2015 in Review

2015 is finished.  Gone by in a blur like shining, glimmering Christmas lights with streams of brightness bouncing and dancing through the darkness.  We are constantly moving forward and sometimes the moving makes me feel dizzy.  Below are five of the top posts from 2015. Looking forward to new thoughts and ideas in 2016!

 

When We Live in Hope

What I Hate About Motherhood

Deep in Monkey Bread

Cosmic Sledgehammer or Eternal Redeemer

The Happily Ever After Covenant

Long Lay the World

  It’s that time of year. We wander into Target for boring things like toilet paper (aaaagain). We round the corner and there’s the intake of air, the squeal of excitement, and the begging begins. “Please, Mommy, can we go see the Christmas decorations?” We go. They inspect each ornament, stare at the lights. I hear my frequently used adjectives coming from their mouths, “beautiful, amazing, gorgeous,” spoken in tiny voices full of delighted excitement. 
They talk about presents. They love the lights. They look at pictures of cookies to make. They remember the wooden stable and manger scene and ask if we will put it up again. 
They are gasping and fawning over Christmas bows and lights. I am wondering how we can anticipate joyous celebrations when 129 people were just massacred in less time than it takes to make Christmas dinner. I watch their innocent eyes light up at Christmas decorations and my eyes close as I hear news reports. I don’t plan on sharing anything about the weekend in Paris with them. Not yet. They are too young and yet they take in too much. I can’t bring myself to voluntarily make them afraid of their world just yet. 
It seems that every year something sad happens before holiday seasons. World events mar our hope for peace. There are tinges of sadness that outline our bubbles of happiness. We shove our disappointments, fears, and frustrations away and smile, buying gifts, staying as busy as we can and wishing that somehow, a snowy Hallmark Christmas will be standing on our porch, wrapped in a bow, when we open our door on Christmas Eve.
The conundrum in my brain of how to celebrate Christmas while blood is splattered across Parisian sidewalks is not a new problem for this year only.
This dichotomy spans the entire swath of human history. Splattered blood is the reason there is Christmas in the first place. When we follow the manger to the cross, we recognize that Christ’s spilled blood is the trail leading us to peace.  I am not comparing those who died in Paris to Christ. Men kill and men die. Only Christ’s death gives life. Only Christ’s blood redeems.

We like to spend Christmas thinking of babies and swaddling wraps. We really want to think that Mary took white lights with her to Bethlehem, to string on the manger, something she had pinned on her “manger crib” board. But after the white swaddle blankets came a bloody sacrifice. We live in a world caught in this mess of bloodiness and neediness. There is blood because of humans who hate and kill, defend and sacrifice. And then there is blood of a Son, born in that manger, shed to rescue the world from their own hate and self-destruction.  
The words to O Holy Night run through my mind… “long lay the world, in sin and error pining, ‘til He appeared and the world felt His worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….” The cross has solved our sin and error when we believe, even though we wait wearily for fulfillment of salvation in the return of Christ. Instead of Hallmark Christmases, what we really long for is the new Heaven and new Earth. We desire something that we cannot find in this world. We long for a Healer. We want to be rescued from the sickening horror that humans create amongst themselves. We want to be rescued from sin.  
We need Christ. Only Christ brings peace. Only Christ heals. Not because He is a fuzzy warm object to believe in. Not because He is a superior teacher to Mohammed. But because only God loved His creation enough to sacrifice His Son, Himself, for His creation. His crazed, sinful, destructive creation. He never told them to save themselves, because they could not. He simply asked them to believe that He loves them enough to die for them, taking on their sin. And in believing, He removes that sin, looking at His bloody, sacrificed Son instead of their sin.  
 Only the result of Christ’s birth – His death and resurrection – can solve the problem of sin in our world. So, while we are all trying to make sense of Paris, of the season ahead, of life in general, remember that the events we hear on the news are a glaring example of WHY we so desperately need Christmas. We need that baby in the manger to rescue us from ourselves. We need Christ’s blood to heal. Without the blood of Christ, human blood will not stop spilling. Christ’s blood covering us is the only way that true Christmas, the kind we want deep in our hearts, will ever happen. 

The Happily Ever After Covenant

“Congratulations on making it this far without a murder suicide” read an awesome anniversary card we received. This month was my tenth wedding anniversary. Its not really a long time, but it sounds like a big number to me. I guess it sounds longer than it really feels. And at the same time, life before marriage is blurrier than ever.  

I remember before my wedding thinking that I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew I loved my husband. But I also knew that there was no way I could fully understand what this love would require, having never been married. Within a short time, both of us commented that we were suddenly so much more aware, in a good way, of what love meant, than at our wedding. 
I also remember being terrified. Terrified that I would be unable to keep a promise whose implications I knowingly didn’t understand. Terrified of giving up what I knew for what I didn’t know. 

A friend and I were talking recently about being attached and unattached. For some, attachment is the perceived as the highest attainable goal, an ultimate goal in earthly existence. For others, staying carefree and unrestrained is the dream that brings happy, idealistic thoughts. For some, a change in partners or circumstances equals the fulfillment that seems missing. Some people are tolerably content with their circumstances, but wonder what might improve if they had made different choices in the past. 
What I have learned about love and marriage and life, so far, is that all of our relationships, or lack thereof, are simply mirrors that reflect our innate need and desire for God. Married or single, we want relationships that make us whole. We want completion and happiness, companionship and understanding, safety and confidence. Singleness seems to drive these wants into glaring focus and so we generally know that these are things that single people desire. But marriage does not fulfill these needs either. Of course, marriage offers some of these things, in varying degrees. But there is no relationship on Earth that can complete every need we possess. And our position in life, married, single, formerly attached, and so on serves as a vehicle to show us where our needs for God are most gaping. 
In other words, the point of a relationship or the lack of the relationship is to draw us to God. To drive us closer to Him. To make us depend on Him more. To show us our need for Him and point us to the only One who can truly fulfill our deepest needs.

 Sometimes we revel in the joy of our relationships. Sometimes we find our relationships breaking down. Sometimes we long for a person to come alongside us and share our lives. In every circumstance, God is pulling us to Him. He is working all things for good. Even in the hard, the broken, the empty, the boring everyday, He is reminding us that we cannot be everything we need to be. We are needy. 

When I think about marriage and my neediness, the image in the mirror I see is the failed wife. I don’t love as I should. I want certain things, demand certain things even. I worry about my own self respect that I gain from a relationship. I don’t flawlessly uphold my covenant to love. I don’t love anyone like I should. But God has loved for me. He has made a covenant and fulfilled His part and my part for me. And that is where marriage and the shortcomings of marriage show me the graciousness and goodness of God. 
The times I am most grateful for the state of marriage are when I recognize the covenant God has made for us. I am grateful for marriage to someone who takes a vow seriously. I am thankful for someone who mirrors God by not considering any other options than the promise he made to me. 

 
The point is, our lives are about what God is doing, and what He has already done for us. And each relationship we have or don’t have molds our souls to make us see God more clearly. Our lives, our love, our faith are continual navigations through the unseen. When we do not know how we will continue, Christ has been love for us. Christ has already met our need. 
(Photo credit: Sabrina Scolari, Scolari Photography)

Boring Grace

  
Sometimes I bore even myself when I write. I write for different reasons, one being I find inspiration in occupying myself with ideas and I enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to articulate those ideas. At times, my thoughts and writing feel redundant. Concepts become dulled, not as fresh and exciting as they once were. It can sound like this in my head…. “Grace, Grace, Keller quote, blah blah blah….blah, blah, blah, redemption, Grace, God as Father, blah blah blah.” And then, “oh well I don’t really need to write these ideas out. Keller and many others are doing a much better job articulating them. A number of women and men have written more extensively than I could ever on grace. Just calm down writing about these things. Read more. Love your life. It doesn’t matter what you say and if you say it out loud.”

These were my thoughts earlier this year. And then summertime came. And I encountered multiple friends, articles, acquaintances and situations that left me wondering what Christians really believe in, what we believe to be the gospel, where our faith is really anchored. 

I attend a smallish church and have a small world in many ways. Sometimes I think that my church, and even my existence, can be a bit like a witness protection program from some of the arguments and issues that swirl through Christian culture. Unless I proactively search them out, I stay blissfully shielded from disputes, from personality cults, from issue driven campaigns, and general silliness that detracts from the main idea that Christ took our sin for us. I am rather free to focus on the knowledge that God is working all things for His purposes and glory, which will one day be revealed. I have seen and heard grace lavishly showcased in the articulation and demonstration of the good news of redemption. I have seen the freeing power that comes with realizing my efforts and work do not give me a higher holiness status. I want every child of God to know this freedom, like I want everyone to breathe in the fresh air of a new day. 
When I encounter clusters of people who claim to know Christ and yet profess a sad understanding of His merciful nature, His loving fatherhood, His sovereign love toward His children, I find myself with eyes scrunched in puzzlement, wondering how a concept so wonderful can be so evasive. I realize there really are people to whom the concept of grace and mercy is never boring. Instead, it has yet to form for them. It has germinated perhaps, but is not fully formed. I encountered this perplexing scenario a few times over the summer. Perhaps, I thought, there can never be too many recitations of the grace that is ours. 
I heard a sermon on the last verses of Acts. The pastor explained how he had read the ending, hoping for a big conclusion to reveal itself, (even though he knew the ending already). He wanted an ending that matched the incredible events found throughout the book of Acts. But he found that the conclusion was rather ordinary. Paul reiterated that Christ had come to all. And Paul lived, welcoming people in his house, talking about Christ. He explained from the time of Paul ever since, interacting with our neighbors, sharing the good news of Christ, living of our faith unhindered has been the life of the Christian community, the world over, through time. Nothing in our world has been able to stop the spread of the gospel. 
It is the power that keeps us talking about the gospel when others want to drag us down with pragmatic debates and human judgement. It is the healing grace that helps us keep our eyes on Christ when humans disgust us and hurt us. It is the strength that allows men to keep their faith as they are beheaded on beaches by evil men. It is the same strength that gives voices to their congregations the next week as they sing the words to In Christ Alone. 

The thread through history that never changes in a changing world is the grace of God. The thread is not how well we held to music standards, perfected our Christian persona, kept the rules, fooled everyone with our spirituality, or how moral our government and culture has remained. The thread that has lasted through time is God’s redemption of His children. And the good news has remained a force in the world because He has given voices to His children to talk of His grace and His work on the cross. Good trumps evil in the end. And we wait, hoping and speaking and believing. We know that God is never shaken, and neither is His redemption. 
And so, I can never find that grace boring. It is what was repeated in the early church. It is what has been repeated throughout history. We keep repeating it today. We must not pervert that grace that is ours with human invention. We must keep reminding ourselves that we are God’s beloved children and nothing can ever change that about us. Don’t ever be fooled into replacing grace with something more interesting like man’s rules or glamorous ideas. 

When We Live in Hope

The Christian life is fundamentally a life of endurance and therefore we must live in hope.”  Ligon Duncan

There are a number of things Harvard graduates tell their children. One of them will probably never be, “the school I went to has closed down now.” 

But I didn’t attend Harvard. And the school I did attend is closing down at the end of June. Someday I will have to tell my children that my college no longer exists.

We are often called the Post Christian Era. Some parts of raising children do not seem all that different from my own childhood. But at times, the culture of churches, schools, and societies can seem like we’ve transported to a different universe from the one in which I was raised. A friend and I chatted recently about how we went to four church services a week as children and now ours go to one or two. We discipline differently. We disciple them differently. We try to use terminology that corrects but gives grace. We have new issues to explain when it comes to loving our neighbor, issues that didn’t exist when I was a child. Elementary, middle, and high school education are encountering new challenges in the public and private sectors, due to regulations, costs, and consumer needs. How and where Christians direct their children for higher education in the future will likely be quite a different process from the past. None of these issues are negative things, in light of God’s sovereignty. They are simply new issues. Sometimes I feel I am navigating through uncharted waters everyday with my children. I am holding onto a life preserver, hoping for a good outcome. I sometimes feel unsure of the future results, and cling to Christ to guide my stewardship. 

 Many Christians want to despair that our schools are closing and churches are shrinking and we are losing ground between good and evil. But, we cannot forget Who is our hope. There is no reason to retreat and hide. The sky is not falling. The sky simply has a different weather pattern floating through today and it has not taken God by surprise. It is good, in some respects, to be thrown and tossed culturally. It is good to experience shifts and have to re-establish our paradigms and philosophies. Generational changes make us own what we believe. They makes us test what we are told and search the Scriptures for truth. We are forced out of softly padded pews and compelled to look at the Cross and not man, not at institutions.  

I thought carefully and intentionally before going to school there. I thought long and hard after I graduated about why I attended there. 

It was always a small school. When my husband and I were dating, after I had graduated, I drove him through the campus. He asked where the rest of the school was. And I laughed. And he said, “I was being serious.” I stopped laughing. I had planned to attend a Christian college most of my life. At the last minute I panicked, auditioned and was accepted to a large music school in the Northeast. Then I opted to go to Florida. The friendships I made and the growth that began there stay with me today. I have a short list of professors whose kindness, friendship, inspiration, and wisdom have traveled with me. I would venture to say much of their influence still shadows my path, everyday perhaps. After graduating, I had little connection to the institution as a whole, but the individuals who once made up a collective organization have remained a part of my life, both directly and indirectly. 

People who spent good years of their lives there may feel like they wasted time. But there is a quiet current pushing and traveling far beyond the walls of a school. Our world goes forward minus a few Christian colleges this fall. But the graduates of these schools are there, most raising their children, serving Christ, worshipping in other places, influencing the world in various ways. In my own home, my children benefit from my education. It was in college that my faith deepened, I learned to appreciate people different from me, I started to understand why I loved the arts and beauty and how those things connected to God. God raises up and determines times. He calls us. He used willing people to teach us and now He strengthens us to continue in the things we have learned. We should be  hopeful because we can cling to Christ, not manmade ideas. Perhaps in one era ending, a new one is quietly growing, surging nearby, and we are able to be part of it. Perhaps in losing a culture we once knew well, what we anchored ourselves to, we are being given the chance to walk on water with our eyes on Christ, rather than on the waves. He has never been shaken through time. 

I am grateful for those who touched my life. I am glad to know God raised them up in his appointed time and intersected their lives with my own. I know my children will be better for the lives that touched mine. Our rescuer is Christ, and there is nothing that surprises Him. He has already done battle against the snake. He has already won. And one day in the future, the goodness that triumphed as He walked away from the Tomb will be made clear. I grasp hope, knowing that on every path we blindly encounter, an unchanging God has walked ahead, lighting the way. 

 
 

Birthdays & Broken Bones

My little baby had surgery today. I’m snuggling with her as she wanders off to dreamland, peeking back at me with one eye, to see if I’m still with her. She reaches out from her blanket to rub my arm. We are listening to JJ Heller’s   I Dream of You album. I love all the songs on this album, but tonight this one is our little world. Birthday parties not so long past, incisions and bandages tonight. 

   

“I Get To Be The One”


Well hello,

Little baby.

Your eyes have never seen the sun

You should know

Little baby

That I am the lucky one


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


Don’t feel alone now,

Little baby.

Do you hear me singing you a song

I can’t wait to show you

Little baby

How to crawl

How to walk

And how to run


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one.


How does someone so small

Hold my heart so tightly

I don’t even know you

I love you completely


I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one to hold your hand

I get to be the one.

Through birthdays and broken bones

I’ll be there to watch you grow

I get to be the one