When You Can’t Do Over But Have to Move On

We’ve been giving do-overs here at my house.

Snarkiness has been on the rise.

So, when we hear, “Move!  I can’t see!”

We respond with, “You want to try saying that again in a kinder way?”

Or we hear, “Put that down!  That’s mine!”

We say, “Try that again.  I’m sure you could say that differently.”

I love do-overs.

I love the utter grace of it all, that even though you made a mistake, you can have another go at it.  Maybe you’ll do better this time.

Learn from those errors.  Make some corrections.

Maybe this time you won’t miss or forget.  Maybe you’ll study harder or speak with kindness or choose not to gossip.

My hope is that the do-overs now will help those lessons sink in before it’s too late, because we all know you can’t always have a do-over.

Sometimes, bad things happen and once it’s done, it’s done.

A missed opportunity can’t be regained.

One day, those words will slip out and they’ll be said.  You can’t take them back.

Sure, you can apologize.  You can attempt restoration.

BUT WORDS ONCE SAID CAN’T BE UN-SAID, AND THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE FROM AN OUT-OF-CONTROL TONGUE CAN BE DEVASTATING.

In those moments when you can’t have a do-over, though, you have to learn a new skill:  Moving on after you’ve messed up.

Shame from mistakes can drag us right down and bolt us to the floor.  We can’t move forward.  We’re chained to the past.

At night, I rumble through conversations I wish I’d handled differently.

I consider the mistakes I wish I could un-do and the decisions I wish I could un-decide.

It’s hard to let it go and just rest already.  I keep thinking, “if only….”

If only this hadn’t happened….

If only I’d done this instead…..

I want a do-over.  I want to rewind back to the start of the day and just try again.

But I can’t.  So I replay the wrong over and over and over.  I’m stuck in a perpetual loop of embarrassment and self-condemnation.

Paul makes this sound so easy:

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV)

Just forget what’s behind, look forward to the future and move on?

If only it were that simple!

Then I consider Paul’s words, how he’s straining forward and pressing on.  This is discipline and endurance.  This is refusing to get bogged down.

It’s falling down in the middle of a race and yet choosing to push to your feet and keep on going to the finish line even if you’re limping all the way there.

Surely this is how David felt after being confronted with his own sin of adultery and murder.

One bad decision led to another bad decision and now here he was, unable to have a do-over.  He couldn’t un-commit adultery with Bathsheba.  He couldn’t un-murder her husband.

But he prays for God’s mercy, for God to “blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (Psalm 51:1b-2).  He asks God to:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:9-10).

This I understand.

When I’m weighed down by mistakes that I can’t do-over, I’m compelled to cry out for “mercy!”  I rely on God’s grace to wash my soul and renew my heart for Him.

But then David does something more.  He doesn’t just stand there in the cleansing flood of grace.  He doesn’t keep re-hashing his need for mercy.

No, he begins to look forward.  He talks of moving on.

This is where I lean in to David’s Psalm today, because too often I’m stuck in the cry for mercy and can’t shake the shame.

Yet, David prays:

 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
  and uphold me with a willing spirit.

 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you…

and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness (Psalm 51:12-13, 14b)

HE’S FINDING MERCY IN THE MESS, RECEIVING RESTORATION, LEARNING FROM HIS MISTAKES, TEACHING OTHERS, AND WORSHIPING GOD FOR THIS SALVATION-GIFT.

I have to choose to accept the grace, too.

I have to choose to forget the past.  Every time my face heats up with shame, I remind myself that it’s done.  Over with.  Behind me.  Forgiven.

I have to choose to move on, choose to learn and grow and worship and teach others.

And the next time I’m reminded of how I messed up, I make all of those choices all over again because even if I can’t do over, I can do better next time.

Originally published April 2016

Bible Verses about Peacemaking

  • Psalm 34:14 CSB
    Turn away from evil and do what is good;
    seek peace and pursue it.
  • Proverbs 12:20 CSB
    Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil,
    but those who promote peace have joy.
  • Matthew 5:9 CSB
    Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called sons of God.
  • Romans 12:18 CSB
    If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
  • Romans 14:17 CSB
     for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
  • Romans 14:19 CSB
    So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:33 CSB
    since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11 CSB
     Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice.[a] Become mature, be encouraged,[b] be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of loveand peace will be with you.
  • Ephesians 2:14 CSB
     For he is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility.
  • Ephesians 4:1-3 CSB
    Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
  • Hebrews 12:14 CSB
    Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord.
  • James 3:17-18 CSB
    But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.
  •  1 Peter 3:10-12 CSB
    For the[c] one who wants to love life
    and to see good days,
    let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit,
    11 and let him turn away from evil
    and do what is good.
    Let him seek peace and pursue it,
    12 because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
    But the face of the Lord is against
    those who do what is evil.

When you can’t just have the same day

“I just want the same day.”

That’s what my son has been saying to me recently.  He’s struggling with the whole ‘being the baby of the family” thing.

There are perks, of course, like lots of attention and helpers and getting to do fun activities younger than everyone else did.

But the trade-off is hard.  He’s always the one being dragged along to fun for the big sisters that he can’t participate in and he’s the one patiently watching concerts, award ceremonies, and competitions that aren’t for him either.

And many times he gets left home with mom or dad while the older kids head out the door.  Even if they aren’t going anywhere fun or wonderful, they are going and he’s not and there’s sorrow over missing out.

So, he’s been telling me how he just wants “the same day,” the day when he got to come wherever we were going and he got to play with some friends while we rehearsed for a play.

Nevermind that we’re not always going to rehearsal.  Or maybe we are, but there won’t be any one for him to play with that night.

He doesn’t understand that you can’t just replicate good days from the past.  They happen and you enjoy them and then you move on maybe to other good days, different good days.

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss quotes is:

‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.’

There’s something joy-filling about celebrating that good day that you loved so much and remembering all that goodness, but not mourning the loss of it.

And that’s the choice for us.

How can we engage today?  Right now, in this place where God has brought us, how can we celebrate and rejoice and worship?  How can enjoy this moment and let God be at work in us here?

Good or bad, the past sure can ensnare us. Maybe pain and hurt hold us hostage. Or perhaps memories trip us up and those “good old days” we long for stir up discontentment with NOW because yesterday still holds our hearts hostage.

That’s where the nation of Israel was as they lingered outside the Promised Land, hoping their journey would finally be over.  They wailed:

“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:4-6 NIV). 

Fish and a salad.  They were willing to forego the Promised Land for the sake of fish and a salad bar they had in Egypt.  They even forgot that the Egyptian food wasn’t free; it came at the high price of slavery.

Let’s not fall into this same backwards trap.

Instead, we look forward.  We look forward to  all that God has in store for us.  We look forward to all His plans for our future.  We look forward to  heaven with Jesus and eternity in His presence.

Maybe it’s not “the same day” we had before, but it’s a new day with Him.  Maybe it’s not salmon and cucumbers, but God gives miraculous manna.

New can be frightening sometimes.  It can be uncertain.  But as long as God leads us forward, we need not fear.

We learn from David, who used the past to propel him to courage, not mire him in discontentment or complacency.

David knew why he could face down a giant with confidence and not fear.  He told Saul:

“Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it.36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God (1 Samuel 17:34-36 NIV). 

In his book Glory Days, Max Lucado says:

“Before he fought Goliaht the giant, he remembered how God had helped him kill a lion and a bear…He faced his future by revisiting his past.  Face your future by recalling God’s past victories” (Glory Days).

Our past doesn’t have to be a pit and it doesn’t have to be a monument.

Our past is a testimony of how God brought us through and it’s a reminder that He will bring us through again.

He has provided and He will provide.

He has redeemed and He will redeem.

He has directed and He will direct.

He has forgiven and He will forgive.

Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love

Today,  maybe for the last few days actually, it seems like I have some words on repeat.

“I’m sorry!  My fault!”

I’ve messed up and made mistakes, said the wrong thing,  planned poorly,  forgotten, and just generally haven’t been perfect.

Oh my, have I had a time, my friends!

Confessions are hard anyway.  When is it ever easy to say, “I messed up?” or “I was wrong?”  But when you’ve said it here and you’ve said it there and you’ve said it over and over in the course of a day (or two or three) to different people for different reasons, it becomes deeply humbling.

Can I get anything right?

And the temptation for me is this–to obsess.  I replay the video in my head of how I got it wrong and feel anew that wave of blushing embarrassment. My internal temperature feels like its 110 degrees and my heart is racing.

Even if I can fall asleep, I wake up at 4 a.m. and review the failures relentlessly because brains go crazy in the deepest parts of the night.

That’s when the self-condemning thoughts muscle in like a posse of bullies, never letting me move along, fretting and stressing over mistakes that are been-there, done-that.   There’s no way to correct them. Only thing you can do is move on.

My son is four and apologizing is hard for him.  We are wading knee-deep in the mess of parenting some character issues:  Being willing to  say “sorry,” just take personal responsibility, receive forgiveness, give forgiveness.

He cries.  He struggles.  He refuses. He complies. He learns and we try it all again.

It’s a journey.

Maybe it’s a journey  that I’m actually still on.  I’ve apologized.  I’ve fessed up and owned up.  That part I’ve gotten down.

But how to un-stick myself from the mire and move along?  How to start  fresh, embrace mercy, and forget what’s behind so I can keep pressing forward (Philippians 3:13)?

Isaiah wrote:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord,
“Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NASB).

If I know in my head that I’m washed white like snow and like the purest, cleanest wool, how come I sometimes still see the dirt and the grime and feel like a mess?

In his book, Flee, Be Silent, Pray, Ed Cyzewski writes:

….we could all do well by praying, ‘Lord, have mercy on  me, a sinner.’ That’s one prayer in the Bible that we all should feel comfortable repeating daily.  This simple prayer puts us in our place and acknowledges God’s great mercy for us.”

This is a verse I’m learning to pray and not just pray it, but use it as a weapon to  beat back some of that pride and some of that hurtful self-talk.

Scripture is clear about what happens when we repent and ask God for mercy and forgiveness:

Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, Acts 3:19 HCSB

then he adds,“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Hebrews 10:17 ESV

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25

 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12 ESV

When we confess and we repent, we are forgiven completely and that sin is washed away, blotted out, forgotten, and removed.

I don’t have to hear about it anymore.  God isn’t asking me to remember it, wrestle over it, feel embarrassed by it, or stress out over it.

He’s covered me in His mercy.

The tax-collector who prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” in Luke 18 got it right.  I’m a sinner!  But I come to the God of mercy.  Even if I feel unworthy, I am invited in before His throne of grace.

So, I pray this prayer in the night when I wake up to the thoughts that won’t leave me alone, replays of how I got it wrong and what I should have done to get it right.

“Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” and then I wait.

And if I still feel that wave of terrorizing shame, I pray it again, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner” and I breathe.

God has already forgiven me.  I’m just standing on that forgiveness.  He’s already blanketed me with His grace, but I’m holding onto that grace.  He’s declared mercy, and I’m hanging on tightly to it.

“Lord, have mercy on me a sinner”—Our loving Savior does just that.

 

Bible Verses about How God Changes and Transforms Us

  • Psalm 51:10 ESV
    Create in me a clean heart, O God,
        and renew a right spirit within me.
  • Psalm 139:23-24 ESV
    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
        Try me and know my thoughts!
    24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
        and lead me in the way everlasting!
  • Ezekiel 36:26 ESV
    And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
  • Romans 12:2 ESV
     Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • 1 Corinthians  6:11 ESV
    And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
  • 2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV
    And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
    Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  • Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV
    to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
  • Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV
    Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
  • Philippians 1:6 ESV
    And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
  • Colossians 1:10 ESV
    So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
  • Colossians 3:10 ESV
    and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
  • 1 John 3:2-3 ESV
    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. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Feeling like you need to do enough or be enough to attain perfection, to be holy, to earn God’s love?  Here’s the truth:

God’s love covers us …and cleanses us. Then, in His compassion, He transforms us.  He’s big enough and gracious enough to tackle our mess until the day He decides that construction is complete and He takes us home. So often, where God is taking us is less about our destination and more about our journey of becoming like Jesus.  God is more interested in our character than our accomplishments anyway
Anywhere Faith)

I’ll take a snow day if I don’t have to make it up

What I really want, what would make me really and truly thrilled with winter each year is snow days without makeup school days.

I’m not trying to be greedy or demanding, truly I’m not.

We love our snow days and all the joy of the unplanned day off, the surprise family day complete with play time and hot cocoa, homemade cookies and Crock Pot soup and canceled evening activities so  we can all stay home and warm and relaxed in the evening.

But then, we wait for the phone call, the one that tells us, “oh by the way, now you have to come to school on President’s Day.”

Or, “we’re now shortening your spring break and lengthening your school year.”

It’s the payback we dread, the consequence for the rest and the fun.  It’s the bad news that we expect hanging over our heads the whole time our kids are jumping around the kitchen for joy.

My sixth grader says her science teacher actually delivers an annual speech that goes something like this: “Oh sure, you THINK you love snow days and you all want to do your snow dances and hope they close school because of a few flakes, but do you want to be in school all summer?  There’s  a price to pay!  You have to make those days up, you know!”

He’s right,  of course.  There is a price.  There is the bad news mixed in with the good that taints it a bit.

So, it’s outrageously impractical of me to ever hope we just get those snow days free and clear.  I know there’s not going to  be a superintendent’s message on my phone that says something like, “Have fun, everybody.  Be safe.  Enjoy the day.  This one’s on us!”

But that’s what I long for, and even though it can’t happen in the practical, day-in-day-out details of all these ordinary days, maybe it’s something I can have spiritually .

I want mercy, not just the trickle of it or the drip-drip-drip of it, but the outpouring of mercy.

I want the abundant grace, the kind that drenches you so much you can wring out your shirt and more comes  pouring out on your feet.

I want the overwhelming flood of God’s goodness poured out, rivers of His goodness just dumped all over us.

But instead, I  start expecting less from God, asking for less, praying for less, settling for less.

Faith isn’t really faith because I’m not believing Him to be wonderful or to be able or to be mighty.  I’m believing Him to fit into practical, average boxes and do ordinary, reasonable things.

When God gives me the blessing of a “snow day,” sometimes I wait for the bad news mixed in there somewhere.  I treat Him like He’s stingy or demanding or skimpy.

But God is abundant.

He is abundant in power, in mercy, in goodness, in peace, in love, and faithfulness.  That’s what Scripture says.  (Click here to read Bible Verses on the Abundance  of God)

He fills us up and satisfies our souls and leaves leftovers.

That’s what Jesus did when He fed the crowd of over  5000 who lingered on a hillside to listen to His teaching.  He took such a meager gift: a few loaves and fish, just a little boy’s packed lunch—and then he fed the multitude. They didn’t have to hand out crumbs at the end either.

No, they had leftovers.

And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12 ESV).

Not just that one time.  Jesus did it all again.  He fed the 5000 one day and then on another day when he was teaching another crowd, he performed miraculous multiplication yet again, feeding over 4000 people with another handful of bread and fish.

And this is what happened there, too:

They ate and were filled. Then they collected seven large baskets of leftover pieces (Mark 8:8).

Jesus didn’t just do the miracle that was necessary or practical; He fed those people and left baskets of abundance and then he did it all again.

So, why do I discount God’s bigness? Why do I worry over my need as if I have to be the one to fill it and I have to be the one to figure it out?

Why do I fret when God gives good things, superstitiously thinking that bad is coming next?

His abundance offers us rest.  His abundance means we can trust Him and we can let Him do the work and we can worship and rejoice because our God is full-to-overflowing with the very mercy, grace, love, and goodness that we need.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, (Psalm 31:19 ESV)

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power (Psalm 147:5 ESV).

 

Snow reminds me that this is all grace

We didn’t need a snow dance this year; the snow just came and we rejoiced.  We’ve been known to have a little fun with snow rituals in the past, though, especially when January ends and we haven’t seen a flake yet.

My kids have worn pajamas inside out before and flushed ice cubes down the toilet. Snow dances have been danced.

And then there’s the mysterious ritual, one we can’t quite figure out so we’ve never tried–placing a spoon under the pillow.  Who knew?

We love snow days.

Even I love them, despite the fact that I prefer snow when it is outside and I’m inside.

I love them even though at least an hour of my day is spent suiting my children up in layers of clothes, finding missing gloves and snow boots that fit, zipping up coats, and more.  Then I send all the children out, knowing  I’ll just be unpacking them from all those layers soon and then serving up hot chocolate and sugar cookies.

I love the snow the most when it’s smooth and untouched, gently falling in the darkness of night. I flick on the porch light and stand a few minutes at the back door with my  fuzzy socks  and my mug of strong, hot tea.

I stand and marvel at the peace of it., this quiet covering over the world with white.

I like to pause just for a moment before noise  and the busyness sweep me right along again, just pause and give thanks and marvel at this:  Christ covered us in the blanket of His righteousness.  He made us white as snow.

David wrote:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow
(Psalm 51:7).

They used this hyssop (the ezov plant) for ritual cleansing in Israel–for purification and the ceremony to pronounce a leper healed and made clean again.

David reminds us that the action is God’s,  not ours.  We don’t cover ourselves with hyssop or dip ourselves down for a cleansing.  We are not our own healers.

This is God at work.  This is the beauty of His grace.

Isaiah tells us this also:

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18 ESV). 

This forgiveness, this overwhelming grace, is God’s work by God’s invitation.

Our God is an inviting God.  He invites the thirsty to  COME and the weary to COME and the brokenhearted to COME and the children to COME.

And to the sinners, He says COME.

Not, come when you’re white enough,  clean enough, holy enough.  Not come when you’ve merited salvation or proved your devotion through enough righteous acts.

He says, “Come.  I’ll  make you white.  I will do it.  And you’ll be white like the whitest snow, pure like the purest wool.”

We’re self-condemners so often—buying into Satan’s lies when he tells us we still deserve punishment for those sins of ours. The Enemy likes to  remind us how unworthy we are.  He likes to shout accusations in our face and beat us down with our past and present failures.

But God.

He simply says, “Come.  Come and let me do the work of grace for you.”

Paul wrote to the Galatian church:

 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose (Galatians 2:21 ESV).

Nullify God’s grace?  Destroy it?  Treat it like nothing?

What could Paul mean?

Nullifying God’s grace is what I do when I reject God’s invitation to come.

I’d never say these words,  and yet isn’t this what I’m doing when I demand perfection from myself, when I beat myself up over mistakes, when I let shame hold me hostage?

I’d rather keep the law.  I’d rather bog my soul down in endless rules and regulations and then beat my soul down when I fail to be perfect (which is inevitable).

Thanks for grace, God,  but no thanks.  I’d rather wear this label:–SINNER –instead of accept my new identity in Jesus– FORGIVEN.

Oh, this is what I say without realizing it:  Jesus, the cross simply wasn’t enough.  My sin is too much.  You died for no reason.   

So the snowfall covers over the lies of Satan and the legalism and that old bully perfection. The snow covers over religious pride and self-righteousness.  The snow covers shame and self-accusation.

And the snow reminds me that it’s all grace.  Amazing grace.  Jesus did the work once for all, and now we’re covered in the snow-blanket of His powerful, cleansing grace, a grace that is indeed “greater than all my sin.”

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.

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

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.