Golly Bum, Come Soon 2021!

History has fascinated me since childhood. I love to learn from the stories of real lives in biographies, autobiographies and memoirs.

As an elementary student, I sat on the edge of my seat listening to my principals, Prof Powers and Mr. Buchanan, tell us of their experiences in World War II and the Korean War in our classroom. Prof also told us about fighting in the Battle of Athens in my hometown. I sat wide eyed as they told of the draft and how it affected people. The enemy of the U.S. at the time was the U.S.S.R. (Russia) as we were knee deep in the Cold War. AIDS was the viral enemy that was exploding.

I was always blessed to have teachers that made history come alive. Their love of it was contagious, and it was best passed on through stories. I beat my parents down with questions about their history personally and the history of the world they experienced and lived in that was so much different than mine. They were born in 1934 and 1936, and I wanted to know all they remembered about World War II as a child. I also wanted to know how they met, what they were like, etc. I wanted to know about segregation. I wanted to know what it was like to live life in black and white–cause life only got color in the 60s right? I know I am not the only one who thought this as a kid.

War was a thing of the past. It was not a part of my childhood. In fact, I didn’t even know that politics could be contentious–it wasn’t a subject at our dinner table.

Then, 1991 happened. As a sophomore in high school, I remember leaving the Wednesday night youth group meeting and hearing the news that we were at war bombing Iraq. My whole foundation felt frail thinking that the U.S. was a part of a war. That was supposed to be history never to be lived again. I went home and watched CNN as Wolf Blitzer narrated bombings. Was this real life? Six weeks later we had a feeling of peace again as the conflict was “done.” As 16 year olds do, I got my license and focused on my friends and I didn’t think about it much after that.

Over the next decade, the Middle East and Terrorism grew in popularity on the national news after the “wall” had come down, but it was always a conflict not on our soil. I had this idea that Wars were fought other places and in other times. I was lulled by the privilege of being American.

Then September 11, 2001… I was in my school counseling office when my brand new husband called me to tell me to turn on the tv at 8:45 that morning. The principals and school resource officers and teachers sat with me in complete shock and terror as we saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center…and then the whole thing fell…and then the Pentagon and the flight in Pennsylvania. The world really did stop. Our lives were on hold as we tuned into the 24 hour news cycle and heard story after story of lives lost and lives given and lives forever affected.

I can easily say that the week after the 11th might have been the last time I FELT our country was unified as a community of people. People began to have stark reactions to the war in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. There was no social media to bolster the arguments and polarize, but there was still rhetoric and fear. What was “over there,” now became personal. We saw people’s lives affected deeply. We held our breath to see where and when the next attack would come. We did not have a six week war as in 1991, we were entrenched in places for long long periods with no clean boundaries.

Back when Bill Clinton was running for office, I sat at a lunch table as a senior in high school uncomfortable with political debate, but I did not know how civil it was! Then, we switch parties in the white house and people hated on George W. during his presidency. I thought that was stinging. Then, the hate and distrust on the other side went to Obama. It was a lauding as a savior or hating like they were the anti-christ depending upon which side of the aisle you claimed. Like a tennis match back and forth, but the crowd got rowdier with each cycle of presidency. The polarization grew more and more and the ability to have civil conversations with people grew less and less–thank you Twitter and Facebook and smart phones.

And then, 2016. That election cycle made me want to quit life on social media AND tv.

2016 is when we went full on throw-the-civility-respect-logic-out-the-window civil war mode in our country. It’s like people scream at each other with their ears plugged. Polarization–far right ALT Right and far left ANTIFA and different levels of polarization in between. It is like people have to up the stakes and say you are not progressive or conservative “enough.” Living in the middle is hard,and it feels downright impossible at times. Things have become so politicized that we literally get nowhere except more inflamed in battle with one another.

Then, 2020. Let’s take a minute for a moment of silence and prayer. Hold onto your seats, put on your breathing apparatus (God forbid not a mask:)) and tend to your youngin’s. The election is not the top headline this year, but politics is certainly at the forefront. “Golly bum, come soon 2021” (that’s my campaign slogan that I would use).

Kanye West is running for president and that is the least far fetched thing I can share about our reality for 2020. Remembering back to my childhood when I was blissfully unaware of politics compared to everything I do or say being categorized politically by others in 2020. Walk into a store with a mask on (well, before a week ago), and people on my side of town looked at me like I was an idiot. It’s the first time ever that I have been given the liberal moniker. All I am trying to do is to do the best for my family and their health (especially my husband), and I am trying to love and respect others on their individual journeys knowing that EVERYONE is struggling and not their best selves. No matter WHERE you step, you get blown up or step on someone else’s toes.

Whether we individually chose it or not, the war is here. The biggest war we are facing as a country is on our soil with our neighbors. There are powers that be and news cycles and rhetoric and people doing evil things–this is not new to the human condition.

The truth? We all have evil in our own hearts. We naturally look to our needs first. We want to be the center of the world and for all things to work for our good. We want to be right. Our hearts and our feelings deceive us. If we do not examine the war within, we will destroy ourselves and others around us. Pointing fingers is getting us amazing results, huh?

Whether you are crusading for a socialist nation to help and to protect others or crusading for the free markets to help others and to protect our freedoms, you have issues in your heart that are not solved by politics or government. Until we realize that we deceive ourselves, we will not be able to connect with respect with others. Realizing this brings a humility as we look at others. It brings us to see that others are struggling just as we are, and it allows us to treat others with grace and mercy. We begin to demonize others less. We begin to listen instead of seeking to feed confirmation bias over and over and over.

An election or a government does not solve racism or classism or bring peace and prosperity. Now, can chosen leadership through election make some of those things worse? absolutely.

I am a citizen of the United States of America, and I am afforded freedoms that I do not deserve and that I did not fight for. I am afforded an opportunity to vote for leaders instead of being in a dictatorship. However, my hope is not in earthly leaders.

I think we can all say that these last few months are a picture to us that we have LIMITED understanding and scope on our own. Every leader in the world and in organizations all over the world does not have the answers or the wisdom to make the perfect decision. We happen to be in a very unprecedented modern time. How many “unprecedented times” have we cycled through in the world? Um, a lot. History shows us human frailty. History shows us struggle and evil and wars. Each of us has a battle within us, and NONE of us is without hypocrisy. We see leaders of our country who did important things yet owned slaves, great theologians that clarified gospel truths had racist thoughts and rants, politicians who were swayed by power plays, ministers who led well who struggled with sexual sin… every single one of us has blind spots. If we demonize one, we should also be willing to demonize ourselves.

Whether I lived in China, India, Pakistan, Venezuela, Sweden, Canada or the U.S.A., my outward realities and freedoms might look different, but the reality of my heart and my identity is a daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am a citizen of a Kingdom where hope and peace and love and justice and truth and beauty reign. On my own, I can only see my own needs and perspective. Made new in Jesus, I can rest that I do not have to prove myself. I can learn of my frailties and have hope for change In HIm. I also can look with Him at my blind spots–sometimes those are pointed out by others. Because of Grace, I do not have to have a defensive stance (though sometimes that comes out as I wrestle with the truth). Because of His great love, I can listen to someone who is very different from me and see where I have hurt them or where I am wrong or where I have simply been living unaware of the needs of others.

Speaking to Christians: When we simply live the political party line (whichever side you are on), we are missing a lot of people in the Kingdom. We are missing opportunities for the Gospel to welcome others into a Kingdom with an inheritance that will never perish, spoil or fade. May we come together in humility and with much grace.

It started with being done…

Done. That’s the only word I have in my bones and spirit at the end of this week/months.

I have not written since COVID-19 landed and upended our patterns of living. I feel like going to Disney was eons ago. Going from a world of people and experiences to a shut down of society is quite an abrupt change. We are knocking on the door of 3 months of this new life.

Here are things that I am grateful for in the midst not necessarily in order of importance:

time with my boys at a very crucial and enjoyable age

porches–I have three places to land at my house

media/internet access to do what we need to do from home (a double edged sword, but a luxury all the same)

The gospel and work of Jesus in me that brings no condemnation toward me, that brings hope in the midst of the messes I make, that changes me and has changed me, that gives me purpose and hope beyond myself and my feelings and what I experience in the moment, that is communal and way beyond individual definitions

purpose through Christ that permeates every situation in order to reconcile the world with Him giving LIFE and HOPE

art/creativity/expression to bring beauty and to work out complicated thoughts

a continuing virtual business

a church that is thoughtful and prayerful and looks to the needs of others

my sweet husband and his presence and patience

grass and lakes and places to enjoy outside

friends–who bear with

a school who seeks to educate and pivot and love and listen

family far and wide

laughter amidst tears

food (including meat), toilet paper, access to masks, access to resources

different perspectives and those who share and bear with Grace

growing peppers and tomatoes and cucumbers on my back porch

a country that allows for expressing opinions in many different ways however stark to our opinion and bent

A lack of rushing (individually AND collectively)

bunnies, squirrels, birds of all different kinds, chipmunks, and, gulp, snakes that play in our yard

God’s word and His Spirit to guide–my emotions and thoughts have been everywhere and He continues to center me back to the truth of who He is

Music, memory

Podcasts funny and informative and escaping

Tiger King’s first few episodes (that seems like so long ago) and “Friends” and things that take me away from the heavy aka–all the streaming platforms

Imagination and ingenuity of my children and of adults as they tackle solving problems in unprecedented ways

Writing.

I started this blog to talk about how DONE I was with everything.

Then, this list began, and it can continue. This is why I NEED to write, journal, pray. My perspective changes, and I am given strength for a new day. My perspective changes when I look to HIM…and when I stop trying to solve and argue and make it happen. When I stop the scroll and take my thoughts captive unto obedience to Christ.

When He calls us to remain in Him, to draw near to Him, to trust in Him–it’s purposeful. When He calls us to give thanks in all circumstances–yep, it’s purposeful and it helps us hold fast and persevere.

I am reminded that I do not trust in myself, in a political system, in a country, in my resources: I trust in the name and the power and the character of the LORD, my hope. He takes hearts of stone and replaces them with hearts of flesh that may share in his character. All that brings is humility, thanks and rest.

Remember

Oftentimes, life is lived in the trenches. The Trenches do not give vista views. The Trenches are sweaty, musty, dirty, close-quartered and tend to lend to a near-sighted mindset. In The Trenches, we forget the big picture.

I have been feeling the Trench life in my bones. When a chronic illness inhabits your home and when chronic hards and challenges are not going away, it is easy to just look at the muddy walls in front of you. Your vision and your soul gets skewed. We fall into lifeless patterns so easily. We forget to do soul work. We aimlessly look for the next distraction to pretend the trench is prettier than it is or we fall into despair.

All the while, there is a greater Hope singing over us if we would train our hearts to listen. One of the biggest ways to teach our hearts is remembering and recalling the Story of God in our lives and in the overarching narrative of History.

Memory is such an amazing thing. Music evokes it. Smells evoke it. A picture or a story transports us back emotionally. What a gift we have been given to remember. Even an Alzheimer’s or dementia patient can recall memories from long ago that have been imprinted deep within.

This past Fall and Spring, I have been painting homes that house memories and significance for families. I see it as a privilege that goes beyond what can be captured on a page. It is a vehicle to memories of experiences, of feelings, of security and of love. Homes are markers of our stories. It is the place that formation occurred within our character. It is very personal.

Memories are communal, as well. Those memories are so strong and impactful and they thread and bind us together. This past week I have been asking those from my hometown to recall places and markers within our history in order to put together a collage painting. Such warm and comforting feelings and lots of laughter have occurred. I am reminded at how much of a gift that memory is to our souls. In our Trench lives, we desperately need it.

Our forefathers did not have Facebook memories to remind them, but they told and retold stories on front porches and at Sunday dinners. In an age of isolated connection, we need to lean in to learn from the past.

The Bible recalls the histories and stories to remind us. We see the reality of the children of Israel living breathtaking miracles and forgetting in the next days as they felt the Trench Life. They were commanded “do not forget! remember!” We are commanded in the same way because human nature involves looking at what is immediately felt in front of us.

REMEMBER: to bring to mind or think of again (Webster’s dictionary) Remembering: The process of recalling the past, especially the presence and activity of God in the history of his people. Past memories can lead to praise and rejoicing and to hope for the future. God himself remembers (Dictionary of Bible Themes)

This act of remembering can be recalling the moments in the day in which you have gratitude. A thankful remembering of a kind word or the feel of a breeze or a moment that you saw something good can change your perspective for the day. This is something you have to choose to do. In our world, it does NOT come naturally.

As we live in the Trenches often, our souls need to be reminded of the Big Picture. Recalling God stories and growth is a tool in which we are reminded of purpose, of hope, of resilience. They remind us that there has been movement. They remind us who to trust and how to fight.

Lamentations 3:21(22-24) is our teacher in this. The author is lamenting of seriously hard times, and comes to this “But this I CALL TO MIND, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'”

Remembering and Recalling are forms of worship that bring our hearts to a different place than the Trench. This morning in my prayer journal, I simply began recalling…”Remember when You…” to the Lord. Memories poured out of Trench situations that felt suffocating in the moment and were hopeless with just my strength and reasoning. These are places I cried to the LORD in, and in HIS timing and purpose, He moved and answered and changed me and brought redemption in situations.

Oftentimes, we want Him to fill the Trench–that’s our demand. “Hey God, if you really care for and love me, fill this Trench up and make it disappear! Pronto, k?” “Stop this warfare. Make it easy!!!”

Fox-hole: a hole in the ground used by troops as a shelter against enemy fire or as a firing point

Filled trenches have not formed me into who I am. Foxholes that I have worn in with the Father have brought fortitude, grit, courage, and hope that I may join others in their holes and point them to Hope. In the Foxholes with Him, I have seen His beauty and His character and His power. I have come to value Him above all and to see His ways are better. That has happened over time, and remembering those times helps me see Him and His hand in the Trench right now.

This morning, I have recalled ways that God has rescued lives around me, how He has protected and cared for us, how He brought life to my womb, how He has shepherded His people, how He has illumined dark situations. None of these were immediate answers, and many of them did not turn out as I demanded in my wisdom. All of them were for my good to know Him so much more intimately and to value Him more deeply. All of them have been used to help others in pain—ALL OF THEM. Remembering helps us see a bigger picture of redemption and beauty.

So, I share this with a better perspective than I started the day with, but I am still in the Trenches just like you are. We need one another. We need reminders. We need to call reality like it is and not try to portray a life of pixie dust and perfection. That is not helpful to you or to others around you. That does not portray hope because it’s a lie.

If you feel lost today and do not know where to start, turn to Psalm 105-107 and recall the work of God in the wandering people of Israel. Think about markers in your life and write them down. Get out of the trench of today so that you may remember God’s hand in the past to have hope for his hand in the future.

A little Disney Magic

I drank the kool-aid. Our family had a special time together at Disney last week.

I love being all in in an adventure. Being “with” my family, laughing, eating, and exploring was life-giving to me.

The first day I decided that I would paint a collage of all of our experiences there–each restaurant, ride, snack, etc. Then, I thought, this could be a one of a kind marker for our family’s trip. Sometimes I get ideas rolling around in my mind that cannot wait to fall out on the page. I started thinking about the city paintings I have begun to do and how that could translate to Disney memorabilia for families that invest so much time and energy into making a special trip.

So, If you are looking for a special way to document your family’s trip, I am open to helping you!

These commissions are personalized to YOUR family’s favorites in watercolor on 140 lb fine art paper. The size is 11×14, and the price is $200.

the.art.of.coming.alive@gmail.com Email me for ideas and lead times!

show up

Sometimes I forget the big picture. It takes me a few seasons to remember and to learn my patterns and the patterns of others.

This has been the pattern around here lately: rain, warm, rain, cold, flood, sickness, rain, a little snow, warm, cold, rain, sick and repeat. That’s what’s up on this end. Er’body is struggling to bring their best selves, and we are all like porcupines in a box “loving” on each other.

When I remember the big picture that a lot of people are affected by the weather whether that means Seasonal Affective Disorder, Autoimmune disease, inflammation, or over all crotchitiness (the word counts, alright), then I can live with a bit more grace toward others and understanding toward my attitudes. We have not seen the big fire in the sky for awhile, and our vitamin D is suffering which affects how we process life. Our defenses are down and we are more sensitive. We can easily want to quit all the things right now and hole up and/or lash out like a bear, but that is not wise.

Big Picture living reminds me that this feeling of drowning in darkness WILL pass. Spring WILL come bringing new life, but what do we do with the life we have right now?

The phrase keeps getting whispered to my spirit is “show up.” Keep in mind, this is not a “show up” and wow people will my rendition of the Super Bowl halftime show in the game of life. No, this is a press into the next thing for the day in order to be present. Oftentimes it is a conscious effort and discussion I have within myself. “jen, everything in you is telling you to run and to hide, but let’s do the next thing. The next thing is pressing into the world of laundry you have in front of you, the appointment you committed to or the phone call you have been avoiding, etc.” I can easily get overwhelmed with all that I am not doing and flailing in, and the invitation to “show up” is simply taking dominion over the next thing.

When looking around my house, I can easily have an ongoing conversation that tells me that I am failing and leads me to despair. A “show up” moment means making a dent in ONE area to press in. We often look with all or nothing eyes, and we then give up. The small things in which we show up remind us that we can keep going and contributing.

Like all good lessons in life, this points to the bigger picture of Now and Eternity. As a believer, I have been rescued from my sin and am forgiven and free in Jesus, but I still feel the affects of sin in my life and in those around me. I know that one day I will be completely free. This is what we call the “already and not yet.” I dare say we can live with amnesia of what is to come because what we see in front of us can look very bleak–sickness, depression, conflict, hatred. We can be tempted to encamp ourselves with like minded and safe people to weather the storm just like the bear hibernating.

However, The Lord makes it quite clear in His letter to us that we are to “show up” even when it looks bleak. We are to “show up” in relationships, in rescuing others, in caring for others, in spurring one another on in love and good deeds. We are to live lives that point to the “already” while feeling the sharp jabs of the “not yet.”

In reality, we have to choose to remember this truth that we are rescued to rescue others. Showing up in this is found in small decisions each day including “showing up” in fellowship with the Lord and asking Him for help and seeking His truth. This involves taking a look into our lives to see what corner of our heart needs to be pushed into as we deal with others. It is remembering the truth of the Gospel toward ourselves–that there is no condemnation for those who are In Christ Jesus. Our time and energy is not to be spent proving anything to Him. He then asks us to love others as He has loved us in grace, and He helps us to do that unnatural thing.

“Showing up” is not about a stage, platform, job or a title. It is being present in the here and now to be responsive to the next thing. That next thing might be wiping a bottom of your child or your parent. That next thing might be conquering the bills to see the reality of your heart with money. That next thing could be calling the person that has hurt you the most to begin to connect again. That next thing could be taking a meal to a forgotten senior adult in your life. That next thing could be taking your blinders off and beginning a hard conversation in your marriage. All I encourage us to do is to press in to ask the question “where do I show up today?”

The more we practice “showing up,” the more alive and brave and gritty we get. In a world that feels like the walking dead, we need more alive, brave and gritty people to walk alongside…

The most destructive F word

The F word that breeds the most destruction…FEAR.  Fear keeps us from pressing into things and relationships that need courage and intentionality, and fear can steer us to actions that seem courageous and purposed but breed destruction.  Fear isolates us.  Fear brings polarization.  Fear clouds truth.  Fear elicits emotional response without thoughtfulness.  Fear shuts us down, and Fear speeds us up.  Fear brings confusion.  Fear is often a driving force that we do not observe in ourselves. 

Fear:  ‘an unpleasant, often strong emotion, caused by anticipation and awareness of danger’

(Jen’s thoughts—the anticipation and awareness of danger come from our perception and are not necessarily true and founded but it affects us all the same)

When left unchecked and in a life without margin to reflect, fear is a barreling freight train that destroys us and our relationships.  Depending upon our makeup, it may breed passivity or aggression or passive aggression to destroy relationships.  All of us lean toward one of these in our natural responses to life and to obstacles.  My bent?  Aggressively filling my life with projects I can control to produce “pleasant feelings” while passively avoiding facing those that are painful and that are not quick fixes. Ugh.

It’s ironic how often I forget simple truths.  There are several repeated phrases throughout the Psalms that I would do good to remember—“Remember…Do Not forget…Do not fear…”  These all have the heart to stop and remember God’s character, His purposes, the way His hand has moved in our lives, His commands, and His heart.  Simply stopping and remembering allows my breathing to slow.  It allows for an eternal perspective instead of a circumstantial drowning in fear.  It reminds me that I am NOT in charge, nor do I want to be.  It reminds me that the emergency news stories of today whether it be in my family or across the world, are a blip on the screen of history.  It calls me to remember that I am more mature than I was at 9 or 18 or 32 and that the work in me is not finished.  It reminds me that life is lived moment by moment and day by day with choices to fear or to trust Him.  It reminds me that He is a Good Good Father who does not fret or worry or wring His hands.  It changes my perspective on the situation. 

When fear is our compass, our perception and emotions are steering the ship.  When fear steers the ship,  our vision is impaired.  The truth?  Fear is steering our ship naturally.  Add in the pace of our lives and the amount of information coming at us without margin to be reminded of Truth, and we get in a pattern of guardedness or aggression that we are terrified to actually face.  So, we journey on in fear actually growing nowhere. 

What is a compass?  A compass is a magnetized navigational instrument that reads what true North is.  An instrument in which you get your bearings

Is there a True North in life?  The answer is yes—the Creator, The Everlasting One, the One who calls you to remember that He is Truth.  He calls us to Reverence Him and not to fear Man (Proverbs 29:25) He proclaims that the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom—and knowledge of the Holy One, insight. 

 “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (perception/fear as compass), in all your ways acknowledge Him and he will direct your paths. (aka He will be your compass).” Proverbs 3:5-6

When we have put our trust in Him, He reminds us that ‘He has not given us a Spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’  2 Timothy 1:7 

We so easily forget when we have not stopped to remember His words and His faithfulness and His heart.  I have done that in parenting this week.  I have looked at behaviors and patterns and obstacles in complete fear and overwhelm which has naturally caused panic on the inside and passivity on the outside.  There are so many complicated emotions.  I cannot stay there with the compass of fear measuring. 

I am reminded that life is a growth process that happens day in and day out.  I am reminded that parenting is not about shielding my children from the world so that they do not experience hardship or pain but it is about showing them who to go to and who to trust when they come against trials.  I am reminded that raising men is what God has called me to do.  My children will (most likely) be men longer than they will ever be boys, and shepherding them now is teaching them to be responsible, to work hard, to humbly deal with their weaknesses and strengths and to Trust God with everything.  I am reminded to invest emotionally in their tender hearts by spending time with them in the good and the bad.  I am reminded that my weaknesses will be met with the Strength and Faithfulness of the Lord when I show up in the details when all I want to do is bury my head in the sand to avoid the pain of the moment. 

With the Lord as the Compass, it allows for me to put things in perspective and live with a greater Hope and with a direction.  I invite myself and You to take account today of where we are allowing fear to be our compass.  It is a very poor substitute for True North. 

When you feel like Christmas is not for you this year…

This time of year has a magical hue, but it can be brutal to one’s inner life. Expectations, build up, performance and the wave of reality crashes… Dreams, hopes, memories, pressure and the boat tips as someone else has a different plan. One can have such hopes and seemingly feel invisible in all the noise.

This morning I am pondering light coming into the darkness. I have experienced deep grief at Christmastime, and in doing so, I have felt “off” during the season–“other.” While everyone scurries and hurries, parties, shops, and bakes, the one struggling can feel isolated and like this season just needs to be over and done with.

Fourteen years ago, we buried my sweet Daddy after a battle with Parkinson’s laced with dementia just 3 weeks before Christmas Day. We were in shock, exhausted and a bit lost. Ten years ago was the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced as we were at the end of our fertility journey and had nothing to show for it. Children dressed for the holiday highlighted my broken heart. The “magic” of Christmas was lost on us. Last year, we rolled into Christmas depleted in every way and chose to put one foot in front of the other.

I propose that Christmas’ purpose is not for the magic and the happy and the glitz and the perfect family pictures on a card or the most creative tradition that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside. We have allowed Hallmark (which I watch a good movie with the best of them) and culture and commercialism to roll out an incredibly noisy and false expectation.

Christmas, in it’s essence, is a long-awaited, oft forgotten in the midst of reality, promise of True Hope entering the world. It is El Roi, the “God who sees,” condescending to be Emmanuel, “God with us.” It is not for those who are experiencing “magic” and “happiness.” It is for those who have lost all hope. It is for those whose loneliness is all encompassing. It is for those who feel invisible. It is for those whose loss is reverberating in a cavern of heartache. It is for those who have the devastating diagnosis. It is for those who have given it all they have and are still coming up empty. That is what this Advent season points to.

It screams of a Covenant made by “I Am” that has all but been trampled on by the people but never wavered on by God. It breaks through in a forgotten small town with a teenage girl and scared man bring a baby into the world with no fanfare. It’s not a Rockefeller Center magical tree moment. It is real, dirty, painful–just like the places that are raw in your heart, the darkness you are seeing played out in your family or your job, or your secret struggle. The Angel proclaimed to the shepherds on a hill in the quiet of night. They were not “important,” but God showed us that’s exactly why He came. He came to rescue us as we are–lowly in heart, messed up, uncertain, unpolished, in great need but not even knowing it.

So, one can say “I am not in the Christmas spirit this year–it should just pass me by.” And I say–that is exactly who Christmas is for–a baby come to live the righteous life we could not live, to understand what living in our bodies and relationships is, to feel the weariness of this world, to be forsaken, to die the death under the punishment of our sin so that He might be God dwelling with Us, and to conquer death to provide a way in faith for us to know Him fully. That is good news that shatters through darkness. That is the Light of the World on display.

I encourage us that we have to slow down enough to hear the longings of our heart, to feel our ache for something more, to turn down the noise so that we can see the flicker of the True Light over the glitz of the season’s trappings. Then, we can truly celebrate the miracle, the goodness, the awe-inspiring reality of God with Us.

Relationships are “Shady”

Life is complicated, huh?  Our rhythms may look mundane and repetitive, but the journey of our hearts and minds in the middle tell a much more convoluted story. 

This week, I have found myself watching Hallmark movies and throw back Disney Movies that give a less complicated version of life that remind me of my outlook in childhood.  The couple gets into their twin beds and cackles at the antics of their neighbors.  The small town glitters in the snow and Christmas lights where the whole community comes together to share good will and to learn a lesson.  The “bad guys” are bumbling.  The “good guys” have a hidden heart of gold. 

I know these are not real, but they are surely comforting in a world that blurs all the lines.  Sometimes you just want things to be cut and dry with bright bold colors coloring inside the lines of a coloring book instead of a grayish tint on every side. As I have been painting more lately, I am very aware of all the hues of one color—gray brown, gray green, mid gray, light gray, dark gray.  I have to pay attention to the setting and the environment that the shadows are in to blend the right shading.  I might use 4 different tones of green in one corner to capture different shadows and light.  This is so true of working with people, as well.  Instead of color, I have to be aware of tone, personality, how people receive things…one shade/tone off, and I make a mess.  Perception is not truth, but it is how people enter into relationships.  It’s an intuitive dance that can be exhausting and risky, and one bad experience tempts us to forget the shade and move to our safe Technicolor coloring inside the lines.

The truth is, I cannot avoid making a mess in relationships.  It inevitably occurs because of my fallibility. When I try to color in the lines perfectly, I often miss real relationships.  Real relationships are risky, and my grays will bleed out. Social media is one of those places that shows in bold colors.  Black or white, one dimensional, red, yellow, flashy, striking pronouncements, not a lot of grace.  Conversations and relationships off line require lots of shading and nuance and intuitive dancing, but those are the ones that are real and true and that shape us. 

In the last few months, I have awakened to the fact that there have been a lot of places where I have colored in the lines in relationships over the last 10 years.  Having children, being a ministry family, running a business, dealing with chronic illness and sensory processing in our family, and experiencing trauma has created natural boundary lines.  But, our hearts were made to blend with others—often times messily.  Most of us don’t wake up one day and say “I don’t want to deal with real relationships with people!”  It is the day in and day out “survival mode” in seasons that often create the lines of isolation.  We fall asleep to the bigger picture of life while we are dealing with the mundane.  You have to fight for real relationships within your home, marriage, extended families, friends.  You have to be willing to get “shady” and blend.  You have to be willing to make mistakes. 

As we enter into the Holiday season, we have a choice to make.  How will we enter?  Will we give grace to the nuances of color and tone in others?  Will we remember the grace extended to our grays by Jesus?  Will we throw away the lines of bold colored performance and bring humility to the table?  In a season that celebrates God with us condescending to be in human form to enter into our shades and tones and messes, I encourage us to breathe, to be aware, to listen, to seek Him and how He would have your story intersect with others.

Self-sufficiency or Humility?

We all have unique perspectives on life because of our individual experiences. My unique perspective in childhood included being the daughter of a Minister of Music in a small town baptist church. It was a normal occurrence in our house to hear Christmas Cantatas in the Summer in the tape deck of the Ford Crown Victoria.

It was part of my life for everyone to be looking in at every behavior. The kind of car you would drive was up for discussion. The way we spent money, the way I acted and dressed, etc. I did not have another life to compare it to, but now I realize the performance mentality was built in. That was a small microcosm set in the context of a small community.

As I read the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector this morning, I realized that I often approached life with my self-righteousness at that time to prove performance standards. I knew what to say in every situation and how to come out smelling like a rose, but my heart was oftentimes not humble. As I read the portion of scripture where the tax collector beats his breast and says “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” I gave a knowing nod.

My adult life has constantly been in the process of that humbling. God so graciously has turned me inside out to show me that my self-sufficiency is empty and powerless. The journey began when I was not a somebody that everyone watched. I went to the University of Tennessee knowing a couple of people from my graduating class, but we never saw one another. I was not Mr. Cox’s daughter…I was just a girl who wasn’t as confident in this new world.

I took a deep nose dive in self-sufficiency my Junior year at UT. I failed at performance. I was leading this freshmen group ministry, trying to manage my “rep,” and I let myself and a lot of others down. My humanity was out on display, and I could not spin it. I made a mess. I had not grasped the humility of clinging to God’s sufficiency and grace over my performance. In fact, with what I have experienced now, it would be a humbling privilege to go back and apologize face to face. Wearing a mask is exhausting.

Somewhere along the way, I have learned that I do not have to perform. In fact, I get in deep trouble when I go into those old modes that worked for me in childhood. I cut people off and do not see them. I cut myself off from real connection. Most importantly, I miss out on deep fellowship with the Lord.

I always say jokes on me that I am a Pastor’s wife because that is what I said I would NEVER do. However, because of the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness to me, He is constantly putting me in a different posture of heart. There are many more people now looking in on my life and our family’s life since we are at a much larger scale church. I forget at times that people look at us as different because we are on the exact same journey as everyone else–raising kids while trying to keep our sanity, dealing with passivity and exhaustion and comparison, but some people define us as “other.” Especially neighbors or random people we meet. They distance themselves for fear that we will judge them. Little do they know they could pull a chair right up to judge us!

Greg is also unique with his teaching gift–I call him like a D list celebrity in the days of podcasted sermons and social media. One of the things that I so respect about him is that he is not self-promoting or flashy. That is a service to our family. But, we really really try to just be us…and the Lord has humbled me in all the ways showing me that freedom is in authenticity.

I have a little theory, people are not meant to be famous. They cannot handle the awe that is to be reserved for God. In a culture of celebrity, we look around and see how people are literally eaten alive and crushed by the weight of money and fame. We joke and say “I’d bear that burden for the day.” But, if we really knew, we would run from it. Think about Justin Beiber crushed by the weight of “glory” in his formative years, and he is attempting to walk out from those ashes. Elvis, Michael Jackson–they had completely screwed up lives. Think of the Kanye stuff now…scrutiny at every turn. On a smaller scale, we often elevate celebrity pastors and singers and now, influencers. In a world of “branding,” we follow personas of what people say that they are. It’s a dicey place to live. Every moment of our lives now can be a sound bite.

No wonder these pastors and christian celebrities are falling through the pressures and the isolation. They have to own where they have put themselves buying into the hype. They have to own the damage done to others by their choices. But, what if, instead of performance and likes and the speech of the Pharisee they took the posture of the tax collector from the beginning? God does not need any of us to accomplish His purposes, and when we start thinking that He does and that we are “other,” we live in a pompous place and actually mar His beauty reflected in the world.

See, we all have the choice to trust in our self-sufficiency and performance or to humbly know and depend on the Lord. Whatever the path in our career or our families, the state of our hearts is cultivated everyday. So, it’s easy to point fingers and call people hypocrites and roll our eyes at “those people.” However, we each are making decisions everyday in our spear of influence that is affecting others.

So, today…in your unique corner of the world, what is the posture of your heart? Are you proclaiming yourself or His mercy?

Kindling

I remember the moment last December. I looked up at each person passing in front of me. Some were faces that I had known up close and from afar.

Seated near the front of the congregation, I got the distinct privilege of witnessing the holy moment. Person and after person with real stories and struggles took the bread and the cup and were reminded of the exchange of their hearts. Heaviness traded for joy–what a defining moment.

That moment sealed my love for our congregation all over again. Being in a large church, It is impossible to know everyone or even the majority. However, I am reminded that we are all part of the family that was once far off and that have been reconciled. We are a mess together.

Every Sunday that we have Communion, which is the first Sunday of the month at our church, the kindling of love is stoked again. First, in my heart toward the Lord and then in my heart toward His people. It is a corporate moment that is also very intimate. The privilege of praying for them–for those hidden struggles in the heart, the places of unbelief–undoes the walls of protection that I have built. It simplifies the heart of the matter.

It is a more common practice today to not be a part of a local congregation. Sometimes it’s because of hurt and mistrust that occurred through a wounding experience(s), and sometimes it is convenience with a “spiritual sounding” wording. What I can tell you is that when gathering together and being reminded of our hearts, the Truth, His kindness that leads us to repentance, and His beauty that one cannot walk away the same. Church is not meant to be a place to perform–oh no. It is meant to be a place to be reminded of who we are in the light of who He is. It is meant to be a place to spur one another on toward a life lived with Him as the center. It’s messy and beautiful and frustrating and liberating, and it is His purpose as we walk with Him on this Earth. We learn to love in a way that is not easy or convenient, but it is a beautiful reflection of His heart and His power.

Yesterday was another day that I participated in awe of God and in prayer for the lives that walked in front of me, and I thank Him for the privilege.