When I was little I had a picture book, a Golden Book, (does anyone remember those?) starring Grover from Sesame Street. It was titled The Monster at the End of This Book. The plot is Grover warning the reader not to turn the page, because he is so frightened about the monster on the last page. Turns out, the monster on the last page is Grover. Sometimes the monsters we are most frightened of are ourselves.
You guys I am typically a smiley, happy girl. I’m a morning person. I’m a hugger. I love sunshine and daisies. My glass is half full. But there is a monster that lives inside of me. She came out yesterday, on the phone with a customer service representative. I said things out loud to this poor woman like, “I don’t need you to repeat the same sentence over and over to me.” Oh my.
What gets in to me? Why in the world would I treat someone on the other end of the phone with disrespect and unkindness? I can try to justify that I was extremely frustrated, that it was for my college daughter’s debit card, and she’s going to need it as she heads out of town and back to campus. And I love my daughter and instinctively protect her. But the woman whose job it is to process debit cards does not deserve my sass. No one does.
I don’t know if anyone else struggles with this, if the Christmas returns or bills brought out your inner-monster? Maybe you turn into monster-mode in rush hour traffic, long lines or after a long day of working or parenting or all of the above. If so, how do you handle these emotions? What does it take for you to simmer down?
Me? I literally had to get off the phone. I ended the call without any resolution whatsoever by saying, “I’m so frustrated I just need to go. Have a great day.” I did sneak in ‘have a great day’, but no one was buying my brand of fake friendliness.
Once off the phone, I walked a lap around the house, took a couple of deep breaths, and tried to figure out why I got so riled up. God reminded me no matter what happened on the other end of the phone, I could control what happened on my end, and I had chosen poorly. I immediately asked God to forgive me. Because hadn’t my pride just taken over? My feeling of entitlement? So not pretty. I apologized to my daughter who had overheard the whole conversation, because I was ashamed of how I'd handled the call. Very poor modeling on my end. I don’t know how to apologize to the woman on the phone, or to the woman from Time Warner I spoke to last month when canceling cable, or to the Samsung representative I spoke to last summer when my washing machine was exploding. But I’m doing it here. A public confession of my rudeness. I didn’t curse or call anyone names, but I was extremely impatient and ungrateful. And I am so sorry. This is not behavior becoming of anyone. And it is certainly not what Jesus had in mind when He instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. To all of you customer service reps, YOU ARE AMAZING FOR PUTTING UP WITH ALL OF THE NONSENSE. I appreciate each and every one of you. I can’t imagine what you hear in a day. I am so sorry I did not treat you with the love you deserve.
This monster inside of me. I do not like her. Like Grover, I fear getting to the part in the story where I emerge—possibly when I need to call the insurance company. So I’m taking this one to God. Like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (7:15), I want to say, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
The good news? Jesus. Jesus forgives all of this yuck, and the rest of the ickiness inside us, too. He restores our brokenness and heals our wounds. He files down our fangs, clips our claws, and tames our roars. And then even though He sees plain and clear the monster part, Jesus pulls us in close, hugs us and says, “I love you.”
As Paul asks then answers a few verses down (v. 24-25) to the Romans, “Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”
Brandon Heath puts it similarly in his song, “Wait and See”:
There is hope for me yet
Because God won't forget
All the plans He's made for me
I'll have to wait and see
He's not finished with me yet
This is the very best news. If there’s any percent monster in you (even a blue, fluffy one) then know it’s okay. There’s hope for us. God loves us anyway. He’s not finished with us. He has great plans for us that go way above and beyond phone calls and driving through traffic. Whew. We can turn the page and do so with courage and expectance of how God will guide us and help us back on track when we stray.
P.S. They’ve animated The Monster at the End of This Book and Grover narrates it. If you have a little one, this is a brilliant way to entertain them when their inner monster is flaring.
We’ve had a lot of snow days here in Ohio. Which I positively love. It means kids frolicking in the woods, cups of sweet, creamy cocoa, card games, and movie nights. We went on a bit of a run--Ice Age: Collision Course (man, they’ve made a killing out of Sid the Sloth), Inkheart, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
All these different movies had one thing in common—an entire undiscovered world in the midst of an undetected ordinary object in our world. In Ice Age, a whole colony of Zen animals lives and does yoga in the interior of a magnetic rock. In Inkheart, just read a few paragraphs of a book and the story comes to life, literally leaping out of the pages. Toto jumps out of Oz, scampers around your room and barks. Gold coins shower the floor, making you instantly rich if you read the right scene from Ali Baba, etc. And in Fantastic Beasts, Newt Scamander opens his briefcase and submerges into not only a workshop with food and medical supplies for his beasts, but caves, fields, and nests—habitats for all of his creatures. Reminder, this is all inside his briefcase. It struck me how strange this was—that three random movies we watched over an extended weekend all had this theme. But it speaks to something that tugs at our hearts—a knowledge that this world isn’t all there is, a longing for something more than meets the eye. And so we keep turning the page, turning the corner, opening the wardrobe, banging into brick walls at train stations in hopes of ending up in Narnia or at Hogwarts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love this wonderful life. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love living in a college town. I love being able to tell stories. I love our church, my mom, my friends, chocolate croissants and dark roast coffee. And I am so blessed that these are most of my moments.
But some parts are really, really hard. War and sickness and racism and trafficking and poverty are all unbearable, plus any personal battle you’re currently facing. Thankfully, Jesus promises us more. Living with Him is like getting to spend a few moments inside of your favorite book—the colors are brighter, the air is sweeter, the music more melodic.
And one day, Jesus proclaims, He will put an end to all suffering, make everything new. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:4-5
And that sounds pretty stinking amazing. Maybe it’s why we keep searching for secret worlds, this longing to reach the land of no tears, no death, and no pain. And if you don’t live in your imagination as much as I do, I’m guessing you still escape to other lands via movies, songs, art, and books—suspend time and go somewhere exotic, adventurous, or at least warm for a little while. The good news is this place exists. Not just in children’s books or on movie sets. And although the passage from Revelation refers to end times, we get glimpses of this glorious living when we walk daily with Jesus. A warm, accepted feeling when you were all by yourself and feeling lonely. A few hours where the pain subsides for no reason you can pinpoint, but the relief is real. Someone stepping in to help you through a challenge, when you’d about given up hope. A stunning sunrise. A clear crisp song of a bird. A painting in a gallery that tugs at your heart. Sunlight refracting off snow crystals, sending out a rainbow of colors. A song you’ve never heard before that seems to speak to your exact feelings. A deer holding up his head and flashing his majestic antlers—brief moments of clarity, foreshadowing of brilliance.
Each day with Jesus is easier than one without. Because even in the midst of pain and sadness there is hope and there is love. When we hurt so much we don’t know if we can bear it, when the tension builds up so thick we’re not sure how we’ll get through it, when the suffering or ugliness is so bitter or vile, we don’t know if we can go on, we know that the Savior of the World loves us, is on our side, will never forsake us, will hold us up when we can’t stand, and hold our hands when we start to shake. He will see us through. He will protect us in love. Although we might not see it from our vantage point, He has already won this battle. And the more time we spend with Jesus, the more we understand this—the more relief we feel, the more peace we find in the storms, the more perspective we gain in the whirlwind. Sometimes in those storms we see rainbows and in the wind we catch a treasure flying past. These are the previews of what we’re searching for. It doesn’t make life here on earth idyllic, but it makes it infinitely better.
fAnd then one day when we least expect it we’ll open that wardrobe, or drawer, or window and discover the land we’ve always been seeking. As a character in The Last Battle (the final tale in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia) puts it,
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now...Come further up, come further in!”
Until that day, you can find me eating chocolate, hugging the people I adore, loving and embracing my life. But I’ll also be tapping on bricks and wandering through the snow seeing if I can find a secret alley or spot a lamppost. You never know.
I was having coffee with my friend, Beth, trying to get caught up on all of the things. She asked, “So, what kinds of New Year’s resolutions did you make?”
I looked her straight in they eye, defied society and said, “I didn’t make any.”
“No way,” she replied. “You seem like such the type.”
I am such the type. Beth knows me well.
I am a girl of lists and schedules. In fact I don’t know anyone who likes to “know the plan” more than I do, or who gets more ruffled when “the plan changes.” In a life where I wear many hats, juggle many schedules, mother four and a half kids (I lovingly refer to my husband as #fifthchild) there is so much to tend to each day and week. So much of it would fall through the cracks if I wasn’t diligent about the family calendar App—figuring out who will get a ride when, where, and with who.
But this great quality of mine, this one of making sure things get done—that my husband and I take time to date, that my writing assignment is turned in, that the forms are signed and submitted, is also a coping mechanism that can become a problem. They say our best trait is often our worst trait. See, when I feel like things are out of control, I have a quick fix for that. I can plan, and in doing so, control all of the hourglasses, clocks, and timers, or so I pretend.
My second semester of college was a time when things felt out of my control. I had pledged a sorority. My roommate had not. Instead she got super involved in a great student org. All of our plans to be besties and do everything together got fragmented by my obligations and her obligations and all the places they did NOT overlap. My high school boyfriend and I decided to “see other people.” All of our plans to live happily ever after evaporated. The novelty of college had rubbed off. Classes were hard. New friendships were hard. I felt I had no control over the events and circumstances around me. In attempts to cope with the unknown I started scheduling my days—writing out the hourly details on a piece of skinny paper and clipping it to my planner—so I could “control” the big picture and the details. Not like, oh tomorrow I’ll study at the library in the evening. But like freaky, insane girl:
8:00-8:30 eat breakfast
8:30-8:45 room, grab books, walk to class
10:00 stop by sorority, hang out with girls
11:00 write letters to Little Sis and Bridget
12:00 eat lunch
12:45 Change for aerobics.
1:00 aerobics …for every freaking half hour and hour mark of the day.
I stuck to it like glue. Oh, that’s not the time I had scheduled to visit with friends, too bad, guess I won’t visit with them. Oh, I don’t have that much homework tonight. I still scheduled three hours to study, so I’ll stay at the library and read ahead, go over the notes again. All the showers are taken. Guess I’ll stand here in the gross dorm bathroom until someone gets out, because this is the time I’d scheduled to shower. Give me a rule, even one I wrote for myself, and I’ll keep it. It’s amazing I advanced to sophomore year without being put in the nuthouse.
Planning is great. And I applaud everyone with resolutions, goals, lists for the New Year. My problem is, if I make a resolution I’ll be so sickly strict about it. Walk 15 miles each week? Come Saturday night I’ll be walking circles in my kitchen instead of snuggled on the couch with my kids watching a great movie, because I need to hit that goal. Read three books a month? No one might hear from me the 28th through 30th. All phone calls and coffee dates canceled, because people, I have a goal to meet. Spend 15 minutes with Jesus at lunchtime everyday? God could be telling me something super important, but oh, look at the time, fifteen minutes is up. Next.
I can’t stand it, but I’m a legalist. This kills me, because Jesus warned us not to be. He got on the Pharisees every single day about being so uptight about rule following. I took ballet my entire growing up years where we pointed our toes constantly. Not surprisingly being flex comes hard for me.
There is zero wrong with having a plan, setting goals, chasing dreams. These are all amazing things; fabulous ways to make great use of the time God has given us. And I do have some dreams and goals for the year. I’m just not writing them down or saying them out loud. Instead I’m talking every day to Jesus about them. Okay, see, I can’t do that, because if let’s say, next Wednesday I focus all of my prayer time on one of my kids I’ll feel like I slipped on the every-day-dream-and-goal-prayer. Let’s try again. I’m talking to Jesus about my dreams and goals this year. Lots. Often. Also, I’m asking Him how I can use my time to glorify Him, asking Him what inputs I should tackle, trusting Him with the outputs. Living expectantly of what He’ll do. At least this is my aim.
When we live strictly within the confines of our calendars and to-do lists and even resolutions there is mock safety of having a plan, a false sense of security that we have everything under control. We don’t. We can be so constricted and unavailable to the miracles Jesus can work when we plan it all out. If we instead focus on Him, we’ll be blown away! His plans and ideas are always so much more fantastic than anything we could think up or plan on our own.
God told Moses to spread his arms over the Red Sea and it would part (Exodus 14:16). Probably not in Moses’ planner for the day. But Moses spread out his arms, and that Sea split in two, allowing the Israelites to escape Pharaoh and his powerful army.
Jesus told the disciples who had put in an incredibly long work day, who felt like they were banging their heads against the wall, catching zero fish for hours on end, wives waiting at home, muscles aching, sweat dripping in their eyes, to cast out their nets one more time. After the whistle had blown. After they were spent. But the disciples listened to Jesus, went off the plan, and voila, their nets were bursting with fish (Luke 5).
I have no idea what Jesus has in store for my life this year or for yours. Because walking on dry land through a sea and catching netfulls of fish where there were none is beyond my brainstorming or even wildest dreams. This is the whole point. God’s ways are phenomenal, unpredictable and take-our-breath-away fantastic.
Some of you may need goals and plans and lists or else nothing will ever get accomplished. Super. Some of you may have resolutions, because there are bad habits that need to be kicked, and healthier plans that need to step in to gear. I applaud you. For you, resolutions might be the impetus to get started, try again, think bigger, get focused. Bravo! You, go! I’m excited for and proud of you for focusing on bigger and better things. But for me, I know I end up using these good things as a means for me to attempt to control things. My resolutions end up controlling me. I don’t want them to, because God is actually the one in control, and I long to hand it all over to Him.
I plan on talking to Jesus tons this year, leaning into His truths, and His ways. Will you join me? I can’t wait to see what He has in store.
You guys, I am a total book nerd, and I can’t possibly let a year come and go without taking a moment to pause and list my favorite reads of 2017 (if you missed them here are favorite reads of 2016 and 2015).
Best Mystery: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Oh my gosh, why didn't I read this sooner? I’ve heard about Sherlock Holmes my entire life, seen multiple television and film adaptations, and even spent a summer in London at Regent’s College, where to get to my Tube stop I had to pass 221 b Baker Street every day. It took my 8th grade daughter having this book assigned for class to get me to actually pick it up. No surprise—it’s a classic. Holmes and his attention to detail are brilliant. I was fascinated by how much this famous detective could learn from one man's walking stick or another's boots. This is a page-turner with plenty of intrigue, suspicion cast on almost every character, suspense and a satisfying ending. Suitable for readers of all ages who love to learn, solve, sleuth, and be entertained.
Best Middle-Grade Novel: The Danger Box by Blue Balliett
Have your kids read Blue Balliett’s books? If not, order them some on Amazon or reserve them from the library pronto. Balliett always writes brilliant stories that ignite curiosity. Her books make readers want to learn, discover, explore, and best of all think. In her previous novels, Balliett has introduced a famous artist into the plot (Calder, Vermeer, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.), expanding the knowledge of readers while they're engrossed in her mysteries. In the Danger Box, she introduces a well-known scientist, not to stand behind or against the scientist's findings, but in the interest of making kids hungry to learn. Kudos to Balliett for always creating phenomenal characters--kids with quirks, but also with hidden gifts. She does a lovely job of reminding us that everyone has their own special talents and something to add to the conversation. I read her books, because my kids love them. But I LOVE them too!
Best Young Adult Novel: Every Last Word by Tamara Stone
I love young adult novels. Good ones are raw and real and deal with important themes like friendship, relationships, family, discovering your true self. Every Last Word does all of this and more. It also dives into mental health issues, frenemies, and sigh, poetry. As a lover of words, I was pulled into the underground writing community in Every Last Word. Tamara Stone illustrates how powerful the written word can be, how cathartic it can be to write down your emotions, dreams, thoughts, concerns, and even odes to your favorite snack foods. She also does a brilliant job of handling the issue of mental health, specifically OCD. This is a real issue so many people are dealing with--a chemical disorder that can be treated through therapy and medication. I was grateful to gain insight into this important issue.
Fiction: The Magic Stings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
I’ve enjoyed so many of Mitch Albom’s books, so I was excited to read a new one this year. If you have music in your soul, you will love Frankie Presto! I always enjoy the way Albom weaves hope and faith into his stories, but I am a music lover, and this one struck a special note with me. Magic Strings has a unique twist--with Music as the narrator--interviewing and referencing music legends I grew up listening to and admiring (everyone from Robert Johnson to Elvis Presley to Eric Clapton). Chapters alternate between Music’s interviews with the faces that have graced Rolling Stone magazine for decades to various stages of the life of a musician named Frankie Presto. The story takes the reader back and forth from Spain to New York and New Orleans like a shuffled time line all tied together with the chords of music and the power it evokes.
Best Nonfiction: Of Mess and Moxie by Jen Hatmaker
I listened to Of Mess and Moxie on Hoopla. And after listening to the entire audio book, I bought it on Amazon. I'd already heard it, but I wanted a copy to underline and go back to, because, please! It's hilarious and heartfelt and authentic and faithful, just like Jen Hatmaker. If you loved For the Love, you will love Jen's new book. If you love your kids or your husband or your passion or cooking and Jesus, but sometimes you're not sure what to do with any of them, you will also love this book. Life is real and sometimes hard, but also glorious, because Jesus is with us and He loves us. What fantastic reassurance.
Best Read of 2017: Long Way Gone by Charles Martin
This is another musical tale, and also the most beautiful book I've read in a very long time. Martin is an expert storyteller. This story of a young man, his music, his passion, his relationships, his struggles, and his journey to make sense of it all broke my heart into thousands of pieces. This is my number one favorite book I read in 2017! It transports you to the musical roots and legends of Nashville. After reading it I just knew I had to see a show at the Ryman (my friend, Amy, got us tickets to see Charlie Daniels Band there—oh my gosh!) A Long Way Gone is a stunning retelling of the Prodigal Son in a way that shines new light into a classic parable that never gets old.
Of course, these are just a handful of the stories that swept me away, grabbed my attention, taught me something, or inspired me in the past year. The rest are on Goodreads. I’m looking forward to another fabulous year packed with amazing books. As I compile my “to read” list, I’d love to hear your favs from 2017. Any recommendations?
I was digging around with my mascara wand along the edges of the tube mining for clumpy dregs for about three weeks longer than I should have. As soon as I threw away the old one and opened a new tube it was like someone had reinvented mascara all together. It was smooth and coated my eyelashes effortlessly in one swoop instead of about ten tries. My lashes stayed black all day long. It was amazing.
The razor in my shower was no different. Every time I reached for it I thought, “Eh, I should probably get a new one out.” But I was already in the shower, and needed to shave then, and didn’t feel like I had time to get out, splash down the hall to get a new one, and commence showering again. By the time I’d get out of the shower, my brain had gone eight jillion other directions and I’d completely forgotten about the razor. But yesterday I picked up my razor, and it had rust on it. Game changer.
My disgust of the rusty razor made me clear out all kinds of things I’d kept way past their usefulness—socks with holes, the stretched out t-shirt, ALL of our CDs, because, Spotify. I played tug of war with myself, because I love all of this music, but I don't need the CD's to hear any of these songs. It was time to let go. It made me wonder what else I’ve been holding onto in my life, beyond things. What had I been okay with keeping that was barely getting by, somehow making do, or even though it was dangerous or useless simply hanging onto, because it seemed easier to keep then to trash?
These thoughts filled my brain on the way to coffee with a friend. Over steaming mugs of caffeinated goodness we shared stories, laughter, and prayers. Near the end of our visit she leaned over and said, “There is one thing I’d really like you to pray about for me. I don’t want to be, but I am so bitter about,” and she named something that had gone upside down in her life. “I hate that I care. It’s so stupid. I know it’s not of God. I need to let this go. It’s a thorn in my side.” I heard the confession tumble out of my dear friend’s mouth. But as she spoke, I couldn’t help but think of the thorn of bitterness in my side, the thing I’ve been holding onto for way toooooo long.
I spat my confession right back at her. The words tasted like venom. Why would I hold so much yuck in my heart? Why did I care what a certain person said, how they passed, when they failed, where they went, or with who? What good did it do anyone? When Jesus instructed us to love one another as He loved us, this certainly wasn’t what He had in mind. It was embarrassing to admit I was harboring all of these icky feelings, but it was easier with a friend who understood. We grabbed each other’s hands and prayed on the spot that we could turn over the entire mess to God, that He would remove the thorns in our sides we’d been holding onto. It was such a relief. And although, I know we both have a lot of work to do to completely let go, immediately there was a sense of freedom.
With a new year, I want to clean out more than my toiletries and sock drawer. I want to clean out my heart. This year, I’ll be praying for my friend and I to let go of our bitterness, to turn it over to God, let Him be the judge, allow us to love and offer grace. What have you been holding onto—a grudge, a grievance, a regret? Has it been easier to keep it than to let it go? Are you afraid what will happen if you pull out that thorn? Has it been more convenient to keep being angry, sad, worried, or avoiding something or someone then splashing down the hall and replacing those feelings with fresh ones?
The thing about new razors is that they’re much kinder to the skin than rusty ones. Fresh mascara works better, clumps less, and doesn’t make my eyes itch. Why did I wait to change them out? The same is true with past arguments and disappointments. When we trade them out for fresh outlooks, grace, and embracing what we have and where we are, we’re safer, we function better, and we feel better. Why did we ever hold onto all of those things in the first place?
I’m planning on making 2018 the year to pull out my thorn. How about you? Will you join me?
I picture us grasping our thorns and yanking them from our sides. It will probably hurt, it might even bleed, but then our aches can finally heal. Whew. Once those thorns are out, I imagine us handing them over to the God who loves us. I picture Jesus getting out the Neosporin, rubbing it gently on our sides, picking out cute Band-Aids with polka dots or Poke Mon, whatever your thing is, and kissing our hurts. I picture Jesus showing us the scar on His side where He was pierced for us and saying, “I understand your pain. I love you. You’ll feel better now.” And then I’m pretty sure we’ll walk into the New Year breathing cleaner air, relieved of past harm, hurt, and mistakes. Sigh. I feel better already. Praying you do, too.
Happy New Year.
…if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even our Elf on the Shelf.
In the morning, I woke an hour before I set my alarm my brain whirring a million miles a minute. Although I’d felt like I’d been preparing nonstop for Christmas since we lit the first Advent candle, when I’d gone through my closet the day before and started sorting through bags and laying things in piles, I realized I’d done a pretty poor job of shopping for my amazing kiddos.
I’d purchased, gathered, and wrapped the teacher gifts, the cousin gifts, the baby gifts, the gifts for Columbus, and the gifts for Cincinnati. I’d planned menus, shopped for food. Had it in separate bags in the fridge, freezer, and pantry for the appointed visits and times. I’d mailed the cards.
But aye aye aye! Where was the jersey I’d ordered? Where were the p.j. pants? I did push “confirm order,” didn’t I? Did I ever buy the hat I’d considered purchasing? I felt like I had almost nothing for my four kids who were definitely on the nice list. I felt like I’d failed. Because I’m the mom. Because I love my kids. Because it’s my “job” to take care of the Christmas gifts. And I’d done a stinky job at it. I lay there under my covers tangled in self-induced guilt, then got up, read my Bible (but didn’t let it sink in—too preoccupied with failure), brushed my teeth, and was still teetering on panic mode. I confessed my freak out to my husband who kicked into the most beautiful gear.
“What do we need? I love last minute shopping. Give me a minute. I’ll go to Walmart.”
Neither of these words is even in my vocabulary, let alone in the same sentence. I do not do last minute. And I cannot do Walmart. I’m sorry. It’s just too everything for me to handle.
But my husband, he lives for this stuff. He probably passed around wassail and cookies to the workers. And he gave me the gift I needed most for Christmas, something I’d rarely get for myself—grace.
You guys. This is not a pass/fail class. I don’t know where you feel you may have failed this holiday season. Did you forget the postman? Your boss? Your assistant? Did you burn the roast or break the dish? Did the paint on your crafts smear? Jesus doesn’t care.
Or… maybe you nailed it. Maybe your turkey turned out golden-brown. Maybe you made your list, checked it twice, and got gold stars next to every single line item. Maybe Chip and JoJo called and asked how you made your cards and tree and table all look so perfect. Jesus doesn’t care. Either way. And it’s not that He doesn’t care about you. Quite the opposite. He cares so much about you and your heart and your peace, that He would never judge you on your performance. Jesus is not keeping score or judging or measuring your worth on your holiday checklists, cooking performance, or ability to find the perfect gifts.
This wasn’t going to be a blog. I was going to take the week off. So there’s only one picture and I didn’t check for spelling errors—so sorry, not sorry. But I needed you guys to know. That I fail. That you fail. That none of us are perfect. Nobody. And it’s okay. You are loved. You are valued. Exactly as is. No matter how someone (including you) would have rated your Christmas performance.
We all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight.—Romans 3:23-24
In a world where everyone is trying to advance, and make it to the next round, and get the judges to pick them, you don’t have to. You’ve already made it. Jesus came once and for all to settle the score. You’re in. By yourself there will be days when you fall short, but with Jesus you’ll still always come out on top. Curl up the fireplace with a blanket, a book, some cocoa with marshmallows and whipped cream, plus maybe a candy cane, and take a deep breath. Breathe in His grace.
Because, that’s what Christmas is all about.
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:
My husband called, “I thought you were up here?”
“Up here,” I replied with an inferred, “duh.”
“The bathroom door is open, your office door is open, the closet door is open. It looks like you’re in the middle of a million things,” Brett said. "Did you just get an idea?"
“Yup.” And this is me on any given day. A mess in the middle of a million and one.
Putting on mascara, typing down a phrase—a key phrase—hello, it’s urgent! Or a plot idea or description while changing shoes, emailing a teacher, throwing in a load of laundry and deciding which necklace to wear all while drinking coffee/water/coffee/water. Basically I’m a mess in the middle of a million things. Eventually I’ll finish the story, be completely dressed, have make-up on, push send on the email, get the clothes folded and sadly abandon coffee until tomorrow and it will all look as it is supposed to-ish.
But in the middle. I’m an absolute mess.
You? Anything messy in your life today? Anything halfway done? Partway done? Thinking about starting to be done? In this college town, it’s finals week. And students are shuffling into the coffee shop in their pajamas, messy buns, and glasses, because getting ready is hard, and all they really want is a bottomless cup of dark roast and to be done. The professors are no different, except they’re not allowed to wear pajamas to class. They’re giving the finals, grading all of those finals, and then recording the grades. Basically everyone in town’s desks and dorms are a mess.
So is my kitchen. We’re getting the cabinets painted white (to match the chairs I painted this fall). Yay! But first—chaos. Every cabinet and drawer is open—maybe I should throw all of the contents away, because ew. Everything is off the shelves and in a heap on the living room—more potential items to fill the garbage cans. Plus the dust these items were hiding—yikes! So, my downstairs looks like the Tasmanian Devil whirled through and I have to pull a cool yoga balance to open the fridge.
Getting where you want to go takes work, effort, and mess. To make frosted sugar cookies you dirty endless dishes and sweep up sprinkles for weeks. But they are delicious. And worth it. And these are our lives! Learning a new way of doing something, investing in new relationships, wrapping the gifts, stuffing the envelopes, hanging the lights, unpacking boxes, researching new topics, rewriting, rerecording, editing, scrambling to finish before year end, following up, sending another text, praying, discerning, praying, discerning, praying.
And it all takes time. And it’s messy, and unfinished, and parts of it are scattered everywhere. But God is using all of it. Every last piece of the process! Every piece of Scotch tape and candy cane. God is using the rehearsals, the trial balloons, the readings, the exercises, the discipline, the parts you delete. And He’s using it for His good and His glory.
…okay…it’s a few days later. My kitchen? Ended up like this. OhmygoshIloveit. The college students are one by one trickling home to be with their families to celebrate Christmas. The professors are getting ready to sit by the fire and unwind. A few days ago in the midst of the mess it was all so hard to envision.
Just like pregnant, unwed, teenage Mary riding on a donkey looked like a mess. No room in the inn, a barn with animals and a pile of straw to give birth to your first baby…um, pretty messy. No thanks. Hard to envision this as God’s great plan to save the world. But it was. Jesus did come down to earth. He did die on the cross to cover all of our sins. He is the Savior of the World! So worth waiting for! Worth every bit of the messy process. Worth all the stuff in the middle that looked like chaos and like it would never happen, and never work, and like it couldn’t possibly be going as planned.
You guys the miracle of Christmas looked like a mess, but God knew what He was doing all along. And look how it turned out! Glory to the newborn king! And the story repeats itself over and over again in our lives. We’re a mess. Everything is everywhere. God knows how to fix us. And then He does. He uses all of the in-betweens and rough drafts, studying, and first takes to make something glorious happen.
No matter how messy things look for you today, this week, this season, God is using it. He loves you. He’s reaching all the way down to earth to you. He came all the way down to a manger and then a cross for you. You might feel like you’re in a middle of a million things, but inhale, because God is truly in the middle of it all with you. And His greatness and peace will have no end.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. —Isaiah 9:6-7
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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.
I just saw the movie, Wonder. I loved the book and was grateful the movie stayed so true to the original story line—even switching point of view, so the reader/viewer could see the backstory of each of the characters. Just when you thought you disliked a character, you saw the pain they were dealing with and found yourself sympathizing. Just when you thought another character had everything easy breezy, you saw how they felt alone.
What a powerful reminder that everyone has highs and lows, experiences that bring them joy and issues they are wrestling with. The thing is, most of us bury the big stuff and make small talk about the weather or our favorite team. We can interact, intersect and never share what’s on our hearts or discover what’s on the hearts of those around us. What if we used the art of conversation to allow others to share their triumphs and traumas, so we can better cheer for them and hold their hands more tenderly?
Tis the time of year to be invited to scads of gatherings—for work, school, family, and any other group you’ve ever affiliated with. At all of these mixers, open houses, cookie exchanges, receptions, and pot lucks (whether you love chit chat or struggle with it) there will be conversations, and they will run the gambit.
There will be delicious food and festive decorations, hopefully there will be Christmas music. I’ve been listening to it since early November—yep, I’m that girl. But it’s easy to let these celebrations come and go without utilizing these opportunities to learn new things, gain richer perspectives, encourage others, or better understand someone else’s point of view. Everyone has a story. Everyone has struggles they’re dealing with and ideas racing around their brains. We can learn so much by talking to one another. But it starts by asking better questions (oh, and yeah, putting our phones down).
What kinds of questions are you asking?
Some of you are born conversationalists. Topics flow from your mouth like tunes on Spotify. For me, I’m used to writing my thoughts out, so I’m more deliberate, but all of us can get better at communicating. The difference between a good question and a so-so question? I’m still learning, but I know when I ask my niece about her college search we both get more out of the chat if I ask, “What are your top three schools? What do you like about them?” than if I simply ask, “How’s the college search going?” Ask something that requires more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It doesn’t have to be ground breaking. “How was your day?” often emits a ‘fine’ from one of my kids. But “What did you do at recess?” or “How did you do on your test?” or “Who in your class gave their presentations today?” act as conversation starters to discover way more than a test question. The questions don’t need to be original, just intentional. How do you like your new job? Apartment? Teacher? Coach? Roommate? Are great places to start.
Make sure you add in a tidbit or two of your own. I’m tempted to keep things to myself. But when we share, we engage others and make it easier and more comfortable for them to share too. This doesn’t mean you have to divulge personal stuff, no need to over share, just be open to revealing a little about yourself in the process. I was chatting with a friend about an internship she’d had in Nashville. I mentioned I’d been to Nashville the week before. A whole new conversation sprang from my one sentence.
There will be times when no words come. There are challenges. Someone’s not chatty or in a bad mood or distracted. Sometimes that person is you or me. We receive a one-word response or get asked a question we aren’t comfortable answering. How about when the talk turns to politics? Or when you ask someone how he likes his new boss and he begins to rant? Or someone asks you something too personal or that touches a super sensitive spot. This is when we’re called to steer conversations back to the good stuff. As the apostle Paul said, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things and the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8. Not always easy, but great advice. If you feel the conversation veering away from these topics, try to steer it back.
Because people will gossip and complain. There will be chat about how terrible parking was at the mall or the horrible service at a certain store. There will be digs on the food served or ‘can you believe she wore that?’ I’m completely guilty of falling into these conversation patterns. It’s easy to gripe. But it’s also just as easy to speak about lovely and excellent things. The cinnamon rolls are burnt? Turn the conversation to how great the coffee tastes. The toddler out of control? Whisper a prayer of patience for the parent. Freezing outside for the family pic? Tell a joke to get people smiling. Offer to make hot cocoa as soon as everyone gives a good grin. But even better—start asking good questions. Ask for the cinnamon roll recipe, about the toddler’s preschool, about how your brother knows the photographer. It’s easy to complain. But we can find out so much more about one another, incredible things, important things, if we try.
There will be occasions where the conversation goes south. If it is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy and you can’t turn it around, get out. If the entire group is in on the bashing or one person’s voice is too loud (literally or figuratively) to mute, simply leave the conversation. Excuse yourself to go to the restroom, grab a snack, or see if the hostess needs help with anything. Take the moment away to reset (not to check your phone). You could repeat the verse above from Philippians, say a prayer, get a breath of fresh air, or whatever else centers you.
There will be times when you need to talk to about the hard stuff—things that are ugly and painful and scary. And that’s 100% okay in the right setting with the right people, in fact it can be noble and right to do so. Yes! Share this stuff with your trusted inner circle, so they can comfort, advise, hold, and guide you back to the truth that God is on your side, that He loves you, that He has redeemed you, and that He will never forsake you. When people you care about approach you with their hardships and heartache, point them back to these truths. Remember, these conversations are not for large social gatherings. These are important, but critical that they are spoken in safe space.
I’m not an expert at any of this. Like I said, I’m fairly awkward at conversation. But I know my mother-in-law bowls and I don’t. So I don’t have many bowling questions in my repertoire. But I can ask who she bowls with and when, and in doing so find out more about her friends, which ones make her laugh, and how some days it’s a struggle to get a ride. And all of a sudden these answers lead to new questions, and we end up understanding one another a little better. God created each person uniquely and amazingly. Use all the gatherings you’ll attend this holiday season to get to know some of God’s creations better, to shine some light, and to remind others of their worth—of their true reflections.
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