Words, words, and more words!

I’ve been writing like a house afire since the beginning of the year! Just not on my blog. Having only so many hours in the day I find I must choose where my words go, and lately that’s been to my novel. I’m 65,000 words in. The end is in sight! Of course when the last word is written – it’s not really over. Then the revising and editing process will begin.

I feel a confidence in my current project I didn’t feel in my last novel, Sisters. Sisters had beautiful moments, and was an unbelievable learning experience. But this novel is different. I’m different. Hopefully my skill level has grown. I also feel a greater sense of purpose and vision with this book.

My goal for this novel is to use the characters to challenge the church’s status quo and stretch our desire for compassion. It has been a transformational, painful, and invigorating process.

Many days I’ve spent six or more hours writing. I write while the kids are in school. I take notes of ideas in my phone when I’m out. I dream about my characters, literally. I chat with them in the shower. I have no doubt I’ve often sat with a glazed expression at the table as I picture a scene and test out dialogue in my head. My poor family, they’re becoming used to such quirks and neglect!

In the past I found it difficult to ignore dirty dishes in the sink, piled up laundry, and floors needing vacuuming. Writing now seems to trump all else. I don’t seem to notice the mess until I resurface!

I have piles of books stacked around my favorite chair. Not pictured is the pile of writing books on the floor. And for three days I’ve had piles of laundry stacked around the living room. To me this is a good sign! It means I’ve taken my passion and commitment to writing to a new level. Which is what it’s going to take to land a book deal and become an honest to goodness author. So far I’ve been dabbling. It’s time to role up my sleeves and get this done!

The message of this book motivates me to keep going, it’s a tribute to every wounded, rejected, lonely person I’ve known, just looking for a place to belong. (Which includes me.) We are good at building walls, even, and maybe especially, in the church, but that is not in keeping with a Savior who walked among the broken, touching the desperate.

It’s my desire that this book honors God’s heart, and builds a bridge. If you think of it in the days ahead I would love a prayer for blessing and favor!

How will you respond to Christ? – An Advent Reading

AdventJohn 1:1-5, 10-14, In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him.  He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”

Over the last four weeks of Advent we’ve experienced the Christmas story through the perspective of Prophets, Angels, Shepherds, and Wise-men. Here we are tonight, at the threshold of Christmas. The moment of focusing on Jesus Christ himself! The Hero of the story. The Savior.

Perhaps this season doesn’t feel like much of a celebration to you. Maybe, right now, life is just hard. Maybe even hopeless. Then this message, that a Savior has come, is especially important for you.

But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. Galatians 4:4-5

If there was no pain, no brokenness, no bondage, the need for Jesus to put on human skin and walk in truth and grace among us wouldn’t exist. If the world were safe, there would be no need for a Savior. Jesus was born into this dark world to join us in our pain, to be the Savior of all broken things.

We can respond to Jesus’ coming by minimizing the need, downplaying his saving power, turning him into an inspirational leader alongside a plethora of other spiritual gurus. Or we can be overprotective of Jesus, grabbing hold of spiritual dogma and shoving unworthy worshipers away, nailing the lid shut on the manger to keep him in, and a messy world out. Both of those responses stem from pride, a foolish belief that we know best.

The response God leans in close to see suits a soiled prostitute or a glittering music star, an orphan or a college professor, a prisoner or a king all just as well. Humility. How can we celebrate Jesus’ coming without first recognizing we needed him to come. And if we recognize our need how could we keep anyone from coming to the manger to meet mercy face to face.

Tonight, with celebration, with hope, with gratitude, we remember the Savior has come.

Is Christ your Savior?

The world is waiting to hear our story. Who do you know that needs the good news of God wrapped in skin, moving into the neighborhood to live with you and me? Where can you shine the light of the good news that the Savior has come?

Let’s pray:
Father, thank you for your sacrifice to send your Son to lead us home. Give us humble hearts that recognize our own need for salvation and never despise the need of another. Make us as extravagant in our love as you yourself are. Amen.

 

I am you

SantaThis Christmas the intensity of life has left me breathless. I love Christmas. Often the season feels like a respite from the weariness of life. The broken, ugly parts of the year are folded away and tucked into the closet until the tree comes down and White Christmas has been watched fifteen times!

But this year I just can’t get rid of life’s reality. My legs are shaky from the journey. Not only from my own loss, but also from yours. Daily the news gives us much to scoff, and to dread. Closer to home, church friends are struggling with cancer diagnosis and illness, for themselves or their children.

I could sit and cry for a hundred years. Part of me feels guilty to think that way at Christmas. The other part of me thinks it would be a terrible relief! In those moments I cling to Jesus promise, even invitation, in the beatitudes; “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

I’ve been reading A Christmas Carol, as I often do at Christmas. I find the parallels between our two societies, separated by almost 200 years, is uncanny. I’m reminded there is nothing new, the same drama is replayed in generation after generation. Truth be told I wonder if I’ve found the secret in its pages. We can only celebrate after we’ve first grieved.

Scrooge learned this lesson from the ghosts and tiny Tim. He learned to grieve his own mistakes, to grieve injustice, to hurt for those in need. Only then could the gift of goodwill, the beauty of a Savior, seem sweet to him. Only when he recognized the need could he participate in the solution. He learned that mankind is tied together. A living heart cannot see the suffering of its fellow man and remain unmoved.

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Marley’s warning to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.

So what should we grieve? The want and despair of life, of our friends, of our enemies. We grieve injustice, and our own impotence, and too often our indifference. That grief puts us in a place of empathy with others, and gratitude to the One who has lit our hearts with goodwill in the darkness of ignorance and want. We celebrate our own redemption and participate in the reclaiming of mankind for love’s sake.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelations 21:4

Mourning is the order of things now. It’s part of the business of life. But it won’t be when the old earth is destroyed and a new order is put in place. Our grieving for what could have been, for what’s been lost, is only bearable when we realize the new order is coming.

This Christmas I mourn for me, but I also mourn for you. I mourn for children in poverty. I mourn for man’s foolishness that pits one group against another and speaks harshly of their fellow man, giving way to fear instead of courageous love. I mourn for the ignorance, and greed, and scarcity at work in the world. I grieve for the prevalence of disease. I grieve because more often than we want to admit we’re a part of it all. I grieve because I’m a part of the brokenness, often feeding fear and self instead of love.

This Christmas it seems appropriate to grieve. And as I grieve I pray. I pray for me and I pray for you. I pray with hope that the old order will pass away and the new order of things will bring relief. And I pray that in the meantime you and I will be people of goodwill, and that our sweet Savior will help us to endure!

I pray we will emulate the Child of Bethlehem who became one of us. His very presence an act of solidarity, stating, “I am you.” Can we do less?

“Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” Hebrews 12:12-13

Anticipation – A Story

Baby JesusTiny Allison tiptoed toward the glittering Christmas tree. Her wide, blue eyes reflected hundreds of lights, like stars shimmering in the velvet sky. Inexperienced as she was with the repetition of the holiday year after year, her heart beat fast with the thrill of Christmas Eve anticipation.

Upstairs her mama worked busily, wrapping and preparing for the dawn of Christmas morning. She was unaware a little peeper was straying from her bed. The older children knew the routine. They had dozed off in their rooms early in the evening, unwilling to tempt fate. But Allison’s excitement, refusing to be contained, had kept her awake.

Softly, a plump, pink finger reached out to touch her favorite ornament on the tree. The snowman. Sugared in iridescent glitter, he sported a pale blue scarf situated under merry eyes.

She folded her legs under her on the velvet tree skirt, setting up a silent, fervent vigil. The muffled strains of a Christmas carol floated from the floor above. “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…

Her twinkly eyes swept around the room, drinking in the festive display. Plaid stockings hung above a cheery fire. The red walls reflected the poinsettia’s holiday spirit. Softly her gaze came to rest on the milky white nativity set. Mary and Joseph frozen in porcelain perfection.

Her mother had warned her not to touch the figures many times, but tonight Allison couldn’t contain the urge to hold baby Jesus. Timidly she crossed the room to the table where the family, a cow, some sheep, a shepherd, and the wise men sat amid evergreen sprigs. Slowly the child’s hands plucked the infant from his manger bed, cradling him reverently. “Come and behold him, born the King of angels, o come let us adore him, o come let us adore him…”

She tiptoed back to her station under the tree, baby Jesus held fast in her tender grip. Soothed by the warm fire and soft sounds from above Allison soon dozed off, curled tight in her flannel night gown, baby Jesus pressed against her chest.

At midnight her mama felt her way cautiously down the stairs through the dim house, presents balanced precariously under her chin. Stooping to deliver the packages, she was surprised by a little gift already tucked beneath the tree. Allison’s golden curls shimmered against the crimson cloth. Her pink bow of a mouth was tied in the soft smile of sleep.

As her mother scooped her up Allison’s eyes fluttered, her hands gently opening to reveal the stolen baby, “Has he come, mama?”

The World Needs Prophets – An Advent Reading

AdventDown through time the Advent of Jesus’ first coming has left ripples that echo today. At Christmas we tell the story, we remind each other, of how God met our need in a profound way.

John 1:4-9 says, “Life was in Him [Jesus], and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man named John who was sent from God. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”

The word prophecy or prophet stirs all kinds of images. Maybe some wild-eyed firebrand in the desert, maybe modern-day schemers making predictions of when the world will end, or maybe someone who dabbles in the supernatural. But a prophet is a messenger, a spokesman, speaking the words of another.

The world has been searching for Jesus Christ since mankind’s first sin made our need for him known. The journey towards Jesus continues. Thousands of years ago prophets called out, announcing Jesus coming. Preparing people for his arrival. And he came. Just as they said. A humble Servant. A Child. A sacrificial Lamb, who rose a King.

The world is still in need of prophets, messengers. Long ago the prophets announced a Lamb, today the world needs prophets to announce a King. A King who died for them, who reigns over all, and is coming again.

The Lord has sent this message to every land:
    “Tell the people of Israel,
‘Look, your Savior is coming.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.’” Isaiah 62:11

The words of the prophet Isaiah pointed the people of Israel to their Savior, Jesus. Our words today can point the weary world to the hope of his second coming, reminding them to be ready, that he brings his reward with him.

Are you a modern-day prophet? God is looking for people to prophesy to this generation, to announce that the Savior has come, and is coming again. May our words speak of the second Advent of Jesus with great hope and joy!

Let’s pray:
Heavenly father, thank you for sending your Son to bring us hope. We are thankful for Jesus first coming that reconciled us to you, and we look forward to his second coming that will take us home. Inspire our words with your message of hope for all people. Amen.

The Promise of Abundance

Abundance1God has promised to provide in the here and now. He supplies all we need. He gives himself. But that doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen. How do we embrace abundance in the face of loss in this world?

Eternity. If God hadn’t promised to reconcile the whole earth to himself through Jesus sacrifice there would be no hope. But once we enter God’s kingdom our horizon broadens. If this life was all there was then no way, it wouldn’t be good enough. It would be a bum deal. But it’s not all there is.

The promise of abundance gives us hope.

Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ.

It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. Ephesians 1 The Message

“Glorious living,” that sounds abundant, doesn’t it?! But what happens when the life you’re living feels less than glorious?

My daughter struggles with anxiety. The move we made this summer and the passing of my mother this fall didn’t help with that one bit. She has developed trichotillomania, a hair pulling condition often triggered by anxiety, although it can have other causes.

Her eyebrows are not abundant. Actually they’re patchy and thin, along with her eyelashes. She even pulls hair on her arms and legs. Thankfully she’s stayed away from the head but I’m always afraid I’m going to find a bald patch one day.

I’ve noticed in Maggie what I’ve noticed in a lot of people, including myself, a fear of scarcity. What if love doesn’t last? What if security dries up? What if there’s not a place for me, or I can’t make friends, or someone else is better, or I don’t get a turn.

From kids to adults those fears can plague us can’t they. What if there’s not enough. Thankfully in God’s kingdom there is always enough. Of course grandmas die and moves still happen. But my prayer for Maggie is that she begins to look past the veil of this world and catch a glimpse of the cosmic story, the eternal reality, we’re all a part of, but are so often unaware of. This life isn’t all there is. It’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Before it all began you were thought of. Before sin ruined what was perfect, there was a plan. After your last breath, the living’s still not over. For those who have trusted Jesus to be the hero of the story, the one to lead us home, there is full throttle living ahead.

I want Maggie to get that! I don’t know if it will change the hair pulling, but I know it will change her anxiety. If she, if all of us, can understand that we’ve been welcomed into a kingdom of abundance I think we would be joyful, whimsical, hopeful people. Not that it won’t hurt when bad things happen but our perspective will be so much bigger than the moment.

In those dark moments, or even seasons, we have to ask ourselves; do we believe the promises God has made in the Bible, to give us a life of abundance, are true? Sometimes the promise is all we have to hold on to.

I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelation 21 The Message

I’ve read these passages to Maggie many times. She loves them. Intuitively she knows she’s destined for another home, because this one is just not enough. Some seasons in our life do not reflect abundance materially, relationally, physically, even mentally, but God has made a promise. Abundance to all who come to him, now through his Spirit, and later face to face.

It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life. Ephesians 1 The Message

The Holy Spirit helps us to endure, to overcome this life. He doesn’t remove us from it, but his presence with us is the down payment, the assurance we will receive all the healing and restoring that’s been promised to us. There is abundance today, but there’s a lot more where that came from!

In Search of Abundance

Abundance1November seems to burst with abundance! Berries ripen, fat pumpkins line up in rows, hearts expand with thanks, communities begin the preparation of celebrating harvest, advent, and a new year. Abundance. We long for it. For fullness of health, of resources, of relationships, of opportunities, of freedom. We fear scarcity and ache for our lives to overflow.

I have had season’s full to the brim. And seasons sucked dry with want and emptiness. No doubt you have too. The last 12 to 18 months have been, to date, my deepest season of grief. At moments the bitter taste of my heart shrinking in on itself has left me gasping. I’ve feared my whole life and soul would stay shriveled up like a prune.

Season’s of drought and dead dreams can seem eternal. But a heart indwelt by the Holy Spirit has the capacity to soak in God’s goodness, and heal – even in lean times. Once we’ve been refreshed we won’t settle for the sour taste that comes from a fearful, unforgiving heart. We won’t settle for scarcity in the light of God’s promise of abundance.

Last month I wrote about kindness. I don’t know if I’ll write about abundance this whole month. But it’s what I’m writing about today. It’s what I want to think about right now.

The day my husband and I realized we had to sell the dream home we had bought only 12 months before, I cried. I asked God why he would give me a gift just to take it away. Through those tears the Holy Spirit whispered, a blessing is a blessing regardless of its duration.

And it’s true. A child, a good job, a parent, a home, health, love, financial security, respect, friends, freedom, all of these things are blessings no matter how long they last. A blessing brings joy to our lives, not merely because we enjoy the goodness of its presence, but because it originated in the heart of our true Love. Abundance flows from the heart of God, or not at all.

This fall the rain has poured down for days. Even now it is drenching the ground, washing, pounding, saturating the earth. But it will dry up in time. The earth will get hard, plants will whither. And after a while the rain will flow again. So it is in life. Some seasons are a fire hose to the mouth, we’re drowning in abundance. In others our tongue sticks to the roof of our mouth, parched with longing.

I don’t fully feel the blessings of the season I’m in yet. I want to live in my dream house again. I ache for a home of my own, and a dog, daily. Every day I want a place for my heart to unwind and feel safe and at ease. A place for my hands to create, my arms to welcome freely, a place that looks like me. Where people will know my heart more deeply when they walk through the doors because I’ve displayed it on the canvas of my home. Every day I long for this. I’m still mourning what I’ve lost.

Over the years I’ve learned to recognize that at the heart of it my longing for home is a reflection of my desire for heaven. But that doesn’t change what I hope for on this earth right now, a place of my own. I share this, not to elicit sympathy, but to say simply, we all have unfulfilled longings. I get it.

Through it all I pray for contentment. Even if I don’t feel it in this moment, I know God gives good gifts and I trust him. I want to hold out my hands in expectation of the rain and let his presence filter through my fingers, and drip down my lips, and saturate my heart. I want to find the true blessing there, abundance.

Who hasn’t felt weary, poured out, and lost at moments? Every one of us has been wrung out by life. Sometimes we look at our neighbor and think, “what have they done to be so blessed by God and I feel like Job.” But that’s a lie, every one of us has the capacity for abundance.

So what do we do in the lean moments? We put out our pots and bowls to collect the rain that’s coming. We get ready to contain blessing. We stretch our hearts out to a greater capacity to collect the truth and presence of God. He is sufficient. We have to be ready to contain the supply.

Ultimately it comes down to agreeing with his word. Submitting to it. And reciting it. Whether we feel like it or not. Because you know what? His word is amazing. It can take feelings, and broken thoughts, and turn them around. Seasons that once felt lean can suddenly gush out blessing, without any circumstances changing at all.

The secret is recognizing that Jesus is the true prize, having him is the real abundance. And as my mama always said, “we have as much Jesus as we want.” 

Sometimes Jesus gives us earthly homes that speak our language and warm our hearts. And sometimes he himself is our home. Sustaining us supernaturally through tough times.

Here is what we can do to get ready to receive abundance, and what I mean by abundance is a sense of well-being, of joy, of satisfaction and contentment. Abundance doesn’t necessarily have to do with material blessings.

  1. Learn God’s word. Be familiar with what he says is true. There’s nothing like believing a lie to suck joy right out of your life, even if you’re unaware it’s a lie and are sincere.
  2. Believe God’s word. It’s one thing to know what God says, it’s another thing to stake your life on it. An honest reliance that what God says is true will bring life.
  3. Praise God. Even when it’s hard, when you feel offended, or slighted, either by people or life in general. Worship God because he deserves it and it’s what you were made to do. Worship increases our heart capacity for more of God.
  4. Bless others. When we take our eyes off of ourselves, stop recounting our losses, and focus our care on someone hurting more than us, we realize how full our lives are. God blesses his people in order that they may be a blessing.
  5. Remember. It’s better to retell the ways God has been present and generous than to rehash the ways life has hurt us. When we look back at what God has done it gives us hope for the future and eyes to see good in the right now.

Abundance relies on God’s willingness to bless his people, and he is willing, and on our willingness to be satisfied by better things. Often what we think we want isn’t the best God has to offer. He can adjust our perspective and expectations, if we let him. It’s not an easy process. (I’ve been known to pitch fits, I’m ashamed to say.) But it will change us. Instead of living in the fear of scarcity, we will begin to live in the assurance of abundance. 

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:31-34

Once again, I find I’m preaching to myself. If you, by chance, needed to listen in too, I hope you found encouragement! God is not holding out on us! He offers his very best. Himself. Let’s put out our pots and get ready for the rainfall of his provision!