The Peace of Advent

Mary’s relationship with her cousin, Elizabeth has been a source of fascination for me as Christmas nears. God provided much-needed community for the mother of Christ in Elizabeth, someone…the only one…who could begin to relate to what Mary had been chosen to walk though. As I tried to imagine their conversations, whispered by firelight after Zechariah was long-asleep, this poem was fashioned:

PEACE.

Who, besides you, would understand?

This holy secret, silent, yet unknown outside of my womb.

The angel spoke your name, Elizabeth.

He told me of your wonder

and of the babe.

Just look at you.

He kicks and your belly writhes and the smile

oh, the smile on your aged face.

Your wrinkles deepen as laugh-light sparks

from your faded eyes.

Renewed, you are.

Made new, fruitful, forever a part of the grand story,

His story,

of redemption.

Hold my hand.

Tell me what I already know

but need to hear afresh.

How God supplies the strength we both will need.

I am not afraid,

yet I am.

The war in my spirit rages

as the flesh across my belly tightens and bulges.

But here you stand before me,

evidence of our God weaving the promise

of atonement within me.

Within us.

These infant sons we bear,

destined for pain.

We walk the first steps with them on a path

rocky with hate and rejection.

Yet I see in you an acceptance

the peace of God that flows through your fingers to mine.

I feel His presence, overshadowed by Him since that night

the Spirit made me His mother.

Who, besides you, would understand?

I find it not a coincidence that you, my cousin, are the bearer

of the messenger.

Two women, forever connected by destiny.

Your companionship eases my heart.

Your trust increases my own.

Your embrace enfolds me in peace

that I may walk with my eyes fixed on this sacred privilege.

The Hope of Advent

ELIZABETH, THE MOTHER OF JOHN

(Inspired by the book of Luke chapter 1)

 

Along with all the world she stands pregnant.

Beneath her heart beats the tiny one of the messenger.

This old woman once belittled by the townsfolk,

A raisin dried in the desert sun,

Now stretching and blooming with life,

Elizabeth holds her noble head erect and proud

Knowing she bears a holy burden

A voice cries out and the babe once still,

So small that only a few have noticed the swelling,

Leaps for joy! 

All four limbs stretch

To their full length in the first steps

Of a dance begun by the angels

Deep within the womb

Of his mother.

The eyes of the women meet,

Filling the distance with shared wonder

As they cross the sands to meet face to face.

Preparing for War

I took my life into my hands and waltzed into Publix on Saturday with the goal of buying a smallish turkey and spiral cut ham (with all the trimmings, of course!) Wandering the aisles in no hurry, for once, I browsed the choices and compared prices.  Too many leftovers would only sabotage all the hard work I have done this year to get into shape.  I determined to refrain from making a huge pan of dressing because, first of all, I don’t need the carbs and, second, my kids won’t touch the stuff despite all the years I have set it before them.

I’m sure it’s a texture issue.

We have dear friends joining us on Thanksgiving day, along with my beloved mama and daddy.  I could not be happier that I will have a table bursting with food and laughter and ten kids running all over my house.  It is going to be delightful.

Delight-full!

I chose a smallish turkey (about ten pounds) and placed it carefully in my basket, moving on to the next aisle.  It should be enough and I can make bone broth from the leftover bones.  That is always a good thing as winter approaches.  As I turned the corner, though, there was a case of huge turkeys awaiting my eyes.  My mouth dropped open and I stood there, momentarily stunned and unsure of how to proceed.  I looked at the little bird in my basket, then up at the huge ones piled up in the freezer case.  I lifted one up and felt it’s weight, more than double the one in my basket.  My mind immediately imagined our table with this as the centerpiece, golden and seasoned and surrounded by sweet potatoes, cranberries, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole and all the pies we have planned.  I looked at this turkey and realized what I held in my hand.

A weapon.

I heard a quote by C.S. Lewis this year at Hutchmoot, on the first night as John Cal invited us to partake in the feast he had spent all day preparing.

“Feasting is an act of war.”

I returned the smallish turkey to it’s former home and replaced it with the huge one.  It is way too big.  (Remember, I also bought a spiral cut ham!) We will be tired of leftovers before it is all consumed.  I will have made soups and sandwiches ad nauseum and, still, it will take up half of my refrigerator before I throw it in a big pot and boil it down to smithereens.

But it will stand, glorius and golden after many hours brined, basted and baked.  It will bless eyes and bellies and surely put us all into a food coma.

And we will fight together, friends and family, against the darkness, pushing back once again as we rehearse for the Great Feast that is to come, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.  Fight hard and fight well!

 

 

The (G)race of Community

Together, we are a coat of many colors gracing the broad shoulders of Jesus.

Today I have the incredible privilege of writing over at The Rabbit Room!  It is truly an honor to be allowed to share this message with such a large audience of artists, musicians, poets and storytellers whom I deeply admire.

I submitted this piece after weeks of mulling it over, writing and rewriting the message God had laid on my heart.  It’s a big topic, one that goes against what the culture is screaming at us but is everything God wants for His Bride, the Church.  Please hop on over there (PUN INTENDED!) and read “The (G)race of Community.”  

Blessings to you, my friends!  May our good God use this offering of words to encourage His people!

Hutchmoot 2018

What is a Hutchmoot, you ask?

Ah…where do I start?  How do I describe something so profoundly beautiful and formative?  It’s a conference, sure, but it is so much more.

I will, at the very least, attempt to explain.

More than ten years ago, Andrew Peterson had an idea.

A God-given one, I am certain.

After walking the streets of Oxford, England and realizing the beauty that the community of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and friends had created that still, to this day, brings light and beauty to the Church, he felt the need to foster a creative community for the glory of God right here.  In Nashville.

Thus, the Rabbit Room was born.

As the online community grew and began to thrive, they began to hold conferences, naming them (of all things!) Hutchmoot.

Hutch:  a place where rabbits live

Moot:  an Old English word for meeting place.

If you are a part of the Rabbit Room community, “Hutchmoot” is a synonym for home.

I came with my thirteen year old daughter.  The creative one.  I brought her along for two reasons:

One, she is incredibly artsy and would be the most likely to tolerate the long days and heady conversations because she knows how to keep herself occupied with a sketchbook and pencils.  I felt she just might thrive in the safety of a church full of “creatives” and find her people.

Two, I didn’t want to go alone.

Me…This self-proclaimed extrovert who loves conversation and loud laughter had sudden bursts of introverted shivers when I thought of walking into a room of people with more talent in their pinkies than I have in my entire body.  I felt like a poser, a wanna-be.  I merely wanted to sit in the same space as these gifted ones and listen, hoping to absorb bits of their knowledge and be inspired to cultivate my own.

We arrived Thursday after flying home a day early from our family’s beach vacation.  Due to awakening at 5am to make our early flight we were exhausted, but anticipation fueled us as we made the drive to Franklin, Tennesse from our home just twenty minutes down the road.  Neither of us knew a soul, so I was grateful that we had one another.  Neither of us had any idea what to expect from Hutchmoot, so imagine my joy in realizing that in this place we would find our people and I would leave feeling that I do, in fact, belong.

It will take weeks, maybe even months, to process all that the Lord has done in both of our lives over the course of four beautiful days.

Feasting, music, art, story, laughter, conversation, books, books and more books, and Jesus.  Oh, the talk of Jesus, of God the Creator and the reason He gives these good gifts, these insatiable desires to create beauty.  Every session, every workshop never failed to circle back to the Gospel.  Eyes filled with kindness, words of encouragement to and from complete strangers, hugs and phone numbers exchanged because we just didn’t want this to end…this magic, this feeling, this community.

Hutchmoot is the Bride of Christ at her most beautiful:  serving, loving, sacrificing time and talent and leaning in close over steaming cups of coffee to hear, really hear, the stories of God’s people.  At Hutchmoot you are told you CAN do this beautiful thing.  I now believe God WILL use my writing, that in Him I can finish the book I’ve pecked at for almost two years.  I walked away knowing I am fully able to encourage you, my friends, in your walk with Christ and trust that these words of mine each week will get to the eyes of those whom He intends to read them.

And my daughter?  At Hutchmoot she blossomed and grew.  At Hutchmoot she danced for strangers and came out of her shell to talk the ears off of every adult who would listen and appreciate her art.  Every last one of them listened.   Not a single person failed to appreciate and encourage her childish boldness.  She found her people.  Aslan is on the move.

There is a comfort in being pursued, a rest in feeling known.  To begin a weekend in a room full of strangers and end it surrounded by familiar and dear faces is miraculous.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit and I, for one, am forever changed.

One last thing…as I type these final words the song, “Don’t You Want to Thank Someone” by Andrew Peterson is taking it’s turn on my playlist.  And the answer is yes.  A resounding yes, I do.

My heart is full.  My spirit is grateful.

Until next year, my new, rabbity friends.

 

The Truth in Love: Finding Joy in Our Eternal Purpose

It’s a classic, this lie of the enemy that is circulating again.

Over and over it comes and wreaks toxic havoc on the Church, sadly predictable yet tragically effective

God’s people freeze in the face of it, wanting to combat it but afraid of playing into the stereotype  We waver, we go mute when confronted, and we justify our inability to defend the call of God to holiness by claiming to be trying to “love like Jesus” and “accept everyone.”

As a result, the church is weakened, shot in her foot by her very own, rendered useless in a dark society that is absolutely desperate for the light of Truth…the Light of Christ.

One of the main purposes of this space is to remind us to live forward…into who we will be.  Into who God says we are in eternity…which began when we surrendered our lives to Jesus Christ.

And without Truth, holiness and obedience to the Biblical standards of behavior laid out in the Word of God, that goal will remain unattainable.

We cannot live a life of joy without truth.  We cannot delight in the ways of God and experience the freedom of Christ when weighed down by sin.

In a recent resurgence of the argument to stay silent regarding sin in order to be appealing, a commenter made this statement:

“I don’t want to be known for what I am against, but for what I am for.  I choose to be silent unless I agree with what is being said.”

May I choose to differ?

Sisters, this is so very dangerous.  I get what she is saying. I understand wanting to draw people to Christ and I agree that Christians have been too eager to pass judgement on others while ignoring the planks sticking out of our own eyes.  But to refuse to speak the truth, to accept sin and sinful lifestyles and go so far as to call them holy and acceptable within the church of Jesus Christ is not helping anyone.

I speak as one saved from the depths.  I write as one rescued from the pit.  The most loving thing any sister in Christ has ever done for me is to call the sin in my life out and force me to see the choice laid out before me…obey God or not.

If my child reaches out to grab a dangerously hot pan on my stove, is it loving to encourage them to hold on to that pan, going so far as to celebrate it (calling them brave, etc.) regardless of the heat and the burns that will surely result?  Do I, out of refusal to judge their choice, turn away and just stand waiting over to the side with salve, hugs and bandages or do I grab their hands, pull them away from the stove and get down in their face with eyes of love to say, “My precious one, what you are doing will hurt you.  It will leave scars that may never heal.  I know you are hungry, I know you don’t understand why the handle on this pan is not safe to touch when other pans’ handles stay cool, but I promise you that this is dangerous and I love you too much to let you hurt yourself.”

This is the heart of speaking Truth in love.  This is how Jesus calls us to reach out to this lost and dying world.  When he healed the broken, He consistently told them to “Go and sin no more.”  SIN.  Jesus uses that word and so must we!  I could make a list of sins but I would surely leave some out and that would detract from the heart of this message.  You probably know the sins that are lurking in your life.  If you profess to be a follower of Jesus and have the Holy Spirit living in you, I imagine He is bringing them to mind as you read this.  It is imperative that we understand this core truth:  We cannot live a victorious life without obedience to the Word of God.  This is not contradictory to the doctrine of grace.  Grace is always present, always a hand catching us when we fall, but to quote the words of the Apostle Paul, a self-proclaimed Chief of Sinners and once-proud persecutor of the early church,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  Romans 6:1-4

Sisters, the world wants you to believe that “your best life” is one of rest, comfort, happiness, peace, and success in work and at home.  I want to tell you, in love, that this could not be further from the truth.  I am a huge believer in taking time for much-needed rest but to think that is our goal?  Absolutely not!  Our best life is one lived in surrender.  It may appear highly unsuccessful to the watching world.  It may involve poverty, injury, conflict and persecution.  BUT…It is a life marked by the fullness of Christ made manifest through the Holy Spirit living in us.  It is a life on an upward trajectory, being refined and continually made new as we learn God’s Word and apply it to our daily lives.  It is reading the whole counsel of Scripture, not just the “happy parts” or the popular verses that make us feel good.  It is looking back and seeing how what once enticed us has lost it’s glimmer, realizing how far we have come in our walk with Jesus and always recognizing how far we still have to go.  It is working out our salvation (Philippians 2:12) because we know that, without actively pursuing the things of God, we can too easily slip and fall.  We are utterly dependent on the grace and mercy of God for our every breath.  If we believe anything less we are like that child grabbing the hot pan on the stove.

And I want you to know, if you are my friend, I love you and I purpose to speak the truth to you in love.  I hope you love me enough to do the same.

Our lives our not our own.  This time in which we live?  It is not about us.  It is about God and His purposes in His eternal Kingdom.  It has nothing to do with what “we” are against and everything to do with a loving God who allowed His one and only Son to die a criminal’s death in order to pay the price for OUR SIN, to pull us out of the fire.  And God is for His Bride…the Church.  He is making her new and preparing garments of purest white, without stain or blemish, washed clean by the blood of His Son.

We are to go, to the ends of the earth and the house next door, and share the truth…the whole truth…of God’s love.  To do anything less is not like Jesus.

May we, His Beloved Bride, go and sin no more.

truth, love, daisy, jesus, white, blue flowers, grainy, summer, bible, holiness

Psalm 16

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.”

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
    in whom is all my delight.

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
    their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
    or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

(The Word of the Lord)

Contentment and Community

Driving down the old roads of Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War era homes flanking the streets and battlefields in the distance, we passed an old, red brick church with a beautiful pair of arched wooden doors. One was partially open, drawing my eye and making me long to peek inside when a woman emerged.

Her dark skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight dappled by the large old trees overshadowing the lawn. Her hair was concealed by a colorful scarf, wrapped neatly and tucked perfectly above her brow.

But what struck me the most in the fleeting seconds that I saw her as we drove by was her smile. It was one of utter peace and contentment, revealing straight white teeth and parenthetically framed by lines very likely earned by years of living and, from what I could glean from her countenance, smiling.

I have no idea what she had been doing in that church. I don’t know who she had been with or why, but her smile was one directed down at the stone steps as she took them one-by-one, not necessarily intended to be noticed by anyone.

But notice, I did. I can’t quite put my finger on why her smile struck me so. I nudged my daughter, sitting next to me in the front seat, asking her to grab her phone and snap a photo of the church doors. She fumbled to bring her phone to life while I drove as slowly as possible (hoping not to irritate the driver of the car behind me but trying to buy time) finally managing to take a couple of  shots. I was honestly surprised she captured the doors (because she had all of 2 1/2 seconds to do so!) but those doors are there, a reminder to me of a simple but important truth:

Community feeds contentment. Sharing life feeds a necessary joy-habit which sustains us when we walk through suffering.

Too often we leave gatherings with plastic faces well intact. We managed to keep our façade on to the end and no one, not even our “close” friends, are aware of the things we have determined to hide beneath well-rehearsed smiles. We walk out, away from the watching eyes, and let our weary faces resurface, the smiles falling off at last like a dead Autumn leaf past it’s prime.

But, friends, what if we are real we and allow the weariness to show? What if we smile through tears, allowing those who love us to love on us? That is how we connect at a deep, heart-level which renews our strength and causes us to leave the gathering unconscious of the beautiful, natural smile that turns up the corners of our mouths and draws our cheeks back in soft joy.

There is joy in true community.

There is joy in knowing and being known and allowing our tribe “in.”

There is joy in connection, even when the process  involves vulnerability and tears.

And I believe this…with all my heart: God intends for us to develop smile lines as we grow old, the hallmark of a joy-filled and genuinely connected life. Nothing is more beautiful than a face graced with contentment, filled with the light of delighting in who we are in Christ and allowing that light to multiply and bring others in.

A life well-rooted produces bright and delicious fruit.

Choose your tribe carefully, sisters, but choose them. Let them in and become the hands and feet of Jesus in your life, just as they need you to become theirs.

Why? Because we are all weary, friends. We are all strangers in a land that is not our home and traveling alone is exhausting and disheartening. If you have ever journeyed abroad, you know the relief that comes when, after days of struggling to communicate through a language barrier, you run into someone who speaks your native tongue with ease. Your brain takes a much needed break and conversation flows easily because you have found familiarity!

This is the gift of community.

This is the heart of relationships.

Common ground, a common language, and common ideals.

woman sitting on chair near laptop computer
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Character-lines formed through years of conversation, confession, laughter and tears.  baby-teddy-bear-cute-39369.jpeg

And lasting joy found in shared memories and celebrations under the approving eye of our good, good Father who brings us through and out of darkness into victory and glorious light…together.

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