This is why we don’t have to be afraid

My son listened this year as I told the Christmas story to  a gathering of prechoolers and he reviewed it for me over the next few days.

He told me about Mary and about Joseph and about the angels.  He told me how Jesus was God but a baby and how Christmas was Jesus’ birthday.

Then, he told me how Jesus ate a lot of food, got bigger and didn’t stay a baby anymore.

Got it.

But he also says this:  “The angels kept saying, “Don’t be afraid!”

They kept saying that.  Over and over.  Those angels had this resounding message of  joy and they prefaced it with the command to “fear not.”

As we finish one year, as we prepare for the next, as we look to the unknown and the new and the yet-to-come, how do we let this message change us and change our perspective?

How do we renew hope?   How do  we quiet fears ?

 

after all,  THE GOSPEL MESSAGE IS ALL ABOUT HOPE FOR THE HOPELESS, LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS, JOY IN SORROW AND PEACE IN TURMOIL.

It’s for those hopeless enough to feel like one more day alive is too much to bear.

It’s for those of us watching the clock at night, too worried about bills and our kids, our marriages, conflicts with family, or problems at work to sleep in peace.

It’s even for a worrier like me, anxious over the little things like birthday parties and church programs and a fresh calendar awaiting the activities of a new year.

It’s for the daily troubles that we turn into crises and for the life-and-death struggles we sometimes face.

IT’S THE REMINDER THAT GOD CAME HERE TO BE WITH US SO WE WOULDN’T BE ALONE, AND HE WILL NOT LEAVE OUR SIDE.

That’s the hope we have.  Not us alone in a crazy, mixed-up, broken world.  Not us alone facing bills and divorce, depression or stress.

Not us alone against any road-bumps ahead in the days to come.

Emmanuel.  God with us.

As it says in Isaiah:

“Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Fear not.

That’s the loudest message from the Christmas story.  The one grand announcement over and over: “Do not be afraid.”  That’s what my son reminds me.

That wasn’t just God’s plan for our past.  It’s been His passion from the beginning of Creation—to be with us.  It was His driving desire all those years of patiently planning for our salvation through Christ’s coming, His death, His resurrection.

It’s the great passion of God’s heart even now.  In the book of Revelation, we’re told that when the battle is over and Christ establishes His forever kingdom, God will say:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

We close another Christmas season.  We stop playing the carols.  We pack up the decorations.

We make resolutions and plans for the new year.

But this is what we carry with us; this is the hope we have every single day:

HE CHOSE TO BE WITH US SO WE COULD CHOOSE TO BE WITH HIM.

So we do not need to be afraid of facing anything in this life alone.

God is with us.

Originally published December 28, 2015

Bible Verses about Worship at Christmas

  • Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV
    For to us a child is born,
        to us a son is given;
    and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
        and his name shall be called[e]
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
        Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the increase of his government and of peace
        there will be no end,
    on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
        to establish it and to uphold it
    with justice and with righteousness
        from this time forth and forevermore.
    The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
  • Matthew 2:10-11 ESV
    When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
  • Luke 1:44 ESV
     For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
  • Luke 1:46-55 ESV
    Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
    46 And Mary said,
    “My soul magnifies the Lord,
    47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
    49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
    50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
    51 He has shown strength with his arm
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
    52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
    53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty.-
    54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
    55 as he spoke to our fathers,
    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
  • Luke 2:13-14 ESV
    And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
    14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
  • Luke 2:20 ESV
    And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
  • Luke 2:38 ESV
     And coming up at that very hour she (Anna) began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The amazing, astonishing, startling, unexpected grace of Christmas

I pieced the shepherd back together yesterday.

One night while I was out this past week, apparently there was a crash, the kind that happens when child meets breakable object.  The shepherd in our nativity took a tumble and  was left in pieces.  His lamb was missing wool.  He was missing a hand and a foot and a corner of his robe.

So, I puzzled it out piece by piece with a bottle of super glue until he looked presentable again.

This isn’t the first brokenness in our nativity.

There’s a wise men who has had some patching up, as well.  A few years ago, he crashed and lost his head and a foot.  Super glue saved the day then, too.

I bought the set years and years ago for $6 at a church yard sale, and I love it.  Truly love it.  It’s not porcelain white with gold trim.  It’s not handcrafted wood.  It’s not expensive or fancy.  It was a bargain,  well-loved, used, and slightly the worst for wear.

It’s been a little broken even from the beginning for me.  Our donkey came to us with one ear missing.  So, this little set has some history.

But I love it. There’s something about these figures that draws me, their individual expressions and personality,  the colorfulness of it all, maybe.

Maybe the beauty is simply this: Jesus didn’t come all pristine and showy.  He didn’t come gilded or gorgeous, lofty and high.

He came so low.  He came to  the humblest and the small.  He came to the broken.

He came to us.

I see this heart in Mary when she sang with astonishment at the angel’s message.  She would be the mother of the Savior! Her!  Not some princess or queen, not a woman of position and power, not a matriarch of a rich family,

Young.  Single.  Poor.

Mary sang:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name (Luke 1:36-49).

Her song rings with astonishment.  Not just that God would do  this miraculous work, but that He would do these great things “for me.”

In his book, Hidden Christmas, Timothy Keller writes:

We should be just as shocked that God would give us—with all our smallness and flaws—such a mighty gift.

God  does this.  He chooses the humble.   Scripture reminds us of God’s heart:

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble, but he keeps his distance from the proud
(Psalm 138:6 NLT)

The Lord supports the humble, but he brings the wicked down into the dust.
(Psalm 147:6 NLT)

For the Lord delights in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
(Psalm 149:4 NLT)

So he chooses this girl Mary, and when He does she marvels at the way this is so topsy-turvy, so against the world’s expectations and plans:

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
    and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and the rich he has sent away empty (Luke 1:51-53). 

He has blessed not the mighty, but the humble,  not the rich, but the hungry.

How startling that God would choose her.

And he chooses simple shepherds.  He chooses foreigners, Gentiles, from a far off nation to carry the gold and the frankincense and the myrrh to worship this new King.  He chooses the tiny town of Bethlehem; He chooses a stable, not a palace in the capital city.

How startling that God would choose them. 

It’s an astonishment we need ourselves:  How startling that God would choose us:  love us, save us, call us, use us.

Us!  Yes, us, the broken ones gathered around the nativity, held together by super glue with our cracks still evident upon up-close inspection.

 

Timothy Keller continues in his book this way:

“no Christian should ever be far from this astonishment that ‘I, I of all people, should be loved and embraced by his grace!” (Hidden Christmas)

It’s a surprise that shakes us out of complacency and into awe-filled worship.  Our God, so mighty, so worthy of praise, He “has done great things for me!”  Yes, He has done this even for me, even when I was lost, even when I’m imperfect, even when I mess up, even when I’m broken, even when I don’t  have it all together.

Such grace.  Such amazing grace.

There’s No Surprising Him #Advent

When my older girls were preschoolers, we’d keep every activity a secret until the last possible second.

If I planned to take them to the zoo, they’d find out that morning at 8:30 when I put on their sneakers and packed the cooler.

If Grandma was coming for a visit, they found out when she pulled in the driveway.  Maybe, just maybe, I’d be generous enough to clue them in a few hours before she arrived.  But that was it.  No more advance notice than that.

This parental strategy was for several reasons.

  1. Sometimes plans change, so I kept things secret so no promises were broken or kids felt disappointed.
  2. My children would pester me every hour of every day if they knew something exciting was going to happen.  “How much longer?  How many days?  How many hours…minutes….seconds?”

One year, I kept the secret that Grandma was coming right up until the night before her visit when some unforeseen event dragged the news out of me at bedtime.

Disaster ensued.  Huge childhood drama.

My oldest daughter wailed, grumped, and grew outrageously angry at me for keeping the secret.

I had not given her acceptable planning time.  She informed me, “Had I known Grandma was coming, I would have made her a project.  I had time to make a project today. Tomorrow will be too busy and I will not have time.  You should have told me!”

Oh sweet daughter, I understand.

I do truly hate surprises.  I love my planning and processing time. Springing anything on me is just asking for a meltdown and a whole lot of trouble.

Surprises rock our world a bit, even good ones.  We’re thrown off balance and take time to adjust.

And isn’t Christmas all about surprises?

Zechariah was simply performing his priestly duties when an angel appeared unexpectedly and delivered the news that he and his wife would be parents.

Gabriel arrived in the middle of an average, ordinary day and announced to a young girl named Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah.

Joseph was sleeping when the angel told him the news in a dream.

Shepherds gathered on the hills outside of Bethlehem to watch over the sheep just as they did every single night.  But on this night, the angels declared their Savior had come.

A people who had spent hundreds of years praying for the Messiah, searching for the Messiah, waiting and longing for the Messiah were completely surprised when the Messiah came.

It’s altogether an astonishing tale.  Everyone waking up on an average day, going about their average ways, and then the most extraordinary happens: An encounter with an angel.  A miraculous sign.

God at work in their midst.

There’s only one member of this entire Christmas account who isn’t stunned and surprised by the Messiah’s birth.

God Himself.

And this brings me great comfort.

NONE OF THIS WAS A SURPRISE TO GOD.

Not our need for a Savior. Not the timing.  Not that He’d send His Son to be born of a virgin in a tiny town.  Not that His Son would die on a cross to save His people from their sins.

He knew all of it.

The very first Christmas verse I can find in the Bible isn’t in the Gospels at all.  It’s in Genesis.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
    and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). 

The moment Adam and Eve sinned, God declared the plan of salvation, the war with Satan, and Christ’s ultimate victory.

Sometimes surprises can send me into a mad scramble.  Life takes unexpected turns.  An average ordinary day can catapult me into a crisis with a single phone call.

It feels precarious and frightening to teeter-totter every moment, never knowing when my perfect plan will be bumped into.

But this is what I know:

Even when I don’t have a plan, God does.

Nothing sends Him into a frantic search for a Plan B.  Nothing stresses Him out or tosses Him into crisis mode because He didn’t see that coming.

God knew we’d need a Savior all along and He knew exactly how to save us.

God always knows what we’re going through and what we need.  Even when we’re surprised, He is not.

So we can rest from our vigil of anxiety and loosen our tight-fisted grip on control.

Christmas reminds us that we can trust Him with today and again with tomorrow.

He has perfect plans and perfect timing and we are perfectly cared for by a God who rescues and saves.

Originally published 12/7/2016

The Light Shines Best Through the Darkness #Advent

My son decisively flicks off the overhead lights in the kitchen.

This is inconvenient since I am actually cooking dinner at that precise moment.

So, I flick the lights back on and thereby initiate a light battle.

Off. On.  Off. On.

Finally, he pushes down the switch one more time and says, “Mom, it’s pretty!”

That’s when he points to the Christmas lights:  Our Victorian village with houses, stores, a library and church all glowing; The garland strung with lights surrounding our nativity scene; the Christmas tree glowing from the living room.

Everywhere there is light.

But it shows up best against the darkness and he knows it.

So, I acquiesce a bit because I understand this quest for beauty.

When I need to see into the back recesses of the cabinet, I turn the switch on.  When I’m finished digging out ingredients and just stirring them into the pot on the stove, I keep it off.

Maybe my son and I are kindred spirits in this.

Each morning, before I have shuffled over to the teapot to heat water for my tea, before I have poured cereal into the bowl for my toddler, before I have fed the cat, I journey around our home and plug in every string of Christmas lights we have.

Only then am I prepared to start the day’s routine.

And throughout the day, I work and clean and write by the light of tiny Christmas bulbs whenever possible.

The light and the glow bring me a sweet, indefinable peace and a little bit of extra joy. It reminds me that even when I feel surrounded by darkness, the Light has come.

That is what Christmas is.

That is what Christmas promises.

Isaiah prophesied:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV).

What a blinding revelation of God’s glory as the Light of Christ shot through the darkness into a Bethlehem night.

So many missed it, though.  So many didn’t see.

But the angels declared it.  The shepherds worshiped. The wise men followed.

And Zechariah sang a song of praise to God at his own son’s birth because he knew the Light was coming:

Through the heartfelt mercies of our God,
God’s Sunrise will break in upon us,
Shining on those in the darkness,
those sitting in the shadow of death,
Then showing us the way, one foot at a time,
down the path of peace (Luke 1:78-79 MSG).    

Maybe I enjoy my son’s pronouncements that the Christmas decorations are “pretty” because I need the reminder to actually look and see.

Too often I’m the one missing it instead of following His glory like Zechariah and those angels and shepherds and wise men long ago.

This year might have worn us down.  It might have exhausted our souls and depleted our reserves of hope.

We’re so desperate for His Light in our darkness.

This week I read in the Psalms a verse that perfectly described my heart this year:

My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled.  Psalm 119:123

We want to see.  We desperately, deeply want to see promises fulfilled, rescue coming, salvation here, prayers answered.

Yet, still we wait.

Advent reminds me to keep looking, keep straining my eyes to see, keep hunting for the Light like it’s the greatest treasure and the truest longing of my soul.

Because Advent is all about the longing, the seeking and searching, the expectant wait and the assurance that the promises are fulfilled.

Christ indeed came.

God’s people didn’t wait forever.

Finally, in God’s perfect timing, the Light cut through the darkness and it shone on His people.

But here’s what else I realize as my son points to the “pretty” lights…

Sometimes we need others to reveal the light for us.

Just like we languish in the darkness, just like we long for hope, for joy, for peace, so do those around us.

And maybe this year, instead of worrying over the darkness ourselves, we can help point to the Light just as Zechariah did in his song of praise.  Just like the angels did as they declared “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Just as the shepherds did as they ran out of the stable to tell everyone about “this thing that has happened.”

Just as the wise men did as they laid their gifts before the small Messiah.

The joy of the light isn’t just in the seeing; it’s in the sharing.

May we see the Light of Christ cut through the darkness this year.

May we also share the Light of Christ, may we seek out ways to be light so that others can learn to see, too.

Originally published 12/2/2016

Losing, Looking, Seeking and Finding Christ this Christmas

Who knew at least 25% of my life as a mom would be looking for other people’s stuff?

One day you hold  a beautiful  infant in your arms and 12 years later,  you’re answering an endless stream of the same-old, same-old questions.

“Mom, have you seen….?”

“Mom, where did YOU put….” (Because obviously you must have moved it.)

“Mom,where’s my….?”

Today alone, I have already found a costume piece, a missing outfit, and a pair of shoes.  Plus, I am engaged in an ongoing hunt for a dress that  apparently walked out of a closet.

Earlier this week, I sat at the kitchen table helping one daughter with schoolwork while another daughter frantically huffed around the house.

She shuffled papers on the piano.  She tossed books around in the book bin.  She slammed desk drawers and closet doors.

I prodded her with a few standard investigative questions.  “Where did you last have it?  When was the last time you saw it?”

She just knew she put it on the piano, 100% absolutely sure . Someone must have moved it.

I let her search while I doggedly continued the study session with my other kid.  Finally, though, I looked up at this increasingly stressed child  and said, “I feel like I saw you fold that paper up into a square as we headed out the door somewhere.  Maybe in your coat pocket?   Maybe in your Bible?

Ding ding ding!

I carried that victory around as a moment  of superior Mom-ness.  Finding something without even getting up to look, that is worth serious parental points right there.

Hunting and finding.  Searching and seeking.  Looking and tracking.

This Mom-life has made me watchful and aware, and maybe that’s more than just a good Mom-skill.  Maybe that’s a heart-skill we need, especially at Christmas.

Because, right there in the busiest of seasons, if we stop being watchful and aware, we can miss out on Christ right in the middle  of Christmas.

The shepherds looked up on that holy night.  As the angels crowded into the night sky, the shepherds could have run in fear, cowered into rock crevices, hid their faces, and waited for life to return to normal so they could get back to watching those good-old sheep.

Instead, they looked up.   They listened.  They watched their flocks by night and they watched the angels worship, and they pursued the Savior.  They had to leave those Bethlehem hills and follow the instructions they’d been given.  A manger.  Swaddling clothes.  This baby.  Christ the Lord.

The wise men looked up, too.  They watched the night sky, they studied the stars.  They dug deep into ancient texts and lived in awareness.

Then, instead of shrugging off an anomaly among the stars, they packed up belongings, kissed loved ones goodbye, and set off on a journey to who knows where to find really who knows what.

They were searchers, seekers, treasure hunters, and they were finders.

Then there’s Simeon, who waited in the temple to see the Messiah.  He watched as people filed in and out, families coming for festivals, couples carrying babies to be dedicated.

He saw the One he’d been waiting for all because he kept his eyes open.  He looked and kept looking and never gave up looking until a poor carpenter walked in with a young bride who carried in her arms a baby named Jesus.

Shepherds.  Wise Men.  Simeon.

They all lived watchfully.

Others missed out.  When those wise men arrived in Jerusalem and asked King Herod about this one who was born “King of the Jews,” he called for religious scholars to fill in the blanks.  They knew the prophecy.  The Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

But they didn’t go.  They shrugged off the visit from these foreign seekers and stayed right where they were, pursuing their own religious agendas, doing all of the holy things, and yet MISSING it, MISSING Him.

Max Lucado writes,
“They reported to Herod that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.  Did they not read the prophecy?  Yes, but they did not respond to it.  You’d think at a minimum they would have accompanied the magi to Bethlehem.  The village was near enough.  The risk was small enough.  At worst they would be out the effort.  At best they would see the fulfillment of prophecy.  But the priests showed no interest” (Because of Bethlehem p. 78).

During this holy season, how can we choose the better thing, to be aware of God on the move?

How can we wake each day with watchful anticipation, asking God to let us see Him?  To not miss Him?  To go where He is and to worship Him right there?

Let’s look and let’s listen and live watchfully, so we can see Jesus and we can worship.

Broken ornaments and letting go of perfection

The first crash of that shattering glass hit and it was just the day after Thanksgiving.  We were only one day into the Christmas season and only about 1 hour into Operation Decorate the House.

‘Twas an accident of course.

The penguin soap dispenser hit that floor and ended in a puddle of hand soap and broken glass.

Accidents happen, you know.That’s decorating with kids.

An hour later, another crash.  Our box of special, keepsake, treasured ornaments hit the floor and a daughter cried with remorse.

Still, a little sweeping, a little mopping, a little gluing, a little comforting and we slipped back into the decorating groove, crooning along with Bing Crosby to White Christmas.

Stuff is stuff.  Things break (especially when you’re clumsy like me, especially when you have four kids like us).

Look at our Christmas tree from afar and it still has that glow of perfect.

Look up close and you’ll see the ballerina’s feet are glued on, Noah’s ark is missing a dolphin leaping up out of the ocean waters, and the three kings no longer carry a sign: “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”

Brokenness can still be beautiful when we look with eyes of grace.

But when we squint up close to critique and criticize….when we look right past the glory and seek out the flaws…..suddenly that’s all we see.

Perfectionism is a bully.

It muscles in and takes over our perceptions.

It demands that we see only brokenness and faults.

It insists that we remain chained to the past, obsessing over mistakes, battering us over past sin, beating us up with shame.

Lysa TerKeurst writes:

My imperfections will never override God’s promises (The Best Yes).

The promise of Christmas is “God with us.”  The promise is that when we were farthest from Him, He came to us.

The promise is that we didn’t have to get it right on our own or check the boxes of the law until we’d met some prerequisite to grace.

We didn’t come worthy.

We came needy.

And He came down.

Our imperfections never negated the promise of Emmanuel’s presence.  Not then.  Not now.

He still promises us this, “And surely I will be with you always” (Matthew 28:20 NIV).

He is with us always, but not to leave us there in the brokenness.

Sometimes we stop right there at this thought: “Beauty in the brokenness.  We’re all a mess in need of a Messiah.”

Sometimes we stop right there and, dare I say it, glory in the broken?  We cling to our mess instead of releasing it to Him.

But the glory is in the Healer.  The glory is in the redemption.  The glory is in the One who puts His own pure robe of righteousness over our shaky shoulders.

He doesn’t leave us naked and ashamed.  He “has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10 NIV).

We’ll never be perfect in our own striving and strength.  True.  But we don’t have to remain stuck there in the mud.  He grips us with the hand of grace and pulls us out of that pit so we can move forward with Him.

Those disciples on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection didn’t have it all right.  They didn’t have perfect understanding.  Their belief was delicately trembling and about to topple their whole foundation of faith.

They thought Jesus had been the Messiah, yet He had died.  These rumors from ‘crazy women’ about an empty tomb left them confused and alarmed.

But Jesus walked alongside without them recognizing him, going back to the beginning, telling the story start to finish.

When He was about to leave, “they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.”

There at the dinner table, He broke the bread and their eyes opened wide to the truth: This was Jesus.  This was God in their midst.

As I consider these searching followers, these disciples who didn’t have it all figured out and didn’t know all the answers, who were hurting and confused, I realize this:

God’s presence doesn’t hinge on perfection.

God’s presence doesn’t demand perfect understanding or faith without fail.

But if I want God’s presence, then I have to invite Him in, urge Him strongly, “stay with me…..”

He can only make us whole when we trust Him with the pieces, all of them:

God made my life complete
    when I placed all the pieces before him. Psalm 18:20 MSG

We bring all the pieces.  We don’t hold any back.

We lay them at His feet, not running away or hiding from Him.  We come into His presence, broken as we are, and He makes us whole and holy, and He stays with us.

Originally published 12/10/2014

This is the invitation to go together and not alone

“I want to come!”

This is my son.  He lives in a constant state of high-alert awareness, making sure no one in the family goes out for an adventure or for some fun without bringing him along.

We plan a movie day, just me and my girls to see a film that isn’t animated and isn’t going to hold the interest of my active four-year-old boy.

Somehow, though, without us talking to  him or even talking near him so he’ll overhear us, he manages to catch the word “movies” and pipes up with his current catchphrase, “I want to come!”

This is so hard.

I am an oldest child in a family of 5 kids.  Until I had a youngest child of my own, I had no idea how hard it can be sometimes to be the baby of the family.

He is the one who wants to play, but the others are too old to play.

He is the one who always wants to come even if we’re going somewhere he can’t go.  That means feeling left behind and that breaks his momma’s heart.

So, we try our best.  We draw him in.  We take him whenever we can.   That’s not everywhere and that’s not always, but we do our best.

Right in the middle of decorating our Christmas tree, last weekend, I ran out of working Christmas lights.  It had been a long and busy day full of projects, but unfinished projects are like fingernails on a chalkboard for me.   I cannot do, “let it wait until tomorrow.”

So, off I went, grabbing my bag and prepping for an emergency dash to the Wal-Mart.

My son saw my bag and sure enough said, “I want to come!”

He didn’t even know where I was going.  He just didn’t want to be left out.

Of course, making quick runs into a store is much easier without children along for the ride, but I grabbed his coat and shoes and took him with me because I could.

We drove out of our neighborhood slowly, marveling at all the Christmas lights.  We bought our supplies at the store and as we walked back out, Andrew shouted to a group of unknown bystanders, “Hey, they have a lot of Christmas stuff in there!”  Then we drove back home a slightly different way so we could see the decorations on a whole new set of houses.

The best part  of our unexpected adventure was his presence.  He was there.  He didn’t miss it.  I had drawn him in to the journey and pulled him alongside as a companion and he brought all the joy when wrestling with the lights on that tree had left me joy-depleted.

This is one of the gifts of the Christmas season: Jesus draws us in and He draws us together with others.

This is what He did for Mary, as she was commissioned to be the mother of the Messiah, right when the calling was at its most overwhelming and she could have felt both overwhelmed and all alone.  That’s when the angel said:

And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren (Luke 1:36 ESV).

You’re not in this by yourself.  Come.  Share this experience and this calling with another.

That was the invitation.

It was an invitation to do the hard thing with another rather than all alone.

And the angels made other announcements.  The heavens displayed other signs.  They shared the good news of great joy with a group of shepherds co-laboring in the fields, and a group of wise men studying the skies and ancient texts together.

These men had been working together and searching together.   Now, they became fellow-travelers and fellow-witnesses, bringing their community to Jesus and bringing Jesus to their community.

So much of me wants to hide away and hibernate by the time we hit December.  The calendar has “no more room at the inn” and my depleted resources leave me with little left to give.

But Jesus.

Jesus draws others in.

He brought His very presence right into the middle of the everyday, ordinary, needy lives of people and then invited them to come and not just to come alone, but to come together .

Maybe this Christmas can be a Christmas of invitation for us.  Maybe instead of doing alone and going alone, we can ask another, “Do you want to come?”  It can be last minute, it can be messy, it can be casual, it can be crazy.  It can be formal and planned or it can be made up as we go along.

It can be a prayer as we begin the Advent season, “Lord, draw me to you….and draw me to others.”

 

 

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the night before Thanksgiving

My favorite part of Thanksgiving is the day before Thanksgiving.

These are the moments before we’ve donned our favorite fall-colored outfits and before the table is set with best china and the house is sparkling.

On Thanksgiving-Eve, we dress in jeans and t-shirts that are bound to get messy because it is after all a messy day (especially if you cook like  I do with flour dusting the kitchen like a powdering of snow on the winter ground).

Surely messy bakers make the best cookies!

We  work hard, scrubbing and cleaning, but we also laugh hard  in the kitchen as we roll out the cookies and fill the pies.

There was the year we forgot to bake the pre-baked pie crust for our chocolate meringue pie and just put the filling right on in there.  Then, we scraped it all out, baked the pie crust like we were supposed to, and filled it back up again.

Then there’s the year we did the exact same thing all over again and laughed and laughed because did we learn anything at all the year before?   Not hardly.  We’re too busy baking and laughing to  pay attention to  small details like that.

And, inevitably we reach into the pantry for the next ingredient and find out we ran out a few weeks ago and didn’t know it,  so husbands make last-minute dashes to the Food Lion for us.

On the night before Thanksgiving, it’s all about the preparation and not the presentation.

We make mistakes and  we fix them.  The mishaps become  part of our Thanksgiving lore, just another funny story to add to years of stories.

We get covered in sugar and pie filling.  We experiment with a cookie icing, find we don’t like it,  and  then try something else.

We’re comfortable with the process, comfortable with the “real” and  comfortable with the learning.  We’re in this together as a team.

Now, I love the day of Thanksgiving also.  I’m all about the family gathering and  board games and story-swapping and family pictures and belly laughs and traditions.  I love the beauty of it, the table set, the colorful leaves,  the orange of the pumpkins.

I love the pausing and the giving thanks.

But I’ve been  thinking lately about how hard it is to love hard-to-love people.  I’ve been worn down by hurtfulness and pettiness in various places. It’s been the kind of soul-exhausting tension that makes me want to hibernate and hide away from all human contact for a few months.  I want to breathe a little easier before heading out into the big wide world of other people where I’m being too frequently trampled.

Maybe, though, maybe I need to remember that in life, we’re all on the “Eve” and not quite ready for “the day.”

Nobody is perfect yet and we’re all in this together.

This is what we have to  look forward to:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is  (1 John 3:2 ESV).

In the meantime, though, before Jesus returns and we’re seeing Him face-to-face in heaven,  we’re making messes in the kitchen and making last-minute runs to the grocery store for the items we’ve forgotten.  It’s better to laugh at all this than despair over it.

We’re creating our own stories, our own testimonies of where we’ve come from and where God has brought us, and it’s messy, but it’s good.

Colossians 3:13 says,

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

We’re giving grace to others because  we’ve been lavishly, extravagantly forgiven and we’ve been loved by God even though we don’t merit that love and haven’t earned His affection.

Of course, we can still take a little time away to catch our breath when others hurt us.  We can set some healthy boundaries and speak some honest words in a loving way.

But we can also overlook some offenses and offer a little safe space where people don’t have to be perfect because we’re still in progress.  This is just us reminding ourselves that we’re not home yet, but we are  on our way.

 

 

What caterpillars remember and I sometimes forget

There’s always a rebel.

This cup of caterpillars arrives in the mailbox and I set it up high so we can watch them grow.

And do they ever grow.

Within a few days, they start scaling the walls of the plastic cup and demonstrate their acrobatics by clinging to the lid and hanging upside down.  First one caterpillar, then another.

Every year, this one lone caterpillar delays.  All four of his roommates hang over his head and tuck themselves right up into a chrysalis.

The rebel caterpillar enjoys the food down below, munching at leisure, no more competition for the bug buffet.

Sometimes we wonder if he’ll ever climb on up there already!!

But inevitably he does.  One morning, he pads his way up to the top and drops himself upside down just like the others.  He wraps himself in the brown chrysalis and waits for the change.

Now all five of them hang in their mesh butterfly house, waiting to emerge.  Mostly they rest there, perfectly and completely still.

They look dead.

Totally, completely devoid of all life.

But we move their home just slightly and we see one caterpillar wiggle and squirm inside the chrysalis.

A sign of life now and a sign of life to come.

Could it be these insects know more about hope than we do? 

That even in a season of waiting, a time of rest, a moment of seeming-death, still they cling.  They submit to the dormancy for the beauty that is to come.

Maybe they know there is something more.  That hope and future God promises us, that’s why they climb on up, that’s why they hang themselves right upside down.

Because of what is to come.

And in the middle of the death seasons, the long waits and the God-mandated resting, sometimes we forget this.  We can abandon all hope of future, of promise, of new life and the return of joy.

It’s Holy Week.  Last Sunday, we waved those Palms and we sang, “Hosanna!”  Today, I prepare my heart for Good Friday to come, for Communion and remembrance and meditation on the cross.

I read this morning:

Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

Jesus knelt in that Garden and He prayed, “not my will, but Yours be done” despite the pain, and the humiliation, the torture, and the death because of the joy to come.

He submitted because of resurrection hope.

And we have this.  That empty tomb is our hope, too.  Our God, who defeated death and the grave, has a plan and a purpose, a hope, a future.  We are never alone.  We are fully loved and redeemed, forgiven and set free.

All that is dead can become life in His hands.  All that is broken can be beautiful.  All that is lost can be found.

He can make all things new.

Even the impossible becomes possible with Him.

That is resurrection joy.

Those caterpillars don’t abandon hope of life.  They don’t linger in that tomb of a chrysalis.  In due season, they push right on out and stretch and dry those wings so they can fly to freedom.

Jesus didn’t die on that cross hopelessly uncertain of the future.  He had his sights set on Sunday morning and the “joy set before Him.”  That’s why He endured that cross.

But we sometimes lose hope.

 

Just like the demon-possessed man who “for a long time …had not lived in a house but among the tombs” (Luke 8:27 ESV). 

He lived life in the tombs.  Maybe the sorrow felt more comfortable than the joy?  Maybe death felt less painful than life?

He preferred the grave.

And then there’s us

In seasons of waiting, maybe of sorrow, perhaps even of death, do we abandon ourselves to the bitterness and make ourselves cozy among the tombs?

Or do we cling to Christ because of resurrection hope? Do we hold on for dear life to the Savior who defeated death?

Do we hide away in the shadows and settle into the despair or do we run like crazy into His arms when He calls us out of darkness and into light?

So I remember what the caterpillars have known all along: even what seems like death is truly just waiting on new life.

Hold on tight, dear one.  He brings new life.  He brings beauty.  He brings you wings so you can soar.

Originally published April 14, 2014