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ripple effect

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Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

Last week, as the kids and I were climbing into the car so that I could drive them to school, Sydney asked me a question to which I responded in a short and irritable tone of voice. This set off a chain of reactions and human behavior that made the car ride, or at least the first 5 minutes of the car ride, very unpleasant for all of us. My snippy attitude hurt Sydney, and out of her hurt she then acted snippy towards her brother which left him hurt, angry, and ready to fight. This (un)lovely display of familial love, while initially triggered by my reaction, actually started the night before. I had had a very bad night’s rest which led to sleeping in an extra thirty minutes which led to having “one of those days” where I was running late, not getting my quiet time in, being the bearer of disappointing news to one of my kids about an event that they would not be able to attend (making me, of course, the unloving mom), and basically barreling my way into the day with little emotional margin. And you know what really gets me is that I knew, as the words were spilling out of my mouth in response to Sydney’s simple and non-threatening question, that my reaction was going to hurt someone and flush the morning right down the toilet.

Am I the only one who has created havoc in the home by one bad decision? Am I the only parent out there who has literally caused the the course of the morning to fall apart because I couldn’t restrain my emotions and bad attitude?

I doubt it, but stuff like this is not something we share publicly or freely. We are much better image managers than authenticity bearers. I’m not sharing this to try and prove that I am somehow more authentic than the next person; rather, I actually want to discuss (not preach) the ripple effect of shame.

It doesn’t really matter what our backgrounds are; everyone of us deals – to some degree, and some people more intensely than others due to family histories, past experiences, etc. – with shame.

Shame is that crippling feeling that something is wrong with me, or that I am a bad person.

On the morning I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was feeling bad about myself. I was feeling “less than”, and I was feeling all the ugly feelings of not having my stuff together. I was feeling shame.

Out of my shame, I shamed Sydney who shamed Jackson who then jumped on the shame bandwagon and started rolling up his sleeves for a knock-down, drag-out, verbal war. But before he had the chance to say something, he, too, would regret, I shut the shame down. I recognized it for what it was and worked hard to redeem the rest of our car ride. And to be completely transparent here, it wasn’t until after school when I had the chance to talk to Sydney again, that we were back on solid footing relationally.

This experience clearly reminded me of the constant challenge we face – day in and day out – to guard our hearts and our mouths from the ripple effect of shame. Not just in parenting, but in every relationship we engage in. Marriage, family, work relationships, can all get gummed up and broken by one act, one word, one sideways look birthed out of shame. And I think it is imperative to get to the root of where the shame is coming from, so that we can cut it off before it has a chance to land in the water and ripple its way out, touching anyone and everyone in its path.

Not being an expert, I can only share what I am learning through my own experiences and observations. There are no easy answers for dealing with shame. But one thing that I have learned for certain is that, while shame grows and multiplies in silence, it is squashed with honest transparency. Shame loses its control on our lives when we stop hiding from it. For instance, a better way for me to have handled the morning in this story is if  I would have simply admitted to myself, from the moment my day began, that I had overslept and made a mistake. If I had taken the few seconds to admit to myself that I messed up, then gave myself a little bit of grace, and lowered my expectations for the rest of the morning, I might have had more resiliency when everything else began to unravel. Maybe, just maybe, I might have had a sense of humor about the whole thing. Life happens. Sleepless nights happen. It wasn’t the end of the world. And my kids didn’t need to suffer because I was feeling bad about myself.

Another thing I have learned is that sometimes shame is thrown at us, not because of something we have done, or a mistake that we have made, but from another person who, in all honesty, is dealing with their own shame issues. When this happens, my natural reaction is to internalize what they have said to me, or how they have treated me, and to some degree take ownership of their junk. This is unhealthy, and it leads to a vicious cycle of passing shame from one person to the next unless someone says, “No.” That “No” becomes an internal barrier around our minds and hearts that does not allow the shameful message to penetrate. Try as they may, the other person may knowingly or unknowingly throw garbage at us, but it won’t land in our mental or emotional yards.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23

Proverbs exhorts us to guard our hearts. Protect our hearts above everything else, because everything we do flows from it. That means  ”good” and “bad” can flow from our hearts. From a protected heart, love, forgiveness, patience, a self-controlled tongue, faith, hope, grace and mercy will flow and create a ripple effect of peace, joy, happiness, contentedness and praise. A heart lacking protection is susceptible to any and all messages, ideas, temptations, distortions, and self-centered acts that come its way creating a ripple effect of trouble, heartache, and shame.

While there are no easy answers to dealing with actions born out of shame, I do believe that it begins with the heart. It takes more than mind over matter. Changing thought patterns begins with a heart and life hidden in Christ. If we want to see ourselves transform from shame-based responses and behaviors, then we must surrender our hearts to Jesus and allow him to begin the transformation of the heart.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

Can I ask you a bold and personal question that might make you feel a little uncomfortable and challenge you to be a little bit vulnerable?

Are you guarding your heart?

What kind of ripple effect are you creating?

This is not about being perfect people and hitting a home run in our relationships every single time we are up to bat. But what it is about is bringing shame out of the shadows and not giving it room in our hearts to fester. Calling it out, sending it on its way, and creating a ripple effect of truth, love, honesty and vulnerability.

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bloom

Photo by Meric Dagli on Unsplash

Photo by Meric Dagli on Unsplash

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” John 15:4

Have you ever fought with God regarding the place where he has planted you?

Have you ever looked over at another garden and watched another flower beautifully growing, robust and fragrant, and wondered, “Why couldn’t God plant me there? Why has he planted me here?”

Have you ever argued with God? “I could be a much more beautiful flower if you planted me someplace else? Is it really necessary for you to plant me here?”

As much as I hate to admit it, I have asked all of these questions, wrestled my way to exhaustion over the why’s, and compared my garden to that of many others. I have discounted the place of my planting because I couldn’t see the bloom yet to come.

What we don’t see behind every flower, every blossom, every fruitful display of God’s wonder, is the winter that preceded it.

We can’t bloom without the winter.

Seasons are critical to the health of the produce. There is a season for planting, growing, harvesting, and preparing. So often we compare our spindly stems in the early stages of growth to the fullness and richness of a flower ready to be plucked. And sometimes, due to the nature of the fruit we will one day produce, our season of preparation may take longer, which means it may take quite some time before we see a bud appear.

Seasons are cyclical, and sometimes we need to let go of the produce from a plentiful harvest and allow the winter to prepare us for a new planting.

A good winter is necessary for a good harvest.

Winter is quiet and bare, sometimes lonely and unseen. Winter may bring disappointments and challenges. And it can certainly open us up to the trap of comparison. The question begins to form in our hearts, “Why plant me here?” Here seems to be the enemy of our souls. But here is a place where every blossom begins.

We can’t bloom without the winter.

Spring, summer, and early fall allow the soil to absorb heat and moisture. This will sustain the ground for the winter to come. As the ground begins to get colder and colder, and as each layer of soil begins to freeze, under the surface life is buzzing and whirling. There are microbes, bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that continue to live and thrive all winter long, producing nutrients necessary for the spring. While all may look dead on the surface, life is still stirring deep below.

And those plants that have deep roots, that reach beyond each layer of frozen ground, will survive the harshest of winters as they continue to be nourished by nutrient rich soil.

Deep roots and patience. Without these we may not see another bloom.

Winter appears barren, but the roots that dive deeply into God’s presence, God’s Word, and God’s soil will survive and one day bloom beautifully. Soil that is teeming with life and hope and truth and grace is soil that will feed those roots and bring life back into the garden.

The key to blooming in the spring is abiding through the winter. We can not produce a harvest if we have not abided in the winter.

When you look over at another’s garden, and if you see beautiful blossoms and fruitful branches, just know they didn’t get there without a winter.

And when you look at yourself and wonder when your moment to bloom will come, reach those roots deep into the winter soil, beyond the frozen ground, and abide in the soil of God’s presence. Your beautiful garden will come, but not before your winter. Have patience. Let God do his work in you.

God planted you here because here needs you. The garden is coming, the buds are forming, and the beauty of the bloom will reflect the beauty of the gardener who planted you here.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” John 15:9


rescued and redeemed

Photo by Dapo Oni on Unsplash

Photo by Dapo Oni on Unsplash

There is no distance we can run from which God’s gracious hand can not reach out and rescue.

We can never go too far where redemption can not pull us back.

And if we think that our current circumstances have hidden us too far out of sight, then we have forgotten just how great and mighty, mindful and compassionate, our God really is.

Whether we are seeking, hiding, hurting, lost, or stuck, God sees, and God hears. We are not invisible to him. Our cries are not distant, muffled, or ignored.

Under the weight of mistreatment, Hagar – the maidservant of Sarai – ran away, fleeing the pain that burdened her. An angel found her in the desert and told her to return to her mistress. The angel also revealed to Hagar that the child she was carrying would be a son and that his name was to be Ishmael.

Hagar, heavy with sorrow and bitterness, found that even in the desert – far from home and running to preserve her dignity and life – God saw her.

“You are the God who sees me.” Genesis 16

The name Ishmael means, God hears. God not only saw Hagar, but he also heard Hagar.

This story reveals much about the character and care of God. Out of disobedience, Abram and Sarai acted independently of God and created an ancient near-Eastern soap opera-esque problem for themselves. Rather than wait for God’s way and God’s timing, they took matters into their own hands and tried to have a child through Hagar, Sarai’s servant. Things really heated up when Hagar got pregnant. Hagar’s behavior wounded Sarai, who I am sure was grieving her inability to have children, which set off a series of events that left Hagar destitute in the desert.

While God’s covenant with Abram was to be fulfilled through Isaac, God still did not abandon Hagar, and her unborn baby. He did not turn his eye from their need. In fact, he gave Ishmael a promise as well.

God also saw the way in which Abram and Sarai had treated Hagar, and this did not please the Lord. They had created a problem for themselves, and rather than deal fairly and justly in this situation, they became hurtful and unkind. And because of this, God acted justly on behalf of Hagar and Ishmael.

To be clear, nobody was acting very kindly in this story. Hurting people hurt people. And the result was tragic.

But God remained faithful.

God saw Hagar’s pain. He didn’t abandon her and he did not leave her empty-handed. He rescued her.

That is the beauty of God’s gracious nature.

If you are in a dark and deserted place right now, God sees you, and he hears you.

It would be easy to end the story right here, but what I find so precious and hopeful is that, even though Sarai and Abram disobeyed God and stepped outside of the boundary line of goodness, God still chose them.

Did you catch that?

God still chose them.

“God said to Abram, ‘As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make many nations of you, and kings will come from you. As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’” Genesis 17:3-6,15,16

In spite of their mistakes, their past, their taking-matters-into-their-own-hands behavior, God still chose to make his covenant with Abraham and Sarah. They certainly didn’t earn the right or the worthiness. They proved their humanity in how they behaved with Hagar, and yet God didn’t discard them due to their mistakes. In fact, Abraham’s belief in God’s promise (as frail as it may have appeared at times) was credited to him as righteousness.

God redeemed.

If you have found yourself in the desert, whether through your own rebellion or by the will of an unjust hand, God sees you and he hears you. You are not hidden from God. No one is ever too far gone that they can not experience the tender grace of God’s rescue.

Perhaps you think that your actions have disqualified you from God’s best plans for your life, or that the amount of mistakes you’ve made have created an impenetrable barrier between you and God’s grace. The same God who redeemed the story of Abraham and Sarah is the same God who will redeem yours. We can come back from our mistakes. There is redemption.

Regardless of where we are, where we have been, and where we think we are headed, God rescues and redeems.

He sees you.

He hears you.

And his promises are for you.

misplaced hope

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We need hope.

Hope is what gets us up and out of bed in the morning when the impossible is staring at us in the face.

Hope is what energizes and empowers us to keep hanging on when the unthinkable has disrupted our lives.

Hope reminds us that while we may not see it right now, we can have confidence that it is there.

Without hope we walk around defeated, broken, and disheartened.

Hope is that spark of the “perhaps”; it is that thing that grounds us. It gives us the courage to keep hanging on. Hope is powerful and necessary. In order to overcome the ups and downs, the trials and uncertainties of this life, we need hope.

But sometimes we get off track. In our self-preservation, we veer off the right pathway and begin to put our hope in the wrong hands. We place our focus, our energy, our expectations, into people or things that may serve us to a degree, but can never promise true assurance of long-term stability and peace. For a temporary moment they may promise a hopeful return, but in the end, those promises do more harm than good.

I call this misplaced hope. And misplaced hope leads to a troubled heart.

I love the wording of the psalmist in Psalm 42:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.” Psalm 42:5,6

When my attention is pulled away from the true source of hope, my soul plummets. When I choose to trust in a person over the consistent and faithful hand of God over my life, then hope is lost and trouble abounds. And yet, even if God seems silent to my cries or the wait is longer than I had anticipated, when I turn my eyes heavenward and begin to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, even then hope returns and peace envelopes the downcast soul.

My friends, it may appear that somehow your hope hangs vicariously in the hands of a person, a place, or a thing, but that is simply not true. Anything we place our faith in outside of God’s hands is merely wishful thinking; that is not real hope at all, just misplaced hope.

Hope in the hands of God is hope accompanied with peaceful assurance. It is the kind of hope that I mentioned at the beginning of this post: the hope that pulls us up out of the pit and gives us the endurance to keep pressing on.

“And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:3-5

The hope Paul describes in this passage is not the kind of hope we typically ascribe to the word hope. It is not the warm, fuzzy, wishful kind of feeling, i.e. “maybe this will happen or maybe this person will change”, contingent upon circumstances. Rather, the hope that Paul is talking about is confidence in God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises to us. There is no wrestling with doubt or wishing hard enough to make it happen. When God commands his will to be done, it will be done.

And this kind of hope does not disappoint us.

When our souls are troubled – when we find ourselves wallowing in defeat – we must ask ourselves: where have we placed our hope? I know for myself I have had many a downcast-soul moments that always, always, point to misplaced hope. And in those moments I have had to declare to my heart the truth of who truly holds my future- and my life- in his hands. When I do that, my hope is restored and peace returns to my soul.

Where, or in whom, have you placed your hope? If you are not sure, just ask your heart: are you troubled, or are you at peace?

Misplaced hope leads to a troubled heart.

Hope in God leads to a hopeful heart because God is the God of hope.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

hold your tongue

Photo by Kristina Flour for Unsplash

Photo by Kristina Flour for Unsplash

I was in third grade. It was a Sunday morning, and I was sitting in our children’s church room at church when our children’s leaders were suddenly called away from the classroom. They left a boy and a girl in charge – no more than two years older than myself – who were instructed to ensure that no one talked or made noise while the leaders were gone. If someone spoke the interim leaders were to write those names down. Being a person who always wanted to please and had this inborn trait of following the rules, I sat in my chair determined to keep my mouth shut, until the person next to me whispered something to me. Some of my memories are a bit fuzzy in regards to the interaction that followed, but I seemingly remember responding with, “Shhhh…no talking.” One of the child leaders snapped at me, “Amy, stop talking!” Followed by marking my name on a list. I couldn’t believe it. I was angered. I wasn’t talking and disrupting. I was trying to do the right thing. I was stopping a conversation from proceeding. How could I possibly be in trouble for saying, “Shhhh”? I was beside myself with indignation, and I spoke up. I refused to be falsely accused, and I said with conviction, “I wasn’t talking.” To which the incapable leaders responded, “You’re talking now.” And they added a mark next to my name. I couldn’t believe myself. I pushed back, “I wasn’t talking. And just now I was trying to explain to you what was happening. This isn’t right!” Followed, again, by a mark placed next to my name and a, “You are talking right now. You need to stop talking.” I can not even begin to articulate the absolute frustration that filled my entire body. This was unjust. I was being treated unjustly, and there was no one there to stand up for me and stop the injustice; just a room full of elementary aged children held hostage by incapable and immature leaders.

Eventually church ended and parents began picking kids up. Noise from the hallway filtered into our meeting room, and the order of the classroom disintegrated into the post-church banter between friends and family. Although shaken to the core, once dismissed, the issue of me “talking” was over. I quickly realized this was a lot of emotional energy for absolutely no reason at all. I also remember learning a very powerful lesson, even at that young age, that there are times when it is best to hold my tongue; that fighting to save my reputation in certain situations, and under incapable leaders, is not the best way to handle the situation.

Sometimes the best response is no response at all.

Hold your tongue.

Let God fight your battles.

While this story may seem kind of silly, I have to say that this experience has been one of the best teachers in my life. The memory of the injustice, and how I handled the injustice, is often the first thing that pops in my mind when I am confronted with false accusation and inaccurate judgement of my motives. Even at the tender age of eight I learned the powerful lesson of holding my tongue and using self-restraint when all I want to do is fight for myself.

Truthfully, I can’t say I’ve followed this conviction in every single situation throughout my life. The times when I’ve let my flesh rise up when I knew I just needed to be quiet have never, never, worked out well for me in the end. And it has been the memory of sitting in that children’s church room with my name on a board with multiple marks next to it that has been like a cold glass of water in the face.

To my credit, however, there have been more times than I can recount where I’ve obeyed that still small voice in my heart that has pulled back the reins on my emotions and has helped me to discern when to speak and when to hold my tongue. And I am so grateful for that.

What I didn’t realize as a child, was that God was already teaching me a valuable life lesson as it pertains to authority and God’s sovereignty. I had very little to no respect for the two children who were put in charge of our children’s church group. However, I did have respect for the adults that put them in charge. It was out of the respect for the adults that I was trying so hard to follow their directives. What I struggled to understand was that the adults I respected had given authority to these two inexperienced and immature individuals, and so basically they held an “equal” amount of authority as the adults. Because of this, they were acting on  behalf of the true leaders, which made me equally obligated to follow their instruction.

Hear me out on this. I am not saying that there is never a time or a place to speak out against injustice and wrong-doing. The answer to every inappropriate action is not to withdraw, hold our tongues and hide. Absolutely not. In situations where physical safety and well-being are in jeopardy then we must certainly speak up and take action. What I am saying is that when we try to right all the wrongs in our own way, with our own methods and in our own time, we often make things worse, and more people get hurt. When we pause and wait for God to lead, for God to work on our behalf and understand that timing plays a critical role in bringing truth to light, then we will find that God fights for us far more successfully than when we try to fight on our own.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1:15, 16

Colossians reminds us that God is supreme over all things, and that includes thrones, powers, rulers and authorities. There is no leader, whether good or bad, that has the last word. Whatever authority they have has only been given to them by God and for a season of time. Nothing, aside from God’s true supremacy, is eternal. No kingdom, aside from God’s kingdom, will last forever. All things and all beings on earth are fleeting. God’s sovereignty is forever.

Let God fight your battles.

Pray for discernment from God to know when to speak and when to hold your tongue.

When we wait upon God’s leading we can trust that God will make something beautiful out of the mess.

When we try to fix it out of our own anger and indignation the mess only gets bigger, uglier and hurtful.

There will be a time to speak. God is as angered by injustice as we are. And he will confront it in his time and in his way. And that may mean opening our mouths and speaking at some point. When we are led by the Spirit, then we can trust that our words will be words that will bring light and healing and not more anger and pain.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

I love this promise. God is before us. God holds us. God is not surprised by the hurt or injustice we face. He is hurt by it too. At the same time, he is holding us together when our hearts start to fall apart, and he is fighting each battle, even when it looks like wrong is winning. God is supreme, and in him all things will work together to accomplish his greatest purposes within us and within each circumstance.

When we believe this. When we can hold on tight to the one who is holding us, then we can hold our tongues.

We can truly let God fight our battles.

coloring inside the lines

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We bought Jasper a coloring book and a set of jumbo crayons to keep him entertained on our long road trips. He’s three, so for him the thrill of the activity is simply the fact that he can make marks on the paper and scribble to his heart’s delight and nobody is going to stop him. He loves the pictures, even though he is coloring anywhere but inside the lines. This is absolute entertainment to Jasper, and as long as it gives us a two minute break from his incessant, “What’s that?”, it was well worth every penny.

When I was a little girl I loved coloring. Opening up a brand new coloring book, sliding the palm of my hand down the inside crease and admiring the fresh page in front of me was wildly exciting. I chose my colors very carefully. And it was also very important to me to color inside the lines. I wanted my pictures to look just right. It gave me a sense of peace and harmony to see everything in order. The page was organized. And the colors were more vivid when they weren’t overlapping and competing with one another.

Coloring inside the lines.

There is something wildly freeing about coloring within the God-ordained margins of our lives. We are all too familiar with the frantic pace and gut gnawing feeling that comes when we start pushing ourselves past the boundary lines of peace. And we wonder what might life look like if we didn’t run on ragged every single moment of the day. We know that staying inside the God-ordained margins of our lives keeps us balanced and give us sustainability. But we struggle with the tug of war between expectations and reality. While we can’t control the chaos around us, we can control how we will manage it, and how much of it we will invite into our lives.

This past summer Joel and I took some time to evaluate our lives. We came to a sobering realization that we have been trying to color outside of the God-ordained margins of our lives for a very long time. It wasn’t intentional, and our motives were pure; we wanted to serve God and please him. We actually thought we were doing good things. And we probably were, but we were not always doing the best things. We were doing things that seemed right, but as we began to take a microscope to the lifestyle patterns we had created we realized very quickly we were coloring way beyond the lines of our coloring book pictures.

We were burned out. Weary. The coloring pages were full, but there was no pretty picture to show for it.

The more Joel and I began to walk this road of introspection, the more we realized that while life, work, family, relationships, ministry – all the things – will never slow down and never invite us into a well-balanced life, the more important it is for us to internally set the margins according to God’s design, and not waiver…not one little bit.

We also discovered that when we color outside the God-ordained margins of our lives we do two things: 1. We rob other people of the opportunity to color their own picture and create the image that God has designed for them, and 2. We rob ourselves of peace, and we end up over-performing, which was never how God intended for us to live.

So where do we begin? How do we pull ourselves back inside the lines?

1. It begins with a pause. Self-reflection is the first step in seeing the picture more clearly. Time set apart to allow God to speak to our hearts, help us to reprioritize, and to give us a fresh beginning.

2. Learn to say no. There are so many good things out there, but not every good thing is the right thing. Be unapologetic about protecting our priorities. If the opportunity before us holds the potential of pushing us outside of our coloring lines, then be okay with letting it pass us by. This one also takes a great deal of trust. I don’t know about you, but I often say yes to things out of fear that I may never get another opportunity again. What I have ended up discovering is that saying yes to a very good thing, but at the wrong time, makes that good thing a bad thing for me. As we face all the choices out there recognize that if this “good” thing is not a good fit during this season of our lives, then it is not the right thing for right now. Trust that God will bring the best thing in his time.

3. Incorporate time for fun and time for rest. One of the biggest challenges Joel and I faced as we began to realign our lives was building in time for fun and rest. And this was not because there was no time for it, but mainly because of the guilt we felt. Time for fun and rest? That seems so selfish! But it is not. In fact, we are far more productive when we have built in time for recreation and time to decompress. Those two things fill us up so that we have much more to give to each other, to our children and to the ministry.

4. Empower others to share the load. Depending on other people is hard. I struggle to delegate certain household tasks to my children because I am certain they will not complete the task according to my standards. Because of the control issue I have I tend to either do it all myself, or I become overly critical of the person performing the task, which makes them less inclined to want to help me out in the future. Part of coloring inside the lines is learning to empower others. Giving them a task and even allowing them to fail, but ready to lovingly instruct and then hand the task back to them again. Giving my kids a responsibility but then pulling it out of their hands after one mistake is not empowering, it is demoralizing. However, giving them opportunity to try, to fail, and to try again, empowers them and keeps me safe within the God-ordained margins of my life.

5. Embrace the picture God is drawing of us. Each person has a different picture to color. It can be so easy to measure our value based on someone else’s coloring page, but that only feeds the frantic lifestyle patterns. Learning to find contentment within the margins God has set will produce joy and peace, something I think many of us are longing for. For each person there is a meaningful purpose, unique and precious, but we often miss it because we have our eyes locked on the picture someone else is coloring. Learning to embrace the picture that God has ordained for us gives us the freedom to fulfill the plans and purposes that God began knitting together from the moment of conception. Every life was created to reflect the beauty of our Creator, and what that final picture will look like really depends on whether or not we are willing to cooperate with God’s design. Embrace God’s masterpiece.

embrace

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Embrace the past

Embrace tomorrow

Embrace the joy

Embrace the sorrow

Embrace the simple

Embrace the uncertain

Embrace the weathered

Embrace the new again

All the days ahead

Are made what they will be

By all the days behind.

The gift of what seems too hard

Appreciated for what growth

Awaits on the other side.

The goodness of it all

The excitement, challenge, stretching, breathing in grace and peace

Found in the embrace.

“Behold, I make all things new.” Revelation 21:5

ponder the promise

Photo by Lionello Delpiccolo with Unsplash

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

As December draws to a close, and as we wrap up another year into a nice, neat bow – kind of like a present on Christmas morning – I think it would be advantageous to pause. Before we start making resolutions and thinking about the new year and writing up lists of all the things we want to accomplish in 2019, it might be beneficial to stop and reflect on all that God has done over this past year. Before the new beginning, let’s remember the past.

Before we plan let us ponder the promise.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

It was approximately 700 years from Isaiah’s prophecy of a coming Messiah to the fulfillment of the promise.

Seven. Hundred. Years.

That is a long time. Many lives had come and gone, hoped and yearned, waited and dreamed of seeing this one precious promise kept. I can only imagine that, by the time the angel appeared to Mary, many had given up on the hope that Immanuel would come during their lifetime. Accustomed to the pages turning on each year and each generation, the mundane practice of keeping God’s commands, following the laws and the patience of waiting had become the lifestyle of the faithful ones.

Did God forget his promise? Did Isaiah get it wrong? Was the true message lost in translation?

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6,7

The promise of the Messiah was confirmed in one statement: “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

Seven hundred years later, the angel appeared to Mary.

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:31-33

After all those years, what had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah, longed for in the hearts of men and women through hundreds of years of waiting had been conceived by the Holy Spirit in a virgin. The story was unfolding.

Sometimes the waiting feels like a lifetime. Perhaps no two people understood the agony of waiting, and the hopelessness of the swiftly moving hands of time, than Zechariah and Elizabeth. They, too, were waiting for the coming Messiah, but even more personally and deeply was the desire for a child of their own. Longing through barren years had given way to the resignation that this was one prayer that would never be answered.

And then an angel appeared to Zechariah.

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.” Luke 1:13

Your prayer has been heard.

Can you imagine the emotion, the confusion, the utter shock and bewilderment in realizing that your prayers, spoken and unspoken, had been heard by God?

Here’s the thing…every prayer we whisper, shout, or simply hold in our hearts, are all heard by God. And he will answer every one. Sometimes the answer comes in a way that we don’t understand, and sometimes it comes in the most unimaginable way, but regardless of timing or delivery, God is faithful, and God hears.

“The Lord has done this for me.” Luke 1:25

This gift of a child, so meaningful and treasured, was a reminder to Elizabeth that God keeps his promises. She had waited a lifetime for a baby and a lifetime for a Messiah, and in a matter of months God had moved quickly in fulfilling the hearts desire of a woman and an entire nation. But before she shared her news, Elizabeth went into seclusion. Rather than step into the spotlight of the miracle, she took time to ponder the promise and remember, “The Lord has done this for me.”

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!” Luke 1:45

Mary went to visit Elizabeth. I sometimes wonder what those secret conversations between Mary and Elizabeth must have sounded like as they were both participants in the fulfillment of God’s great plan. When Mary came to visit her cousin, both were carrying a part of the promise in their wombs. Without a doubt, there was sure to be moments of awe and wonder, silence and endless talking. Even so, we simply don’t know all the details of the time they spent with each other. What we do know, however, is that this time they shared was sacred and sweet. They encouraged one another, and they, together, cherished every part of this incredible move of God.

God’s plan for Mary was unique; her journey one that would challenge her and define her. And all along the way, from the moment the angel appeared to her to the moment of Christ’s humble arrival, Mary took time to ponder.

We are explicitly told that after the shepherds visited and declared the amazing miracle:

“Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

Do we take time to ponder? How often do we stop to take stock of the wonders and miracles that God has performed in our lives?

What do we treasure?

I know most of us have jumped head-first into the new year. It’s kind of the way we operate. Once Christmas is over, we are on to the next best thing. But the Christmas story serves as a reminder that, even though the event has passed, there is meaning in cherishing the moment, in pondering the promise.

Perhaps you are still waiting, still hoping, still praying. If so, then let the Christmas story encourage you to keep waiting, keep hoping, and keep praying. Pause before you plan, and entrust your greatest dreams and heart’s desire to the hands that fulfilled the greatest promise of mankind.

Maybe this year has been a culmination of every prayer you’ve ever prayed and every dream you’ve ever dreamed. Don’t let December pass by without taking time to reflect. Quietness does not undervalue the significance of the gift. Sometimes our quiet reflection reveals the substantiative impact the gift has had on our lives. Treasuring it first in our hearts makes the treasure shine more brightly to the world.

Before our New Year’s resolutions, before we tear down the tree and the lights, take time to ponder the wonder of the promises of God- the ones that have been fulfilled and the ones we are waiting for. When we ponder we find our hope renewed and our joy complete.

“The best coffers to lay up anything in is the heart. Happy are those who, like Mary, store up the things of Christ, not in their brain though that would make them orthodox; but in their heart, for that will bring them salvation.” – Charles Spurgeon

sleep in heavenly peace

Baby Jasper_-95

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

God’s perfect keeping keeps us in perfect peace.

Even though the night may not be so silent, the Prince of Peace still reigns, so that we can sleep in heavenly peace.

Throughout the month of December, I have a personal tradition of reading the Advent story over and over again. The repetitious reading of the account of the coming Messiah cultivates an attitude of worship in my heart as the anticipation of Christmas Day approaches. And, subsequently, each year I find a different theme that stands out and resonates with me. Three years ago, as we awaited Jasper’s birth, anticipation was the word/idea that popped out to me throughout the Christmas season. This year it has been peace.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

A child was born.

As the story unfolds in the second chapter of Luke, we find Mary and Joseph far from home, a baby soon to arrive, and no room in the inn.

There were shepherds living out in the fields of Bethlehem, and in all likelihood, keeping and caring for the flocks that provided the perfect lambs from which the Temple offerings were chosen. Looked down upon by the “good” people of the day, the thought that the very shepherds who looked after the Temple lambs would be the first to see the Lamb of God is something quite profound.

The night, perhaps not silent but filled with echoes of a baby’s cry, the baying of sheep and the rustling of feet moving in and out of the child’s first dwelling, was the scene in which we find the Prince of Peace joined with humanity.

He didn’t know it yet. He was just a tiny, innocent, wrinkly newborn. He had no idea that his first breath here with us was the beginning of redemption for mankind.

I can only imagine his fragile, ever-so-dependent little body curling up on Mary’s chest and drifting off into a peaceful, contented sleep while the chaos of the stable swirled about.

All was well.

This is the picture in my head of what I imagine to be God’s intention for each one of us. We, too, can sleep in heavenly peace in spite of the noise and the disarray that fills our daily lives.

The peace that radiated from Jesus’ presence must have left both Mary and Joseph, and their shepherd visitors, speechless. Just a baby, but fully God.

The Prince of Peace.

Sleeping in heavenly peace.

Christmas Day is only a few short days away. I am sure that, by now, most of us have attended a number of parties, baked a copious amount of cookies, visited family, watched our children perform in Christmas plays and pageants, driven through neighborhoods looking at lights while singing along to our favorite Christmas carols, and wrapped countless gifts, or at least have a closet full of countless gifts to wrap.

It is easy to lose sight of the most important part of the season when the urgent tugs for our attention everywhere we turn.

This story, that most of us know all too well, gets lost in the celebration of the season. We get so caught up in the reindeer and mistletoe, shepherds’ costumes and O Holy Nights, that we somehow forfeit the wonder of God’s most precious gift for “getting Christmas right”.

I think Jesus wants us to cherish this story a little more deeply in our hearts. I think he longs to be our Prince of Peace. I think that we are given the opportunity each year to pause and reflect, to invite peace into our lives, and to weigh more intentionally the profound glory of Christ’s birth.

This year, let us focus more intently upon the Prince of Peace. Let us invite the holiness of God’s gift of peace into our celebrations and our traditions. And let us release the urgent drive for more of “this” and more of “that” for a little more “all is calm” and “all is bright”. Let us let go of the perfect Christmas and embrace a more peaceful one.

And, like that tiny babe, wrapped in cloths and surrounded by love in the form of a simple teenage girl, an impoverished manger, and a bunch of dusty herdsmen, let us close our eyes, submit our lives into God’s perfect keeping, and sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night

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All is calm, all is bright

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Round yon Virgin, mother and child

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Holy infant so tender and mild

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Sleep in heavenly peace

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Sleep in heavenly peace

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Silent Night, by Joseph Mohr

Baby Jasper_-2


light of the world

Photo by Davidson Luna from Unsplash

Photo by Davidson Luna from Unsplash

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”    Isaiah 9:2

I heard a story this past weekend about a man named Bob who had been blind for 51 years. After five decades of walking around in total darkness, dependent upon his other senses to define the world to him, Bob underwent a complicated operation that allowed him to see for the very first time. As you can imagine, he was greatly overwhelmed and had this to say about the gift of sight:

“I never would have dreamed that yellow is so…yellow! I don’t have the words. I am amazed by yellow. But red is my favorite color. I just can’t believe red. I can see the shape of the moon – and I like nothing better than seeing a jet plane fly across the sky leaving a vapor trail. And, of course, sunrises and sunsets. And at night I look at the stars in the sky and the flashing light.”

“You could never know how wonderful everything is.”

We are adaptable people. It is quite miraculous even the way our eyes can adapt to the darkness. Coming into a darkened room from the brightly lit outdoors, it takes only seconds for the iris to expand the pupil as wide as possible in order to let as much light as possible into the eye, allowing us to see in the dark.

However, no eye can see in total darkness. Total darkness means absence of light, the very agent that stimulates sight and allows us to see.

Imagine a life in total darkness.

Truth be told, a life void of Jesus is a life void of light.

Imagine that.

Before Jesus came to dwell on earth, there was great turmoil. There was great spiritual darkness. Life was lived as a person who lives without sight. At the end of chapter 8 in the book of Isaiah, preceding the prophecy of the coming Messiah, we see the after-effects of choices that lead to further darkness.

“Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” Isaiah 8:22

Honestly, sometimes I look around this world fraught with turmoil, hostility, hatred, and sorrow, and it seems to me that, perhaps, we are falling further and further into utter darkness ourselves.

And yet, even though it seems that the light has been snuffed out, Jesus is still the Light of the world.

A light dawned when Jesus was born.

To those living in darkness a great light has come.

The Gospel of John introduces Jesus as “the true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”

Jesus, himself, declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

When Jesus came, when he entered our broken world, light broke through the blackness and barrenness, and suddenly those who had been blind were able to see: first shapes and shadows, then more clearly, the hope they had been waiting for.

No matter how ugly this world may get, we do not live in total and complete darkness. Those of us who know the Light, who have experienced the Light and felt His warmth illuminate our lives, must shine brightly and boldly to let this Light shine in the dark corners of the world.

There is still hope.

Because Jesus came.

And he is the Light of the world.

Immanuel.

God is with us.

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season are the lights. It just seems to me that everything looks more beautiful under the soft glow of Christmas lights. A darkened street city sidewalk feels a little less daunting with trees glowing with tiny white bulbs. Jesus’ birth brought us the light that we so desperately longed for. The darkness was heavy, and then came the promise; this great light that would dispel the darkness. And yet, so many of us choose to remain in the dark. It’s like being given the enormous gift of sight, but choosing to walk around with our eyes closed. How crazy is that!

It takes a little initiative on our parts to choose to open our eyes and allow the light in. To recognize that Jesus is near and God is with us.

The illuminating light may reveal some things we are not too thrilled to accept, but at the same time, much like Bob’s revelation when he received his sight after 51 years of walking in darkness, we may also discover that we never knew how wonderful everything really is.

“What a marvelous light from the midst of dreadful darkness! It is an astounding change such as only God with us could work.” – Charles Spurgeon

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