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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Ecclesiastes 3:1


Transitions are…

Hard.

The in-between…the not 100% here, the not there yet, the balancing of the chaos and the uncertainty of where we are currently…is hard.

It sometimes feels like transition will last forever.

But thankfully, it doesn’t.

It is a stepping-stone, uncomfortable as it is.

It is part of life…cycles…seasons.

Life cycles.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

There is a natural rhythm – an ebb and flow – that carries us from one season of our lives to the next.

Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Old seasons give way to new seasons, and the cycle continues.

Nothing stays the same forever.

Our human bodies are constantly changing and evolving through the years. I don’t look exactly the same as I did thirty years ago, or even ten years ago. I am aging. I am growing, shifting, maturing and cycling towards the next season of my life.

Our bodies operate in cycles.

Creation operates in life cycles.

Our families have life cycles.

Churches have life cycles.

Ministries have life cycles.

Careers have life cycles.

Moving from one stage to the next.

Some things have to die out, or transition, in order for growth and maturity to come.

Something always needs to die in order for something new to blossom.

Letting go.

This is part of life cycles.

This is part of healthy transition.

It is probably one of the most difficult things to do.

Whether we are letting go of someone we love or letting go of a season of life we have cherished. Eventually, we must let go.

The letting go is dreadfully painful.

The heart aches.

The transition creates chaos and we don’t like that either.

We sometimes would rather hold on to what was in order to avoid what could be because we just can’t handle the in-between.

But

We have to let go.

And we have to live in the tension of the in-between if we are going to experience the beauty of what comes next.

Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a season – a time – for everything.

Everything.

The good, the bad, the hard, the painful, the joyful and the difficult to understand.

Mourning and sadness, joy and dancing. Life and death, planting and reaping.

We can’t escape one in order to live in another.

We have to embrace them all.

If we want to experience the full seasons, we have to walk through the barren ones.

But here’s the hope…the good news…the feel-good part of this grand story…

From beginning to the middle and all the way to the end…through it all…there is Jesus.

He orchestrates events and holds our very lives in the palms of his hands.

The goodbyes, the sudden changes, the hard-to-let-go-of moments we dread do not catch our God by surprise.

When the shaking up of transition feels too much, when we see the end of a season coming and we are grieving its loss…Jesus is there.

And you want to know something?

It’s okay to feel heavy.

It’s okay to feel weary.

It’s okay to cry and grieve.

It’s okay to stop and take a deep breath and maybe just sit in the in-between for a little while.

I’m learning to just let these cycles run their course.

I’m challenged to allow God’s master plan to unfold without my meddling.

I’m taking lots of breaks and breathing slowly as ministry, our family, the status quo of our lives are changing and evolving even as I write this note.

Transition is…

Well…it’s just plain hard.

But the beauty that is coming is truly something special.

The letting go is heavy.

But the hope of eternity and the anticipation of what is to come is comforting.

“There is a time for everything.”

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walking skeletons

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Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” Ezekiel 37:4-6

Six years ago, in January, I stepped away from my position at our church in Portland, Oregon. For quite some time I had been sensing that my life was losing focus; my priorities were out of whack. The emotional needs of our children were increasing, as was the desire in my heart to start giving attention to some of the dreams and personal goals I had, long ago, put on a shelf.

While no longer employed by the church, I was still busy with teaching Wednesday night classes and partnering with Joel in some of the ministries he oversaw. Simultaneously, I was recalibrating our home life and writing out manageable steps towards some of my personal goals.

I really felt like something new was on the horizon. I believed that this was going to be the season when I started to see dormant dreams wake up.

I felt excited.

I felt energized.

Then I felt sick.

Really sick.

And this sickness wasn’t going away. It was lingering and getting worse.

In order to rule out every possible scenario before calling my doctor, I took a pregnancy test.

Lo, and behold, I was pregnant.

Pregnant.

It took me a while to wrap my mind around this.

Another baby?

At 41?

“I’m not equipped for this, God!”

“I’m too tired, God!”

“This isn’t the NEW THING I was expecting right now, God!”

“I don’t want to give up this season – a season that was supposed to be about me – in order to start all over again, God!”

I cringe when I recall all of the selfish feelings, emotions, tears, and honest confessions.

It was a struggle.

I was struggling.

After a difficult pregnancy and a rough post-partum, there, in my arms, was this very unique baby. While I couldn’t put into words all the concerns I had about Jasper – even as a newborn, I could tell he was much different than our older three- from day one I found myself in a parenting conundrum. I understood that “all children are different”, but at the same time I couldn’t shake this feeling that there was something more different about this little guy.

Six years later we have a diagnosis.

Autism Spectrum Disorder.

It has been a journey.

I have bounced from grief to relief countless times over the past six months.

And I am settling into a peace, contentment, and grace that I haven’t felt in a really long time.

I have hope.

I have joy.

I am praising.

God likes to take dead things and breathe new life into them. Dreams, hopes, calling, relationships, families, and ministries.

I am fascinated by the vision Ezekiel had of the bones being raised to life. Jasper and I were just reading this story in his little story Bible the other night. There are pictures, but to Jasper’s dismay, no pictures of walking skeletons. Only dirt with scattered bones. Even still, Jasper, too, finds this story fascinating. These bones weren’t partially dead, almost dead, or “mostly dead” (ref. The Princess Bride), but they were completely dead.

You see, six years ago, when I was making my grand list of goals and dreams for myself, I didn’t realize the unexpected path that God was going to take me and my family on. I didn’t have a clue how much my world would flip.

I believe with all my heart that God raises dead things to life.

He also allows things to die.

He allowed those dreams of mine to pass away. They weren’t just “mostly dead”.

They completely died.

Not because they were bad, or evil, or even self-serving. He allowed them to die because they were not complete.

The process he has taken me through, and continues to take me through, has been refining, reshaping, and reframing the dreams I once had.

Refining is defined as “to remove impurities or unwanted elements; purify, clarify, clear, cleanse, sift.”

Think about that. When the Israelites were in captivity, God was using that time to refine them. To cleanse them. To remove the impurities so that their hearts would return to Him. Every time we hit a dead end to a dream, we can be confident that God is removing the impurities of that dream and bringing it into focus. His sifting brings clarity.

Reshaping is defined as “to give a new form or orientation to; reorganize.”

The Israelites had morphed into a shape – form – that was no longer reflecting the image of their God. Through captivity God was allowing the disfigurement of his people to die so that he could reshape them back into an image that reflected his glory. When we walk through those hard seasons, when life appears to pull us away from where our hearts were so eager to run, it is really God’s way of reshaping our hopes and dreams into ones that truly reflect God’s image and his character.

Reframing is defined as “to frame or express (words or a concept or plan) differently.”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. Isaiah 55:8

The Israelites had moved so far outside of God’s perfect ways that it took captivity to reframe the trajectory of a nation. So often we make plans. We think we have the best scenario in place, and we believe we have the best of intentions as well. And then we get frustrated with God when our plans suddenly die away. Sometimes it is simply that the plan is not right for the moment. Sometimes it is because God has a better plan. And sometimes it is because life happens…and the plan has to change. But God is still very present, and very capable of reframing the dream.

The vision that God gave to Ezekiel was a symbolic picture of the hope coming to Israel after a season of judgment and exile.

Hope was on the horizon.

New life would breathe into the soul of a nation.

Our dreams are in the making. Sometimes that means they will die. But in death there comes refining, reshaping, and reframing.

The process God is taking us through is a part of the dream. It is not a sideways interruption pulling us aside until the timing is just right. This season is probably the most significant part of the story. God is doing some big work. He is breathing his life into our dreams.

Resurrected hope. Resurrected joy. Resurrected praise.

These are some of the fruits of the past six years. And the dreams are being remade.

God likes to take dead things and breathe new life into them. I’m so grateful for that. I’m grateful that the same God who brought his people from death to life, from captivity to freedom, is the same God that transforms dead dreams into life-giving hope.

This is walking in abundance.

This is the dream awakened.

These are the rattling bones…the walking skeletons.

And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” So, I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood on their feet – a vast army. Ezekiel 37:7-10

feel the heat

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“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1-4

Can we experience abundance even when we’re walking through the fire? Even when the waters threaten to overtake us?

The reality of this life is that we are going to pass through some ugly waters. Waves that mount up and threaten to drown us in their crest. And we are going to walk through fire. Hot fire. Fire burning blue, melting iron, destructive and searing.

It’s not a matter of “maybe”, but a matter of “when”. Life is programed to hurt.

And while we are promised not to be overtaken by the waters, or be set ablaze by the flames, there is no promise that we won’t feel the heat.

A hard season will testify to that.

I am grateful for God’s mercy and protection in so many areas of my life. I am thankful for His hand that has brought us through some very painful moments. I am relieved for those times when he plucked us out of harmful circumstances and brought us to places of healing and restoration. We were not consumed by rivers or fires. We were spared.

And yet, we felt the heat. It burned hot, and there were moments when we wondered how much worse things might get.

My friends, Jesus never promised us a pain-free, problem-free, tranquil life. He told us we were going to have troubles.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

But he also told us that he would be with us.

“I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

He promised us his peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

We belong to him.

“You are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

We overcome and walk in abundance, not because we have evaded the heat of the fire, but because God’s presence resides within us. Nothing can consume us. The overcomer of this world will give us what we need to overcome the waters and the flames. And no matter the voracity of the waves or the intensity of the heat, we are never abandoned to them. Jesus is with us…even to the end.

This may sound kind of heavy. Kind of sobering. But I am learning, through the season before and the season we are living in now, that my abundance – my fullness – does not come from ideal circumstances, but from God’s very presence abiding in my life. The heat hurts, but it won’t consume me.

We may feel the heat, but we won’t be set ablaze.

The abundant posture does not deny the hurt in the heat but abides in the assurance of God’s presence through the fire.

“We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:12

I am choosing an attitude of abundance. Allowing God full access to my heart, my mind, my choices, and my pain. There is immeasurable peace in the process of release. There is relief in the process of surrender. And where we felt the heat, we now share in the abundance of his grace.

Can we experience abundance even when we’re walking through the fire?

Yes. We can. When we hold on to Jesus, the overcomer of this world, not one spark will set us ablaze. And even when we feel the heat, we can stand in the fullness of God’s faithfulness. He will bring us to a place of abundance.

adjusted expectations

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Christmas day, wrapping paper scattered across the floor and turkey leftovers sitting on the kitchen counter, I sat on the couch and hit the mental replay button over the last 24 hours. Days were spent in the kitchen preparing all the yummy Christmas favorites- from sweet potato casserole to stuffing made from scratch, to pumpkin pie and dozens of Christmas cookies. Recently moved into our home here in Durban, we were working hard to get as settled in as possible before the festivities began.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is Christmas Eve service. The dim lights, the carols, and the quiet moment to reflect on the birth of Christ have always been a highlight in our family. This year Joel would be sharing the Christmas Eve message at our church, and I was so excited to share in this experience.

And then…

Jasper.

I really don’t know what triggered him. There wasn’t a lot of noise or over-stimulating activity. The only thing I can deduce, as I’ve processed the unravelling of that evening, was that our “church routine” was not normal. It was not a typical Sunday morning church experience, and I believe, in his little mind, that was what he was expecting. Because this was a special service, with a completely different format, Jasper went down the slippery slope and fell into the dark hole of a meltdown that I couldn’t pull him out of. I ended up taking him home early. There was no other option.

On the drive home, I sealed my lips shut so that I wouldn’t say something mean or hurtful to Jasper. (I keep reminding myself that his explosions and impulses are not something that he won’t control, but something he truly can’t control.) I knew that I couldn’t berate him and blame him for ruining my Christmas Eve experience.

Once home and collected, I fed Jasper some dinner and put him to bed.

I’m not going to lie. I was disappointed. I was frustrated. Frustrated with Jasper and frustrated with myself. After parenting for nearly 18 years I’ll admit that there are more than a few moments of self-imposed guilt and shame for the state of parental cluelessness I feel on an ongoing basis. This Christmas Eve experience was not an isolated event. It was merely one in a long line of humiliating and bewildering parenting moments over the course of Jasper’s five years of life.

So, sitting on the couch on Christmas Day, recognising my own pain and disappointment, I chose to look forward to the year ahead through a different lens. In order to navigate this season well, I realised that I need to adjust my expectations.

Adjusted expectations.

And not just as it pertains to Jasper. For sure I am challenging myself to take my hopes and expectations for Jasper, and for myself, and adjust them to fall into a more realistic picture of where he and I are on this journey. But also, I am challenging myself to take this same principle and apply it to every area of my life: ministry, missions, transition, life in the age of COVID, etc.

“An unmet longing from a realistic expectation is such a searing pain within a human heart.” Lysa Terkeurst, It’s Not Supposed to be This Way

I think, if we were sitting around a table together talking about our 2020 lives, we would all agree, to some degree, that our expectations a year ago were not completely unreasonable. Most of our daily routines were slated to roll out much the same as they have in years past. Most of us are not in the habit of resolving ourselves to some kind of extraordinary feat of accomplishment that overrides reality. Our resolutions often look like reasonable goals, with a hint of risk, that propel us forward so that we can take the next step, and then the next towards the greater goal ahead. Our disappointment this past year was not because we didn’t qualify for the Grand Prix or make it to The Voice finals. Most of our disappointments came from the “unmet longings from realistic expectations”.

At least, that is how it looked for me. Much of the expectations I held over the past year were fairly reasonable. I wasn’t building up pie-in-the-sky fantasies of parenting, ministry and life overseas. In fact, I felt that I had lowered/adjusted many of my natural expectations to meet the needs of our family, for Jasper, and to understand ministry in a cross-cultural context.

And yet, still, so much disappointment.

Adjusted expectations.

I think the first step forward in this new year – this new normal – is letting go of my/our expectations, the ones unmet and the ones we are still holding onto.

I believe God can, and will, do new things – great things – but they will not look the way we may expect. It’s not about having no expectation at all, but about adjusting our expectations and holding some things more loosely. It is unfair to put a burden upon someone who, or something that, is incapable of carrying it. The load isn’t fair. People will disappoint us. Organisations and governments will disappoint us. In my personal journey, it is realising Jasper has limitations. My expectations of him have to adjust. I need to meet him where he is…not where I want him to be right now, or where he will be eventually. It doesn’t mean he and I will never get to the place that I desire, but it means I need to learn to adapt to the process.

Oftentimes it simply comes down to the realisation that people, organisations, and current circumstances simply can’t meet our expectations, not that they won’t.

My mantra these days is “adjusted expectations”.

Stability is a moving target.

And, for me, the way to move forward – in order to embrace life, to minister to my family, to meet Jasper’s needs, to find peace and internal stability – is to hold on loosely to the picture I have in my mind of how things should look, and learn to be okay with how things actually play out in this current reality.

I’m pretty much learning to adjust my expectations in every area of life.

“They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:8

In an unstable world, where expectations are bound to go unmet, we are not left hopeless. For those who choose to root themselves in the truths of a stable God – who will always meet our expectations – there is nothing to fear. The winds of insanity may blow hard, long and fiercely, and the heat of this life may weary us, but we can still come through these barren and broken days fruitful and strong.

Rooted in God’s Word.

Rooted in a deeper faith…a tested faith.

We may have to adjust our expectations for the world around us and the circumstances in front of us, but we will never have to adjust our expectations for God’s promises and his faithfulness.

And I believe it is a rooted faith that will keep us moving forward…helping us to let go of what we thought things should look like right now and embrace the reality of where we actually are today.

What about you?

What areas of your life are you needing to adjust your expectations?

What is one expectation you can let go of, or adjust, today?

abundance – 2021

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2020, literally, went out with a bang last night. A storm blew in yesterday evening bringing with it lightening that lit up the sky and claps of thunder unlike any I had ever heard before. Sitting around our living room with our three oldest, we all joked that 2020 was throwing a temper tantrum as it made its way into history.

It has been a year.

I don’t need to go into details and rehash all the challenges we’ve faced over the past 365 days. We all know. We all have our stories. We’ve all navigated our way through.

Last week, with Christmas lights still twinkling and carols still echoing throughout the house, I did a lot of reflection and forward looking.

2020 was hard…but it was also so good.

Unprecedented in its challenges…but also unprecedented in its blessings.

Unexpected twists and turns…coupled with unexpected doors of opportunity.

Uncertainty met with a strong and certain foundation.

“For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12

I am pretty sure there were multiple times when I felt like 2020 was some kind of prison sentence. Can you relate? Quarantines and lockdowns were a figurative prison sentence that none of us were prepared for. Emotionally, and not just because of a worldwide pandemic, but because of personal challenges, disappointments, and unmet expectations, many of us felt like we were walking through the fire and wading through rough waters.

Hard. Hard. Hard.

Now we are looking ahead at the year 2021 with high hopes and greater expectations.

And yet…in my time of quiet reflection I came to grips with the possibility that things might not get better. Things might not somehow quickly turn around. That Covid-19 may not magically disappear and ride off into the sunset. Situations could get harder before they start getting better.

And so, my question to myself was: “How am I going to move forward?”

My answer: “With an attitude and posture of abundance.”

One shiny silver lining in the midst of such a challenging year was the abundance of fruit that came out of all of the hard.

From a time of testing came a produce of grace, strength, faith, and conviction.

The burdens that we carried have equipped us to continue moving forward with expectations adjusted and hearts receptive.

Moving into 2021, we see the reality and we see the potential.

My word for 2020 was remain.

My word for 2021 is abundance.

Abundance is defined as “an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply; overflowing fullness”.

Abundance can mean a physical display of plenty, but it can also mean an overflow of fullness internally.

This year I will be documenting the moments of abundance that I see flowing out of what has been a difficult season, and what could potentially be an ongoing time of challenge.

What God is cultivating behind the scenes is far more precious to me than what is actually happening in the day-to-day happenings and news headlines. The matters of the heart far outweigh the circumstances. He has brought us to a place of abundance. And not because of an election, a vaccine, an economic boost (or the promise of one), but because of his presence and faithfulness.

“He has brought us to a place of abundance…” He has brought us into a season of overflowing fullness.

This year my goal is to post a blog twice a month. Once a month I will focus on my word for 2021, abundance, and for the secondary post I will be documenting our journey with Jasper, and how we are learning to navigate life, parenting, missions, and ministry with a child with special needs. I have so much to learn.

Happy New Year to you and may we all see an overflow of fullness in the big and small, the highs and lows, the upside downs and sideways that this new year brings.

he’s here – advent

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Five years ago, on the 19th of December, Jasper was born.

We were reminiscing about Jasper’s arrival with our older kids the other day. They each remember, in great detail, the moment the call from the hospital finally came. They were in the kitchen making gingerbread houses when my mother-in-law entered from the other room – phone in hand – and announced, “He’s here!”

He’s here.

There was great rejoicing, and much commotion, as the three older kids raced to put shoes on feet, coats on bodies and bodies into the car. The anticipation of seeing their newborn brother was tangible. The long-awaited day had finally arrived!

An angel, on the night Jesus was born, proclaimed his arrival to shepherds living in the field nearby.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10, 11

He’s here!

Immanuel…God with us…is here.

He’s here in our mess.

He is here in our uncertainty.

He’s here in our old traditions.

He’s here in our unexpected new traditions.

He is here in our pain and disappointment.

He is here in our hope and anticipation.

He’s here in our confusion.

He’s here in our unspoken, but very urgent prayers.

He’s here when we feel him.

He’s here when he feels far out of reach.

He is here in our suffering.

He is here in our rejoicing.

He promised to be with us always.

On this unusual Christmas of 2020, my prayer for you is that you will sense God’s presence in whatever circumstance you may be in right now. That you will know He is here, and He is near.

Merry Christmas!

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peace – advent

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“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 increase 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

Peace.

We long for it.

We hope for it.

We make life-altering decisions based on the promise of it.

We go on vacations in search for it.

We read our Bibles and pray and believe for it.

Peace.

The Israelites were waiting for a Messiah that would come charging through, making a triumphant entry into their broken and dark world- a leader wielding power and making peace. A Prince of Peace with a sword in his hand.

To their chagrin, that was not the way the Messiah came.

He came humbly, quietly, poor and empty-handed. A Prince of Peace that turned the world upside down.

The peace that Jesus brought, the peace that was promised to us, and the peace that the angels declared on the night Christ was born, is a peace rooted in the presence of God.

Christ’s peace only rests where his presence resides.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.” John 14:27

On this fourth Advent Sunday, as I contemplate the theme of Peace, I realize that the peace I am constantly searching for is much the same as the peace the Israelites were expecting. I want bells and whistles and all the challenging details and mismatched plotlines of the world to fall into order. I want a Prince of Peace with a sword in his hand!

And yet, Jesus offers a peace unlike any the world, or a sword, could ever deliver. He promises his presence.

And in his presence, there is peace.

He is the Prince of Peace.

And the promise of his peace is a promise guaranteed.

“The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

Without a doubt, as our world aches and mourns and longs for peace, we can stand in confidence that our peace has come. And even more so, in the hope that a greater peace is coming.

Advent means coming.

We remember Christ’s first arrival as we celebrate the advent season.

But we also look ahead to the arrival of Christ’s second coming.

We can live in his peace now as we anticipate the peace yet to come.

Today…with only five days left until Christmas…I pray you find yourself in the presence of the Prince of Peace.

Peace came swaddled in cloths, in a dirty stable, surrounded by animals, and worshipped by common shepherds. It didn’t come as the world would expect. And this Christmas, peace still comes to us in a quiet and uncommon way. Not how we might have hoped or expected. But in his presence.

Christ’s peace rests where is presence resides.

Peace.

no more gloom – advent

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2020 can be summed up in one word: weary.

We are tired. Global economies are struggling, COVID cases are spiking, rumors of a “second wave” and more lockdowns loom overhead, and there doesn’t seem to be a finish line in sight for this marathon we’ve been running.

Besides COVID, lives have been marked with cancer, illness, death, major moves and transition, the day-to-day challenges of balancing work, family, and uncertainty.

It’s been so hard.

Worry and fear have caused weariness.

We are losing hope and faith.

“A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices.” O Holy Night – Adolphe Adam, 1847

A timely reminder. It was hope that caused the world to rejoice.

When the Israelites found themselves, once again, under duress and hardship, the word of the Lord came to them through the prophet Isaiah. It was a promise. Something they could hold onto. A reminder that they were not forgotten.

“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” Isaiah 9:1

No more gloom.

A thrill of hope.

“You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” Isaiah 9:3

Their joy increased.

The weary world rejoices.

Christmas looks very different for my family this year. 2020 marked quite a journey for us in every crevice of our lives. There were many moments of grief, loss, letting go, humility, the “hard to understand”, worry and fear. It is a year that pushed us way beyond our comfort zone and caused us to cling hard and fast to Jesus. Most recently we find ourselves in the throws of transition once again. Transition that was not a part of the “master plan” but, as we are discovering, part of God’s greater plan. We left our home in Malawi, all of our “stuff”, and moved to South Africa. We left behind our Christmas tree, stockings, decorations, and all of those very significant things that make the season feel like Christmas. All the things that typically bring us joy.

And yet…

In spite of all the lack, we feel tremendous joy.

Why?

How?

Because Christmas has become very real and tangible to us this year. As we have watched the world turn upside down, as we have stepped out into a new season and new personal journey, the One who is the joy of our hearts and the joy of the world has filled each of us with hope and faith.

No more gloom.

Joy has come.

A tiny babe…a small and, seemingly, insignificant beginning, was the beginning of hope…faith…and joy.

There really was something to sing about, rejoice about.

“For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” O Holy Night – Adolphe Adam, 1847

We may not see the grand finale of God’s plan just yet…but the beginning is unfolding.

He has made us a promise.

A deliverer is coming.

A light in the darkness.

Salvation for our souls.

I’ll be honest with you…I had a moment this past week when the weight of the world felt heavy. I felt spent. I was weary. The state of the world seemed hopeless to me.

And then I reminded myself about the promise of God.

The very words I’m typing right now are the very words I began to speak to my heart.

There are a lot of reasons to be weary, but there is One very great reason to rejoice.

Jesus. He came…the prophecy fulfilled.

Jesus. He is coming again…a promise we can hold on to.

During this Advent season, as we contemplate the joy of world, may you – in your weariness – find a thrill of hope.

May your heart be filled with the joy of God’s promise.

May you find rest today.

When all is stripped away…may you still rejoice.

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When I consider Christmas – when I think about all of the traditions, decorations and planning that goes into this highly anticipated day – I realize that deep at the heart of it all is faith. The kind of faith that believes a child came, a Savior died and resurrected, and a King is returning to make all things right – to bring peace on earth.

Christmas isn’t just about remembering and celebrating an event that took place over two thousand years ago, but it is a statement of faith looking forward and believing in something even greater to come.

Deep in the heart of every man and woman on earth is a longing for God. Many would never recognise or acknowledge this hunger in their lives, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to see the various created gods in all the desperate efforts to find peace. Some seek for peace in the size of their homes or the stuff they accumulate. Others seek for peace in religions that promise self-actualisation, power, or false security. And there are those that look for peace in substances that alter their realities and give them that “feel good” feeling, even if it is brief, and in the end, tragic.

We want peace. We are looking for God.

But if we could just have a little faith.

Hold on to hope.

Be willing to relinquish our self-sufficiency and control, and trust that the promise of Jesus, who came to the world as a tiny baby – God in the flesh – is the same Jesus who has promised to return. Can we have a little faith?

Abraham believed even though he did not see. Even though the culmination of God’s promise was only seen in part before his life was completed. He believed, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3).

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Have you ever watched small children as they wait and wonder, write their wish lists to Santa, and try to stay up all night on Christmas Eve? They believe. There is no doubt in their young minds that something…someone…is coming. They have faith in the unseen. Santa – Christmas – doesn’t have to be logically explained to them. They trust completely in the magic of the season.

As adults we know that behind the leftover Santa cookies and the surprise packages under the tree is a parent, or grandparent, who has worked feverishly to create joy on Christmas morning. We sometimes lose the meaning of Christmas in the midst of the busyness. We lose our faith. Every time I pull out our Christmas decorations, trim the tree, light a candle, and plug in the lights, it is like a small act of faith. Remembering and looking ahead. Celebrating the event the changed history and the trajectory of my life, and being certain of a future I have yet to see.

Hope is here.

Joy to the world is with us.

And Peace on earth is coming.

Especially this year…don’t lose hope. Don’t hide away in discouragement and distress. Don’t dismiss the Divine because life has made you weary.

Welcome the Savior with all the tinsel and lights.

Anticipate and believe.

Have a little faith.

Come Immanuel – advent

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Today is the first day of Advent.

We are waiting.

We are hopeful.

We are expectant.

Our world is in chaos.

We know there is a promise…we are living for that hope.

But sometimes the darkness seems too dark, and our hope dwindles.

But…

God is with us.

It was a really long time ago…the world was also in chaos.

A prophecy came.

The Lord spoke through Isaiah: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14.

Later on Isaiah prophesied again:

“In that day…

I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:1

Immanuel came.

And we are awaiting the second coming.

“In that day…”

We are hopeful and expectant. The Messiah will come. He will make all things new. We will rejoice…we will praise.

Our hope holds firm to the promise.

And yet…we don’t have to wait. While Isaiah’s prophesy spoke of a day to come that has yet to come, he was also declaring what has already passed.

Jesus came. Jesus brought salvation. Jesus gave us a greater hope.

O come, O come Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem, unto your own and rescue them! From depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’re the grave.

O come, O Bright and Morning Star, and bring us comfort from afar! Dispel the shadows of the night, and turn our darkness into light.

O come, O King of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace.

REJOICE! REJOICE! Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.

“Veni, Veni, Emmanuel” – Translated by John Mason Neale, 1851

We have been hoping for a long time. And we will continue to hope, because…what great hope we have!

In the meantime, we can still rejoice. We can still praise. Even as we wait, even as we long for a world where there is no strife, no division, no hostility, no anger and no pain, we can sing and dance and rejoice.

Because Immanuel came…He is God with us.

He is with us in the middle of the mess.

On this first day of Advent, my heart is full. Hope is here. Our Comforter surrounds us and brings peace.  As I wait – as I cry “O come Immanuel” – I praise, because God is here.

Christ has come.

Immanuel.


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