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Christmas hath a darkness

Brighter than the blazing noon,

Christmas hath a chillness

Warmer than the heat of June,

Christmas hath a beauty

Lovelier than the world can show:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus,

Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,

Birds that sing and bells that ring;

Heaven hath answering music

For all angels soon to sing:

Earth, put on your whitest

Bridal robe of spotless snow:

For Christmas bringeth Jesus

Brought for us so low.

- Christina Rossetti

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The paradox of Christmas.

They were looking for a king in regal attire…riding on a horse, wielding a sword and rescuing the world from political bondage.

But the Messiah came in humility…brought low…poor and simple…to rescue the world from spiritual bondage.

They wanted power.

He offered redemption.

They wanted a Messiah created in their image.

They couldn’t see the very image of God standing right in front of them.

Concerned with tradition and appearance, they missed the moment that peace entered in.

Hope for salvation invaded our world…brought down low for you and me.

In a simple manger…born to simple means…humble and unrecognizable…

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not receognize him.” John 1:9, 10

I don’t want to miss it.

The peace of reconciliation with God…the joy of his presence…the hope of the world…a love willing to sacrifice…

May we never miss it.

May our hearts remain in focused anticipation…not deterred by silly doctrines or fantasies.

May we live in an ongoing state of expectation.

He is coming.

Saviour of the world.

Hope for mankind.

Wonderful Counselor.

Mighty God.

Everlasting Father.

Prince of Peace.

The Lord Our Righteousness.

God with us.

The coming of Christ…the arrival and celebration…and the hopeful anticipation of his second coming.

True joy…

I am grateful for the One who was brought down low, who brought salvation into the world…who rescues…saves…sets the broken free…who loves and dwells with mankind.

Our hope.

Our Immanuel.

Merry Christmas!

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adore Him – advent 2021

Six years ago, today, Jasper was born.

Six years ago, and I remember it so well.

I remember the very moment the doctor laid him on my chest, fresh and new, warm and soft. I remember looking at him, observing him, unable to take my eyes off of his perfect little face, his thick matte of black hair, and his hands clenched in tiny determined fists. I felt immense adoration for this new person that God had blessed our family with. I was in love.

I’ve been challenged over the course of these past several weeks of Advent to consider what, or whom, I adore. What thing, or what person, holds my heart? Or better yet, what thing or person, is king of my heart? Who do I adore…who do I worship?

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This is week four of Advent…come, let us adore him.

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.” Jeremiah 23:5-6

When the Magi came to King Herod and inquired about “the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matthew 2:2), Herod was “disturbed”.

King Herod’s actions after his initial disturbance were truly horrific. He ordered that all boys who were two years old or younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity be put to death. His fierce anger and jealousy wreaked devastation and destruction on the lives of innocent families and communities.

I am not a fan of King Herod. I imagine you are not, either. He is the villain in the Christmas story.

And yet, I wonder how often I behave just like him. I don’t throw out murderous plots or meet out acts of revenge, but I do struggle to relinquish the throne over my life.

“Where is the true King?” That question is the most disturbing question possible to a human heart, since we want at all costs to remain on the throne of our own lives. – Hidden Christmas, by Timothy Keller

This question has troubled me. As a child, I often pictured myself as Mary in the grand drama of the Christmas story, but when I stop and try to answer this question, “Where is the King?” I realize that, more often than not, I am Herod.

I struggle to give God everything.

I struggle to adore him without reservation.

There is always that little something that keeps me from fully surrendering.

It is a battle.

Yet, to truly adore God is to let go of the throne of my life.

And this is a daily act of surrender.

“O come let us adore him.”

To adore him is to be fully devoted to him.

Even now, when I look at Jasper, there is a love – inexplicable – that fills every nook and cranny of my heart. I adore that little boy of mine.

But there is a King who does not beg, demand or force my affections and adoration. He doesn’t push his way onto the throne of my life. He simply waits.

To forfeit my throne to this King only give my heart a greater capacity to love…to forgive…to pour out freely…to worship and adore the true King.

He is the King – The Lord Our Righteousness – who holds my heart in the palm of his hands.

He is the King – Emmanuel, God with us – who abides with me in every circumstance.

He is the King – Christ the Lord – who reigns over my life with wisdom and peace.

And I adore Him.

“For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

For He alone is worthy,

Christ, the Lord.”

I’m sitting here at my desk, looking out of the window in front of me. I see palm trees swaying under the heat of the African sun, and the afternoon breeze comes dancing in and out…in and out.

There is no snow…no fires burning in the fireplace…no mittens or hats, puffy coats or boots.

The scene outside my window looks nothing like my American traditional Christmases.

In South Africa, Christmas comes in the summertime…and, while this is our third Christmas in Africa, I find that the rhythms of both my mental and body clocks have not yet completely learned to walk in sync with the world I live in. It is coming…but slowly.

And so, I light my Christmas-y scented candle, turn on the tree lights, play some Christmas music, and open up my Bible. I turn to the familiar Christmas story.

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Can you feel it yet? Is the anticipation of Christmas growing inside of you? As you consider the magnitude of the Christmas story, are you finding peace in the preparation? Has Christ’s coming, his Advent, sparked a new kind of expectation?

This is week three of Advent…and I am walking in the joy of this season…not-so-much the decorations and seasonal accoutrements that are often the centerpieces of my attention…but in the joy of who Jesus is…and the peace he brings…

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King
Peace on earth, and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With th’ angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hark, the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King

- Felix Mendelssohn -

Angels filled the sky.

Imagine that sight.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:8-14

A declaration of great news…a heart-stopping announcement…a moment of awe.

And the shepherds hurried to see this great thing that had happened.

The Messiah had come.

The promise of peace had come.

But not the kind of peace that was expected or fully appreciated at the time.

This was peace and reconciliation between God and man.

This was monumental.

Bigger and more meaningful than “world peace” and everybody holding hands, playing nice on the playground of life.

Jesus had come to reconcile the world to God…truly joyful…hopeful…glorious.

Take a moment to let it all sink in…angels in the sky…peace on earth…a baby…fresh and new…the embodiment of hope…the answer to every prayer…joy to the world!

“Joyful all ye nations rise!”

This peace that had come…this peace that would rest upon those whose hearts were open…had come.

Joy is defined as “a source or cause of keen pleasure or delight; something or someone greatly valued or appreciated.”

Christ’s birth is joy personified. He is the definition of joy, and his coming is the ongoing source of our joy…our peace.

In the midst of pain and suffering…his joy sustains us.

In times of uncertainty and confusion…his joy gives clarity of focus.

As the world collapses, and we struggle to see the next step forward…his joy is the spark of light and hope that will lead and guide us through.

The significance of his arrival…the proclamation of the angels…brings me great joy.

Regardless of where I am, his joy is right here with me. In the snow or the southern hemisphere heat, Jesus is here. God with us.

He is the Good News.

He is the Reason for Hope.

He is the Messiah.

He is the Joy.

One late fall afternoon, when I was seven years old, my parents and I went to a craft fair held at a local church. Walking through the large church gymnasium, filled with vendors and booths and all manner of crafting, my eye caught a playpen filled with handmade dolls. I made my way, in haste, to check out this amazing display, and my heart instantly fell in love. There was a life-size baby boy with curly brown hair, wearing a red gingham shirt and denim shorts, made out of the softest fabric my hands had ever felt. I picked him up and cradled him in my arms. I wanted this baby so much. I believed that I was meant to be his “mama”.

I know this sounds incredibly melodramatic, but in my imaginary world, baby dolls were very real to me, and apparently, the “call to motherhood” came early.

I begged my parents for this doll. I had even named him because I knew he was meant for me. My mom and dad gave me the response that I had grown accustomed to whenever I asked for a toy, “Maybe for Christmas”.

Christmas was coming soon, so I set my heart on it.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I prepared myself for the arrival of “Baby Frankie” (yes, that was the name I chose…Frankie.) I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.

I waited, and I prepared.

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This is week two of Advent, and I am reflecting on the preparation of my heart during this time of waiting…

Christ’s birth was foretold by the prophet Isaiah:

“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.” Is. 9:6, 7

He was to be a light in the darkness.

Four hundred years of silence and darkness preceded the arrival of the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied:

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

It was a dismal time. Hope was waning. A few were hanging on…waiting in expectation. But many had forgotten…swept up in the darkness…living in the land of the shadow of death.

And then…Jesus came.

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” John 1:9

The light of the world had come…shining brightly into the darkness.

And still…the world struggled to see it…to embrace it…to follow it.

It is so easy for us to become entrenched in the darkness and gloom of this world. We can’t escape the news headlines or the realities of this broken world we live in. It is so easy to forget that the Light came, and there IS still light in this world. God has not abandoned us. We are still living in the Advent…Christ’s light has not flickered out, and neither is the hope and the promise of his second coming. The darkness around us will never understand or accept the Light, but those of us who have embraced Christ have a hope and a promise worth waiting for, with great expectancy. He is coming. The Scripture never lies.

So, while we wait…we prepare.

We prepare our hearts.

We abide in God’s Word, and we walk in His truth.

We live out our faith…we live with hope.

We walk with joyful expectation.

We set our focus on the eternal…we fix our eyes on Jesus.

The darkness may be all around us, but it cannot overtake us.

Christ’s light shines through our lives into the darkest places of this worn and weary world…his hope and his message…his peace and his character are reflected in our faces, our actions, and our words.

We wait and prepare.

Just as I prepared my room and my life for the arrival of a handmade doll, so we prepare our homes (families), our attitudes, our spheres of influence, for the light that has come and will come again.

Christmas morning finally came, and Baby Frankie was sitting under the tree. It took my breath away. I had hoped and prepared, waited and anticipated this moment for what felt like an eternity, and there he was. Perfect in every way.

Forty years later, I still feel joy awaken within me as I look towards Christmas.

The Light of the world has come…the Light of the world is coming again…there is so much to celebrate.

Jesus…prepare my heart…in the waiting…let your light shine.

“Let every heart prepare him room.” – Issac Watts, Joy To The World

The door is on the latch tonight,

The hearth-fire is aglow,

I seem to hear soft passing feet –

The Christchild in the snow.

My heart is open wide tonight

For stranger, kith or kin;

I would not bar a single door

Where love might enter in.

- Author Unknown -

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This is week one of Advent…I cannot even begin to express the anticipation my heart feels…hope is tangible…I can touch it and feel it. My heart is wide open…Jesus come…

We wait with great expectancy.

We hope for what has been promised.

We anticipate the coming…the new…the joy and peace that will accompany.

We are watching the world collapse upon itself and we wonder…in the waiting.

But…I just can’t seem to set this hopeful feeling aside.

I can’t shake the expectancy.

In the middle of the dark…I know Light is coming.

A peace that will transcend all fear and worry and understanding.

We cling to hope.

We trust in the promise.

God always keeps his promises.

Even on those days when I feel so disturbed and grief weighs heavy.

I remember.

I reflect.

And I hope.

With great anticipation.

Undeterred expectancy.

The coming of Jesus.

The Saviour of the world.

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


inevitable grace

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“My grace is sufficient for you.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

In times of refining and breaking and walking through the fire, God is gracious.

Hard to see in the middle of the crucible, but his presence never leaves us…his character never fails.

God’s grace is inevitable regardless of our situation. Regardless of how deep the pain goes or how hard the path unfolds.

His peace passes understanding when we find ourselves standing sure footed as the waves come crashing down around us. We shouldn’t be standing, and yet, here we are. There is nothing to fear. He is near.

There are seasons when we are poured out. Empty from prayer and intense waiting upon God.

His grace is abundant.

It shows up when we are making our beds, cooking our meals, carrying on conversations, holding our children and walking with loved ones. It shows up in our most ordinary tasks.

When we think we’ve gone and messed everything up…this is it…the end…no more grace left to be had…

Inevitably, God’s grace is still there. Holding us together.

God’s grace surrounds us. Keeps us. Sustains us.

It is the force that compels us to keep getting back up and keep trying over and over again.

It doesn’t demand perfection. It can handle the mistakes and the failures. It tells us that we don’t have to be afraid to take that next step.

God’s grace is unavoidable…we can count on it…it is a characteristic of God, it cannot change. It is inevitable because God is unchanging. He is gracious to us, because that is who he is.

I am grateful for this all-sufficient grace.

It is with us in the lions’ den…

In the heat of battle…

In the eye of a storm…

In those seasons of drought…

In those hard-to-share stories…

God’s grace stands…holds us tight…and will never let us go.

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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.”

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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Baby Photoshoot Fail - boredpanda.com

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?

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