Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Hope

Christmas is almost here. Twinkling lights on houses, festivities with family and friends, and Christmas carols on every radio station remind us daily that Christmas is coming. It seems impossible that anyone could miss Christmas. Not here. For my friend who lives in Turkey, Christmas is just another day.  With words of truth, she reminds us all that hope is not found in a feeling, in a tradition, or in a box underneath the tree. Hope can only be found in a person. His name is Jesus. I invite you to be blessed as she shares her beautiful heart.


By Julie

I carefully selected the words I would need and practiced saying them in my head as I sat, anxiously waiting for my turn.  My language class was discussing holidays around the world.  We were each assigned to pick one from our country to talk about.  I chose Christmas, thinking it would be an easy holiday to discuss, but quickly realized I didn’t know the word for Christmas in this language.  I asked the teacher and he told me the words for “New Year”.  I was confused.  Surely he knew of Christmas! 

I tried again and explained that I didn’t want the word for New Year, but for Christmas.  He gave me a look that implied he thought I was insane and responded that those two holidays were the same.  In this language, they are called “New Year”.  My mouth hung open, I was at a loss for words.  I knew that people in this country didn’t celebrate Christmas, but I never expected they wouldn’t know what it was, and certainly didn’t think they would confuse Christmas with a New Year’s celebration.  

How could they get it so wrong?

Who could possibly confuse Christmas- the gift-giving, Jesus-birthing, hope-becoming-man, life-giving Christmas- with ringing in the New Year?  I was dumbfounded.

This was beyond a simple “lost in translation” problem.  A holiday of hope, life, celebrating our Savior, God becoming man, and our Redeemer being born of a virgin, was being confused with popping open champagne and yelling, “Happy New Year!” Where could they get such an idea?

As December rolled around and the days to Christmas drew closer I noticed more and more holiday decorations popping up.  Most of them appeared on the streets famous for their shopping, and in the giant malls where many brands from the West are sold.  I was curious.  Maybe my teacher had been confused.  We asked a few strangers on the street about the decorations and each person told us that, of course, they are for the New Year, while giving us the odd look we’ve grown accustomed to seeing when we ask questions that only a foreigner would.

One rainy Friday afternoon, a friend of mine took pity on my ignorance and tried to explain.  She told me that some people have adopted this “Western” holiday.  These “modern” people buy each other gifts, eat a big meal with their family, and if they are “very modern” might even put up a decorated tree.  All of this is to celebrate the New Year.  She was proud of her opportunity to explain this very “Western” holiday to an American.  She volunteered her opinion on how the stores like the opportunity to sell a few more items and draw in the foreigners to make money.

Immanuel, God with us, was being used as a way for stores to capitalize on foreigners and those here who consider themselves “modern”.  Inconceivable.  Who could imagine capitalizing off the birth of our King?

I took my own little journey into one of these giant malls.  I felt like I was stepping back into my homeland.  Twinkling lights were everywhere.  I stood mesmerized taking it all in: red bows, gold stars, smiling snowmen, decorated trees, giant shining wrapped boxes, even a Santa Claus, and wait…is that… Holiday music?  But still not a single mention of Christmas.  All the signs in every store window wished a Happy New Year.  Then my friend, who stood spell-bound beside me, said that whenever we need a taste of Christmas, all we have to do is come here.  Interesting.  So this was Christmas?

In all of the lights, stars, snowflakes, trees, Santas, and snowmen nothing represented the hope of Christmas.  The hope of Jesus.  How could they have gotten such an idea?  

How could they have missed the most important part?

Christmas here is just another day.  December 25th will come and go. People will wake up and go about their daily routine, business as usual.  At the end of the day they will climb into bed having missed it. All the lights, cookies, garlands and bows are nice.  But have we all missed it? 

How will you celebrate and share the real hope of Christmas this season?

The true light, which enlightens everyone, 
was coming into the world.  
John 1:9

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, 
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).  
Matthew 1:23

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How to Deal with the Unexpected

I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. Proverbs 8:17

The dash glowed 6:15 as I pulled out of the driveway. I was looking forward to a quiet road trip with four hours to myself. In an effort to avoid the country back roads at night, I left early in the morning, but I didn’t take into account that the sun doesn’t rise just because I do. A thick, hovering fog made it nearly impossible to see where I was going. A little after seven o’clock, the sun peaked over the horizon, and I exhaled.  Finally. Only what I expected to happen didn’t. I was sure the sun would shed light on my path and bring clarity. That’s not what happened. The sunlight made it even harder to see. I could see less than when I was driving in the dark. 

This is how life feels right now. I keep waiting for the fog to lift. I want a clear path and answers to all my questions. This season looks so much different than I expected, yet Jesus is here, shining brightly in the fog. I’m in a posture of searching. Some days it feels like straining, groping, even failing. Searching can feel a lot like seeking without any hope of finding.

But what if searching leads me to my true desire? What if my heart is after something else altogether? 

Proverbs 8:17 says that Jesus will be found by those who search for Him. Sometimes, I want clarity more than anything else, but deep down, all my heart really craves is Christ. I love this quote from Emily Freeman in Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World: “Faith doesn’t mean waiting for understanding or clarity. Faith means trusting God in the midst of misunderstanding and lack of clarity.”

Clarity isn’t necessary to keep moving towards God.

When we chose our youngest daughter’s name, her middle name seemed obvious: Joy. There wasn’t a more appropriate word to describe the beginning of her precious life. Anna, her first name, came later. As I sit back and remember why I was drawn to that name over a year ago, I realize God, who knew her before we did, chose her name with great care. Born just eight days before Christmas, her arrival was completely unexpected.  I carried twins full term, so I was expecting to make it to my due date in January. Anna Joy was determined to celebrate Christmas with us, whether it was in her momma’s plans or not. 

God wanted to me understand full well that she was His gift.

As I celebrated Jesus’ birthday, I held on tightly to a perfectly healthy five-and-a-half-pound bundle of joy. She has taught me so much in just one year about finding Jesus in the small moments, living with an open heart, and worshiping with empty hands. I’m still learning to trust that Jesus is here even when I struggle to see Him. I’m beginning to recognize His Presence even when He seems different than I expected.

Anna’s story is found in Luke chapter 2. She was a prophet who spent all her time in the temple, but that’s not always where she lived. She was married to her husband for seven short years and a widow for eighty-four. Certainly, this was not the life Anna had planned. It couldn’t have been what she expected. Luke says Anna “worshipped night and day.” It seemed like a mistake in my bible at first. Day and night is how my mind wanted it to read. Night and day just seems so backwards, but I guess it’s pretty accurate after all.

True worship begins in the dark where we learn God by heart rather than by sight.

When Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the temple, Anna recognized Jesus. She knew almost nothing about Him compared to what I know, but she recognized Him at once as the Messiah they had all been waiting for. She knew Jesus would bring salvation, even though He looked nothing like a Savior. He was a tiny baby who was fully God but also fully… baby. He was not the picture of strength. He was small, helpless, and weak; at least that’s how I probably would have seen Him. 

God chose the smallest entryway to bring heaven to earth, and Anna didn’t miss it.

Anna didn’t have clarity.  Anna didn’t have proof.  Anna didn’t have every question in her mind answered and wrapped up tidy with shiny paper, topped with a bow. She didn’t see the how or the why, and she probably never even lived to see Jesus turn water to wine, heal the blind, feed thousands, raise the dead or go willingly to the cross to shed His blood and bring the whole wide world redemption. In a town full of people who missed Him, Anna recognized Jesus.  This is all He asks of us, too.  Recognize Jesus in the fog. 

When you can’t see the way, find Jesus. He is the Way.

Jesus comes unexpectedly. There’s knowing Him, hearing Him, watching Him move, but the very moment we think we can predict how He will act, we’ve missed the point entirely. God did not send His Son to be predictable, even recognizable. God sent Love hidden and humble. None can fathom the depths of His love. 

God's love is an unexpected, reckless love that will take us eternity to fully receive.

May we search for Jesus more than we search for answers. May our desire to know Jesus outweigh our desire to know what’s ahead. May we recognize how God is making Himself known right in front of us, not in the place of answers and insight and clarity, but in the fog, in the uncertainty, and in the dark. May we believe wholeheartedly that He’s here with us and allow this truth to change the way we navigate through life. May we embrace Jesus even as we acknowledge that He looks different than we expected.

Sweet Anna Joy, 

This post is for you. I want you to know that the most valuable, most precious possession, the thing to hold onto more than anything else in this life is not a carefully scripted plan; the only thing worth clinging to is Jesus. I also want you to know that no matter what happens in this life, God is always worthy of worship. Night and day He deserves honor and thanksgiving and praise. Happy First Birthday, Bug!

Jesus loves you,

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Be Someone Who Notices

Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling. 
2 Corinthians 5:2

Though there have been brief stretches of normal, my baby’s skin has been invaded by angry, hot hives since the Fourth of July. We have no idea why. There have been tests run, her diet changed, specialists seen, and medications administered. Still there are no real answers. Some days it feels never ending and overwhelming and discouraging.  Other days I’m thankful for beautifully clear baby skin.

During her breakouts, I’ve had to make room for looks from strangers. The other day a woman came right up to me, and with a polite smile asked, “What’s wrong with your baby?” Her honesty was refreshing and her noticing was kind. It did the opposite of offend me.

Anna Joy’s body reveals evidence of virus or allergy or something else hidden. Her hives are indicators of the unseen. Not everyone has physical signs that give away what's going on underneath the surface. Silent suffering and invisible pain surround us, in spite of the Christmas season.

I overheard a woman’s conversation this week on the baby aisle at the grocery store. As I loaded my cart with Gerber green beans and peaches, I was abruptly confronted with a string of ill-tempered words shouted into a cell phone. Poison laced all throughout. I have no clue who she was speaking to, but her volume increased recklessly, and I wondered if she was even aware I was standing there with my baby listening to her hostility that conveyed deep, deep hurt. She ended the conversation, then stormed off. I wanted to tell her I noticed. I wanted to tell her it would all be ok.

We are all walking around with hurt and pain and we are longing for someone to notice. We may smile and say we’re fine, but every day we are inundated with reminders that things are not as they should be. We’re all sick, whether we show symptoms or not.

We’re infected with a homesickness that can’t be cured this side of heaven.

Approaching random strangers to ask what’s wrong is probably not the most effective way, but we can remember that hurt is usually concealed. We can allow that recognition to change our perspective and alter our reactions. We can be someone who notices. We can offer Hope.

This is the most magical and exciting time of year for our little ones, but for many of us it is the most stressful and taxing season of all.  It doesn’t have to be. Jesus says, Come. Come all who are weary. He invites the ones who suffer silently. He can heal invisible pain, because He sees. Jesus notices. He knows every scar and every gaping wound still throbbing. He is close enough to catch the tears that fall. He hears the groaning of the whole earth, the longing we can’t explain. Jesus is our Hope, our only remedy. 

May we have eyes to see through the exterior into the heart matters that matter most. May we be a people who offer Jesus rather than opinions and advice. May we remember that there are varying degrees of brokenness, but none are immune. May this season of togetherness remind us of the deeper work of kingdom art that is underway.

Jesus loves you,

I hesitate to even share this here because I know we’re among the lucky ones. There are children who have diagnoses that make us ache inside, moms who day in and day out care for precious ones whose chances of improving are slim. Parts of the world lack basic medical care readily available in my town. But this space has always been about sharing my struggles, joys, and lessons God is teaching me. This place has become where Jesus meets my everyday mess. This is where the gospel changes me rather than my circumstances. And God speaks even through circumstances I want Him to change.