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Hope for those discouraging days…

From last year, but the truth is the same: Just in case you’ve had one recently…

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Some days end with tears. You too, right?  I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can feel the pressure mounting. A hard day, some unpleasant conflict, challenges with the kids, sad news, incessant rain, sometimes it can all just mount up, slowly through the day, and the next thing you know you’re reading aloud Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the kids are asking, “What’s wrong with your voice?”

Well, kids, it’s cracking because I’m about to cry but now’s not the time, I have fifteen more minutes until you are tucked warmly into bed, and then I can crawl into bed by myself and cry my eyes out and let all those waves of discouragement just crash over me.

Maybe you don’t do that. I don’t very often, but I had one of those days recently, and woke up the next morning and the first words that ran through my mind: I don’t want to do this day.

But that wasn’t really an option, so I pushed off those warm covers and dragged myself into the cold morning. I found coffee waiting for me (that good man!) and this small gesture of love lured me out of my pit, just a tiny bit. I curled up, under layers of quilts, and pulled my Bible onto my lap.

Hot coffee and His Truth. Even the worst funk is no match for that combo.

In the way that only He can, by His Spirit, through His Word, these ancient truths, always fresh, envelope my heart and bring me back to light, back to hope. Two friends, who I texted to ask to pray for me, responded right away with Scripture. (Note: Pick friends who bring you back to the Word when you are down!)

Despondency is no match for Truth. The darkness is no match for Light.

His Word is sharper than any two-edged sword. It discerns our thoughts, motives, intentions. Nothing is more powerful for diagnosing the heart-issue, what’s really going on. All other wisdom falls hopelessly short — only His truth is strong enough to cut through to the core.

And the voice of Jesus, gently, softly, authoritatively, sets aright all that had been off and heals what is broken. He carefully leads us out of lies and self-centeredness, back into truth and joy.

I slowly read and re-read the Beatitudes, Jesus’ precious words for the weary, with promises and perspective to put everything aright in our souls. As I read, wrote it out, prayed, I could clearly see my wrong-thinking. I could see the skewed perspective.

Though I hate crying, the discouragement was so helpful, because it brought to the surface something out of whack.

When we respond to discouragement by masking it, faking it, or covering it up through coping mechanisms — shopping, eating, vegging out, escaping– then the issue isn’t solved, it’s just buried deeper. It’ll surface again, guaranteed.

But when we respond to discouragement by going to the Truth, the Source, the Life, He will speak that word that brings all hidden things to light, that reveals and comforts and changes us from the inside out.

In that way, discouragement actually works to our advantageit brings that broken place to the Light. Therefore, when we come through it, with renewed hope and faith, we aren’t just at the place we were before …

we’re further ahead. 

We’ve seen new truth. In some critical area, we’ve been healed. We aren’t who we were before, we’re better. We’ve proved God’s faithfulness, experienced His love, and come through the fire just a little lower, but better, than before. We’re worshippers in a whole new way.

Friend, if you are tempted to turn away from Him in your time of discouragement, to turn to a “filler” or some sort of escape, can I just plead with you to turn instead to the pages of His truth? His Word never returns void, it always accomplishes His work, it always reveals sin, brings light, brings life. If we turn to him, this discouragement can actually leave us better than before. Such hope!

{Happy Monday. Thank you for reading.}

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Everything can change in an instant

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

(Prov. 13:12)

Everything can change in an instant. 

Five minutes before Jesus said, “Come forth!” Lazarus was dead.

Five minutes before Jesus broke the bread, thousands were famished.

Five minutes before Jesus said, “Ephphatha!” the man was completely deaf.

Five minutes before touching His garment, the bleeding woman was 12-years hopeless.

Five minutes before Jesus said, “Talitha cumi,” the little girl lay lifeless.

It’s darkest before the dawn, and it’s bleakest five minutes before the miracle.

As I journey through Genesis again this year, I was struck all over again by Joseph, faithful in prison, completely in the dark the day before he interpreted Pharoah’s dream and was instantly promoted. Overnight, he was put in a position of power, in order to save many lives, was given a wife, and saw the incredible fulfillment of God’s plan for His life.

But just the night before, as he was sleeping alone in jail, he must have felt confused, alone, lost, forgotten.

I remember last year, I had shared with our Bible study women about an area of discouragement. A long journey. Years. Some confusion.

And five minutes after I closed my eyes in sleep that night, a message buzzed on my phone.

The answer.

Literally, it had come to pass, I just didn’t know it. As I listened, and learned, I realized God had done what I’d prayed for, waited for, longed for.

In an instant everything changed. 

How easy it was, then, to rejoice in this new perspective on challenges! I was ready to shout to the world, “God does answer prayer, people! Trust Him! It might take time but He is faithful!” In the rearview mirror, that long rugged path of struggle and confusion is just a distant ribbon of road, past and forgotten. I was brim-full, overflowing with hope, ready to encourage any weary travelers along the road of prayerful perseverance.

But two days later, another hope plummeted.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick. How quickly my hope wavers, heartsick. Yes, God accomplished one amazing feat, but this one? Maybe this is the one that’s too audacious. I’m so foolish for praying for something so seemingly impossible. Why risk disappointment? Why subject myself to these tears, this heartache?

Why not just “accept” the circumstances and move on?

Because Jesus didn’t tell us to do that.

Because just that morning in my Bible study with the kids our passage was Matthew 7:7-11. Heidi had moved her tiny finger along the lines, slowly reading aloud in her sweet little-girl voice,

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

The kids giggled at the thought of me handing them a  stone for lunch, or dishing up a bowl with a slithering snake in it. Of course not! They understood this lesson loud and clear.

Jesus knew we’d need encouragement. He knew we’d lose heart and lose hope. He knew we’d be tempted to believe that our Father doesn’t want to give us good gifts. He knew we’d be stray from truth and begin crafting theologies to justify our experience instead of pressing in to see our experience fall in line with God’s Word.

He knew hope deferred would make our hearts sick, but He urges us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking, because that answer is a tree of life. It will buttress our beliefs and give us new strength to fight. There’s nothing like experiencing the power of answered prayer.

No wonder there’s so much opposition, urging us to quit.

But let us remind ourselves: Everything can change in an instant.

{Keep on asking, seeking, knocking. Don’t give up! Happy Monday; thank you for reading.}

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RESOLVE: Love our enemies (What it does & doesn’t mean.)

I want you to know, I am resisting the temptation to turn this blog into a steady stream of CS Lewis quotes. Really though, I am falling in love with Mere Christianity all over again. He is a master of brevity, logic, wit, and wisdom. His humility and humor, coupled with candor and keen insight, give him this winsome way of speaking hard-to-hear words without apology, and his complete lack of appealing to sentiment or emotionalism is so refreshing.

In other words, he isn’t trying to make me cry or conjure up some feeling or experience, he’s simply presenting the plain truth of Christianity, and allowing me the space to make an intelligent decision on whether or not I will follow this Jesus Christ with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength.

I do. I do want to. And this means also agreeing to perhaps the most difficult of Christ’s commands:

The call to love our enemies. 

When something’s repeated, we do well to pay attention. Thursday morning I had read aloud to the kids from Jesus’ sermon on the mount:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. … For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Then, that afternoon, when I stepped on the treadmill and opened Mere Christianity, CS Lewis spoke on the same subject. I paid attention. Several things I observed, about what this does and doesn’t mean.

  • Loving means, first of all, forgiveness

There is no use talking about loving our enemies until we have forgiven them. Love is impossible while grudges are held. Only as forgiveness flows freely can we hope to let love flow as well. I don’t think we have a real grasp on how profoundly difficult real forgiveness is. I have a hunch that most of us hold onto more little grudges than we care to admit. At least I think I do. Last summer, when I went through an extensive exercise on forgiveness, I was surprised how many things the Holy Spirit brought to mind. It was kind of embarrassing, but freeing too.

  • Loving doesn’t mean a feeling of fondness. 

We have got ourselves on the horn of a ridiculous dilemma because we’ve redefined love as something overly emotional. If we “fall” in love our out of love, how have we any hope of loving someone detestable? Lewis writes,

” Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive.” … That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagining that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. … Hate the sin and not the sinner.”

  • Loving our enemy means hating his or her wrongdoing in the same way we hate ours.

This is what really brought clarity and conviction for me. Do we feel a little tiny bit of gladness when someone we despise does something despicable? Trump-haters: Do you gloat just a little bit when he says something stupid or unwise? Obama-haters: Did you love it, just a little, when he does something else worth criticizing? Do you forward jokes or memes that ridicule, belittle, or rejoice in someone’s faults?

Do I find myself just a little bit happy when that person I don’t care for does something that validates my feelings of ill-will? 

Lewis writes,

“Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. But it does want us to hate them in the same way that we hate things in ourselves; being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.”

  • Loving our enemies doesn’t mean they are never punished. 

Here is where Lewis helped me with something I’ve been chewing on for months. Does loving our enemies mean we never report a crime? Does it mean we never fight in a war? Where do individual responses differ from governmental ones? Does turning the other cheek mean that if someone bombs our west coast we invite them to bomb our east coast too? Of course that last one’s ludicrous, but how do we navigate. He goes into a passage on pacifism and makes some clear and helpful distinctions, then says,

“Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment. … Remember, we Christians think that man lives forever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature. … We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.”

The bottom line is, if we are to love our neighbor (including our enemy) as ourself, then we will despise the evil done while still hoping for redemption. Love never gives up hope. Love never secretly rejoices in wrong-doing. Love yearns for wrongs to be righted and evil to be thwarted. Love rejoices in the truth.

Well, this has gotten far too long and we’ve not even scratched the surface. But hopefully at least the mention of the topic will get our gears turning and let God go to work on those hidden places of our hearts. Let’s RESOLVE to love our neighbors, and enemies, a little more this year. Thanks for reading. 

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RESOLVE: Fix what’s broken inside

It was Sunday morning and we were having a little family worship gathering since our regular church service had been cancelled due to ice. I was already thoroughly agitated, feeling like it was wholly unnecessary to have cancelled corporate worship. The temps were rising, snow was melting, and I couldn’t help thinking of faithful believers all over the world who travel through far more treacherous and dangerous conditions in order to gather together. Why were we such wimps?

Please understand: I wasn’t pointing fingers. What bothered me was me. What bothered me was that I was willing to risk my neck in order to go wherever wanted, but I was all-too-willing to cancel plans that didn’t directly serve me. I was eager to spend money on self-serving purchases, but felt livid when our power bill doubled or when an unexpected medical expense caught me off guard. Wasn’t I grateful for HEAT? For MEDICAL CARE?

I couldn’t quite articulate why I was so sad, but the whole morning just felt off. Then Heidi, sitting on my lap, opened her Bible at “random” and started reading aloud, completely unprompted. She just happened to read Ezra 9:5-15 and I could barely believe my ears.

This is the passage where Ezra discovers that the returned Jewish exiles “have not separated themselves from the people of the lands with their abominations.” That is, they were inter-marrying with the ungodly inhabitants of the land, even though God had clearly forbidden them.

Ezra’s response reflected how I felt.

“As soon as I heard this, I tore my garment and my cloack and pulled hair from my head and beard and sat appalled … and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God.”

Ezra then goes on to pray, to repent on behalf of all the people who have mixed-in with the world, and asks God for wisdom on how to proceed, how to make it right.

The answer is one of the hardest, I believe, in all of Scripture.

The people of Israel had to go through, person by person, and make right the wrong they had done. The men who had intermarried had to separate from their foreign wives. Now this might seem harsh to us, or even bizarre, but this serves as a picture to us that God does not take worldliness lightlyHe doesn’t just shrug His shoulders and say,

“Oh sure, why not. You can just do your own thing.” No. He says, “I have a better way for you. I want you for myself. If you have intermingled with the world, if you have “married” the customs and ways of this world, you need to go back and painstakingly separate again.”

Honestly, this story makes me uncomfortable. It took three months for the entire process of re-separating, and I cannot imagine the sound of weeping, the hurt and pain and disappointment and anguish that took place. Innocent children were probably devastated. Women were probably left destitute. And we are so quick to blame God and say, “How could you make their consequences so harsh? Don’t you care?”

Yes, He does. That’s why He gave them the prohibition in the first place. That’s why He said,

“Don’t go the way of the world. Don’t marry it. Don’t fall in love with it. It will only lead to unimaginable heartache in the end. Your family will suffer. Your loved ones will suffer. Please, my beloved child. Obey me.”

I knew, as we read those words, that God was highlighting areas of my own heart. Where I had let myself love the world. That’s why I was agitated. Something needed to be made right.

Something inside needed to be fixed. 

Just then our housemate, Michael, stuck his head in the door,

“Jeff! You’ve got a broken pipe in the garage!”

Oh no. We raced downstairs, and there it was spraying like a hose through the drywall and into our (converted) garage, soaking the couch and carpet. (Yes, we had kept the faucets running, but apparently the freeze from earlier in the week had weakened the pipe, and then it finally broke.)

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Thankfully, the guys got the water off, the drywall torn out, and quickly found that the broken spot was small and easily repairable. (Grace!) But still, it would take time, money, work.

Fixing broken things always does. 

Jeff took off for Home Depot, and I came back upstairs, curled up under the quilt, and knew exactly what my next RESOLVE would be: Spirit-guided introspection to see where brokenness had caused an inter-marriage with the world. Then, painstaking re-separation from whatever wasn’t God’s way.

{I understand this isn’t the most exhilarating resolution out there. But our Father loves us so much He can’t let us go a way that will lead to heartache in the end. Let’s resolve to let Him show us what’s broken, and commit to making it right, by His strength, no matter what time, money, or work it may take. It will be worth it. Thanks for reading.}

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RESOLVE: 3 (simple!) habits for a healthier you.

What habits have WORKED? This is the question I was considering last week, as I both reflected on the past and gazed ahead into the future. Even as we considered our own personal failures (and learned from them) we are also wise to consider what has really worked for us, and why. This will powerfully inform our future decisions.

For me personally, there are three (simple!) daily habits I wish every person had. They are not impressive. You will not be wowed when you read them. But they are the 3 daily habits that have most helped me lead a simple, disciplined, healthy life that frees me up to flourish, love, serve, and give my time and attention to what matters most in life. Here they are:

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  • Read the Word and pray.

    The one simple habit that will truly transform your life, is simply spending time in God’s Word every day. Please.  I’m just starting my 19th time through the Scriptures, and every year there’s something new. Every year things make a bit more sense. Every year I can see the Story of God a bit clearer. Every year He speaks new life into my soul and brings fresh conviction and clearer guidance. I wrote more here about a RETURN to God’s Word. 

Many people ask me, “How do you read the Bible?” There’s no right or wrong way, but I suggest a simple 3-step process of thinking through:

–> What does this SAY? (Think or write, in your own words, what the passage is about.)

–> What does this MEAN? (What seems to be the spirit or essence of this passage? Why do you think the author wants you to know this? Why are certain details included? What is the purpose or intent of this passage being recorded for us?)

–> How will I RESPOND? (Simply praying Scripture, asking applicational questions (i.e. “Like Abraham/Sarah with Hagar, How am I tempted to get God’s promises in my own schemes? How am I tempted to use people to get my own way? Where am I doubting God’s provision?) and asking the Holy Spirit to bring specific conviction on how He wants you to obey or respond to the passage.

Again, there are lots of apps and plans and gadgets and things for helping you along the way. I’m a simple girl, so I just do 3/1. 3 chapters Old Testament, 1 chapter New Testament. All you need is 2 bookmarks and you’re good to go! If you do that you’ll finish by the end of October/early November, so that gives you a little wiggle room for those days you inevitably miss. I highly recommend the simple 3/1 plan!

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  • When hungry, eat whole food.

    This one is two-fold. I realize I’m treading on sensitive ground here so please hear my  heart: Most of our nation’s weight issues could be resolved if we only ate when we were hungry. I know that sounds obvious, but I know from past experience that many of us don’t even know what waiting for true hunger feels like. We eat when we feel like it, when it’s “mealtime,” and often obsess over what we eat without giving much to whether or not we even need to eat at all!

True hunger is very clear. It isn’t the same as craving. It is a burning, empty feeling with an accompanying rumbling or growling in your stomach, located just under your ribcage on your lefthand side. I find that if I simply surrender my body to how God created it, and only eat food when my body actually asks for it, I naturally land at a healthy weight. Then, when our stomaches do growl, we are wise to simply eat food, actual food, the kind that God created, that grows out of the ground or comes from nature. Again, we can get twisted up in the latest food fads or diets, and don’t get me wrong, I love nutrition and think that food-science is fascinating, but for the most part, if we eat whole foods when we’re hungry, we’d be good to go!

The great thing about just simply waiting for hunger is that it forces us to surrender control. For me, the hardest part of fasting is giving up control of doing and eating whatever I want whenever I want. By choosing to only eat when you are hungry you are acknowledging that God created your body with a God-given mechanism for determining when you need to eat, and that you will surrender your cravings to His will, and choose to submit to His design. It’s a way to worship God with our bodies!

  • Walk.

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Again, there are many exercise programs out there, and I’m all for you finding the one that works just right for you. But I’d also suggest, the most simple exercise, for any fitness level, that will keep you decently fit and able to be actively involved in life: WALK. True, you won’t get any medals or t-shirts, you can’t post pictures of yourself flexing, you won’t get ripped abs or a so-called Beach Body, but you will be putting into practice a powerful habit or moving every day, of getting fresh air and getting your heartrate up and blood pumping and breathing deep.

I make a simple habit of walking 40-minutes a day.  We have a hilled driveway, so it makes for a great workout, going up and down the hill. 10 laps is about 2.5 miles, and that makes a good amount for me. Again, I’m not knocking all those great fitness programs out there, but I find that many of them tend to be very self-focused. I don’t want to be focused on self or spend an inordinate amount of time or energy worrying about my body because Jesus told me not to! I want to exercise it enough that I have energy for the life He’s called me to live. Walking does that for me.

So there you have it. I told you it wasn’t impressive. 🙂 But perhaps there’s someone out there who needed these three simple things. I hope they can be life-giving and encouraging. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar, you don’t have to find the magic diet, you don’t have to do the hardest workouts ever. Spend time with your Father and ask Him for some simple guidance in what simple habits might help you this year. These have been my three, I hope you find yours too. Thanks for reading!

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RESOLVE: Learn & grow through relationship

Happy New Year Friends! I’ve been chewing on some New Year thoughts, and wanted to share a brief series called RESOLVE, reflecting on some of the ways we can grow in a happier, healthy, God-honoring life. Just some food for thought as we intentionally determine the course of our days this year. Hope it’s helpful! Thanks so much for reading.

~

Sometimes my friends and I reflect on how different it is now that Google and smart phones and Pinterest are at our fingertips at all times. Back in the day, you learned from a person. If you were a young wife and wanted to bake a pie, you asked your mom, or aunt, or grandma. She probably slipped you a butter-stained well-worn recipe card, then showed you how to roll the dough and pinch the edges just so. At least, that’s how my grandma taught me to bake.

Nowadays, if you want to bake a pie, you thumb “Best pie ever” into Pinterest or Google and approximately 3 million recipes, all with professional pics, come flooding before your eyes. You probably choose one from an expert: Pioneer Woman, Martha Stewart, or Ina Garten perhaps. At least I do.

Then, when we want to get in better shape, we turn to Jillian Michaels, and when we want to lose a few pounds we fork out a fortune for the top-notch nutrition system, and when we want to get our finances under control we sign up for Financial Peace University. All of these are great, and there are most certainly some awesome experts out there and I commend any efforts to learn and grow in these areas.

But sometimes the onslaught of all these experts can leave us feeling a little overwhelmed. I remember reading a book on marketing and the author insisted that in order to make it big and sell lots of whatever you’re selling, you have to bake in the Wow. That is, it has to be beyond the best. It has to absolutely WOW everyone.

Ok, fine. But as I read that, I mentally sifted through all the different arenas where I am called upon for leadership or love. I thought about being a wife, I thought about my home, my meal-planning and cooking, cleaning and organizing, I thought about raising and discipling my children, about homeschooling them, I thought about being a discipler of women, of being a pastor’s wife, a blogger, a conference speaker, a children’s ministry teacher, an author, a friend, a daughter of a disabled mom, of being a housemate and neighbor. And then I’m also so crazy as to think it’s not too much to ask that I even sneak in a hot shower 2-3 times a week!

I wrote in the margin of the book: I cannot bake in the Wow to every area of life. 

And that’s just it. The challenge with being surrounded by experts is that these people bake in the Wow to their own area. Great! But then we turn to all of them, and assume we need to bake in their wow in that area as well, and with a quick click we can turn to so many experts at once and begin thinking we need to bake Martha Stewart cakes while rocking Jillian Michaels bodies living in Pinterest-worthy homes. Back in the day, we would have turned to maybe 1-3 people to help us grow in some area. Now, we have hundreds right in the palm of our hand. 

Last week, I had the joy of getting together with a friend and teaching her to sew a skirt. It was a simple thing, and I’m sure she could have figured it out on her own, or YouTubed a tutorial. But we had such a fun morning, cutting and stitching, singing along to worship music. Heidi joined us, and we all we were able to have rich conversation in the midst of learning a new skill. And I realized that morning, the thing we miss when we only tap into experts, is learning through relationship

This is why downloading a podcast or even reading a book will never be the same as sitting together with people who know you and studying, learning, growing, discussing together. They are the ones who can read your body language, see a tear in your eye, ask you a hard question, speak a Spirit-led word of encouragement. They are the ones who know your mom is sick, or your husband lost his job, or you’re trying to get pregnant. They are the ones who will you see you fail — and succeed — and weep and rejoice with you all along the way.

There is just no substitute for learning and growing in community. Real community. No celebrity or expert can come close the value of learning from each other. From living in community and asking questions, asking for help, making known our weaknesses and struggles, and also offering our gifts and talents and wisdom as well.

So, though it might not top most people’s lists, I RESOLVE this year, to learn and grow in relationship

{Thanks for reading.}

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Joy that will be for all people

Tears stung my eyes as I read the words. Why? Why this division? Why this strife? It feels like just when one group is happy, another is upset. One person’s victory means another’s defeat. One group’s gain seems another’s loss. By advocating one truth, it seems to pit one against another truth of equal importance.

Thankfully, there is good news.

There is THE Good News.

I have had this song echoing in my heart all week. It’s #6 on our Seeds Family Worship, (you can listen here) and sometimes I’ll just sit, all alone in the car, after the kids have gotten out and run into the house, and I’ll just worship God to this song, letting the tears slip down my cheeks, lifting up my hands like a crazy lady, just so grateful that the gift of God, that Jesus Christ, that the gospel is …

joy that will be for all people.

Jesus isn’t the savior for only Americans. Or only Syrians. Or only Democrats or Republicans. Or only Jews. Or black, or white, or rich, or poor. His Good News knows no borders or bounds. It is Good News that is joy for all people

There is no one excluded. Ever. To all who receive, it is joy. It is peace. It is hope.

And then, in the song, near the end, the choir sings out in Glory to God in the highest, Glory to God in the highest, and my heart gets caught up because Oh yes! We will sing those words and give Him praise and thanks because He is good and has done great things. And for all who sorrow, for all who mourn and weep, for all who ache and yearn and hunger for Him. We will sing He is good, He is holy, He is mighty, He is awesome. Glory to God in the highest …

And on earth peace to men, on whom His favor rests. 

On whom does His favor rest? Who has the favor of God? 

This isn’t a trick question. It isn’t black or white or rich or poor. Those who are in Christ Jesus have the favor of God.

The only way we can have the favor of God is if we are reconciled to Him. We were enemies of God, but Jesus Christ is our peace:

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.

Because of Jesus Christ, God’s favor rests on us. He has killed the hostility, between us and God, and between us and others. Because Jesus Christ preached peace, He is the joy that shall be for all people. So we can move out courageously and generously. We don’t have to be “right.” We don’t have to prove our point. We can misjudged or misunderstood or even mistreated. We can love and give and hold our tongues or turn the other cheek or overlook offenses or just let stuff GO. Why?

Because the gospel’s grace is big enough. The gospel’s grace means you don’t have to demand your own way. We don’t need to be disappointed if we don’t get the perfect gift, or family, or experience.

We’ve already been given the greatest gift. It is a joy that will be for all people: It is Christ the Lord. 

Glory to God in the highest. 

{Merry Christmas, friends. Thanks for reading.}

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How to (really) prepare for Christmas

Last week, I was up to my eyeballs in Christmas preparation — Pinterest projects and online shopping and making lists and checking them twice. I felt that nudge of conviction that I was probably getting distracted, a little too caught up in trivialities. Then, wouldn’t you know it — Oma falls and suddenly it was all-hands-on-deck surrounding her, it was daily trips to the hospital, cancelling plans and rearranging schedules and suddenly I could care less what got done and what didn’t. And it was exactly what I needed most. Of course I’m sad for Oma suffering, but I’m so grateful for how it reoriented my heart around what matters. It reminded me of this, from last year. I love how our gracious God works in our lives. Bless you all!

~

“Are you ready for an emergency?”

My stomach sank. What was it?   I had been having a low-key, relaxing morning. The night before I’d hosted our Renew ladies’ Christmas party. I was leisurely washing dishes and sweeping up crumbs, putting away platters, and letting the kids linger at their play. It was 9:26am and I was still in my jammies, enjoying the Christmas music floating through the house, relishing the idea that we had nothing planned that day.

Then Jeff called. I don’t know about you, but texting is the norm, so when my man calls, I know I’d better answer!

His first words: “Are you ready for an emergency?” 

I waited, anxious.

“That luncheon is today.” 

Oh no. Oh NO. No no no no no!

Months ago, we’d been asked by a dear local pastor, if we would come together and speak at a Christmas event at their church. We were so honored at the request, and gladly accepted. The invitation had come while we were on our road trip, and we were so excited to serve together in this way, so we mentally made note of it …

… Get that?

We mentally made note of it. 

Now, understand: I speak dozens of times a year, we have a full life, we have lots of things on the calendar. We know how to schedule, people! We do a synch every week to make sure we have all our ducks in a row, make sure I know his stuff and he knows mine. We plan ahead. I’m a planner!

How, oh how, oh how, oh how did I MISS THIS?!!

This was 9:30am and we needed to be there at 11:30am. I had no plan for the kids. No notes. I was still in my JAMMIES, PEOPLE!

How could I have missed this? How could I be so woefully unprepared?  The overwhelming emotion I felt was shame.

Shame at being so unprepared

But then, I turned my attention to my Only Hope. The Only One I really have to please. And I poured out my feelings of shame and failure and feeling unprepared, and so clearly I sensed in my heart,

“You aren’t unprepared.”

Suddenly it all tumbled down, the truth, straight into my heart: I was prepared. I realized that every single day, every day when we wake up early, we spend time with the Father in prayer and the Word. Every single day as we abide in Him, commune with Him, fellowship continually with Him.

Isn’t that preparation? 

And the revelation rang so clear and true in my mind:

Being prepared is a matter of the heart. 

The truth is, I could have perfectly-scripted notes and be completely unprepared to speak God’s heart to His people.

I sat down with my Bible. I needed to look no further than today’s journal entry to see a message from God for His people. It was just my own personal study, my heart-wrestlings, the things the Father had been showing me that morn.

Sure, I hadn’t written it to preach, I’d written it to live.

And isn’t that just so much better anyway?

How often have I been “prepared” for something with everything external? How often have I worked to have my ducks in a row, but my heart has been misaligned? 

Being prepared is a matter of the heart.

How often do we think that being “prepared” for Christmas is having all the presents wrapped? Lights hung. Stockings stuffed. Cards sent. House cleaned. Boxes checked off.

How about my heart? 

When Jesus came to earth, there were some who were ready. Prepared. Their hearts had been fixed on the God, patiently waiting for the coming Messiah. They didn’t know when, how, where. But they were prepared because their hearts were ready.

On the one hand, God birthed His Son into a situation where nothing was ready: To two dirt-poor clueless engaged teenagers, in a filthy manger, in a barn. On the outside, nothing was ready.

But their hearts were ready.

The one item left on our Christmas To-Do List today: Let every heart prepare Him room.

Lord, let our hearts be prepared for You. 

{Thank you for reading.}

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The gift you didn’t ask for

As some of you know, my sweet Mama took a bad spill last week and broke her femur, so we’ve been a bit busy and haven’t had a chance to write more on the Advent traditions. We’ll continue! For now, I’ve been thinking about this, from last year. It seems so appropriate again. Perhaps it will speak to a situation in your life as well…

~

We’ve all gotten one, right? The gift you didn’t ask for. The thing you’re not sure how on earth that person thought was  just perfect for you.

Inwardly you think, This most certainly was not on my wishlist. 

Out loud you say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have!”

I think we’ve all been there. You might be there again next week. *smile*

But what about when it’s bigger than the contents of a gift-bag?

What if you find yourself staring at the content of your life, overwhelmed, and find yourself, in weak or tired moments, saying these same words…

“I didn’t ask for this!”

I’ve heard these words, from others. I’ve silently said them, in my heart. Not necessarily talking about utter despair, but haven’t we all looked at some certain aspect of the hand dealt us, and shaken our heads, 

This most certainly wasn’t on my wish list

It’s silly, perhaps, whether I intend to or not, I subconsciously craft my life-wishlist. And then, each day is handed to me as a fresh gift of grace.

It is unwrapped and often there are squeals of delight.

But some days there are moans. Disappointment. Really? THIS is the gift for today?

I didn’t ask for this.

I’d venture to say we all have aspects of our life where we battle this. Sometimes I’m tempted to redraft my wish list, spend a little more time in prayer to let Him know, Whoops-a-daisy! I think you gave this to the wrong gal! I actually didn’t want this AT ALL. Thanks! 

But He smiles. Patient.

“Oh no, dear daughter. I knew this gift was perfect for you. I know, it’s not exactly what you had in mind. But it’s so much better. It feels a little awkward when you first try it on. I get it. I knew it’d be a struggle for you at first. But I promise if you’ll just trust Me in this. I promise you’ll be so glad someday. I promise you’ll see that this was, indeed, the best gift for you.” 

And so we take that sting of disappointment, or that ache of longing, or that weariness of carrying a gift that feels heavy and hard … and we ask the Father to help us see this gift the way He does. To help us trust Him in the meantime. To help us fight evil but love people. To see beauty in broken places and celebrate victories in the midst of what feels like disastrous failure.

Heavenly Father, our Good and Perfect God, thank You so much for the gifts you give us that we don’t ask for. The ones that aren’t on our wish list. The ones that feel confusing, just a little bit. Thank you that You love us so much, and that LOVE is what we rest in, no matter what we feel. Thank you that You equip us to carry whatever load you call us to bear. Thank you that Your burden is light and there is new mercies every morning. Thank you for Christmas. All Your gifts are good, and perfect. 

{Thank you for reading.}

st-nicholas

A Santa worth celebrating

I feel sorry for saints. Seriously. I feel sorry for saints because sometimes the honoring of them gets sadly askew. And perhaps never more so, then dear ol’ Saint Nicholas. He must weep every Christmas!

The real St. Nicholas was such a godly, generous man. I’m not going to recount his whole life here, but tomorrow (Dec. 6th) is St. Nicholas day and there are so many wonderful resources for teaching our children about the real-life hero that he was, and honoring him for who he was, not as a replacement for Jesus on Christmas day. (Here is a great little overview on St. Nicholas’ life.) Our kids learned about the real St. Nicholas in their Story of the World history curriculum.

There are many wonderful ways to celebrate St. Nicholas, and honor him as a man, while still honoring Jesus at his birth. My friend Anna shared the following ideas for a Dec. 6th celebration of St. Nicholas:

Holiday stockings for each person with four items in each:

  • Something made of wood: toy, puzzle, book
  • Something warm: socks, pajamas, gloves, scarves
  • Something good to eat: candy, special snack
  • Something gold: chocolate coins or money

The other tradition that goes back to St. Nicholas is the baking of “spiced bread” (gingerbread). So, a super fun activity for Dec. 6th would be to bake gingerbread cookies. Traditionally, these were cut out like bishops, to honor St. Nicholas. At her presentation, Anna made us bishop gingerbread using the Pioneer Woman’s recipe — yum!  Of course, you could go a lot of directions with this — loaf gingerbread, or making a gingerbread house together.

So, what’s the big difference between Santa Claus and the real St. Nicholas?

Santa gives gifts on a works-based system of earning. It’s all about him keeping track of who’s naughty or nice. This tradition tells children that gifts are something we earn. That is, we deserve them or are entitled to them because of what we do or don’t do.

This isn’t grace! This isn’t the gospel!

St. Nicholas gave to the poor because he loved and followed Christ and wanted to alleviate suffering in the world. It was an extension of the gospel of Jesus. St. Nicholas would never have wanted his life to be a distraction from honoring Jesus.

So, there are so many wonderful directions you could go with this! Because our kids are older, they didn’t want to switch our stocking-opening to Dec. 6th, because they love getting stockings on Christmas (we don’t give our kids gifts on Christmas, so stockings are “all” they get from us. Dutch actually started crying, real tears, when I suggested switching stockings to Dec. 6th. That’s how much he loves tradition!) So, we are continuing our Christmas-morning stocking tradition, following the 4-item guide above, but then we’re honoring St. Nicholas day in its own right by using that day for giving to the poor. We’re getting creative, but basically we’re taking an opportunity to give, in honor of St. Nicholas day, then finishing off the day with making and decorating gingerbread cookies!

So, have fun with it! There are so many great books out there, also, all about the real St. Nicholas story. I know it’s a little late to snag one for tomorrow, but it still might be worth investing in one to read to your kids. We also enjoy journeying through One Wintry Night each Christmas. So many great reads!

So, happy St. Nicholas Day. I pray that his life will inspire generosity in your family, and that as we honor him rightly, we’ll make space to honor the one he honored, Jesus Christ. 

{Thanks for reading.}