The JOY of Advent.

“He’s here.”

Can you just imagine the wonder in Mary’s voice as her firstborn son emerged from her womb and she held him at her breast for the first time?  Don’t you think the sounds around them faded into the background and all she heard was the thumping of her own heart and the still-wet baby whimpering as his first cries died down into peaceful slumber?  When I stop to let my mind envision the details of his birth (because so few are really given to us), putting myself in Mary’s place and listening with her ears, looking around with her eyes, I find a lump in my throat and the desire to fall on my knees to be overwhelming.

God with us.  The Word made flesh.  Born into utter poverty and humility but no less the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Our Jesus, the most valiant of warriors who would eternally conquer sin and death because we simply could not.

He’s here.

Oh, the love, the matchless love of Christ.  Sit with Mary a while, will you?  Imagine what it must have been like on that Christmas night when the longings of all generations were fulfilled in one miraculous moment, when a virgin gave birth to the Son of God.

 

JOY.

He’s here.

Oh, Joseph, just look at him.

My heart is bursting,

overflowing with love

and joy.

 

Shhh, do you hear it?

Listen, beloved.

They are singing

just beyond the hills

where the shepherds sleep.

 

The song is new.

Harmonies so perfect 

I sigh a smile

and the baby 

opens his eyes.

 

So tiny, yet ancient.

My mind cannot grasp

who I hold in my arms

yet I know I am in the middle

of history, HIS story.

 

Oh God, I am not worthy 

yet here I rest

agains the fragrant hay

with Heaven-song all around

and your Son gazing into my eyes.

 

Take my hand, Joseph,

see the love I hold for 

you, so brave 

to take this on.

This burden of grace.

 

Look upon the face 

of God,

this beautiful son of ours

who nurses peacefully 

as the melodies fade.

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.

A Simple Advent

We began today, though it doesn’t “officially” start until December first.  But I know me, and I know us.  Life happens, schedules get tight, and we struggle to finish what we start whether it be a devotional, project, or “school” book.

I’ve purchased many advent devotionals over the years, bought every “memorable” ornament, tree, and wreath there is to make this season count.  This year, though, I’m going back to basics.  Like so many things in my too-busy life I’m paring us down, starting at the beginning and revisiting an old favorite that brings back beautiful memories of the days when all five of my babies gathered ’round the warmth of a winter fire and listened with wonder to the stories that just happen to be true.

We read the first few pages of “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones this morning over hot coffee and before a crackling fire.  I’m down to three kids in our morning time, the oldest two having grown and moved on to other things, so I savor these hours and pray they will last longer with these three.  I opened the book, now worn and with binding beginning to fray, to “The Story and the Song” and read the words slowly, carefully, wishing I had the author’s lovely British accent and determing to make the reading beautiful for my children.  The familiar words felt like home on my tongue and I slowed down as I came to page 17…

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story.  And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name.  He is like the missing piece in a puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

My voice broke over these words, tears spilling from my eyes and my heart bursting with gratitude for fresh understanding…revelation, even…of the Christ.  That Jesus would become a baby.  That He would give countless clues all through History that we had not been left to wallow in our sin, but were so very loved that the Son of God had already planned to descend here before we even knew we needed Him…I could barely speak.

“Are you ok, Mom?”  My son’s soft voice broke my concentration.

How do I even answer that question?  I am more than ok, I am free.  I am saved, gloriously and forever seated with Christ in the heavenly places!  I am forgiven and beloved and, oh my sweet ones, how I long for you to realize this is true about you as well!

He came.  Jesus came and lived the life I could not live, died the death I deserved to die. He is the center of my story, and of yours.

“…So in Heaven and earth and below, every knee would bow in worship and every tongue would proclaim that Jesus, He reigns with the angels. Son of God, Son of man.

Hallelujah!”

From the song, Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come by Andrew Peterson

We too easily complicate things in an effort to make Christmas beautiful. We too often forget the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ.  But, today, I was reminded of why I am who I am and why I do what I do.

For the sake of Christ and the Glory of God.

Keep it simple, my friends.  Remember and celebrate the Advent of Christ with all of your heart, and without all of the fluff.

The stories are true.

Gather ‘Round, Ye Children, Come.  Listen to the old, old story…

 

On Being Followed

Our family spent Fall Break on the beach. (Can I get a hallelujah, Amen?) My oldest son (a legal adult, though I swear he was toddling around my house just a few minutes ago) followed me down so he could have his car to meet up with his buddies.

As we made the 7-hour-plus-many-stops drive to Florida (Helloooo Whataburger!) my son followed close behind. He has never made a cross-country drive alone so this was good practice for him. Except for a few logistical hiccups it was a relatively uneventful and mostly enjoyable drive.

And as we drove something struck me. I was much more aware than usual of my own driving habits. Not only my speed, but also my use of turn signals, passing techniques and courtesy shown to those around me. Because I was being followed.

By my son.

Whom I love more than life.

He has been driving for two years but I know he still has much to learn and I saw this as an opportunity to model good driving and intentional precautions to protect myself and those around me. It was a needed lesson for both of us.

So as I drove the Lord was so kind to reveal a truth to me.

You see, we are always being followed. I have five children watching me, but even if you do not have children I assure you someone is watching how you live, love and navigate this life. Our decisions almost always affect others, for better or for worse.

Jesus modeled the perfect life and, though I am far from perfect, I can examine my own life and ask if I am worthy of being followed.

On good days I can say, “Sure, I’m doing pretty good.” But there are too many days where, if I’m honest, I’m living under the “do as I say and not as I do” umbrella. I’m really adept at telling you what you should do but then going home and not necessarily following though with that advice in my own life. This is why we are counseled by the Lord to examine our hearts, to look ourselves honestly in the mirror and be willing to make the needed changes in order to more closely follow Jesus and more effectively lead others into a life of truth.

The book of James says this:

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:22-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

From this passage I learn two vital lessons…

First, I MUST know the Word of God. I can’t do what I haven’t learned.

Second, I must allow the Word of God to affect the way I see myself, to change my perspective and affect the way I live even when no one is looking.

Lip service is useless. It’s cheap. But a transformed life, a woman who lives and speaks the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is worthy of being followed and will lead those looking up to her straight to the Throne of Grace.

How to be True to Yourself

Boy, is this ever a big topic. So many books and blogs claim to have the answer but, when all is said and done, we still end up empty and searching. Advice ranges from getting a manicure to “washing your face.”

(Yeah, I went there.)

I, I, I, me, me, me…we fight for peace and rest and determine to recharge and charge forward, but for what? For “likes?” For fist bumps and “Yeah, girl, that’s right?” Is that what we are reduced to…our social media popularity and comment sections? Recognition from a world who stands against the things of God? Success that is temporal and cannot eternally satisfy our deepest longings?

In Romans 8, starting in verse 5, Paul explains where our focus should lie. Let me give you a hint…it is not on “self.”

At least not in the way today’s popular books would sell it.

Read this section of Scripture carefully …

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:5-14‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The only real method of self-care has nothing to do with yourself but everything to do with God.

Here are three important steps to truly taking care of yourself:

1. Set your mind on the things of the Spirit.

What dominates your thought life? The Kardashian’s? Sports? Chip and Jo? (Ouch…stepping on my own toes here!)

Do you fill your mind with truth or twaddle?

The answer to that question dictates how you live. What we feed our minds determines the fruit we will display in our everyday lives. Flesh equals death. Spirit equals life and peace. This passage tells us the flesh is actually HOSTILE to God! It does not like to be told what to do or how. (“Who are you to judge me?”) It doesn’t want to, nor is it even able to please God. To profess to be a Christian yet be unable to please God is scary. Very scary.

2. Be sure the Spirit dwells in you.

Paul’s assumption is that he is speaking to believers. But what if you have not surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus? Well, you are basically spinning your wheels. Without faith in Christ you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, you do not belong to Christ. If you are not certain, please contact me. I would love to help you get that settled once and forever.

3. Know who you are…and who you are not.

I am many things: wife, mom, writer, sister, teacher, friend. But above and beyond all of these I am a born-again child of God, daughter of the King, and forever alive because of the righteousness of Christ. His Spirit lives in me and gives life to my mortal body because Jesus rose from the dead and promises to do the same for me! This is EVERYTHING. This is the reason I live and breathe and get out of bed at sunrise to meet with Him. The flesh has no right over me because I owe everything to Jesus. If I belong to Him it affects everything I do, every word I speak, even the passive information I allow into my mind while going about my day.

My behavior is greatly affected by the contents of my mind…trash in equals trash out. Beauty and things of the Kingdom in equals peace and joy out.

If I choose obedience to God I choose life. If I follow the patterns and godless ways of the world I will suffer the same negative consequences in my life.

If I truly know who and WHOSE I am the very fabric of my days will change. My tastes and desires will be refined. I will find joy in living fully into who my Creator, who knows me best, says I am!

Here’s the point:

Do I enjoy self-care in the earthly sense? Sure! I don’t know many women who don’t like a good mani-pedi or massage. Being told I did a good job or that you like to read my blog 😉 always feels good and encouraging. But I want us to go deeper, to a more permanent solution to the inner battle we all fight each day. I want us to see where our value lies and know that if no one else is cheering us on, if finding time to be pampered is just not happening in this season but we are certain our lives count for the Kingdom of God then we can find joy in knowing we have achieved the highest of rewards and most holy of accolades from the only One whose opinion really matters.

In Heaven my feet won’t hurt, thus nixing the need for pedicures.

In Heaven I’m fairly certain we won’t need Facebook or Instagram.

And in Heaven we will be eternally satisfied to hear “Well done” from the Eternal One, Himself.

Live forward, dear one. You are who you will be! Walk in that knowledge and turn away from twaddle, beginning NOW. Don’t settle. Don’t compromise. Hold a high standard because Jesus regards you highly. He is worthy of our well-lived lives.

Into the Deep

What is the best way to learn to swim in the ocean?

I would venture to say that the toddler pool would not be very helpful.  Even going as far as the adult pool, maybe the 8-12 foot deep end, would not be enough.

Why?  Well, for one thing the ocean is vastly deep and often rough.  Undertow can end the life of the most strong swimmers, not to mention the wildlife swimming below.  A clean, chlorinated community pool is not the same.  Not even close.

To be a strong swimmer in the ocean requires understanding of the behavior of the waters and wildlife, and incredible strength to withstand the pummeling of large waves.

One has to study and and train in order to survive the wild.

Lately I have been pondering this reality.  As I prepare to launch my firstborn into adulthood and strive to educate my younger children I have seen a common thread woven throughout this season of life.

We avoid boredom like the plague.  We don’t know what to do with it.  Stillness makes us unsettled and we rescue ourselves from it with the click of a smartphone.

Just look to your left or right at any intersection.  Most people cannot handle even one minute of boredom, pulling out their phone to fill the empty space until the light turns green.  Dead air on the radio for more that two seconds will prompt us to change the channel.

Even our children, with fresh and creative minds so able to learn and explore, are taught to turn to video games and television because the adults find it easier…less messy…more quiet in the house when the headphones are on and the controller is clicking away.

We have shelves full of books that sit unread.  Art supplies still in their original packaging, purchased with great intentions but rarely used.  Yet we scroll.  We click.

And we die.

We were created for more.  We live in a tumultuous and rocky world.  An ocean of culture and change lies before us but we don’t know how to swim in it.  Our minds numb, becoming accustomed to shallow waters, bright floaties and chaise lounges while our surroundings succumb to the flood.

We can’t even tread water.

But we can change this.  What if we choose excellence?  What if we listen, read and learn and bless our minds with strong tools for survival?  What if we study the dark spiritual waters and learn how to swim in them, to stay afloat and rescue others who are sinking?  The specifics are up to you and me.  Only we know ourselves and where we have neglected good and necessary growth.  But I suggest we begin by seeking God, diving into the Scriptures and letting the outflow of that affect our choices in entertainment, media and education.  We learn to allow ourselves to sit in boredom, to become contemplative in those awkward moments and let it result in growth and creativity.

My goodness, imagine what we might hear from the Lord if we give Him a quiet space in which to speak!

“Be still and know…”

Turn away from foolish things and look to the good, true and beautiful.  Retrain our minds to look inward and evaluate ourselves before looking outward for a quick fix at the stop light.

Let silence ring loud in our ears and listen…

We can hear ourselves breathing.  We might even hear our own hearts beating.

Build strong spiritual muscles in those moments and swim out into the deep, unafraid when the shore disappears because we have trained and are ready.  Truth is our guide and Jesus is our light piercing the darkness.

We were born for more than a quick fix.   Don’t settle any longer.