Somewhere along the way, life happened.  I think of this friend, who really is a Warrior Princess in my mind.   She hasn’t given up the faith as she has weathered the usual (and sometimes unusual) parenting, marriage and work stuff.  I am telling you, she has a story.  She is not at all a pessimist, and she has fought hard for hope.  But she is a realist.  A realist who believes in a supernatural God. 

As our bodies cooled down from our walk, we talked about the challenges of not knowing what was next, and the anxiety the unknown can cause.  Limbo is a hard place to be for many of us.  And because we have walked through some life together we could say to each other, “Remember when this big change happened and then God…?”

Our conversation didn’t make the atmosphere of change any less heavy.  We weren’t in the mood to lighten up.  But one thing we came to agreement on. 

“Okay, so maybe it won’t be easy.  It could really be hard. The only thing we really know is you will experience God in a new and deeper way.” I ventured.

“Yes,” she sighed. “That is for sure.  I will know Him better.” She tilts her head and gives a small smile.  This is enough for her. 

No matter what happens, she will know God better, and that makes it all worth it.
No matter what…He will be there.  In fact, He already is there before she gets there.  I know this first hand.

The Bible is really clear that trouble is going to come.  I like to forget those verses.  But in all fairness, God warns us in His word that there will be trials that we really want to end and that some will not let up until Heaven.  But just as surely as He warns us that life will be hard and not fair, He promises to meet us in the midst of it. 

If we submit and lean in to our circumstances, no matter how scary or difficult we will know Him more and then become more like Him.  And in that, we experience His comfort and care and love in amazing ways.  Sometimes we experience that as we have private time in prayer and reading scripture, but others time it is through the care of another Jesus-lover.

What isn’t fair in your life? What trial is just too hard? What are you weary of?  Are you tired of the trite positive phrases that fall on your annoyed ears?  Then pray with me in the midst of it…

“God, if you're leading me into the unknown, I want ALL OF YOU.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why do You Think We Love Sunsets?


(re-post from Mark's journal)


I've somehow recently forgotten how incredible your love is, how much you desire intimacy with me...

I asked God for a passage that would break through to me.  I opened to Nehemiah 9.  

--Despite the Israelites' many betrayals you were "a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them."

I can give into sin and reject you, and you would still bless me and welcome me whenever I returned to you.  But I'M NOT OKAY WITH THAT LIFE.  I want everyday to be a day obsessed with you.  I want to recognize every blessing and the powerful love behind it.  

I want to really, really, love you.  God, open my eyes.  Let me see the reason behind the sunset that looks just amazing to me.  Nothing I do is worth it if it wasn't done in love with you. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Dear Sweet Grieving Mama,

Dear Sweet Grieving Mama,

I want you to know I am thinking about you.  A lot.  I guess because I am you.

This year I think about my dear friend who lost her son 10 years ago, my friend who lost her little daughter who I held just a week before she died, and the one who has had miscarriage after miscarriage and then a stillborn son. I especially think about the mama who is walking into her first Christmas without her young adult daughter. So many memories comforting her, surrounding her, and stabbing her heart all at once. 

And while I have lost my son, Mark, I do not dare say that I know all that you are feeling. I do not know the smell of your child’s neck, or the way they felt when you hugged them. I do not know what it is like to dream of a future that does not make it out of the womb. But I believe we share a terrible “missing” that can only be shared between mothers who have lost children. 

There are words we have heard and memories we have that no mother should ever experience. There is a depth of pain that we have felt that surely should have killed us and we sometimes wished it would. There is a quiet sorrow that walks with us and replaces acute anguish as time slowly passes. We mark the time passing differently than others with a sometimes obsessive counting of how long it has been. And worse, how long we might have to live without the one we have lost. 

And strangely, if we lean into the sorrow we have this knowing that we have experienced the gift of something so incredibly beautiful and special. Of course, we wish there was another way to know this but we would never trade one second of our child’s life even if it meant we would be spared the pain.  There are words we have heard and memories we have that no other person has ever experienced because they belong solely to our hearts and our child. 

So how can we possibly do this Christmas thing? Any way we want to. Any way we need to. But do it. One minute, then the next, and then the next. I can not look ahead or I stop breathing. We have to remain right in this moment.

It helps me to be around you. This year I was up for our church Christmas party (couldn’t make it through last year…and who knows about the next?) and I sat right beside a woman who has also lost a son. A woman who has grieved hard but lives with joy and hope. We didn’t talk about our boys, but we felt them. Right there on that couch we laughed and knew the other “got it.” Sorrow and Joy lives on the same street. Often in the same house.

There is One even closer to my heart who “gets it.” Jesus was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” and “he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:3-4). That is who I look for now when the day seems long. 

There was a little Christmas game we played with our kids when they were little. When we would go into the nursing home to sing Christmas carols we would tell the kids to look in all the faces of the residents and see which one was “Jesus.” It was so cool to talk about on the ride home because sometimes we each picked a different person, but sometimes there would be one lady or gentleman who just had those eyes. The gentle loving sparkle that looks right into you and loves you. 

Sweet grieving mama, draw close to other women who have tasted your grief. Let their presence comfort you. But even more so, draw close to the One who has borne your grief. Look for Him everywhere you go in people and in the creation He helped make. I believe wholeheartedly that He is especially close to us. Jesus made sure His mother was taken care of in her grief (John 19:26) and I believe He makes sure we are also comforted. I pray this comfort is the gift you and I receive from Him this Christmas. 

Wishing you Comfort and Joy,
Leigh Ellen

Sunday, December 6, 2015

One Change can make this the Most Meaningful Christmas Ever

We are a family of December birthdays. My sister and I both have birthdays right before Christmas. As kids my mom tried hard to separate out our birthdays from the Big Day. I had completely themed parties that were not Christmas related (the piano cake was my favorite) and real birthday wrapping paper. We never had the combined birthday/Christmas gift. My mom spoiled us for the adult life where December birthdays are a pain in the butt. 

As an adult, my fellow December birthday buddies and I lament how December birthdays are "the worst." You can't help but think that your January-November born friends are having to squeeze you in to their Christmas hustle and bustle. So you keep your birthday quiet because you don't want to see the panic on your coworkers face when they realize their lunch hour is now going to be about birthday lunch duty not the Christmas shopping they desperately needed to do.

Your spouse is now challenged with buying not one but two gifts, and he better not wrap the birthday present in Christmas paper. Mercy.

I feel the challenge in my own home as I have my own child with a December birthday. We have doomed him to the same fate where he will have to take exams on his birthday, and never really get to be the main event. Sorry, kid. We weren't thinking.
William Joshua born Dec 20, 1999

So, for now while he is home, on December 20th, we make everything STOP. It is Will's day. We hang the birthday banner. We make the funny face pancakes. We each tell him what we love about him.  He gets to choose his favorite dinner and eat off the "You are Special" plate. We give him things that he likes. We talk about the day he was born, and how we wanted him. We talk about how much he has grown up and our favorite memories.

It has been the December Birthday Bitterness that has breathed new life into my Christmas.  Because, duh, isn't that supposed to be Jesus' birthday?  Do you struggle with finding Him in the Christmas Season (or "Stressmas" Season)? Is it possible that maybe Jesus would prefer not to be the afterthought, the inconvenience or the Birthday lunch duty between the "real" parties? Is He hoping someone will dig out the Birthday paper that is under the humongous piles of Santa and Rudolph themed red and green paper? Maybe he wants a little more than the obligatory Luke 2 reading crammed in before Santa comes?

Forgive me if I am stating the obvious, but I believe here is the key to the Meaningful Christmas we all want. Make it about His birthday.  This is about the heart, not the actions really.  Because we can make the Birthday Cake for baby Jesus and hang the lights, and give the gifts, but if it is done with stress and obligation and because it is "tradition" with no heart in it, I don't think He wants it.  He'd rather us wait and celebrate Him at another time when we can give Him our full attention.

How would Christmas be different if everything we do is through the filter of "It's Your Birthday, Jesus, what do you want to do?" I can apply my earthly birthday traditions to my relationship with Jesus.  I can talk to Him about the day He was born in my heart and how much I wanted Him.  I can recall the way my life changed for the better since that "birth."  I can hang the lights because they are my birthday banner celebrating Him.  I can tell Him what I love about Him and why He is special to me.  And I can ask Him what He would like to do on His day, and make that a day about Him. Each action can be an anticipatory action of love as I get ready to celebrate the birth of the real life, in the flesh, Son of God.  If Jesus visited Dec 25th, would He even know which house was hosting His party? May He easily find yours and mine because our invitation clearly states who we celebrate.