Growing up we went to see the Nutcracker every year. I was mesmerized by the antique theatre with velvet curtains and gold columns, the live orchestra, and mostly by the Sugar Plum Fairy dancing on her toes in pink satin pointe shoes. As a young ballet dancer she was who I wanted to be #lifegoals.
Now, with a family of my own, we have a new Christmas tradition. Each year we go see Awaited—a modern musical production depicting the Christmas story. This is not your grade school Christmas pageant. I am amazed by the spectacular costumes—ranging from a metallic gold poisonous frog to the giant camel trodding down the aisles that looks like a Jim Henson creation. There’s a snow machine that rains snow on the audience while the cast performs a delicate rendition of “Silent Night.” The shepherds are strong and stomp around stage with giant wooden staffs. They look more like body guards then guys who hang out with sheep. The music complete with harpists, multiple drum sets, electric guitars, keyboards, etc. rivals a Broadway soundtrack. But my favorite part is the three kings.
The kings wearing towering crowns and flowing robes journey down the rows of spectators with their entourages in search of The Star. Because they’re brilliant scholars, and they know when a certain star appears that the world’s savior is being born. Which is life changing, for everyone. Their performance begins with a quest, including climbing ladders on stage to search the heavens. “We three kings have traveled so far.”
And then the wise men see it. And it changes everything.
The music crescendos. The kings toss down their crowns, strip off their robes to simpler tunics, put down their treasures in awe and wonder. They are no longer concerned with their earthly status or designer clothes or monetary worth or how long their journey has taken. All they care about is that star and what it means—salvation, peace, joy, hope and love. They spin around the stage twirling on scarves, suspended in air.
Do you feel it?
A few days until Christmas are you spinning and twirling delighted in the promises Jesus offers?
Or are you frantic, frazzled or freaked out, worn out by your journey? How far have you traveled this week, this season, this year? Not just literally, but figuratively? Baking cookies, wondering why the teacher’s gift was NOT delivered by Amazon Prime in two days, picking up the extra pack of stamps you need to finish sending out your cards, staying up late or rising insanely early to concoct the side dish you’re taking to the event. I enjoy shopping for people I love, baking delicious food, and sending cards to stay in touch with far away friends. But I do NOT want to lose myself in the lists and the to-dos. How about the bigger stuff? The job hunt or college search? The acclimating to a new city? The figuring out how to do life now that your body no longer does what it used to do or now that a person you depended on is no longer there? I don’t want to get overwhelmed or preoccupied with these things either.
I want to step back and let the real Christmas story soak in. That when Jesus showed up on the scene in Bethlehem 2000 years ago the world was a wreck. There were corrupt politicians and civil wars and poverty. Spend five minutes on your favorite news app and you’ll see plenty of the same today. Mary and Joseph’s marriage wasn’t exactly starting as they’d planned or expected. Their current living situation wasn’t ideal. Doctors weren’t going to be able to help with this birth. But Jesus was coming to save the world.
To save them. To save us. To save you. To save me.
We worry about all of it—did we get everything on our list, do we have the right outfits to wear, where did we put our phones, are we going to max out our credit cards, can we get all of our work done in the midst of the Christmas festivities to please our clients, our bosses, and to pay the bills? Will we heal? Will they heal? When? But we can lay it all down. Our worldly status. Our crowns. Our treasures and revel in the peace, joy, hope, and love that Jesus brought down to the world.
Jesus came on Christmas. But His love, His promise of salvation for all of us is for every day. Breathe it in. Take a moment to stand completely still letting it soak in. Then revel in it. Merry Christmas.
P.S. If you haven't seen Awaited, or can't get tickets, a full version of the show will be available to stream at http://awaitedshow.com starting this Thursday at 7pm and also the whole show will be on WCPO (9) on 12/24 at 5pm and 11:30pm and WLWT (5) on 12/25 at 5am and 11am. Treat yourself and your family. You'll be blown away!
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
I attended my first rap concert over the weekend. I’ve never been a rap girl. I prefer the coffee house playlists of bands with raspy voices pouring their hearts out like; The Fray, U2, The Goo Goo Dolls, Train, and a little worship music—Passion, Hillsong United, VCB, thrown in for good measure. But Rap? You see, my sixteen-year old son, Max, loves the Christian rapper, Lecrae. And I love my son. Plus, live music.
On the night before Advent, my son and I stood in line outside the Newport Music Hall with approximately 2000 other people waiting to be permitted into the old ballroom, touted the Longest Continually Running Rock Club in the country. With general admission (no assigned seats) everyone waits to be admitted, so they can try to wrangle a spot near the stage. The anticipation in the line that spanned multiple city blocks was palpable. Ticket holders walked up and down the queue, videoing the crowd for their Instastories and Snapchat feeds. Cars driving by cheerfully beeped their horns. One driver leaned out their window and yelled, “Who you standing in line to see?” “Lecrae!” a clump of guys behind us yelled pumping their fists. As the line lurched forward, the crowd stood on tiptoe, eager for the show, for the thing they’d been waiting for.
Much like Advent. As we prepare for Christmas, there is much waiting, much excitement and anticipating, but that’s all part of the experience, part of the fun. Are you standing on your tiptoes preparing for Jesus?
Two openers rapped with only microphones to keep them company on stage. There was a planned 15-minute intermission that dragged to 45 due to a malfunction with the DJ’s mixing board. The crowd shifted and murmured. The crew of the music hall hustled past with flashlights, screwdrivers, and concerned expressions.
Just like those Israelites waiting on the Messiah a thousand years before His birth. Just like our life as we wait for Christ to move. As we wait, sometimes things break or don’t work as expected. Sometimes life is crowded, dark, or uncomfortable. Sometimes other things have to take place first—there is an ordering of events necessary for the correct outcome. And when the waiting takes longer than we planned, we might begin to doubt or be tempted to take things into our own hands.
The Israelites grumbled. They turned to idols. They fell away from the One True God who loved them and had delivered them time and time again.
At the Newport voices grumbled, “What if they cancel the show?” “What if he won’t come on?” “Why doesn’t Lecrae just do what those other guys did, sing with just his mic? It worked for them?” People are antsy. People begin to doubt. People try to take the reins.
But God’s plan is the perfect plan. It always has been. Always will be. He knew precisely the moment Jesus needed to come down to earth over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem, and He knows exactly what needs to be going on in your life today.
Keep your head to the sky, keep your eyes on the prize..—Lecrae, “8:28”
As the crowd mentality speculated about the outcome of the evening, the lights suddenly dimmed. Smoke machines emitted fog backlit with purple. “There’s mist!” the woman next to me yelled, as if she’d heard angels singing. The drummer began a cadence and the opening lyrics of Lecrae’s song, “Hammertime”, roared from the speakers. A platform at center stage rose with a huddled up figure and BANG! A cloud of red confetti and Lecrae bursting from the platform. By the way, the show was amazing.
I’m not saying a rap concert is the same as waiting on Jesus, getting ready for what He’ll do, but more of a parable of what it’s like when Jesus moves—light shows, confetti, and music that reverberates in your chest, just when you were wondering if He’d show up, if maybe it would be just fine without instruments, without lights.
Just fight a little longer my friend, it’s all worth it in the end… —Lecrae, “I’ll Find You”
This advent, as you prepare Him room in your heart, as you wait to get the medical report, the court date, the phone call, your exam grade, the text, the paycheck, take heart.
The anticipation is where God can do some of His greatest work. Allow yourself to experience the unspeakable joy that Jesus offers, because no matter what you’re waiting for these words rang true to the Israelites, and they ring true for me and you today:
Unto us a child is born. A son is given. His name shall be Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace. —Isaiah 9:6-7.
In other words, the waiting is worth it.
And just like seeing and experiencing Lecrae made this girl into a rap fan, once you experience Jesus first hand, you’ll be changed forever by his love and grace. Prepare Him room.
Some friends of ours remind me of the Von Trapp family. Three of their kids formed a sibling band, The Bundys. They’ve released a CD, their latest EP releases in a couple of weeks, they’ve been on tour with LeAnn Rimes, and they live in Nashville, frequenting various stages—they’ve even played the Bluebird—in hopes of getting their big break.
Over the weekend, they played in Oxford. Our family loves their family’s music, so my kids and I went uptown to listen to The Bundy’s heartbreaking harmonies at an outdoor pavilion on an Indian Summer eve. It was magical.
I don’t know why, but at one point during the show my eyes drifted from the trio. I scanned the crowd and saw their dad (my husband and mine’s friend) sitting in the grass by himself, mesmerized by the performance of his children. It was one of those moments that froze in time. In a way I felt guilty eavesdropping on what was clearly an intimate moment. But I was also so moved by the beauty of it all.
I went up to him after the show, and said, “You must be so proud.”
He smiled and nodded. “You know, out of all the things I do, this is probably the thing that makes me the happiest—seeing my kids up there.” He glanced toward the stage, it’s not about if they get a Grammy or a big label, it’s because they’re so happy when they do this—when they make music. They’re doing the thing God created them to do.”
As a mom, my eyes welled up. Because I get it. All I want for my kids is to find the thing that God made them to do, and then have them do lots of that. But as I drove home I was touched at a deeper level. I envisioned God watching my husband teach, me write, our kids play sports, my mom volunteer, my brother parent his children, or my best friend from high school paint. All of us, in a way working toward some kind of a big break—the next promotion, recognition, reward, breakthrough, or applause. But as we strive for these earthly things, I pictured God the Father, sitting on the grass under the stars, smiling a fully content smile—not concerned at all about what our performance, or reviews, or performance reviews look like. But just taking pleasure in the fact that we are doing the things He created us to do, that we are doing the things that make us fully alive.
That vision of God shifts everything. All the striving. The goals. The checklists (yes, I’m that girl) become irrelevant. Yes, there are things we need to get done, because we live here on planet Earth. There are bills to pay and emails to send and things we need to buy at the store. As we chase the dreams God has put in our hearts, there are hours to put in, late night and early morning studying, practicing, rehearsing, editing, honing and refining. But getting caught up in these things, getting stuck in them, is pointless.
Yes, we need to do our part, and we are called to do it well. But then, the beautiful thing is once we’ve put in our work, we can let go. We can release our work to God and just do our thing—whether that’s singing, playing the cello, composing the notes, or working the lights. We can walk out on stage, get lost in the music, and as we scan the crowd we’re so desperate to impress, catch the eyes of our Father, and see Him nodding, clapping, and saying, “Out of all the things I do, this is my favorite thing—seeing my kids up there, doing what I created them to do.”
Do you know that old Rod Stewart song, “Every Picture Tells A Story (Don’t It)”? I’m understanding more and more that every person has a story, and they’ll tell it to you, and it will blow you away. All you have to do is ask.
I recently experienced an amazing event in Nashville called STORY. The experience was filled with presenters sharing their stories and inspiring attendees to explore and share theirs. Abigail Washburn the Mandarin speaking, banjo playing woman from Illinois, who just returned from a tour along the Great Wall of China with Yo Yo Ma was a stand in for a sick presenter. What? This was the sub?
And Jeremy Cowart, celebrity photographer who has taken photos of everyone from the Pope to the Kardashians to Sting, yet uses his celebrity to launch amazing humanitarian projects such as Help-Portrait, which offers free portraits to people who have never had their picture taken, and campaigns in Haiti, Rwanda, and Uganda to raise awareness of the devastation these people have endured and funding to help them rebuild. This guy was the guy who struggled through high school. This was the guy whose mantra growing up was, “I can’t”. But his parents repeated to him, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). A reminder of truth that WE CAN, despite what the world tells us, despite what our achievement tests score us. Look what he’s become! Think what you can become.
Jon Guerra appeared on stage plucking his acoustic guitar and breaking into a soulful melody “We are stained it’s true, but when Your light shines through, we all look like stained glass windows to You.” And there was the lady who played the bassoon and the woman I bumped into at an after party in a warehouse who made a cotton candy tree full of wishes. And James Rhodes, world renowned classical pianist and composer, who played Chopin so beautifully it made me weep, then proceeded to share openly his story of being sexually abused as a child and how music saved him.
Not to mention the fact my sweet friend who I attended Story with and I, stayed up late in an artsy Nashville hotel wearing our pj’s watching Taylor Swift videos. We all have stories.
I could go on and on. But you get the idea. Stories. We all have them. Each and every human being was knitted together in our mother’s wombs (Psalm 139:14) by God, our Creator, with skills and fears, hopes and hiccups, weaknesses and joys, leaps and bounds, whispers and screams. And God takes all of those marvelous little details and writes our stories. It’s like an Encyclopedia Brown mystery, in that God gives us the opportunity to choose if the hero (you or me) will pick A or B, will they give up or keep going, will they try harder or stop trying, will she dream bigger, smile broader, take a different path when the first one is blocked? Will he or she trust in the Author of their story for a happy ending even when the villain seems menacing and the tornado is twisting and they’re locked in a closet? Will they tap into the courage and peace their God has to offer? Will you?
What’s your story? What’s the story of the person next to you, the one you’ve never talked to, the kid who sits in the back of class, or the woman on the far side of church, or the person who always shows up late and leaves a minute early at boot camp? Are you willing to ask them? Are you willing to share yours? Because when we hear other people’s stories, we see their true reflections, often for the first time. And when we share ours, we let other people see ours. And they are all beautiful.
I need a new pair of rain boots. We need to have a mesh bag for our class trip. We need more bottled waters. I need to find my keys. I need to get to practice early. I need sleep!
We “need” so much. These are just some of the things I heard my family needing, yesterday. Maybe you need something more substantial—enough money to cover your bills, a surgery, a miracle. What do you need today?
Sometimes we throw the word “need” around loosely, when we should substitute want. But there is one thing we do need every minute of every day, Jesus.
My precious friend, Holly Starr’s, latest CD releases today, aptly named, Everything I Need. Starr once again turns the focus of her incredible music to realizing we can’t do anything without Jesus, but with Him, well, we have everything we need.
The title track is one I heard Starr sing at a show a year and a half ago. Since then our whole family has been singing the refrain. It’s something to meditate on, something to remember, something to sing in your head when you’re stuck in traffic or arguing with someone you care about or at your wits end. For all those times we’re thinking we need something, but are so overwhelmed to even know what that something is, it’s Jesus. He is our air, our light, and our daily bread. As Starr describes Him in another song on the CD, “God Is,”
He is mighty, more than able. He's a Refuge and a Savior.
Holly’s voice is beautifully pure and her faith incredibly inspiring. The beauty of her songs will make you sigh in appreciation, make you hum along, but the message of her music is what will draw you closer to God. The word God put in her heart while working on this album was “worship.” Her goal with this project is to help others worship our amazing God and all that He is. Although difficult to choose, my favorite song on the CD is, “Through Me.” In it, Starr sings,
Turn down the noise in all I do, let it be about you, Jesus
Because when we do turn down the noise of our lives, we don’t seem to need those other things so much, it helps us focus on the one thing we do need, Jesus, and how readily available He is to us, no matter where we are, or what we’re going through.
Today, I pray for peace as our family has a jam-packed weekend ahead. I pray for a friend who has experienced a tragic loss. I pray for my daughter to play her best at her soccer game, and my son to garner deeper glimpses of Christ’s love on the retreat he’s attending. I pray for another friend who’s self worth has been marginalized. I pray for time as I connect with old friends, that we can do what old friends do--learn from one another, make each other laugh, share. As I look at these petitions, I see that through them all, everything I need is Jesus, because He provides me with peace, helps us all to shine our brightest, has brought these friends into my life, always wants me to know Him better. Jesus wants me to show love to His children, and He cares so deeply He will comfort those who are suffering. Therefore, He is the answer to all my prayers and to yours. I plan on listening to Holly Starr’s new CD on continuous play this weekend to keep me focused on this truth--Jesus is everything I need.
MY GRACE IS ALL YOU NEED 2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT
How about you? What are you praying for this weekend? How will you remind yourself of Jesus’s provision in all things?
I have always loved music. Always.
Growing up, every cupboard, shelf and rack in our home was filled with the records my dad collected. I’d memorized the Wizard of Oz soundtrack before I could ride a bike and learned most of the lyrics to the entire Beatles catalogue before entering junior high. I still listen to music when I’m freaked out, chilling, excited, tired, pumped up, worked up, working out, baking, driving, you name it. And, I always sing along. Always.
Unfortunately, for those around me, I’m not that strong a singer. That fact hasn’t dampened my love of music, not one little bit.
A couple of years ago I attended a Chris Tomlin concert. In the middle of the show, Chris Tomlin took a break and Louie Giglio came on stage and spoke. It was a-mazing, and at the time, I’d never experienced anything like it. The mixed media of an inspirational singer with an inspirational speaker, well, it spoke to me.
Being a speaker myself, a thought, like a single brightly colored thread, wove itself through my brain. "What a cool way to speak," I thought, “as part of a concert, you know a ‘we interrupt this fantastic concert for a word about how much God loves you,’ and then ‘back to our regularly scheduled program’.” But the thread was thin, and my brain was packed.
A few months later Holly Starr, a Christian recording artist I’d gotten to know via Twitter was cruising through Ohio. We connected while she was in town, and I instantly felt like God sent her into my life for a reason. Her songs were beautiful and powerful, but even more incredible than her music was her faith. She shared with me how she became inspired to become a worship leader after seeing a Chris Tomlin show! WOW! Another thread, a thicker one, more coarse and tactile, wove its way through my mind and intertwined with the first, what if Holly sang and I spoke?
I’m blown away by how God prepares us, how intricate and well thought out and executed His plans are. Because, in just two weeks, Holly and I will be doing just that. We are thrilled to be sharing the message that our true identity is in in Christ – not from how much money we make, or what we drive, or how many followers or likes we have, not from what brand of shoes we wear, or how fast or strong we are, or what size we wear. The reality is, we were made in God’s image, meaning we are exactly as we are supposed to be, and we are perfect in His eyes.
Our sponsor, Sisterhood Magazine, helps us present the Through My Father’s Eyes Tour. Those two idea strands, the two seemingly random ideas, God has woven them into beautiful fabric.
We’d love to have you join us in this celebration. If you live near Bismarck, ND, we’ll be at Calvary Chapel at 7:00 PM on September 13. If you live near Ames, Iowa, we’ll be at First United Methodist Church at 6:30 PM on September 20. We’ll also be on the Finding Balance webinar together October 7 from 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM . Holly and I still have a few openings mid-September if your church or organization would like to partner with us in sharing this important message of true beauty.
After all of these years of singing to myself I can actually say, “I’m going on tour.” I promise you I won’t sing. Cool how God works. Always.
What’s your first memory of music?
It’s Addicting, my latest novel, the third in the Status Updates series releases July 14! That’s only FOUR days away! HOORAY! Claire, Kat, Palmer, Hannah, and I have been itching to tell you what music they're listening to in their sophomore year of college, and now, we can’t wait any longer.
Because I’m so excited about the release, I’m going to give away an autographed copy of It’s Complicated, an autographed copy of It’s Over and an autographed copy of the brand new,It’s Addicting.
This is how it’s going to work. We’re going to do a countdown. Today’s day four. So today, we’re counting down our favorite music addictions.
We say it all the time right? But the only thing I'm truly addicted to is Christ!
For the contest: All you have to do to enter is comment and tell me one of your addictions AND share the link on one of your social media sites. You can comment on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest, and share any of those ways as well. You can enter once each day of the countdown (limited to five total entries per person), and at the end of the five days, on release day, July 14, I’ll pick three winners – one for each title—via Randomizer.
Today is music addiction day, so tell me one of your music addictions.
Me? I’m currently addicted to the letter F on my iTunes feed. I was listening to "Fix My Eyes" by For King and Country, on a run the other day, and just let the music play from there. I had a blast of a run listening to everything from "Faster" by Matt Nathanson to "Fez" by U2 to "Flake" by Jack Johnson to "Friday I'm in Love" by the Cure to "Focus" by Holly Starr. Even Beethoven's "Fur Elise" was in my F stream. Now I'm stuck on the letter F and letting the melodies entertain and inspire me. How about you? What's your music addiction?
You've got to get yourself together. You're stuck in a rut. And you can't get out of it.
Ever feel that itch, that urge, that tug inside to change something? It could be your scenery, your haircut, maybe you crave a new identity, even a new phone cover would help at this point. Ever been bored, or exhausted or numb, from your current set of circumstances?
Maybe you just finished up your school year and you’re not sure what summer has in store for you. Or the school year seems to be dragging out thanks to all the snow days this past winter.
Well, you don’t need to be Jason Bourne and grab a different passport from your safety deposit box to jazz things up. But it is up to you to get out of your rut. Sitting around wishing things would change won’t do the trick.
Now some of you change your address or hair color as often as others of us change our socks. To you, there’s no need to make drastic changes, you already do that, daily. But for the rest of us there’s something refreshing, maybe even daring about trying something new. Summer can be a lazy time to fall into old routines, OR a chance to change your perspective and relight your inner spark. It’s up to you. Which one is it going to be?
Here are a few ideas to get jump-started:
What about you? Any other ideas on how to spice things up?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
Who do you see when you look in the mirror?
I love this question. It's loaded, isn't it? Who do you see? And why? And why not?
God sees His beautiful creation, but we let the world and its views and its expectations and comparisons and labels fog up our mirrors. Want to wipe off that fog and see yourself for the miracle God sees?
There's an awesome upcoming event to help us REFOCUS. The incredible, amazing, gorgeous, talented Holly Starr will be performing. Women of all ages will give their personal testimonies. I'll be speaking. Not convinced yet? There will be yummy snacks and coffee and prizes.
You owe it to yourself to discover your true beauty. Bring a friend or daughter or mother or sister or roommate, so after the event you can remind each other of who God created you to be.
Join me on March 1 from 9:00-12:00 at Oxford Bible Fellowship in Oxford, Ohio.
525, 600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?
“Seasons of Love” from the musical RENT by Jonathon Larson
I first saw RENT in New York City in 2005. I honestly didn’t know anything more about the plot than it was about artists squatting in an empty New York warehouse, and that it was a modern version of the opera, La Boheme, set in Paris. Hello. You had me at Paris. I wasn’t prepared for it to pierce my heart and affect my soul.
I bought the CD and played it nonstop for months. The following year the movie came out. Watched it. Even learned how to play “Seasons of Love” on the piano.
I saw RENT again over the weekend. This time instead of at the Nederlander Theatre seating 1200 people on Broadway, I was on Miami University’s campus at a theatre seating less than 100. Instead of Drew Lachey and Scary Spice (Melanie Brown) in the leads, college students performed the roles of Mark, Mimi, Roger, Maureen, Joanne, Tom Collins and Angel.
And these students with their raw talent and intense passion pierced my heart and affected my soul all over again, probably even more so than when I saw it on Broadway. (If you count crying four times during the performance “affecting”.)
For those of you who haven’t seen RENT. Go do so. Now, preferably. But if that’s not an option, know it is the story of one year in the lives of a group of friends. They face poverty, rejection, love, glory, success, denial, death, joy, fear, comfort and loss. But mainly, they learn how to appreciate the moments.
It’s impossible for me to see RENT and not reflect on the past year of my life. This is something I usually reserve for New Year’s or birthdays, but today it is fresh on my mind, tugging at my heart. In my last 525,600 minutes I lost a father in law, visited the beach, had my oldest child start high school, made new friends, reconnected with old friends, joined a Bible study, published a new series with a new publisher, looked at the sun through a giant telescope, rode a tiny rollercoaster. But my favorite parts of my year haven’t been the big events, they’ve been the moments, the snapshots in time where I’ve discovered something new, felt loved, was inspired. When listing highlights of my year I wouldn’t write ‘going to Paris’, but instead I’d say, my husband recorded the bells ringing from the infamous bell tower of Notre Dame on a sunny afternoon on his phone for me, so I could listen to them over and over. I don’t measure my year in the 500 soccer games I’ve attended. I might be exaggerating. A little. But the magnificent save my son made as goalie on a Penalty Kick against his team is a moment of pure joy I’ll cherish as I reflect on the year.
And in each moment, I know God was with me. Is with me. Is with you. As the song “Seasons of Love,” says “in daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee.” He is there. Every hour of every day. Every step of the way. Every conversation. Every breeze, every flavor (I think especially the salty caramel mocha flavors) and handshake and hug.
What are the highlights of your last 525,600 minutes?
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