2013, God With Us

2013 has been a really hard year for many of my dear ones.  It has also been a really good year for many of my loved ones.  For Adam and I, this year has been both really hard and really good.  And as I’ve been reflecting on this year through the lens of advent, I keep coming back to, “God with us, Emmanuel,” and finding deep comfort.

As I think about all that my friends have experienced this year, and all that we have experienced this year, I keep envisioning God there with us in the midst of it all.

In sleepless nights, chronic pain, and un-diagnosed illness, God with us, Emmanuel.

In routine days on a route job, God with us, Emmanuel.

In positive pregnancy tests, healthy pregnancies, and in births, God with us, Emmanuel.

In the clinic during chemo treatments, God with us, Emmanuel.

In running after busy toddlers, and taxiing around teenagers, God with us, Emmanuel.

In depression and in anxiety, God with us, Emmanuel.

In contentment in single or marital status, God with us, Emmanuel.

In loneliness and in broken relationships, God with us, Emmanuel.

In graduation, and job placement, and promotions, God with us, Emmanuel.

In infertility, miscarriage, and loss of children, God with us, Emmanuel.

In a clean bill of health and in the miracle healing, God with us, Emmanuel.

In job loss, job discontentment, and job searching, God with us, Emmanuel.

In a second chance at life, God with us, Emmanuel.

In caring for aging parents, God with us, Emmanuel.

In loved ones being deployed, God with us, Emmanuel.

In our loved one returning home, safe from deployment, God with us, Emmanuel.

In addiction and compulsion, God with us, Emmanuel.

In figuring out life-callings, changing majors, changing colleges, and dropping out of college, God with us, Emmanuel.

In unwelcome singleness, God with us, Emmanuel.

In becoming a parent through fostering or adopting, God with us, Emmanuel.

In financial stress, God with us, Emmanuel.

In falling in love, engagement, and new marriages, God with us, Emmanuel.

In the loss of ones we love, God with us, Emmanuel.

In growing, healthy relationships, God with us, Emmanuel.

In infidelity, broken hearts, and divorce, God with us, Emmanuel.

In financial peace, and unexpected provision, God with us, Emmanuel.

In endlessly long nights with a crying infant, God with us, Emmanuel.

In uneventful weeks, God with us, Emmanuel.

I’m so thankful for a God who is with us – in the smallest and biggest, easy and painful moments.  A God who left the comfort of heaven to be with His people in their deepest pain, shame, guilt, and sorrow to save His people is Good News to me.  A God who is a Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty One, an Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace brings me Great Joy.

In the moments when we acknowledged it, and the moments when we were unsure, God was with us in 2013.  He was with us as we cried ourselves to sleep and with us when we squealed with joy.  He was with us in our deepest hope and he was with us in our deepest hopelessness.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

 

While We Wait

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Image courtesy of Kandace Parker

There’s no one in my life that loves advent more than my husband, Adam.  No, not Christmas; Advent.  The man loves some good liturgy, some good tension, and some good reflection.  I thought it only fitting on this advent of advent today, to have him guest post about why he loves this season so much.

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Advent is one of the best times of year. Not only is it the start of the liturgical calendar, but it is also when we set aside time to wait and anticipate the birth of Jesus. It’s the season set aside  to prepare for the celebration of the moment that history forever changed on a humble night in a manager. It is the season when we are reminded that  even though Jesus has already come, we are still in a time of longing, of waiting for the final Advent that will put everything right.

The problem is that we aren’t very good at waiting. We do well with anticipating. Our culture anticipates Christmas more than anything else, which is why we see sales and decorations and marketers dictating what will bring our hope, joy, peace and love before we have even finished deciding on our Halloween costumes. But there is a big difference in learning to find the significance in the waiting and trying to rush a celebration.

We look for significance around Christmas, but often, our search for significance centers around tapping into the sentimental longing that has made past years special. It is rare that our search for Christmas significance leads us to sit in the tension of the in-between. This is why people make a big deal about red cups being back at Starbucks or put a lot of effort into their Elf on the Shelf or listen to Christmas music for a month (or longer). We crave significance and wonder in the build up to Christmas, so we fill it with events and memories.  And none of these are inherently bad, but I fear that when we fill our Decembers with too much activity, and we fail to sit in the unmet expectation.

There is an art to learning to wait, of realizing what it means to be in a place of yearning for an answer.  Waiting is often uncomfortable.  We consistently try to speed through this idea of yearning, of waiting, of longing to know and experience our desire.  Our culture celebrates speed, rush, and hustle.  And when we don’t have to wait, or we rush through the waiting, what we receive on the other end looses some of it’s value. It lacks the significance of the expectation we placed on it because our “satisfaction” was almost immediate.  This is often met with disappointment and results in lowered expectations. But this idea of waiting for something for so long, and then finally finding it (regardless of what it is) is vital to our human experience.  And yet we keep trying to fast forward the waiting process.

This is why I love Advent. It’s a set aside time to long for the long-expected Christ. To spend time preparing and anticipating the significance of a God who was so passionate for His creation that he would become Emmanuel, God with Us.

Everyone I know is waiting for something – longing for redemption in some area of their lives – whether it is a relationship, a job, a healing, or a conflict, but no matter what it is, we all wait. I want to learn to sit in the awkward unrest of unmet expectations, of learning what it means to find my joy, my hope, love, and a true peace in the significance of the humble birth of Christ. I want to be reminded that while I wait, redemption rushed to me. Father Richard Rhor says it like this, “the Incarnation was already the Redemption, because in Jesus’ birth God was already saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side.”

God is on our side and during this season of Advent, and I want to learn to place my expectations in the coming of Christ. I want to be overwhelmed as the reality of a promise comes true in a stable. I want to live in constant hope for redemption for the world we live in, I want to yearn and search and struggle with what it means that a Savior is coming, like the wise men, shepherds, and priests of Jesus’ day. I want to live in constant expectation of a Holy God who is present and will return to his creation that is groaning with it’s need for a final redemption. 

“That’s Not Me, We’re Not All Like That.”

Last night, at a work event, I met a new friend.  Our conversation started with work chatter, but quickly shifted into our backgrounds and passions.  She works primarily with Kurdish and Arabic families – helping them navigate systems in the US.  She speaks multiple languages, and has experience acculturating to America, herself.

As she was talking about the families that she works with, and her own transition to life in Tennessee, she stopped and thought for a moment and said, “You know all of that stuff going on around the world in Africa and elsewhere.  That’s not me.  We’re not all like that.”  And she stopped and looked cautiously at me, wondering how I would respond.

I had a million thoughts in that moment, and a zillion things I wanted to say to her.

I wanted to tell her that I’m sorry that acculturating to the US has been difficult.  I wanted to tell her that I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be Muslim in the Bible Belt of America.  I wanted to tell her that I believe her.

But I started with, “I believe you, and I can understand why you would say that.”

I can’t begin to count the number of times that I have cringed at fellow Christians’ choices to picket, rally, and preach in megaphones and wanted to scream, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to number the occasions when Christians have said hurtful things, ostracized others, and pushed their religious but non-Jesus agendas to the detriment of others, and wanted to yell, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

I can’t begin to list the historical woes of wars, murder, and oppressive reign in the name of Jesus that made me shudder and want to cry, “That’s not me, we’re not all like that.”

Followers of Jesus are people, not deities.  We get it wrong.  We misinterpret the Bible.  We get stuck on the wrong priorities.  We are selfish.  We mess up.

And if I want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt and not lump me into a category of those terrible Christians, then I need to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Not all Christians are the same.  Not all Muslims are the same.

The news reports from Kenya and Pakistan have been absolutely heartbreaking this week.  And as I’ve followed the news and prayed to the Prince of Peace for answers and intervention, I’ve been grieved for those who have died, for the families and friends of those who have died, and for those who caused the death and grief.

In the midst of processing such large death tolls and such unimaginable violence, it’s easy to villainize an entire group, based on a few people’s actions.  But that’s not fair.  That’s not right.  Jesus called His people to be meek, to be merciful, to be forgiving, to be kind, to be non-judgmental, and to make peace in the world.

 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth… Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.   Matt 5:5-9.

So as we interact with fellow creations of God today and this week and this month, what are we going to believe about them?  What assumptions will we make?  How will we interact?  Let’s be good neighbors. Let’s choose to believe the best.  Let’s be kind and open and learn from one another.  Let’s befriend people who don’t look, act, and believe just as we do.

Taking a Deep Breath

I refuse to write a “Dear Diary, I’m sorry I haven’t written much, life has been so busy” – esque post regarding the quiet on the blog.

Life has been busy.  I started a new position in August and my learning curve is steep.  And I haven’t been feeling completely myself for the last month or two.  To be perfectly, honest, I’ve been wiped out, and haven’t had time to think about the deep things of life, or world injustices.  I haven’t had much energy to get sassy, even on a Friday.

Yesterday was the first day that I had nothing on the calendar in a long time.  I started several loads of laundry and then took a mug of coffee, my Bible, journal, and a few books out on the back patio ready to process life with God.

I opened my journal and embarked on a rather long prayer to God, analyzing why I assumed I felt so busy, so tired, so drained, so dry.  I told God that I needed to rest, and then made a long list of excuses as to why that seems an impossible task in this season.  And then in the middle of my long whiney prayer, this big gust of wind came and blew through the big trees in our backyard, and made this loud, “shhhhhhh” noise.

I stopped writing, and in that moment, I was sure that God himself was shushing me.

I got quiet and looked up at the trees blowing in the wind and the perfectly blue sky and I listened for the first time in a long time.

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Yesterday, on the first day of fall, on my back deck, I communed with God.

It was so refreshing, so sweet, so good.

And then I opened up my Bible to Hebrews and read this:

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.”

I left my back deck feeling like I had breathed for the first time in nearly two months.

And mid-way through a Monday I still feel like I’m breathing.

And this – this feeling of breathing -must be why God instituted the Sabbath.

“You Are Healing”

I’ve been learning a lot about pain, wounds, and healing this month.

One of my biggest takeaways is that healing is exhausting.

The last few weeks have been a blur of exhaustion.  Work has taken every ounce of energy that healing hasn’t taken.  I’ve been grossed out at my body, tired of seeing medical professionals, and hopeless that my arm will ever function normally.  Nerve damage is painful.  Oozing wounds are disgusting.  Anxiety is debilitating.

I was explaining my medical overwhelm to a doctor this week, and she stopped writing, came over to me, and took my face in her hands.   She looked me in the eyes and said “You are healing.  You really are!”

At that statement, I felt release from:

Some of the worry.
Some of the disgust.
Some of the anger.

And I also felt a surge of hope.

In the midst of pain, open wounds, and sleepless worry-filled nights it’s hard to keep perspective.

Sometimes in the thick of it, we need someone who knows us or who knows what healing looks like to say “You are healing, I promise.”

To me, my wounds still looked oozy and red and hopeless, but to the one who knows healing, they looked ok.

And in the midst of darkness, ok sounds like a glimmer of hope.

Surely you know someone in your life who is wounded – our world is full of heartache and pain.  Reach out to them, take their face in your hands and offer them the hope that they are healing, because they probably don’t feel like they are.

Hope is the best balm for deep wounds.

Allison, Allison, Quite Contrary How Does Your Garden Grow?

3 months ago, we set out on the daunting task of growing our first vegetable garden.  This isn’t a daunting task for everyone, but since I can’t keep the average houseplant alive for more than a month, it’s daunting to me.

prepping the landWe spent several weekends clearing space for our garden beds.  We still have no idea what transpired in our backyard over the last 80 years, but we found oodles of glass, a full cutlery set, car parts, plate shrapnel, countless snakes, and a huge charred carpet under the area we cleared for the garden.

Once cleared, we (and by we I mean Adam) built a compost bin and garden beds.  And while he was building, I was researching what kind of soil we should use, what vegetables were good garden mates, and how to keep vermin away.newly planted garden

And then we planted our little seedlings, and we waited.  And in a very short time, we saw blossoms, and then buds, and then vegetables.  I was giddy.  It was working.  We just plated things and they grew.  I posted on social media about our success and showed everyone who would look pictures of our little veggie babies.

A few friends congratulated me while admitting jealousy because their gardens weren’t blooming, or they hadn’t had the time to plant a garden that year, or they didn’t have the backyard for a garden.

growing veggiesA few weeks passed and all of the vegetables that had started to grow, and all the blooms that had been promising just stopped growing.  It was like the garden froze.  No growth, no progress.  Friends told me to stop watering as much, and I did, and then everything looked very very thirsty and wilted.  And so I listened to other friends who said, “water everyday, don’t listen to those other people.” So I watered everyday, and still nothing.  The garden was simply unchanging.

I looked online, I talked to expert gardeners, and everyone had different advice.  A lot of the advice was contradictory.

few veggiesAnd while our garden was stagnant, others’ gardens started thriving.  I started seeing countless glorious pictures of zucchini and squash harvests in my news feed.  Friends were posting pictures of their beautiful garden meals, of their children eating the fruits of their labor, and of giving away of their excess veggies, all while I was harvesting one baby pepper that hadn’t grown for weeks, one cherry tomato, and 2 green beans.

What used to be my favorite time of the day; my garden time, was quickly becoming the most discouraging time of the day.  I would inspect my non-growing plants asking myself: Why isn’t my garden growing?  I did more research than “Plentiful Harvest Patty” over there, and I spent more time in my garden than “Instagram Ike” who can’t stop taking pictures of all of his success.  I’m doing everything I’m supposed to, and yet my garden is failing, and everyone else’s seems to be perfect.

And last week, as I stood in my garden, disappointment surfacing in the form of tears in my eyes, it hit me, my disappointment was stemming more from comparison than failure.  And as I stood there longer, analyzing our sad little gardens, and getting bitten by blood-hungry mosquitoes, I started thinking about all of the other areas in my life where this is true.

I let comparison rob me of joy more often than I would like to admit.

I can be feeling completely fulfilled in my job, content to be working with a supportive boss in a role that suits me, and then I hear about a friend my age who just did something completely amazing professionally, and all of a sudden I feel very small and insignificant and unaccomplished – and I wish I were doing more with my professional life.

I can be having a mostly content with my size day, until I see a skinny peer wearing the same outfit but better, and all of a sudden I’m hideous – and I wish I were a fairy waif.

I can be completely content in my relationship with Adam, feeling content in our communication, our affection, and our purpose, and then a friend tells me about her spouses’ new resolve to do x, y or z and I feel like our marriage is too routine – and I wish we were more like that couple.

And I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this.  I talk to friends, I see it in blogs and statuses.  It’s so easy to look at others lives and wish ours were different, that our lives were more like_____.

* The friends who take glorious vacations every other month

* The friends who look so happy in their pictures with their significant others

* The friends whose children always match, whose hair is always combed and tied back with big bows, who are incredibly well-behaved (or at least it seems so in pictures)

* The friends who are married

* The friends who are single

* The friends who have kids

* The friends who don’t have kids

* The friends who have that job

* The friends who stay home with their kids

… And the list goes on and on and on doesn’t it?  It’s so easy to compare our situation to others’ an immediately become jealous, frustrated, and even withdrawn. If we’re not mindful, we can start to look to others to gauge our emotions.  If we’re not careful, our jealousy can turn into wishing for others to experience our loss, our struggles, our pain, and our failures.

In the grand scheme, the success or failure of our little veggie patch is rather unimportant.  How is it that something as unimportant as a vegetable garden can have me so discouraged?  How can the failure of my zucchini have me unable to be happy for my friend who has too much zucchini?  How can hearing about a friends tomato success leave me feeling bitter in the produce aisle as I still have to purchase mine at the Kroger rather than plucking them from the vine in our backyard?

CS Lewis was right, “comparison is the thief of joy”.  Comparison steals my own joy, and it steals my ability to be joyful for others.

So how do we stop the comparison game?  

How have you put an end to this joy-thief in your own life?

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Radical Exemptions? Week Sum Up

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Thanks so much for being part of our Radical Exemptions Series.

This week, I shared some thoughts I had about this article.  I couldn’t shut off this idea:

“The truth is, we don’t get temporary leave from following Jesus’ call when we have life changing events like going off to college, or starting a new job, or getting married, or even having children.  Our family status doesn’t interrupt or exempt our calling, although, it might impact the scope and reach of our calling.”

Knowing I can’t speak from experience about following Jesus with children, I asked some of my friends who have children to share how they are following Jesus.

On Tuesday, we heard from Ruth who lives in Asia, who was honest about the fact that even though she is living a life many of us would see as radical from this side of the ocean, that she battles monotony and intentionality in her life.  She shared some practical ways that she fights the battle of the routine.

If you ask God to show you openings in your life, he will.  Just be prepared: it probably won’t be comfortable and orderly and fit nicely into your schedule.”

On Wednesday, we heard from Molly, who lives in smallish town Alabama, who talked about creating a Kingdom-Minded Family.  She gave great Scriptural background to how she and her husband are raising their children and using their homes and regular lives to point others to Jesus.

“The Gospel is the only antidote to my selfish cravings to live to please myself.  And the more I am consumed by the Gospel, the less radical Christ’s commands actually seem.”

On Thursday, we heard from Jon and Jan, who live in an intentional community in San Diego.  They shared about how they are raising their daughters to be global citizens that are kingdom-minded – for the whole kingdom of God, not just the American Kingdom.  They gave some practical ideas of how they are doing that.

“We quickly realized that the very best gift we could give our children is to live the kind of life we would desire them to live as faithful followers of Jesus”

And on Friday, we heard from Shannon, who lives in suburban Northern California.  She talked about being a faithful Christ-follower with a growing family.  She shared about their adoption story, and the fear she confronted with saying “yes” to God.  She also shared about how her goal is to remember her main purpose in the midst of everyday life with four children.

“I am grateful I didn’t let fear stop God’s plan.”

As I read my friends’ stories this week, I was struck with a lot of thoughts:

1.  I have some amazing friends, who inspire and challenge me daily.  And you didn’t even get to hear from most of them.  I’m so thankful for the remarkable people God has placed in my life.  Thank you for being amazing!

2.  Being radical doesn’t always look all that radical.  Not all of us are missionaries, and even those of us that are have very normal aspects to our lives.  Being radical looks like visiting widows down the street, and opening our homes to college students who want a homecooked meal, and giving up “me time” to call a friend who is hurting.  Being radical looks like sacrificing our entertainment budget to help friends adopt a child, or going on a mission trip rather than a vacation, or inviting the homeless woman we pass on the street over for coffee.  Most people will never know about our stories of complete radical following of Jesus, and that’s ok.  Sometimes that’s what makes it radical.

3.  Raising children who know what it really costs to follow Jesus requires intention.  And I see so many friends doing this beautifully!  It happens during nighttime prayers when you pray for children in other parts of the world.  It happens when you play at a playground in a different part of town where the moms and dads and kids have a different skin color than you.  It happens when you get wild and decide to take your two children under the age of four on a mission trip to Africa with you.  It happens when you let your children stay in the room when you and your friends are struggling through scriptures and sharing how you’re grappling with the hard stuff.

4.  All of us, parents or not, need reminders sometimes to give God our everyday ordinary lives and do something different with them.  We need to be reminded to ask, “Am I where you want me to be?”  “Am I serving how you want me to serve?”  “Who have you placed in my life that I can love well?”  Sometimes that’s our kids, or our partner, or our neighbor, or a child in India, or our pastor, or our child’s teacher, or that annoying coworker, or the homeless man down the road…  There’s so much potential in our everyday lives, let’s be open to God.

I’ll leave you with the verse we started with (Romans 12:1)“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.”