Monday, December 30, 2013

Don't Hold Back {Messy Monday}

Try this equation:

>62 years of combined parental experience + 24 hours x 4 children =

Back home today and ready to write up just the tiniest of Messy Mondays.

I'll spare you the details, but Christmas week was a sick one. One by one, each family member succumbed to the stomach flu until we could do little more than just languish on the couch.

And yet, it didn't ruin Christmas. Sure, Christmas Eve and Day involved the same nastiness, but for all the Christmas movies we watched where the very existence of Christmas was in peril, it came and went like it usually does. Regardless of our mental haze, God still delivered:)

I hope the same was true for you- minus the bathroom time.

We're embarking on 2014 in a couple days and I'm still looking for my word of the year. It's a word to help me focus- a lens through which I see my relationship with God, others, and this blog.

Messy could be it, but I'm looking more on the hopeful side of things. I'm hopeful for more than just a healthy year. I'm hopeful that, in the midst of the mess, God gives me eyes to see His hand. His love. His deliverance. 

More than ever, staring in the face of an unknown year leads me to look past the day-to-day messes as well as the major world messes, and see a God who always delivers.

A God who doesn't ever hold back. A God who goes the distance day in and day out, just so that we can continue to discover just how much He loves us.

I pray for you today- that you get the rest you need. That you remember the ways the Lord has delivered this past year, and that you trust Him to deliver in the year to come. It means more than wishing you health, wealth, and happiness- it means praying that God works through every single thing, including the messes, to display His perfect and sufficient love in your life. That is my prayer for you. God bless you, friends. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Quiet Round Here

While all is bright, all certainly is not calm around here. So in the spirit of stilling my heart in the presence of God incarnate, I will not be posting this Christmas week. Plus the kids are home so I pretty much need every waking moment to collect my sanity. Love, peace, mercy, joy, and hope be to all you wonderful people this week:) Merry Christmas! I'll see you again next week!

God's Wild Woman:)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas With Judas

I'm writing this because everyone is stuck with someone.

And Christmas is a particularly adhesive time of the year.

Perhaps you already have a person in mind, but in case you don't I will jog your memory.

The person you're stuck with isn't the well-meaning, but tactless, guy at the office (or family member) whose comments you have learned to let roll off your back.

It's that person you don't want to see. The one who would make your life easier if they simply moved- out of the school, out of the office, out of the town, out of the country, off of your Facebook.

The wild-card that has you on your guard.

It's your cause-and-effect person. You know,

"I wouldn't yell so much if they'd just listen to me the first time." (Wait, that's just my kids.)

"If they wouldn't complain about everything, then I would make more of an effort to talk to them."

"If they wouldn't shove their 'perfect' family in my face, then I wouldn't feel so insecure."

"I'm really good at taming my tongue except when they do things specifically to annoy me."

It could be any manner of if-then statements, but when it comes down to it- it's the person who has hurt you repeatedly with their words and actions.

If you don't currently interact with any hurtful people, enjoy it! Then keep reading because chances are that person will walk into your life eventually, and even if they don't there's still some Jesus time coming up and who wants to pass on that?

Repeated interactions with these people threaten to do two very unpleasant things-

1. Calcify into an emotional kidney stone that moves painfully whenever they are near.
2. Turn you into an emotional hypochondriac- imaging emotional injuries all over the place where they were never intended.

Thankfully, I don't have "sticky" people in my family. But I know there are lots of people who do. There are sticky people at our jobs, in our neighborhood, even in our church.

So, how are we going to encounter these sticky people at Christmas and beyond without losing it? It would be easier if we didn't have to face them, but I know too many people for whom that's simply not an option, so let's have a game plan.

You've probably already gone the prayer route. Maybe you've been driven to your knees repeatedly over these issues. If not- just go ahead and fall to them. Don't pray while you are sweeping or balancing the checkbook. I'm not saying it doesn't work- prayers work anywhere and everywhere- I'm saying it benefits your peace of mind less. Some things you can't multitask. This may be one of those things.

Take some lessons from scripture. Search out the Godly people who encountered sticky people. How did David behave around King Saul? How did Jacob deal with his father-in-law?

How did Jesus treat Judas?

What a blessing is ours that we have such a close relationship with our God- so much so that there is no human relationship that is beyond His comprehension.

I thought about Judas the other day. It's easy to write the other disciples a pass for their betrayals. They were scared stupid. Eventually they lived and died following Jesus.

We can't say the same for Judas.

He spent every single day with the Savior and he never got it. How did Jesus do it? How did He face His betrayer every. single. day? And no rolling of the eyes? No snide comments? No gossiping? No punching him in the face? I don't get it.

The obvious answer is that Jesus was perfect. Jesus was God and man. And we're obviously not God, so that must mean this is impossible for us, right?

But we shouldn't let ourselves off the hook that easily, not because we need to try harder to be holy at Christmas, but because giving up the fight and giving in to our own hurt feelings will only hurt us more in the long run.

The secret isn't in dissecting the hurt and pain in their own lives. It might help a little, but it doesn't justify a thing in the midst of the pain they have caused us. The secret is in the person of Jesus.

Jesus was always about the work of His Father. 

At those moments when we are face to face with the hurt of "sticky" people around us, we need to remember Who is really in charge. It's not them. It's not even us. God is orchestrating it all for a very specific purpose. It stinks, it hurts, but the truth is that God is equipping you to experience and reveal His love.

When we are weak, He is strong. And He displays His strength most when we are buckled in weakness. We are tempted to give the other person the power. They are the ones who "cause" our reactions. But the truth is they don't actually have that power unless we give it to them.

How about we study the One who really has the power? Take some time and search the scriptures for the sticky people. How did God's people remain upright? They ascribed power and glory and honor to God. What happened when they succumbed to harmful reactions? They found forgiveness in His arms.

Forgiveness is another post, another blog, all it's own, but for now let's not spend this Christmas trying to "get through it." Let's live it. Really live it with other people that Jesus was born for. Even the sticky people because God stuck us together for a reason, and His strength, love, and glory are worth it all.

It's my prayer as you encounter people of all kinds, that the love and power of God works in you to love and live freely. I pray we all ascribe to God the power that He deserves and refuse to share that power with anyone else. And I pray you all enjoy this last week of Advent- really enjoy it!


This morning I am linking up with Simply Beth for Three Word Wednesday, If I get around to it, maybe I'll link up with others too!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Surviving Christmas, Or Living it? {Messy Monday}

The righteous flourish like the palm tree
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
They still bear fruit in old age;
    they are ever full of sap and green,
 to declare that the Lord is upright;
    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
Psalm 92:12-15

This morning, I told my husband they need to make a survivalist show about pastors' families during Advent.

We watched a survival show last night and, while I certainly wouldn't trade places with the marooned green beret, I know he wouldn't trade places with me either.

Look at all of us- just trying to survive. On a blow-up life boat. On a micro-suede sectional.

Like we're all just a bunch of Christmas trees biding our time until someone strips off the pretty ornaments and we're kicked to the curb.

Is that how you feel sometimes? Like you're just trying to make it through?

I hope not.

But if you are, then I have something to tell you:

You are not a Christmas tree.

You're an Evergreen.

It's a matter of life and death.

My oldest was observing our Christmas tree the other day. We cut it down the day after Thanksgiving.

"It's not as pokey as it used to be." (Indeed, decorating that baby reminded me of why they bear the name "pine needles.")

"Nope, it sure isn't."


"Because it's losing it's luster."

"What does that mean?"

"It's dying, Hon. Actually, it is dead. We're just trying to keep it looking alive for as long as possible."

She was confused and a little mortified.

Evergreens point to the eternal greatness of our God. Christmas trees point to our death and desperate need for The Life.

A perfect Christmas illustration.

This time of year we get distracted by shiny things. Soon the ball in Time Square will drop and fireworks will blaze and resolutions will be made. We'll remember that another year has past, and fool ourselves into thinking that means our luster is slipping away as well.

Soon we'll fall flat, and succumb to the temptation to compare ourselves to others. Tempted into discontent.

Trapped in "survival mode."

And my tree won't be here to remind me that any way you dress it up- death is still death.

The tree will pass away, but our Lord has an amazing way of taking a death on a tree and giving eternal life.

Death is still death, and life is still life.

Christmas is about more than survival. It's about life- in a manger. In a tomb. In glory.

And it's not too late. It's my prayer that God grants us the grace to stop right here. Right now. And regardless of what needs to be done, wrapped, baked, or sung, that He gives us the life-giving heart of this Advent season. Praying for you dearly beloved friends.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Let Freedom Ring

Happy Advent Wednesday to you all!

I've been in the mood for some Martina McBride all day, and I gotta say, I haven't listened to much country in a very very long time. Still, I can't even think the words Let Freedom Ring without hearing that tremendous voice.

There's a slavery issue going on in my own heart right now. I didn't realize that until I heard the call to liberation.

Because my shackles were invisible. And now that I see my own, I look around at His Beloveds and see theirs too.

It's not a pretty Advent tiding.

Not nearly as eye-popping as the umpteen email ads I wake up to every single morning.

Not as cheerful as the jingle soundtracks to the great deals at the department stores.

But it's there just the same. Our country has a slavery issue, and I'm not even talking about human trafficking.

I'm talking about our simple, complicated, overwhelming lives.

And after I have shackled myself to the gift buying, the decorating, the family time, the church commitments, the Christmas cards, my expectations- well, it's no wonder I feel torn. Perhaps you feel that way too. A slave to your calendar, budget, baking.

Shackled to the good, forfeiting the best.

I've been wanting to write encouraging stuff. It's the Christmas season, people! Holly, jolly, very merry Christmas joy! This stuff that you put on my heart, Lord, it isn't really where I saw this blog going in December. Could you lighten it up a bit?

Remind them of their freedom.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1

All the pretty shackles we use to decorate our hands and hearts and minds-

He came to free us from those.

The ways we would define our lives, portray ourselves to others-

He came to free us from those too.

The despair we would feel when we walk from our freedom straight back into a cell of our own making-

Yeah, He came for that too.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
    he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;

to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-4

The coming of our Lord is a celebration of more than Christmas.

It's our Independence Day.

God signed a holy declaration in the little bundle of His Son:

"Yeah, this is happening."

There would be battles to be waged and won, but God's resolution was clear from the beginning.

He would see it through.

So those of us poor spirits in need of hope would hear the Good News.

So those of us brokenhearted would burst from the shackles of brokenness and be bound by the Heart Healer.

So those of us held in captivity to all manners of masters would be carried into the fresh air of absolute freedom.

So those of us mourners would be comforted and adorned with true, everlasting love.

So those of us fainthearted would celebrate and praise our Lord, that He may be glorified.

I'm feasting on that right now. Before I go plan and clean and, cook and bake, I feast. I feast on His Word, and on His presence. I pause like an inmate realizing the cell door has been left open. That the warden is here not just to lead me to liberty, but to carry me there Himself because honestly, I'm pretty used to this little cell. 

But what lies beyond the bars is so amazing. It's life giving. 

Now that is an Advent tiding worth sharing.

Praying that you are given the gift of pause today. Praying that those shackles on your life are not only recognized, but handed over fully to the Only One who can bear their weight. Have a beautiful day of freedom.

Today I have the pleasure of linking up at Simply Beth for Three Word Wednesday, as well as Woman to Woman for Word Filled Wednesday, and Michell for Doing You Well Wednesday!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cherish It

It all started with a simple card and a few pinecones, but in 1.2 seconds it became an explosion, sending it's glittery shrapnel all over our kitchen...

I've been given the gift of a unique Advent.

For most of November I resolved that this Advent would be different. That we would stop. Really stop and take stock of the important things of the season.

I just had no idea how we would do it.

I'm not really a "forward thinker." I let the tasks of today distract me from plans for the future. So while I planned to slow Advent down for our family, I was figuring on tackling the "how" when I got to it.

Then I received a gift! My sister-in-law's family gifted us with just what I needed. Just what I needed!  The Perfect Advent Calendar. That's what it's called. And she wanted to make sure I was prepared, so she gave me a heads up that I would need to look it over prior to December so I would have all the supplies ready. She is a forward thinker, a planner. Have I mentioned that I'm not?

December 1st I opened our goody box and perused the contents. My daughter and I strung the cards on the ribbon while the other two girls limbo-ed beneath. We organized the activities and I made my list of supplies to get at Hobby Lobby. (I admit I enjoyed turning a trip to Hobby Lobby into a "need.")

Now each day we pick the card in the slot for the day and perform it's directions as a family. Drive and look at Christmas lights, wear Christmas socks and take a picture, play a family game, watch a family movie, bake cookies, etc. During the family time, you discuss how this reveals God's love and grace. There's a scripture verse and a prayer. And each day is cleverly titled with a _______ it. Bake it. Build it. Deliver it. Play it. You get the idea.

None of them say Survive it, though a couple of times that has been my only goal.

Messy Monday happened last Thursday as our family embarked on memorializing The Legend of the Silver Pinecone.

After Googling the story the real fun began. Glitter sprang forth in happy showers over the glue painted pinecones. Smudged with hands, shaken onto bare feet, pressed into my neck and hair by an affectionate toddler, the glitter was everywhere.

The title of Thursday's card? Cherish it.

Cherish it.

In the middle of the chaos? The fights? The pleas? The family time that suddenly turned train wreck?

Cherish what?

The little hands, minds, hearts growing in the love of Jesus. This is what I wanted to slow down to see, and I guess it took a great big mess to remind me of that.

It doesn't take a perfect calendar to tell me to cherish. (It helps, not gonna lie.)

And as I look around me and see people going crazy over stupid stuff (that's right- I said stupid- and I'm including myself in this group of people) sometimes the biggest gift is to be reminded to cherish it because He cherishes us.

The train wrecks we are. The bickering. The grudges. The ridiculous expectations. The impossible comparisons. The mistakes over and over and over again.

Cherish what? What could He possibly cherish?

Our hands, minds, hearts. That's what. We are so incredibly beloved, especially in the messiness of life.

He is willing to go through the messes with us because He cherishes us.

That's worth pausing over.

That's what Advent call us to. We pause not in some holy pursuit to perfect ourselves, but because we know that when God calls us to reflect on Him, we inevitably see one overarching truth - He cherishes us. No matter what. Pure Gospel there.

That's what sent Jesus to earth, and what sends Him into the very midst of the explosions of our lives.

That's what He tells you today and everyday.

I cherish you.

Praying that the Lord gives you reason to pause and awe over His tremendous love for you. Praying He calls you loud and clear to cherish the messy moments in your life because they are reminders that He is with you in the midst of them. He cherishes you, Friends.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Holiday For Prodigals, or, I'm the Jerk

I'm about to make a radical change in my Advent scripture line-up.

I know, I know. Why deviate from the beloved Christmas story? Why postpone pondering the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled in that little person born in Bethlehem?

And after all, I have all year to reflect on the other portions of the Bible. Studying the birth of Christ at Christmas really just makes sense.

Honestly, I'm doing it because Christmas is a holy day for the prodigals.

Of course we have other terms for the Christmas and Easter Christians. Chreasters, Submarine Christians (they only come up twice a year- if that).

I've been thinking about that over the past few days- the beloved Chreasters- and I regret to inform you that I have been, well, a jerk.

I'm not beating myself up. I'm convicted, not condemned. But the real deal is I've become this guy:

Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound."
But he was angry and refused to go in.
Luke 15:25-28

Now I'm pretty sure everyone loves the parable of the prodigal son- as long as they identify with the prodigal. The disgraceful idiot who squanders his inheritance, lives destitute with pigs, and finally returns home to the Father who has never stopped loving him, never stopped waiting for Him- yeah, I'm that guy.

We'd rather be the stupid one, not the jerk.

This morning I realized, I'm the jerk.

I don't pout at the door of the church, ignoring the masses whose faces I don't recognize, but I mentally tsk-tsk and want to shake them. "Don't you get it?! We get this Christmas deal ALL THE TIME! WAKE UP!" It sounds like compassion, but it is borne just as much out of frustration.

One thing is certain, I don't celebrate them. (My stomach just turned typing that one.) The packed church brings no lasting joy in the knowledge that, in just a few days, life will return to normal and the church will be half-empty again.

I guess that means that I possess the ability to look at a glass that's filled to the brim and see it as half empty.

Then I remembered this verse:

And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 
It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.
vs 31-32

Christmas is for the prodigals. It just is.

I'm not saying three hours a year is enough to satisfy the needs of a weary soul, or that all that makes our God worthy of praise can be summed up in a couple annual holidays. I'm saying it is fitting to celebrate and be glad because they are there, and Jesus is there, and the Father is running to meet them, which means that is what I should do.

Because I am a prodigal too.

So this Advent I prepare not only to welcome the Christ-child, but those for whom He came. People like me- who need the embrace of the Father. People like the ones Jesus was telling His parable to- sinners and tax collectors, Pharisees and scribes. People who, like the nasty dirty shepherds, sit on the outskirts of society and venture in to the crowd hoping to remain invisible rather than feel the judgment of the "holy" every-Sunday Christians.

I prepare my heart with the what-if's:

What if the shallow, temporary goodwill the world preaches about during this time of year was completely blown out of the water by the never-ending, unconditional warmth and love shown by God's people in His house and world?

What if, instead of settling for the anonymous "acceptance" of a disinterested society, people experienced the intimate, I-know-you-and-accept-you-just-the-way-you-are true love of God through His body, the church?

Wouldn't that be the best Christmas gift we could give them?

Wouldn't that embody the purpose for which He came- not just to sacrifice, but to reconcile?

It is my Advent Prayer that the Lord loves the jerkiness right out of me- out of us- so we can love with a full heart the same people He loves with relentless passion. And so, when faces of our towns darken our doors for one of the few times this year, we will not be the stumbling blocks that trip them up on their way to the manger.

Today I'm linking up with a few friends: Woman to Woman, Doing You Well Wednesday, and (of course) Three Word Wednesday with Simply Beth. Click, join, read, write, enjoy!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Welcome to the Conspiracy {Messy Monday}

"Christmas marks the moment where God's promise was fulfilled and love took form, tiny fingers and all. "
- The Advent Conspiracy

I'm not sharing this because I am proud of it. I'm just hoping maybe there are some folks out there who relate.

See, I cried over a vacuum cleaner.

To be fair, it was a nice vacuum cleaner. A Dyson. I have four kids and a dog. It's a zoo up in here, and I thought perhaps the messy Mondays would be a bit more tolerable if I had an awesome vacuum to sweeten the deal.

I fought hard for that puppy on Black Friday. (Not literally. Online.) Dealt with slow websites, accidental page clicks, bargain hunting, forgotten passwords, typing in credit card information repeatedly.

Here's the deal though- I don't have a credit card. I use my husband's, and that's all good. Except when it asks me for my phone number and I enter my own number- not his.

That's when I receive emails on the following day telling me the amazing deal I thought I had has been cancelled due to an error with payment processing.

That's when I cry.

That's when the credit card company freezes the card so I can't order another vacuum (mine was now out of stock).

That's when my husband gets text messages from his credit card company asking if he indeed made a purchase at that retailer for that sum of money. He answers yes. The card is reactivated.

I look between him and the vacuum cleaner on screen. Back and forth. I ask, "With all the junk I've had to go through for this thing, do you have the feeling that maybe it's just not meant to be?"

He nods yes. "Give it up."

I do. I give one last longing look at the item I don't need, yet covet. I click the little red "x" and close the computer.

Saturday morning, all over the world, children were dying of cold and starvation. Dear friends were suffering from terminal illnesses. And I used those realities to try to shake me out of the funk I was in. It really was not worth crying over. But I didn't care. I was angry. I was disappointed. It just sucked (pun intended). I threw a temper tantrum over a thing.

I really should know better.

I really should have learned from last year, when I let the insane rush of the season sweep away my joy and toss it into the garbage sack of used wrapping paper.

If you think something like this just happens, you're wrong. There is a very deliberate scheme out there planned by the father of lies himself. He is determined to steal your joy- to disconnect Christmas with the Christ. To entice us to trade the profound and incomparable gift of the Savior for the shiniest new toy.

Satan tells us that spending less at Christmas, sacrificing more, will leave us less satisfied than those earthly items we desire.

And I fall for it.

Thankfully, there are godly people out there exposing the lie. Reminding the gullible me, and those like me, that there is absolutely nothing more fulfilling than the Christ-child.

So, how do I live like this with my family? How do I convince my daughter that "No really, Jesus is way better than the American Girl doll everyone else has," and make it a matter of heart- not budget?

I take her aside- out of the river that rushes her over the edge of the waterfall into materialism. I show her that what Christ has to offer is so surpassingly awesome. We don't have to take anything away from our Christmas festivities, unless it's in the same way that I vacuum the Christmas tree pine needles that fall dead to our living room floor.

I expose the Advent Conspiracy for what it is- an elaborate attempt to buy Jesus out of His own season. Out of every season.

Satan doesn't force us to do it. We do it all by ourselves.

The Advent Conspiracy website has excellent tools to help combat the excess. The gift-giving is good, sweet. I even do Santa Claus. It is idolization of it all- the moment when I take the credit for "giving" my children Christmas, instead of glorifying the real Giver- that is the danger.

(And I just have to make this note: I praise God for a husband who deliberately reminds me of all this. Who takes me out of the race, sits me down, and helps me recalibrate my priorities.)

Remembering the suffering of others, looking to the destitute, comparing our worldly riches to those less fortunate- that will never ever shake us out of our self-centered funk.

Only Christ can do that.

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men."
John 1:4

We can't overcome the darkness of selfishness by shining more darkness onto it- God alone can overcome it by shining His own light into it. And that's exactly what He came to do!

We can't purchase our happiness anymore than we can adopt ourselves into the family of God. He came to do that too!

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God."
John 1:12
So this Advent please pray for me. I am so honored to have wonderful people interceding on my behalf. And I'll make you a deal- I'll pray for you too. May we be a mighty army of believers who let the light of the world shine in and through our lives and so experience a more fulfilling Christmas than ever before.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This is Advent, or, Excuse the Mess

Panic coursed through her hands as her thumb hit the blazing red “end” button on her phone. She tossed it onto the kitchen counter and swept the room with her eyes. Not now, she thought. Seriously? Why is he coming now?

Janet had called her with the news. The Mayor’s son was in town for a visit, and everyone knew what that meant- Inspections. That’s what most people called them, Inspections. No one knew just why, but anytime that man came around he just insisted on getting into people’s lives. Most people assumed it was so he could size them up, so they called the phenomenon Inspections and the name just stuck. Just the word sent shivers down her spine. She looked around again hoping, even praying, some of the clutter would magically disappear. But it didn’t. It just sat there like it always had, piling higher and higher.

When did I turn into such a hoarder?

Most of Natalie’s neighbors had told her about the Mayor’s son, with vastly different descriptions. Sometimes she wondered if He even existed. Some said they invited him in and he was just the most pleasant man you could ever meet. But she had seen their homes. They were beautiful, immaculate, at least from the outside. How could he not be impressed with them? I wonder what people think of the outside of my house? Could they tell she was a complete mess?

Others said he was rude, what with all that knocking. He knocked and when they answered the door he asked them to come in. Imagine that! Uninvited, he would just show up and expect them to treat him like someone special. And the way he acted like he knew them just made them angry. They smirked when they reported how they just shut the door right in his face.

Some didn’t even answer the door.

Was it out of fear? Natalie wasn’t sure how she was going to handle this, but one thing was certain- he was coming her way. At least, that’s what Janet said. Janet also said to just let him come in. It’s easier than fighting it. But Janet hadn’t been in Natalie’s world for some time now. She didn’t know what Natalie’s house contained and how everything had somehow spun out of control.

Better get started. Natalie set out into the living room and got to work. Putting things in their place, she smiled with pride when one whole corner of the room was organized. She stepped back to admire her work when she tripped on the stack of magazines behind her. She fell into another pile of clutter and began to sob.

It was then that she heard the steps outside. Her heart ran laps in her chest, threatening to leap right out. She couldn’t catch her breath. Not yet. Not yet!

There was a pause. Maybe someone was just passing by.

Then it came. The knock. It wasn’t loud, yet it lingered long in the air. Reverberating in her soul and shaking her to the core. She sat there, covered in junk and salt water tears, frozen in fear. No one had been inside in so long. No one ever asked to come in. This was too much. Instinctively, she grabbed the nearest magazine stack and covered her legs. She opened the nearby box of Christmas ornaments and began dumping them, gently so as not to make much noise. She then stuck the large cardboard box over her head. Her body sat there, completely covered. Maybe he would think she wasn’t home and just go away.

She sat there several minutes while the knocking continued. This is ridiculous, Natalie, she thought. You are a grown woman. Go open that door. Still, the thought of exposing her secret life to the Mayor’s son was more than she could bear. She spent so much time hiding, so much time secretly judging herself, comparing her mess to the lives of all the people out there who had their acts together. She couldn’t handle any more judgment.

Another minute of knocking passed as she thought up a plan with a little more dignity. She crawled out of her heap- she was just going to tell him to go away. It was simple. Other people did it all the time. It was the holidays after all- she had enough to worry about without accommodating extra company. Surely he could understand that.

With each step, Natalie could feel the tremors of the knocking shaking her knees into submission. They almost completely buckled. She grabbed the doorknob, pressing her body against the door for support. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly she turned the handle and began to pull.

She opened the door just wide enough to stick her head through. When she finally opened her eyes she started. Nervous laughter escaped her body. She caught herself. “I’m sorry,” she chuckled. “I thought you were someone else. Can I help you?”

The man smiled, sporting little more than a five o’clock shadow.

“Actually, Natalie,” his voice was rich with humor, “I was wondering if I could help you. Would you mind if I came in?”

She froze. Then her smile fell. She slammed the door and locked it.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid! She caught her breath and peeked out the peep hole. He was still there. Sneaky in his jeans and sweatshirt. Still, she managed to face the Mayor’s son and not die of embarrassment. That was an accomplishment. She wasn’t sure she could face him again though. She knew she couldn’t. So she called to him through the door, “Uh. Yeah. Excuse me? I’m sorry I just… listen… I’m just kind of busy right now and I’m not really ready for… guests. So if you could just come back later, that would be… great. Ok? Bye then!”

She watched out the peephole as he turned around and headed down her sidewalk. Oh good, he’s going. To be sure, she would watch until he was out of sight. He stopped. He was bending down. What was he picking up? It was a bag. A bag? What, is he camping out? She watched as he lifted the duffel bag to his shoulders and walked back up the stairs to her front porch. He dropped the bag and sat on her steps.

He’s getting comfortable! It hit her that he wasn’t going anywhere soon. She sprinted into her living room and began picking up her junk, throwing it into closets, out the back window. Anywhere. Just to get it out of the way.

That’s when she heard his voice again, calling through the door, “You know, Natalie. You don’t have to bother cleaning up for me. I’m more than happy to come into your home as it is.”

Yeah, you haven’t seen it yet. She plastered on a fake smile, hoping it would give her confidence. She hurried to the door, unlocked it, and popped her head out. She couldn’t look at him, so she turned her eyes downward.

“Ok, thanks for your interest and everything, but you really need to go. I am just really busy with the holidays and presents and family and all that other stuff. You know, giving. ‘Give give give’ I always say.” She laughed nervously. “So, maybe you could come back when things aren’t so busy.”

“When will that be?” His question seemed sincere. She thought about it. He answered his own question for her, “The truth is, you will always be too busy for me if you choose to be. I don’t plan on going anywhere, Natalie.”

“Is that why you have that bag there?”

“This? Ha, no. I was hoping to move in.”


Natalie leaned against the shut door. Her back slid down the cool wood until she sat in a heap of nerves. She was trembling. Was she having a heart attack? Surely this shock was going to kill her. How dare he go around to people’s homes shocking them to death. Knees too shaky for walking, she crawled across the living room, into the middle of her stuff, and in an exhausted ball she closed her eyes and began to cry.

It was the gust of wind that stole her from her misery. Her aching eyes searched the room until they landed on the front door. That’s where he was standing. He was looking at her. No smile this time. She thought for a moment he was disappointed with her. But that didn’t seem to be it. In fact, he didn’t seem to notice the mess at all. He was looking at her and only her.

“You forgot to lock the door. You couldn’t hear the knocks above your crying, but I’m here now. I want to take care of you.”

For a second she thought she should just kick him out, but inside she knew she didn’t forget to lock the door. No one had ever come for her before, and part of her hoped he would. He did.

She placed her hands on the floor and pushed herself up onto her knees. She began picking up her ornaments, her tears flowing freely to the floor, when she felt his hand on hers. "Excuse the mess," she managed to whisper.
"I already have." He knelt beside her, took the ornament, and set it aside. Then he put his arms around her and cradled her to Him. “There will be time for all this later, Natalie. For now, just sit with me.”

And for the first time in her life, she felt peace.
 And again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse will come,
    even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Romans 15:12-13

Today's story is linking up with Simply Beth for Three Word Wednesday, as well as Word Filled Wednesday! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, and I will see you on Monday:)

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Worth It" Friends

I'm suffering from a vacation hangover. I feel I should report that any consequent memory loss is simply due to sleep deprivation or old age. While the hubs headed to a Sr. High youth gathering, the rest of us ventured out to see friends for 25 hours of joyful Jesus-loving happy time.

My mom told me I was more adventurous than she used to be. Who just packs up their 4 kids by themselves to drive 3 hours to see friends for one night? Then we joked that it was really more a matter of survival than anything else.

But the truth is- they are worth it.

I pray you have "worth it" friends.

You can't truly define a "worth it" friend, but in the fashion of Mr. Foxworthy I'll give you some brief examples:

You Might Have a "Worth it" Friend if...

1. Your house is crazy busy and a total mess, but you shoot them a text or a phone call because they have been on your heart lately.

2. You realize you haven't talked to them in a couple months, but when you call them it's like no time has passed.

3. You don't have to shower, wear makeup, or change out of your pajamas to see them.

4. You can talk about the most disgusting aspects of health and children, really it's ok. Shoot- you probably even ask their medical opinion.

5. You can ask each other questions about pretty much anything- even those things that require real honesty.

6. You never judge- and you never feel judged- even when you don't do everything exactly alike.

7. You have no idea how dirty or clean each others' houses are because you are just so excited to be together!

8. You can search each others' kitchen cabinets, refrigerators, and drawers for anything you need.

9. You can laugh and cry together.

10. You make each other "better" people.

(Now share this list with ten other friends in the next 8.5 minutes or in 17 days your old 5th grade teacher's niece will receive a disturbing letter in the mail marked, "You are pre-approved!")

This isn't some sappy list to forward. It's just ten reasons I carted four kids halfway across the state to chill with this family.

Because I knew it would totally be worth it.

Maybe you see where I'm going with this.

Of course, Jesus is totally worth it, but that's not my point. Harsh much, Lauren? I didn't mean that to sound flippant. It's just that my real point is this:

We have a God that comes to us.

And He came because we are worth it.

Not in and of ourselves. It wasn't our worthiness that sent Him here- it was His.

He created us and watched as His blessed children traded His love for their own pride.

Then He watched it again. The Old Testament shows scene after scene of betrayal- all by humanity.

And the faithfulness of God.

Because He knew it would be worth it.

It would be worth the birth. The persecution. The abandonment. The betrayal. The death.

It would be worth the tired feet. The chapped skin. The aching muscles. The hunger. The fatigue.

It would be worth the dirty looks. The cutting words.

It would be worth the separation- the total separation from the Father.

It would be worth it because we would finally be together. The Bridegroom and His bride.

So He left it all behind, traveled from the throne of heaven and into His creation with nothing.

To offer Himself up and redeem us. To set the captives free.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba, Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
Galatians 4:4-7

It's Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter all wrapped up into one glorious holy day. One that we will be celebrating for all eternity.

As the next few days and weeks turn into one giant countdown of parties, presents, houseguests, and travels, may we be mindful of the One who truly is Worthy and who loves us beyond compare.

Friday, November 22, 2013

More Than Tissue Paper Christians

They scurry in the door.
Backpacks thud on the kitchen table top.
Frenzied zippers fling open and the mouth of the bag opens wide.
Little mittened hands shove full-force into the void.
And emerge. With a plastic bag of treasures.
Their classes have one assignment for the week:
Turn off your screens and turn on your minds.
To aid in the effort, the school sends home 2 gallon Ziplocs filled with odds and ends. Yarn, tissue paper, glue sticks, straws. paper plate etc.
Project time. Make something, anything, creative. Then turn it in. Relentless doodads, claiming residency on my kitchen table. Evicted every single day.
He makes puppets. She makes a... can you guess it?
It's a chandelier.
She's got vision. She just plans as she goes. A little duct tape here. A flashlight there. Voila.
It's a masterpiece she is proud of, therefore so am I.
She clicks the button and the flashlight burns bright, the tissue paper letting the light through. Not all
of it, but some. With a gentle green glow.
Not transparent, translucent.
I've been struggling with this parable. Is this what we want to be? Translucent? Casting a gentle glow of Jesus, with just a tint of ourselves?
I want to say yes- because God made each of us unique. He gave each of us gifts to shine His glory into a dark world. But I'm confronted with Matthew 5- a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.
Translucence is not the goal.
I wouldn't say the most faithful witnesses I know are translucent- I'd say they were transparent. Or at least pretty close. Brightly colored by the Creator God, but seeking to shine Him everywhere.
Absolute beacons of hope.

So then, what if our beacon doesn't amount to much more than an LED bulb shining through the middle of a paper plate covered in tissue paper? That's how I feel. How much is enough? How transparent do I need to be?
I confess. I'd rather be wrapping paper than tissue paper.
And tissue paper rather than crystal clear glass.
Then maybe we need to remember Who the light is that is streaming through our chandelier. Not so we can try to take over. Try to shine harder for Him. He is the only one who can do the shining.
All we need to do is get out of His way.
The things that cloud God's love in my life all have to do with me. Is that how it is for you too?
We just get scared.
Because getting out of the way means giving up the control.
But Who better to take control in our lives than the One Who holds all of life in the balance in the first place?
The One Who gave up His life for ours.
The One Who rose again, and Who gives us the joy of the resurrection every single day.
The One Who knows us better than we know ourselves and Who is sufficient for us.
When we focus on the true Light of the World, instead of the vessels that carry Him, letting Him through is not only less frightening- it's far more satisfying.
Praying that He shines undeniable love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy into and through your lives today, every day. More and more.
 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16
I'm joining up with Missional Women today for Faith Filled Friday! Come on over and join us!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Fill Me Up

"Dad and I had a talk tonight."
They talked earlier in the afternoon. I had been on the phone with a friend, but their disappearance caught my attention. Snippets of their conversation had floated into the kitchen. Now it seemed the conversation was on her mind again.
"Really? What about?"
"Um. Well, I don't think I should talk to you about it."
"Ok... why not?"
"Well, we just got it all figured out and I don't think I need to bring it up again."
A couple hours later I sat on the couch, knowing what I wanted to write, but not sure how to get it out.
Then my husband told me. Our sweet daughter with the big heart acted out of character. Mean.
And my heart breaks because all she wanted to do was fit in. For once. Been there.
My daughter is weird, and she's just about the most refreshing weirdo you could meet. She really truly loves Jesus and lives like it. She loves everyone because that's what Jesus does.
So it broke my heart to hear her struggle because there are times when her specialness isn't enough for her. When she would trade the very thing that sets her apart, that makes her look like Jesus, just so she could look like everyone else.
My heart breaks for other daughters. Sons too. People like me. People who sometimes would rather just fit in. Who would trade our love for our neighbor just so we could join in the gossip, or not look odd for keeping company with the less desirable crowd. Who would forfeit the new creation for the old Adam.
Let's be honest- doesn't it just seem easier? Easier to make decisions based on what we want? Easier to keep "our" money and buy nicer things? Easier to spout our opinions- giving no regard for speaking the truth in love. Easier to have a conversation completely ignoring whether or not that person has saving faith or anyone serving them in Jesus' name?
Maybe I'm the only one, but I've read enough of the Psalms and Ecclesiastes to figure this mindset isn't anything new under the sun. And I'm pretty sure the Israelites didn't scurry after foreign gods because they didn't know it was wrong. Being chosen by God wasn't quite enough- they wanted to be chosen by their neighbors too. They wanted to fit in. So on the off-chance you ever find yourself camping out with me, my eldest, and the Israelites yearning for the easy road, maybe my girl, myself, and you, my dear friends, can learn a lesson from a maple I once knew:

It was a sad moment in an otherwise raucous celebration over FaceTime. Unable to join the rest of the family for Thanksgiving, they feasted a couple weekends early and we joined in later over the iPad to see all the darling faces. That's when my father-in-law broke the news. He had some trees taken down. 

I had no particular attachment to any of them, except one. The attachment is shared by many others, and for that reason my father-in-law was hoping the tree could get by with just a trim.
See, it holds the tire swing.

The tree service man inspected the tree, and there was no question about it. The tree had to go.
There was one crucial fact that my father in law could not see from where he stood.
The tree was hollow. The fact that none of the limbs had crashed into the house can be received as nothing short of a true blessing.
It's hard to believe it. To look at a tree so strong, so loved, and discover it's hollow.
It's not so different with the people around us. Looking strong. Standing tall.
But from where we stand, we don't see the whole picture.
Only One is privy to that information.
One strong gale and it all comes crashing down.
There's one truth that the Liar wants us to forget: being hollow, taking the easy road, doesn't make anything easier.
If you are tempted to believe your unbelieving neighbors might have it better than you in at least some areas of life, just talk to them. Really talk.
* Hollow is an eye for an eye. Being filled with the spirit is freedom to love. (Who wants to keep track of all those eyes anyway?)
* Hollow is "I make my own way." Being filled with the spirit is freedom to be made into our true selves by the Master Craftsman.
* Hollow is uncertainty about God. About the future, and who will care when I'm gone. Being filled with the spirit is certain hope, an imperishable soul waiting for a glorious reunion.
* Hollow is an incomplete definition of love, a sickly shadow of it. Being filled with the spirit is knowing a completely sufficient and unconditional love that we don't even have to earn.
* Hollow is... empty.
* Being filled with the spirit is being full:
of light (Luke 11:34)
of grace (John 1:16)
of joy (John 15:11)
of goodness (Romans 15:14)
of the love of God (Ephesians 3:19)
of courage (Philippians 1:20)
of knowledge (Philemon 1:6)
of assurance (Hebrews 6:11)
of mercy and good fruits (James 3:17)
of God (Ephesians 3:19)
Because even if you think you have nothing else going for you, Jesus + nothing still equals Jesus.
And Jesus is all that matters.
Praying that we all praise the Lord today for filling us up. May the forest of believers stand strong, pointing the way to our Creator.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10

Today I am linking up with Simply Beth for Three Word Wednesday and Michell for Doing You Well Wednesday! Click on the button, join in the reading, writing, and fun!

Monday, November 18, 2013

All Things. Really, He Works in Them All. {Messy Monday}

It's riddle for you this Monday morning...
We all have one. Some of us have more than one.
We all use it.
We all hide it.
What is it?
If you've seen the photo then you probably aren't straining to answer.
And we must be besties now because I am going reveal to you what I don't usually show anyone.
My junk drawer. That's the answer, and you'll see mine in a bit.
I have a few of them. Also, I'm not sure the exact date that our craft closet became our "crap closet." But yeah, that's happened too.
I like to save things. Store them- not hoard them. But  those egg cartons and popsicle sticks could be so useful someday. And I'm sure I'll be using the scraps of construction paper and plastic beads for something really awesome, when I get around to it. Honestly,  Pinterest is my enabler.
Hence my various indoor junk yards.
It's been on my mind to turn them into a Messy Monday for a while now, but nothing really developed until a few days ago when I was forced to spend time praying about some really hard things.
Things that don't make sense. Things that no one asked for.
Some terrifically tragic, some that flap in under the radar.
How do you make sense of the senseless? If God is Good*...
The pain? The illness, death, neglected children, abused wives? The defeated man? The anxious woman? Why? Why why why?
The same questions I asked years ago, yet only yesterday. In the days after I lost my mother-in-law, and then my sweet babies.
The why's forced me to my knees. To stop. To remember. Because I was being called upon to serve those who were facing pains I had faced. Questions I once raised.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
The dissonance of pain healing into chords of comfort, and not for me alone. Comfort is to be treasured, and then shared. Because God's love cannot be hoarded.
And as I pondered, prayed, remembered- one thing came to mind.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.
Romans 8:28
All things.
Not some. Not most.
Every single thing. 2nd Corinthians 1:3-4 gave us another all- He's the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all affliction.
Not some. Not most.
Jason Gray puts it this way: In the hands of our Redeemer, nothing is wasted.**
I put it this way:

As crappy as things might be- He doesn't have a crap closet either. He doesn't shelve us or our hardships away, just in case He finds time to get around to using it all. He doesn't half-heartedly shove you where you don't want to be. He doesn't overlook you. You are precious, and this is the truth:
We have a God of detail, and He overlooks nothing.
He's using it all right now- even if we can't see it.
The tragic becomes triumphant in His hands.
And when we are tempted to doubt this, the Bible gives us example after example of this truth.
Just look at the Christ.
Or if you need a sinner to relate to- try Paul, who was "gifted" with a thorn in his flesh. No one knows for certain what it was, but it was obviously more than an annoyance.
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Do you want to know how sufficient God is? Let Him reign in your weakness. Crown Him Lord of your circumstances. And watch Him work. Especially in the details. He knows every single thing about you. Nothing escapes His devotion.

And you cannot imagine how He will be glorified in your life.

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him.
1 Corinthians 2:9
*If God is Good is a book by Randy Alcorn that walks through the questions believers and unbelievers have about the nature of God and the problem of pain. It absolutely rocks. Another fantastic writer on God's providence in the area of pain and suffering is Joni Earekson Tada- check out When God Weeps.
**Click that link. Watch the video for Jason Gray's "Nothing is Wasted." I should say please, but it will so bless you, I'll just say "you're welcome" instead. ;) So good.