When You Can’t See the Ending.

The rain falls softly, dribbles of drops battering the downspouts as a sort of back-rhythm to the melancholy of damp dusk. In the distance I hear the lonely whistle of a train and I wonder where he is.

My son.

He graced us with his first visit this weekend, driving two hours to spend the night at home.

It made me giddily happy to see him pull into the driveway.

A little over 24 hours later he is back on the road, accompanied by his mama’s prayers and words of wisdom from his father. His car is loaded with clean laundry and a fresh supply of snacks to stash under the bed in his dorm. I’m thankful he is driving ahead of the rain and will have dry roads until he arrives.

I’ve thought a lot about God’s heart toward us this week as we have adjusted to the new normal. How often did God, though He knows the beginning and the end all at once, want to intervene when toddler Jesus teetered at the top of the steps? Or when he played with Joseph’s tools and nearly sliced off a finger?

How about when he was desperately hungry after forty days of fasting and the enemy slunk into the picture, determined to wreck the plans for God’s redemption of the world that had been in place before the beginning of time? Or as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey and the cross stood ready, a certain destination of torturous death for the spotless Lamb of God?

The unknown often gives me pause and drives me to my knees when I think about my childrens’ futures. But God? He does not experience the unknown. It is all known to Him. Good, painful, wonderful and exruciatingly horrific…He saw it all coming and chose to let it play out to the fullest extent necessary until His pupose, His eternal tapestry that we on this side of the veil can only see from the backside, was complete and the last knot securely tightened.

If I could see what was coming, and see how it all would end, would I be able to step back and let it play out? Or would I still be tempted to swoop in and rescue my babes from danger and trauma, even knowing that the suffering was part of God’s plan for their lives?

Oh, the conflict of a mother’s heart!

College, for me, is the most recent great unknown. We sent my oldest off at his request to experience life as an adult, independent and determined to follow his dreams. In a town I have only visited as a tourist, surrounded by people I do not know, influenced by authorities I probably don’t trust he now lives and is having to put to practice…or not…the things he has been taught from birth. Right vs. wrong, godly vs. ungodly, constructive vs. destructive…endless choices all await him now.

And the only thing I can do is pray.

Truly.

And what does that say about my faith when I say I can “only” pray? Isn’t prayer the most powerful tool we have been given by our gracious and merciful God?

Do I believe? Really?

Let me tell you, launching your firstborn son will make you put more stock in prayer and cry out to God on their behalf with more desperation, more faith, than you ever thought possible.

The result of all that tearful, sloppy prayer? Peace. When I am leaning in and storming the gates of Heaven on behalf of anyone, especially my kids, the Lord never fails to settle my heart and remind me that He is the perfect Father and knows how this is all going to end one day. That I can trust Him and that He loves my boy…in fact, both of my boys and all three of my girls…perfectly, completely, and with a love that allows suffering, hardship, and even failure to mold them into the image of Christ.

Which, after all, is the ultimate goal.

So let the rain fall. Let the storms come. My God, who did not spare His own Son, has every detail under control and I’m going to choose to trust Him with the unknown. What a gift to know He has my boy’s back. What a blessing to remember the faithfulness He has demonstrated since that day, over 19 years ago, when that seven pound baby was placed in my arms. I can, and must, trust Him.

Endings and beginnings.

I took my dog for a walk this morning, noting the silver slug trails scribbled across the sidewalk. The light of dawn made them shimmer and become almost beautiful. For the first time in several weeks, I felt inspired to sit down and write.

The flowers in the South are in full bloom, knockout roses scenting the air and daisies standing tall behind the monkey grass edging the flower beds. My potted plants struggle to survive due to my occasional neglect and I find myself flooding them in order to rescue them from the wilt. I have great dreams of gardening in the Spring when the weather is cool which quickly wither in the oppressive heat of Summer.

I haven’t written a thing since my retreat in May. It was three glorious days of driving through incredible scenery along the Ocoee River and through the Blue Ridge Mountains. I finished my novel (yay!) and wrote whatever crossed my brain in the moment. Pages upon pages were laid down-my way of figuring things out, straightening what had become crooked, and reconnecting with God in the quiet of a sheep farm in Georgia. It was heaven on earth. Then, I came home and hit a creative wall. Oh, I’ve started a few posts, scrolled mindlessly through social media and shared a few memes and photos, but nothing of substance has been produced due to various circumstances.

First, I started back to school and I’ll just tell you, College Algebra is hard. I’m a writer, not a math brain, so it is stretching and challenging me in a myriad of ways. Not all of them constructive. I have sighed, cried, and sought every way I can imagine to get out of taking this class, but the fact is it is a basic requirement of a bachelor’s degree and it is the only general studies course I didn’t take back in the early nineties. It’s been a long, long time but it has to be done. Thank God for my brilliant husband who remembers all of this stuff! He has saved my academic life!

Second, Summer has been busier than I would like. Last year I felt like we spent endless, luxurious days by the pool, reading and splashing and meeting neighbors. This year has been filled with appointments, camps, preparing my oldest to transition to college, a trip to the beach…and math! All of these things are good and necessary but I find myself just wanting to be home, curled up on the sofa with a good book. (But, I really need to catch up on laundry.)

Third, we had to say goodbye to our beautiful, majestic, tender-hearted German Shepherd. What we thought was an ear infection turned out to be advanced cancer. We didn’t have time to wrap our heads or hearts around it but we had to put him down. I can’t describe the heartache of holding that huge head, looking into his soulful eyes and telling him what a good boy he was as he succumbed to the anesthesia. We all were there, weeping, as my husband read a prayer over our dog and we let him go. Grief has hit in waves and our yard feels so empty without his 120 pound presence. He was a big boy with an even bigger heart and we hurt.

Fourth and finally, in our grief we couldn’t be satisfied with one little dog who was lonely and lost without her best friend. We watched Hollie mope around and lose all of her mojo and we knew we needed to bring joy into our family quickly. Yes, we got a puppy(!) and that has been good and right therapy. She is a Cavachon-a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix. Like someone told me who had recently lost a beloved dog, if I have to be sad, at least I can be sad with a puppy. We named her Clara June and she is a sweet, soft bundle of snuggles who is healing our hearts and teaching our Hollie about playfulness and the fun of pouncing on a toy once again. Hollie isn’t sold on her just yet, but she is making baby steps that direction. Hollie gives a killer side-eye, though. Her shih-Tzu expression is consistently sour mixed with a healthy dose of annoyed at this new little sister who is full of puppy energy. We have laughed a lot this past week and I am grateful for that. Puppy breath is good therapy.

So, here I am. I still intend to write about my retreat back in May. I have incredible pictures to share and stories of how God met me there but today I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I wanted to share a bit of real life that has been happening and just check in with you as July dawns and we in the South hunker down to endure the summer heat. I hope you are able to enjoy some long mornings. I, for one, have to get up early to enjoy my devotionals outdoors or else I end up being driven inside by the humidity and bugs!

God is faithful. He is near. He is moving in the good and the hard and I’m grateful to be reminded of that. I have felt more dependent on him in recent days, even in the midst of massive struggles to form coherent prayers at times. But He reminds me to cast all of my cares upon Him for He loves me.

I think we could all stand to be reminded of that, don’t you?

Happy 4th of July (if you are in the United States)! As we celebrate the country in which God has ordained us to live, may we be good stewards of the freedom we enjoy and use it for the glory of God and the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Stopping to Smell the Roses

It’s an intense season. I’ve been immersed in all things “end of school” and barely have time to breathe, much less write.

My firstborn graduates from high school in less than two weeks, which does not seem possible since he just started Kindergarten five minutes ago. But, alas, it’s true and we are about to launch a child into this world. Scary, exciting, emotional…I’m feeling all the variety of feels right now! (I’m ok. Really.)

My self-imposed therapy has varied…reading, writing when I have time, and long walks through our beautiful, Spring-cloaked neighborhood. The sun has browned my shoulders a bit and my feet are readjusting to the feel of flip-flops. Finches grace the new bird feeder out back and the roses are blooming. Creation declares His glory and it is outdoors I go when I need to be refueled. A long walk or run, podcast or music in my earbuds and a prayer on my lips as I commune with my Father is truly the best medicine.

So, this week is different. I have a post I’m working on that I’ll share soon but I feel the need to just enjoy the beauty of Spring today. I haven’t edited these photos at all, just posting them straight from my iPhone.

No filter needed.

Just unfiltered worship to our God who created the beautiful seasons.

Enjoy:)

My wake up each morning. Best alarm clock in the world.

The first rose of the season. Made my kitchen smell lovely:)

My daughter and Danny sitting with me as the day warms.

Horses in the pasture grace our front yard and, after a year and a half, I still want to pinch myself when I realize I get to see this every day. So thankful.

When Doubts Assail

There is incredible grace in the story of Thomas.

I’m sure you have heard of him, the doubter.

In John, chapter 20, Thomas stood stubbornly before the rest of the disciples in the aftermath of the crucifixion and declared that he wasn’t buying it…this story they told. Jesus, alive?

Bah.

He had watched Him suffer and die. No one had ever survived a cross.

For eight more days Thomas stumbled forward in grief. Hope was gone. Then Jesus showed up, walking straight through a locked door. Is it any wonder that the first words the Lord spoke to those gathered in that room were, “Peace, be with you?” I imagine the disciples were undone at best, freaking out at the very least. And Jesus was there with a mission…He was there for Thomas.

He looked at Thomas with mercy and grace, seeing through the fear and doubt into the depths of his broken heart and spoke. He knew Thomas’ weakness. Jesus knew Thomas’ wounds. Thomas was hurting and needed more proof in order to break apart the protective shell he had constructed when Jesus (and everything he thought he knew) died. I’m sure Jesus would have preferred that Thomas have the faith to believe without seeing but he did not criticize or condemn him. He told Thomas that if he needed to touch the gash in his side then go ahead and do it. Jesus’ desire was for Thomas to believe and He was willing to do whatever it took to help him do so.

Oh the mercy and grace of God, who understands our need, our weakness, and meets us with great compassion. So often, when we doubt God, we want to gloss it over. It is embarrassing to admit that you just aren’t sure anymore. You have prayed and believed but He seems so far away…silent.

Often, when we doubt, we deal with it by busily ignoring Him. We stop reading Scripture and certainly give up on praying. Why waste our time when it isn’t doing any good?

But then something happens that drives us to our knees, making us long to crawl up into his lap and tell us everything is going to work out. How, though, do we approach a God who we have ignored, doubted, and begun to believe might not even exist? When we realize he is real and that we do, in fact, need him deeply and desperately we might be tempted to hold back because, well, we are afraid. Surely He is angry with us for doubting him after all He has done. He isn’t going to just brush our fist-shaking, angry tirades aside…is He?

That, my friends, is the reason His throne is called “The Throne of Grace” in Hebrews 4:16. We do not have to have everything “figured out” to approach God. He asks us to put our trust in Him, demands our surrender, but faith does not mean we fully understand Him or His ways. There are so many mysteries in the Trinity that will never be clear this side of eternity, but God has given us enough upon which to base our lives. He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, and our loving, merciful Abba. He knows we are dust, looking upon us with eyes of compassion and beckons us to come to Him in the darkest night of the soul. Our weakness does not offend Him or push Him away for He fully realizes our faults, having formed every hair on our heads.

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throneofgrace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16in

How great is His love, that He would sacrifice everything, watch us stumble and fall yet again, and still lean in, offering up the very wounds that killed Him for our inspection, to satisfy our human doubts.

We are a people deeply loved, chosen by the King of kings and there is nothing He will not do to bring us to Himself.

And Thomas? After Jesus’ patient, merciful response to his doubts, after his skepticism had been answered with absolute Truth, he would never be the same. Dear, doubting Thomas would go on to become one of the first martyrs in Christ. He would stand his ground in now-unshakeable surrender and lift his face to Heaven where the Son of God, his friend and Savior, would stand at the right hand of the Father in his honor.

When we realize who we are and whose we are, we will finally live in true freedom as daughters of our kind and loving King. It will impact every decision we make, every interaction with the world around us, and how we handle every thought that races through our mind. Wrestling through doubts and allowing God to answer them will strengthen us and reassure us that we can, truly, come before the throne of grace and find mercy.

It will reassure us that our mustard-seed faith can, in fact, move mountains.

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.

Finding God

Simply leaving this with you to ponder today:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Eyes forward.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”   Revelation 21:5

In the crazy of moving during this, the most busy wonderful time of the year, I have struggled to keep my sacred mornings with the Lord.  In fact, four days before we moved my desk got packed up…including my Bible.  Now, I always have the online version but I so prefer the actual physical book in my hands, the weight of the Word on my lap.

I woke up each morning, not with relaxed anticipation of time spent with Jesus (which had become my blessed norm over the past months) but with lists of lists spinning through my overwhelmed mind.  And celebrating Advent, in the insanity of packing every. single. thing. we owned and moving it thirty minutes up the highway to a new house in the hills surrounding Nashville, fell to the backburner.  I purposed that as soon as we moved in we would make up for lost time.

As soon as we had left the old behind we would begin anew.

And we did.

As I wrote in my last post, we moved in with lights and candles and trees all in place and ready to point us to the coming King.  We feasted and sang and baked and gazed in wonder at the expanse of sky above in the absence of the once-familiar trees.  It was sweet and began our life in this new place with good and needed memories.

And now, the New Year is upon us.  For the past few years I have asked the Lord for a word from Him.  A glimpse at what He might have ahead for me, a focal point for my prayers and vision as I walk into January.

I haven’t received it from Him just yet, but I know I will.  He has been perfectly faithful, every time I have asked, to give this to me.  So I watch and pray and listen, knowing the newfound quiet of our surroundings can only help me hear the voice of my Father.  (Though, I do have five kids and three dogs so…quiet is a very relative term!)  As we leave this old year behind, shutting the door on the successes and failures, joys, heartbreaks and grief, we have an opportunity to begin anew on January first.

Does it mean I forget the hard?  Well, yes, maybe it does…or it just might mean I should.

In Philippians 3:13-14 Paul says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I believe this is a worthy goal for us as we begin the new year.  2018 does not have to be overshadowed by the pain hangover of 2017.  Instead, we can allow the struggles to push us onward and upward, remembering why and for Whom we are here in the first place.

Because if we remember the “why” we are less likely to fall into bitterness and discontent.  And if we remember for Whom we are here, well, it makes it awfully hard to be selfish.

Not that I struggle with selfishness.  *sarcasm*

So I’m seeking the Lord today, asking for His word for me to be made clear before the New Year dawns.  If you are doing the same, I would love to hear what the Lord gives you!  What a gift it would be for us to pray for one another as we begin this fresh leg of our journey.

May the God of angel armies bless and keep you in 2018.  May you know who you are and Whose you are as you walk each day with Him.  And may the Peace of the Lord Jesus be with you and sustain you throughout this new year.

Perspective.

She sat with my daughter, bent over the canvas with a brush hanging from her lips, peering critically at every detail of her work.  Wondering if it was good, or maybe even (dare she hope?) great.  My daughter and I looked at it from a few feet away…amazed at the depth and perspective in her painting.

“It makes me want to jump in and walk through it,” I said.  My friend grinned, encouraged by our enthusiasm.  We all looked again, loving how a little distance seemed to smooth out imperfections and bring the work to life.  The more she painted, the more layers and colors she added, the more alive the painting became.  To watch it happen was like getting a glimpse of what God must have felt as He created color and depth and beauty on this earth.  What a gift!

img_2119

Painted by my talented friend, Jenelle Schimpf

 

I retreated to my desk a little later, thinking over her work.  How like our Father to use art to teach truth.  How appropriate that the Father of Lights would reach my heart through the play of light on oils and canvas.

In a season of history where the world feels so jumbled and chaotic, when the news is rarely good and tragedy hits too close too often, it is all too easy to feel lost and confused and unable to see God at work in the midst of the struggle.  But He is.  He is so busy, painting the masterpiece of Creation, adding layers and color and depth to the form of Man and history…HIS story.  Carefully He adds light here, darkness there.  Intentionally He places every color exactly where it is needed in order to produce the end result that He has in His mind’s eye.  And we, you and me, get to be colors on the great brush He holds in His hand.  We get to be a part of the beauty and the glory that is God’s story.

That sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  I think so…until he plops me into an area of blackness, of darkness contrasting the light where I had hoped to land.  But if that is His will for me, in this season, to settle into a dark place…though it may be difficult…I have to make a choice.  Do I trust the Artist and allow Him to use me where He wants me or buck against Him, muddling the colors and marring the end result?  If I submit and let Him use me in the darkness, then I become part of His glory and beauty.  Maybe I am being used to define the light, to draw attention to the bright beauty of the painting’s center…Jesus.

It reminds me of a beautiful little chapel in Carthage, Missouri…the Precious Moments Chapel.  Many years ago, on our honeymoon, my husband and I visited this special place.  As you enter the chapel you are met with a beautiful mural…Hallelujah Square.  It is filled with images of children and families, of reunions and tears being wiped away, of crutches no longer needed and broken bodies healed.  But the most beautiful part, to me, is where Jesus stands in the Square. When Samuel Butcher painted this mural he did not realize, until he was finished, that he had placed Jesus Christ at the very center.

Isn’t that so like God?  All of the sadness and sickness and heartache that we go through, all of the longing and seemingly endless waiting point back to the One who is at the center of it all…Jesus.  As we walk through these days of the season of Advent, try to take a few steps back and ask God to give you His perspective on your role in His masterpiece.  See if, just knowing there is a center focus to it all, a reason for the dark color values as well as the bright ones, doesn’t help you lift up your face a little more and hold your head a little higher in hope.  Ask Him for faith to endure, for the ability to trust His hand as He works in and around you.  Remember all the ways He has been faithful in the past and choose to trust Him to be the same today and tomorrow as He was back then.

Because He is.

Advent and going back to basics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we are packing up everything we own and moving right smack dab in the middle of it!  Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and, despite the craziness associated with moving a family of seven and downsizing, no less, I just couldn’t let it keep us from celebrating it as normally as possible.  Not only will it make the transition easier for our kids, but it will be the beginning of many years of beautiful memories in our new home, Lord willing.   I have been determined to preserve the traditions that are meaningful and get the tree(s) up in our new house even before we move in.  So the Christmas stuff may or may not have been moved into our house ahead of my clothes!

Priorities:)

In the controlled chaos of packing/moving/homeschooling and all the busy of our normal life with five athletic and extremely social kids I had to take a good look at Christmas this year and narrow things down…a lot.

I tend to be a “bandwagon celebrationist.”  (Yes, I just made that up.)  Whenever the latest book, devotional, or idea for celebrating a holiday in a meaningful, Christ-honoring way comes across my newsfeed I’m all, “Yeah!  I need that!  THAT is the key!  THAT will make our Christmases unforgettable!  I must add that to the 6 devotionals, 7 trees and fourteen advent wreaths we already have!”  (Kidding…about the wreaths, anyway.)

I’m always looking for the next great idea and then Christmas comes…

The half-read devotionals lay stacked on the side table.  Candles failed to be lit all of last week.  And, shoot, I was going to make that newest recipe for the holidays and the ingredients sit, untouched, because I ran out of time.  It’s too much.  And in the middle of my great intentions sits a festering seed of frustration and failure.  Jesus loses his place, once again, because I crowded him out with all of this “busy work.”

As I have packed and pared down our lives for this move, it has been eye opening.  First of all, I had way too much stuff.  It’s embarrassing.  Second, the determination to keep Christmas and be able to enjoy the season in the first days of life in our new home has made me realize that there are a few things of real value to our hearts, but many more that are not.

I have filled up a lot of giveaway and throwaway bags and it has been so freeing.

I got rid of the old, dusty wreaths and garlands.  All the ornaments that were, to be honest, ugly.  Even the stuff my kids made over the years, so many things that I couldn’t even remember who made them or when.  I chucked them in a bag and didn’t look back, only keeping the special ones that brought a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my heart.

Kind of like Marie Kondo, without talking to my stuff.

Why do I make occasions like Christmas so complicated?  Why do I feel the need to fill this already beautiful season with experiences and create Pinterest-worthy memories?  Why are the holidays so exhaustingly busy?

Because we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  And…we forget exactly who we are celebrating.

Jesus is not complicated, friends.  Everything about him is beautifully simple.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death.  It was all very straightforward.  No frills.  He had a message and he taught it.  He had a mission and he completed it.  He knew why he was here and he let nothing distract him or deter him from it.  Jesus is not complicated, but he is beautiful.

And that is the key, if you ask me.  Creating beauty as we walk out the season of Advent can be so simple and meaningful.  In fact, I believe we can create beauty without opening a single devotional book or suffering guiding our kids through a single craft-making session.  Just this morning, as I was contemplating the words I am writing now, I asked my twelve year old daughter what she remembers most about Christmas as she has grown up.  What has been meaningful, and what has she thought was a waste of time?

Her answer surprised me.

She listed two meaningful traditions among the many we have upheld:  Watching Christmas movies together and putting twinkle lights all through the house.

The wastes of time in her eyes?  “Prettying up the tree.  Really, Mom, I just love the star on top and the ornaments.  It doesn’t need all that other stuff.”  This, from my artsiest and most creative child.   Do you know how much time I spent last year arranging and fluffing two different colors of extra-wide, sparkly ribbon on our big tree until it look just right?  She just cared about the star and the ornaments.

This is so profound to me.  We need less, friends.  Less gifts and more time spent talking about the meaning behind all of our celebrations.  Less hustling and bustling and more time to rest, to be restored and remember our First Love.  Less trying to fulfill our kids’ every wish and more attention on the longing fulfilled when the Son of God emerged from Mary’s womb in a stable surrounded by the lowliest of creatures and visited by the forgotten of society.

Jesus deserves our very best, but best does not mean busy work that will be forgotten next year.  It means sincere, heartfelt adoration of our King.  It means offering ourselves fully and slowing down long enough to let His still, small voice speak into our spirits.  That is what we will remember, and that is what our children will look back on fondly.  Simple beauty.  Candlelight and snuggles in front of a fire.  Words of life spoken in the quiet.  And laughter.  Always we must make time to laugh because following God is JOY.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing for the Promise.  In creating simple beauty we can find that place and be truly transformed as we recognize, anew, the incredible gift of God’s son.