Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

posted by on Advent, Faith

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The Advent season is probably my favorite time of year. Aside from all of the tradition and holiday goodness that I enjoy, I treasure the weeks leading up to Christmas as I remember what it really means that God became flesh and dwelt among us as a helpless babe.

One of the things I especially enjoy during these weeks is the music. There are, of course, some really fun, silly songs. But there are some beautiful worship songs as well. And I find that listening to these songs often turns my heart toward the Savior in the midst of the busyness and distraction.

This year, because of my love for this season, and also because I kind of love writing, I’m going to do a little Advent post each day. Since Advent songs are my jam, I’ll share song lyrics I love and some thoughts about them.

It’s my own version of an Advent devotional…with a Christmas playlist as a nice little bonus!

Happy Advent season!

Day 1

From Who Would Have Dreamed by Sovereign Grace Music

He will carry our curse

And death he’ll reverse

So we can be daughters and sons

Who would have dreamed

Or ever foreseen

That we could hold God in our hands?

The Giver of life

Was born in the night

Revealing God’s glorious plan

To save the World

As the Advent season begins I find myself moved by songs such as this, reminded that there’s more to it all than sentimentality or tradition. It’s life-changing, soul-changing, world-changing. It’s the best news of all time.

And it’s not just a thing that randomly happened. It’s a plan “from time eternal,” to save lost souls.

To say “who would have dreamed,” is to refer to us, mere humans, who couldn’t imagine God incarnate come down to live and breathe among us. Because there was, of course, One who wasn’t surprised by these events at all. He dreamed it all along.

This is the One who saw a cursed people and determined to sacrifice his beloved Son to carry the curse rather than let them perish. He reversed the sting of death. And he made all who would believe his own children.

The thing about Christmas is that it all of the events in Bethlehem all those years ago didn’t happen in a vacuum. They were planned. With a purpose. For thousands of years – from the very beginning – history was moving toward this moment. And all that happened after points back to it.

The One who gave life from the beginning would give life anew. Life eternal, which could not be taken away. He promised deliverance, and he keeps his promises.

It’s good to celebrate the birth. This is when it all began to change. But it’s only meaningful when you remember all that came before and all that’s come since. Jesus met humanity’s greatest need, and He changed everything. He’s changing everything still.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14)

Small Miracles

Nov
2016
30

posted by on Adoption, Faith, Joy, Parenting, Prayer

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This morning one of my children woke me up before everyone else and the two of us went downstairs and settled on the couch to stare at the Christmas tree, me with all my coffee, her with all her words.

She wanted to read to me from a book she had finished the night before (Mercy Watson, in case you’re wondering, and kids go nuts for these books…I recommend). I asked her what the book was about and she told me.

This doesn’t sound interesting or remarkable, but in fact, this little moment was huge in our home. Because this little one was adopted at age 5 and has huge mountains to climb in order to catch up. Thus far she has shown little excitement about reading, and I’ve never been able to get her to tell me about what she’s read.

So when she tells me that Mercy is a pig who gets scared and searches for buttered toast and all the hijinks that ensue, my heart swells and I praise the Lord. Here is an answer to prayer, seemingly small, but gigantic in my eyes.

But here’s the thing, this progress wasn’t made in some dramatic, miraculous way. It’s been the slow and steady work of three years. Evaluations, adjustments, making mistakes, trying again. God’s guiding us on the slow journey through all of this.

It’s easy to dismiss these moments as just the product of a lot of hard work. As a Christian, even though I profess trust in a sovereign and working and planning God, I often forget to see His hand weaving these small moments together.

I think it’s also tempting to ONLY see God when He does the big impossible things. He cures cancer or provides the money at just the right time or changes the hard heart or restores the broken marriage.

He certainly works like this. I’ve personally witnessed all of the above and stood in awe of His hand at work to do what man could never do. But I’ve felt the frustration of Him not moving in all other areas in this same way.

Why doesn’t He just fix everything all at once? Why do I still battle sin? Why the sickness and the struggle and the pain?

The answer to the above is essentially I don’t know because I’m not God, and there’s a big theological answer to the whole thing but it essentially boils down to us trusting that He knows what He’s doing and can do it better than we can. This is what it means to believe.

As I’ve grown in my faith and gotten older, I’ve learned to rest and wait on his grace to show up in the small and surprising moments instead of constantly searching for the miracle. The miracles come, but the little moments come much more frequently, and they are so sweet.

Talking to my 8 year old about a fictional pig this morning, I remembered that He’s caring for all the little concerns in my life, that I oughtn’t give up on Him working, and that His goodness and beauty can be seen everywhere and at all times, if I’m just willing to look.

 

 

posted by on Faith, Joy

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“So how then do we compel true, heart-centered change, both in ourselves and others? We tell the story of grace.” – J.D. Greear

My memories of high school have started to blur as I’ve grown older and my brain has had to make room for present realities (ahem, 4 children basically take up all of your brain space), but today my head and my heart are filled with the foggy memories I do still have. For many, those four angsty years are ones to try and forget – and believe me, I have my fair share of regrettable moments from those 8 semesters – but for me, those four years were pivotal and meaningful in my walk with Jesus.

In 1998, I entered my freshman year at University High School, barely 14, fairly insecure, with two good friends and a handful of acquaintances to my name. One of those two friends told me a woman named Michelle wanted to start a Bible study for freshman girls.  And I’m not sure if you remember, but at that age, a place to belong is really all you want, and I was immediately like YES.

Thus began four years of my eyes being opened to the story of grace through the sacrificial love of this beautiful woman, Michelle Beckman. I, like many who are raised in church-going, God-fearing homes, was beginning to recognize that my parents’ faith wouldn’t carry me into adulthood and my weak attempts at good behavior wouldn’t save me. Michelle entered into that and gently, lovingly, showed me grace.

I say “showed” and not “told me about” because that’s exactly what it was and that is what changed me. Of course Michelle talked about grace, but it was the fact that she KNEW it and loved it and reveled and delighted in it that warmed my heart to the reality of it and compelled me toward a different way to know God.

During those four years, we sat in living rooms and on benches at school and in cars late at night and talked about Jesus and talked about boys (of course, boys) and talked about worries and fears and hopes and dreams. She laid down her life and her time to make the gospel of grace real for a group of teenagers.

When you’re a teenager, you’re self-absorbed and haven’t figured out yet that there’s a world that exists outside your own (I mean maybe that was just me, so I shouldn’t say “you”). At the time I thought she was just super cool and loved staying up late and having sleepovers with teenagers. Now, close to the age she was then, I think OH MY GOSH I cannot believe she let us all crash in her apartment and watch Pride and Prejudice until 3:00 in the morning. I want to cry when my kids keep me up past 10.

She came to our homes for dinner and got to know our families. She prayed for us and with us and taught us how to love the Bible and read it to know Jesus and how to find satisfaction in Him. She let us screw up and showed us compassion when we were floundering. She gave us the space to be young and immature while also calling us to courage and growth. She did not call us to good behavior. She called us to grace.

See, the easy, but unfruitful road, is to hold ourselves far off from others and call them to godly living without getting involved. But there is no love in this. As Paul tells us, “If I…have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…I am nothing…I gain nothing.” Michelle loved. She loved without exception. She wasn’t afraid to enter into messiness and get her hands dirty – not unlike our Savior, who knelt and washed the filthy feet of those whom He loved.

But she did not just love. She loved with joy – not the fleeting kind of joy that you get when life goes your way or you got the thing you’ve been wanting – real, lasting, joy. Anyone who has known her will tell you about her smile and her laughter. She was able to “laugh at the days to come” because she was secure and happy with Jesus by her side. Of course I know she battled for joy, like we all do, but “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and if that is true, then the joy that emanated from her told you what was filling and flowing out of her heart.

And when, 5 years ago, Michelle was diagnosed with colon cancer, that joy, even in the midst of the ugly, terrible, painful battle, was real and felt by all who came in contact with her. If you’d doubted it was real, and I don’t think any of us did, we all knew how real that joy was then.

A few months ago the news came that Michelle’s cancer had spread yet again, that the treatment had not worked, and that she had decided it was time to go home. And yesterday, the news that she has entered into that eternal rest.

Yesterday, when I heard the news, I stood at my counter and wept for just a minute before the demands of life (ie the aforementioned children) pressed in and I had to set the grief and sadness aside. But I spent the rest of the day contemplating this remarkable woman, the impact she had on my life. A mere month ago, she and I exchanged a few messages, and I was able to tell her, I wouldn’t be who I am without you. The trajectory of my life changed because you were in it. My marriage, my children, our adoption, our ministry – it has its roots in your sacrificial love for me when my faith was forming and my future was a blank slate.

The stories like mine are countless. Hundreds who can point to her and say, my life was changed because of this woman. So many of us wanted to be just like her, but the truth is, if we are in Christ, the joy we all saw in her is for all of us. He is our treasure in this life, just as He was hers. I do not have a multitude of teenage girls to mentor right now, but I do have 4 little people who are watching and listening to everything I say. Will they say “love, grace, joy”? Will Jesus be real to them because of me? I pray that what has been true of Michelle will be true of me, a life lived to see others “comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…filled with all the fullness of God.”

Today Michelle is with her dearest friend, her loving Father. Her pain has ended. Now she does not see in a mirror dimly, but face to face. The joy she had in this life was bright and far reaching…now it is blinding. As I said in a text to my mom and sister in law yesterday, her best days are yet to come.

And so are all of ours. Because of Jesus, our future is very bright, and this life is only the tiniest sliver of a beginning. To all who are missing Michelle, may you grieve with hope, and may you know the grace, the love and the joy that were so real and true for her.

Scan 16

posted by on Faith, Parenting

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This Easter season our children brought home an Easter Devotional Kit created by our wonderful Children’s Ministries staff. In it there was a grapevine wreath, meant to represent the crown of thorns worn by our Suffering Savior, and a stack of little blank cards. The purpose? To teach our children about what to do with their sin.

It was pretty remarkable to see this great news from my little children’s eyes. It’s rare that all four of these crazy kids is fully engaged in what we are discussing around our messy dinner table. Typically, there is at least one who is hanging upside down in his/her chair or talking about unicorns while Josh and I try to redirect back to the subject at hand. But these words brought these kids to attention.

We read 1 John 1:5-9 and talked about what it means to be in the light, what it means to be in the darkness, and what we do when we sin even though we’ve said we believe. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As we talked about the darkness and the light, that the one who says he has no sin deceives himself, and the one who professes the truth but walks in darkness is a liar, our kids grew increasingly nervous. Hands were popping up (thank you, school) with questions about what we’re supposed to do. What if we sin?? What happens? Are we in darkness? Our kids immediately recognized this for what is is: really bad news.

But then that good news of confession and you could see the relief. Ok, so we sin, but we can tell God and He loves us and forgives us and changes us! He, through His son’s death, has given us something to do with all of this yucky sin.

To make the process a little more tangible for the kids, there was the simple act of writing (or drawing a picture of) your sin on a little notecard and pinning it to that “crown of thorns.” I told the kids I was sorry I had gotten angry with them before gymnastics, wrote it down, and pinned it to the wreath. They eagerly followed suit (well, one had gone back to his/her dinner with gusto but that’s ok). They all had immediate examples of things they’d done wrong, little sins they’d been carrying around with guilt.

What struck me in that moment is that the gospel is so simple a little child can understand it. But interestingly, I think they often understand it better than we do because of it’s simplicity. It made complete sense to them. “I feel guilty about sin. But you’re telling me I can bring it to Jesus and be free? Yay!”

We adults have a harder time with this truth. Of course, as a new believer, it often has that blissful ring to it, but the longer I’ve walked in the faith, the more difficult this simple transaction – our sin exchanged for His holiness – seems to become. I believe this is one of the main ways our enemy, Satan, targets us to derail our faith and effectiveness. He complicates our simple understanding of what we are to do with our sin, and teaches us to converse in the language of regret and shame, the very thing we left behind when we believe.

Add to this a culture that has glorified the pursuit of personal happiness above all else and we are left with no room for confession and humility. But, of course, we all go on sinning. And if we have imbibed this message from the enemy, from the culture, we will feel paralyzed by the weight of our own sin and we’ll look anywhere but the gospel to try and absolve ourselves and get rid of that feeling.

Thursday morning – just days after going through that very devotional – found me sitting on the couch at 5:30 in the morning with Bible in hand, but heart in complete turmoil. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t pray. I was wallowing. I was overwhelmed with all of the ways I’d failed and sinned this week and that language of regret and shame had crept in.

A missed evangelism opportunity, anxiety over counsel I’d given, frustration with my children – all came rushing in and I felt burdened under the weight of it all. After almost an hour of this I gave up, threw on some work out clothes and went for a walk, choosing a worship playlist over my current workout music of choice (the Hamilton soundtrack, in case your curious, which is surprisingly good running music).

As I made the mile loop around my street I began to pray. I let words of truth (through song) penetrate my guilt-ridden fog. I remembered this is Easter week. I remembered the gospel. God made flesh, death to life. I remembered that we do NOT believe in a God who asks us to come cleaned up with our many good works to lay at His feet. Instead we come messed up and He does the cleaning and willing and working for His good pleasure.

And as I neared the end of my walk and the sun was coming up over the horizon there were these words coming through my earbuds and reaching my heart:

Oh, death, where is your sting?

Oh, hell, where is your victory?

Oh, church, come stand in the light!

The glory of God has defeated the night!

 On that dark day a Savior died, and three days later He arose with the sun, and His light penetrated the darkness. Our sin, that great darkness in our hearts, exposed to the light and made powerless with His victory. “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Resurrection. Life.

If you, like me, feel weighed down by your sin, your failure, your weakness, I encourage you to go back and read those words from 1 John with the eyes of a child. Do not forget that, in fact, He told us to come to Him like little children. Weak, needy, desperately grateful that He has taken our punishment for us.  Stop trying to clean yourself up. Stop replaying it all in your head and walking in condemnation and shame. Confess your sins to the one who is faithful and just to forgive, and walk in newness of life.

 

 

A Year of Grace

Jan
2016
04

posted by on Faith, Joy

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Honestly, I could not tell you what my 2015 resolutions were. I’m sure I made them. I may not have gotten as far as writing them down anywhere. If I did, it’s probably a list on a random page of one of the 15 spiral notebooks that float around my house. These notebooks serve as to-do lists, grocery lists, random writing down of information during phone calls, random doodling during phone calls, sermon notes, writing ideas, and coloring books. There is no rhyme or reason. Type A people, you should just stop reading now because this is probably stressing you out…

Wherever that list may or may not be, I don’t have any recollection of it. But I think it’s safe to say that if I did make goals for 2015, they were not achieved. 2015 was, for me, an unexpectedly challenging year. Of course I did anticipate that when we adopted and grew our family rapidly and basically turned our house into an elementary classroom it would come with challenges. But I think I felt that we were “settling,” in a sense, as we began 2015. Now I look back and think, yeah, that whole settling thing ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

2015 brought a lot more questions than answers. I encountered new dilemmas, particularly with our children, for which solutions seemed, and continue to seem, elusive. I found myself often feeling overwhelmed, weary and directionless. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t, to put it succinctly, just get my crap together. There’s this picture on Reagan and Eva’s wall and one time Josh and I were laying on the floor in there (you know, because sometimes you just run out of energy and lay down on your kids’ floor) and Josh said, “That’s a picture of your life. You’re that giraffe. And those 4 giraffes are comin’ at you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” And I laughed until I cried partly because it was funny and partly because it was so painfully true. These kids are trying to stampede me pretty much 24/7 (Do giraffes stampede? Probably not. And that’s not even a verb. Whatever, I’m sticking with it).

Giraffes

So, this may be a bit of an overshare, but honestly, I wish we’d all just share this stuff more so I’m just gonna dive on in. In March of this past year, I began to struggle with anxiety. Not “Oh gosh, I’m so nervous about my upcoming job interview” anxiety. More like “Why do I feel so freaked out all the time” anxiety. I’ve never been an anxious person. So it took me a while to figure out what was going on, and eventually I ended up sitting in the ER because of shortness of breath and chest pain. Once all the tests had been done and the consensus seemed to be “it’s probably anxiety,” I just felt so ashamed, so silly for ending up in the ER because I was having a panic attack. Other people have stressful lives. Not me. I have a great life. What is wrong with me?

But as I talked to those I was close with, I learned that this is not an uncommon thing. Actually, it’s very common. I am not alone in this.

(Just as an aside, I am not talking about anxiety disorders here. For many, anxiety is a constant, physically painful struggle that requires counseling and sometimes medicine. I’m talking about getting to this point where your body basically says “You are way too stressed out and I’m here to tell you to do something about it already!!”)

This experience got me thinking. What is making us all so stressed out? What is making me feel so stressed out?  So out of necessity, I had to start really evaluating my life, how I was spending my time, what I was doing with my energy. And that’s pretty much how I spent the rest of the year, trying to reduce stress. And yeah, I went to the doctor and we talked about all the things I need to do. Exercise more, sleep enough, get time to myself, etc. And all of that is good. And I’m glad I have some tools that help me cope when I start to freak out. But mostly this year of trying to regulate my stress levels or whatever has just led me back to the same two things again and again.

  • Our expectations for ourselves, our lives, our children, are ridiculous. We all want to be interior decorators and gourmet chefs and entrepreneurs and organic gardeners and beauty queens and super-moms and super-wives and presidents of the whatever. We want our lives to look like a Pinterest board. It’s unattainable.
  • But more importantly, my bigger problem was this: I like to be in charge. I like to run things. I want to be God. And I can’t be. And because I can’t be, I panic.

There’s a free antidote to both of these issues but it’s sometimes a hard pillow to swallow.

Grace.

This year, if I learned one thing, it was that I want to understand grace. I don’t want to have a small view of it. I want to walk in it. I want to know the abundance of it that is promised to us in Scripture.

In October, when our family spent a week at the beach, I finally got the time to read a book that one of my best friends recommended, Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid. There’s a lot that I love about this book, but the main idea that has really stuck with me is that grace is just so scandalous. Even as I read this book I found myself second-guessing everything, thinking, wait a minute, that can’t be right. And then looking it up in Scripture and thinking, Oh. That’s Biblical. That really IS how grace works. It makes no sense to our works/wages mentality. It cannot be earned. I can’t good-works my way into or out of it. I can’t keep it in a neat and tidy box and get it out when I think it might help me. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, the more I think I can contain it, the more I end up avoiding it altogether.

Real, scandalous grace is for the sinners. It’s for the weak. It’s for the messy and messed-up and tired and confused and overwhelmed. And that’s exactly who I am. It’s who we all are. Grace is where God’s strength meets our weakness.  We aren’t meant to stand on our own and do all the things and impress everyone around us. We aren’t meant to be God. We’re meant to receive His grace from His ocean of steadfast love and faithfulness and display for those around us that it is not WE who are great but the One we serve.

Grace means I can say yes when I’m able, and no when I’m not, without condemnation or guilt, because it is God who directs and strengthens for the tasks He has assigned. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.”

Grace means I can see beyond the lie that a perfect home or healthy meals or a toned beach body or great vacations or the best parenting method or a huge savings account or WHATEVER is going to satisfy. Instead I can say “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.”

Grace means I can’t make my children anything. I can entrust them to a faithful God while I obey, instead of constantly wringing my hands, worrying that any wrong move on my part will keep them from the Kingdom. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

Grace means I don’t have to know everything or have all the answers or be the smartest person in the room. I can be weak and weary and not feel like that’s the end of the world, but instead like that’s the best place to be to better know my Savior. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Most of all grace means I’m ever looking ahead. Because true Grace points us forward to our final rest. We aren’t meant to be satisfied here. We aren’t meant to figure it out. We aren’t meant to have all the answers. We’re meant to receive grace and long for the one Who bestows it. Long for the time we’ll be with Him and the concerns of this life will be a dim memory. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Any good work or success in this short life is born out of grace, out of dependence on love for the Savior. Apart from Him, we have no good.

So, yeah, I’ve made some 2016 resolutions. And they’re around here somewhere. And I may or may not be successful in them. But this I know. A year of Grace is better than a year of success.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things you can abound in every good work.”