The Peace of Christmas

Peace.

The response of every beauty pageant. The hope of every generation. The promise that came from a baby born in Bethlehem.

Harmony…freedom from fear…no war.

We understand peace and yet we don’t. We understand what it is like when we experience harmony among family and friends, but we don’t understand harmony of every tribe, tongue, and culture without judgement or condemnation or hate. We understand freedom from fear of certain circumstances like growing out of the fear of the dark or of spiders–or not–but we don’t understand freedom from all fears including death and loss and insecurities. We understand what it means to not be at war but we don’t understand what it means to be free from war within ourselves.

The peace of Christmas is a peace which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). The peace of Christmas is the closest we can ever come to truly understanding those aspects of peace that are so foreign. We hope, we pray, and we long to understand.

Peace came to earth in the form of a baby, born to a teenage, single mom, wrapped in burial cloths, and laid in a feed trough.

As a mom of two little girls, I don’t instinctively see peace at the sight of a baby. I see sleepless nights and exhausting days. I see the struggle to understand those things that are supposed to be so natural and yet never really are. I see the fear that comes at every waking moment, knowing that something terrible could happen to your child–your baby.

But I can equally reflect on the sight of my babies, especially as newborns in those first couple of hours. The gentle breaths as they quietly snore. The way that their eyelashes lay on their cheeks in perfection. The look of utter innocence, trusting that they can sleep soundly because they just know that they will be cared for. There is no fear–there is peace. That beautiful picture of unadulterated peace.

While the initial picture of peace through a baby seems like an intense juxtaposition, there is that beautiful moment between the tiredness and strain of new motherhood where your heart swells in such intense love and peace in that moment that it all becomes clear.

The peace of Christmas is a promise of the hope that is to come for all the world. But until that day it is the peace that can come from a personal relationship with Jesus. That peace which surpasses all understanding.

As we close out this advent season I pray that you will find peace. I pray that peace will fill your hearts and your homes. I pray that you will relish both the hope of perfect peace in the future and the promise of peace available through Jesus today.

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More than a Feeling

The second week of advent is quickly coming to a close. And despite no real change of schedule, I find myself anxious and stressed. My groups have paused their meetings for “Christmas break.” My oldest has one more week before she has a break from school. I have most gifts already purchased and wrapped, hiding in my closet so my daughters don’t decide to open them as readily as they open the candy canes that were hanging on the tree (notice that is past tense. They have since been removed to keep my children from eating them all.) In all typical aspects of preparation, I’m ahead of the game and yet, I don’t feel ready. I don’t feel the hope of the season resonating within me. I don’t feel the excessive joy that should accompany this time of year. But I have faith.

The focus of the second week of advent is traditionally faith. Faith in the coming of a King, a Savior to the world. Faith in the promises that were fulfilled prior to the birth of Jesus, including the birth of the messenger who would lead the way for Jesus’ ministry (his cousin, John the Baptist).

For me, that faith resides in the promise that what I believe is so much more than a feeling. The faith that this belief changes lives each and every day. A faith that doesn’t need tangible evidence for me to accept it as truth.

When I’m anxious or stressed, it’s challenging to “feel” like having joy and sharing the love of God. When I find myself overwhelmed by nothing (and everything), it’s challenging to “feel” the presence of God around me. Because I feel tired and exhausted. I feel drained. What I don’t feel is faith.

Faith is so much more than a feeling. It is a lifestyle. It’s how I approach my daily life despite how I feel. It’s taking myself out of the number one position and allowing God to direct me throughout my day–often through experiences I would have missed on my own merit.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain in what we do not see.” Just as the first week of advent is focused on hope (that hope in the coming of a Savior), week two’s focus on faith is grounded in that hope.

I can’t give you Jesus’ facebook account for you to stealthily stalk Him before you decide to accept Him at His word. I can’t take you out to lunch to arrange a mutual meeting. He is with us through the Holy Spirit and He is not a physical being that can be proven by sight or physical touch. He is like the wind. You can not see the wind, but you see the affects of the wind and that is proof of it’s validity. Likewise, Holy Spirit works in and through us everyday that “people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20). He makes Himself known, but we still must exhibit faith. We must cling to the faith that tells us that because we know and have accepted Jesus as our Savior, acknowledging the work that was done on the cross for all of our sake, we are redeemed and sanctified. We will spend eternity glorifying the one who made a way for us. Who created that way for us, knowing all that we would do against Him. He is so faithful to us and He simply asks us to be faithful to Him.

So if you are like me and feeling all of the stress of the season as opposed to the wonder, have faith. Have faith that the one we are celebrating is worthy of all of our praise. Have faith that there is so much more than “feeling it.” Have faith that in those times when you aren’t “feeling it,” He is always faithful.

A mommy lesson to kick off Advent

Samara Christmas 2014

Samara posing after helping to decorate our tree last night. (11/29/14)

I opened my computer with the thought of writing about the Christmas stress that so quickly descends upon us. I know our budget has already felt the restraints tighten and we aren’t even to December yet. But as I started my laptop up (as a distraction to the suitcases that still need to be sorted through and unpacked from a couple weeks ago), Samara came in asking me to play with her.

This question isn’t extraordinary or rare. In fact, it’s pretty common around our house. My girls love to play and they love to have Kyle and I play right alongside them. Samara, who will be four next week, seeks out the quality time (she is so much like her daddy).

Too often I find myself with the same response I had this morning—not right now, but I will later.

Later to a four-year-old is as good as a straight-up no.

Already slightly guilt ridden, I lost it as I heard her go up to Kyle and say, “Mommy doesn’t want to play with me.” I was helpless to stop the tears. It felt as though a small piece of my heart tore at the sound of her disappointed voice.

They are only little once. Everyone has told me this, and I’ve never doubted how quickly it would go by. I did, however, underestimate the responsibility that comes with stopping to play with my girls.

In a season that never slows down. Where more has to be better, I have to wonder how my priorities may shift during a holiday season. On the tail of overcooking and overeating, I have a birthday party to plan for a daughter who won’t tell me who her friends are so I have no idea who to invite, and then we slide right into the plethora of holiday get-togethers. It is an ever teetering balance of friends and family, gifts versus no gifts, another large meal on an already tight budget…and the daily needs of two little girls who are growing up before my very eyes.

The reality is that the chores and decorating can wait. My daughter cannot. I never want her to feels as though she isn’t my priority or that I don’t have time for her. I never want her to stop asking me to play or to spend time with her. Of course, she’ll need to learn that there are times when mommy and daddy need to get things done (and she’ll have her own chores to do)…but for today, it can wait. For today, my role as mommy take precedence over everything else. If for no other reason than to enjoy these precious, fleeting moments while I still have them.

This also happens to be the first week of the Christmas advent season. This week has a focus on hope. That hope which comes only from Jesus is to fill our hearts and our homes this season (and all through the year of course). It is this same hope that assures me that I’m doing okay as a mom. It’s this same hope that reassures me that just as God loves us, He has given me an opportunity to love my children and show them the love I have received so freely.

During this Christmas season, I pray that you find hope in those moments that initially feel like failures. I pray that the hope of Jesus fills your heart and frees you from the guilt. Hope is more than just a wish, it’s a word rooted in trust. Hope is knowing that there is something more and believing it with all your heart, soul, and mind. That hope when placed in Jesus is life changing and I pray that you are able to rest in that hope.

Prayers for my Princess

Tcrown sketchhe book/devotional I am currently working on is called Ever After (I know super girly, but I love it. I even have Disney Princess wallpaper that rotates every hour on my laptop). The tag line is (work in progress): rediscovering who we were made to be as daughters of the King. (like I said, it’s still a work in progress but it gives you an idea of the focus and direction I’m taking it.) As I’m writing this particular book, I tend to look to my daughters to accurately capture that pre-“the world and all of it’s realities have dashed my innocence”.

Through MOPS and bible studies, I have been (kinda) indirectly encouraged to savor the wonderful ciaos that is motherhood of young children but more than anything, I am recognizing the wonderful trove of wisdom that my sweet girls can teach me.

About a month ago, I journaled a prayer of sorts that I want to share with you guys this week.

Sooo, here you go…

(from July 21 at 11 pm)

Before heading to bed, I walked quietly to each of my daughters’ rooms. I said a prayer over each of them and then stood, humbled and amazed as I watched my oldest sleep. (Yes, all parents watch their children sleep at some point. No, it’s not weird or creepy.)

As I watched her sigh quietly as she dreamed, a tightness formed in my chest. I gazed over her princess night-light, her fantastically pink comforter, and even her pink, ice cream jammies. She is as “girly” as it gets right now. All colors directly relate to a princess (purple=Jasmine or Rapunzel, green=Tiana, blue=Cinderella, yellow=Belle, and so on.) Anyone wearing a dress is considered a princess. Her favorite thing in the world is to dress up in her Cinderella dress and dance around the house, acting out (and quoting line by line) any and all Disney movies (especially the princess movies).

Her wonderful innocence is reflected in the crease-less peace on her face as she continued to dream.

How is it that childhood fantasy is shattered? When? How long before my precious child is thrust into the cruel, unforgiving realities of life? I know that day will come, but for tonight I pray against it. (this is still as true today as it was then)

I pray for the innocense of my child. I pray for her to know peace. Samara means protected by God, and I pray that to be true in her life.

Her Zune player lulls the next song on her playlist and the unassuming, lyrical voice of my husband’s grandmother echos in the hallway. “Sleep my child, sleep. Rest in your Father’s arms.”

I don’t look forward to the day my precious girl no longer runs into my arms, screaming “Mommy! Mommy!” excitedly as she snuggles in close. But I know, just as she will not always believe that everyone wearing a dress is a princess, she will not always seek my arms for comfort. I desperately pray that the words of that song, however, will always be true. That she will rest in her Father’s arms and know (and believe) that she is a princess because her heavenly Father is King.

I pray that you will find encouragement and humbleness in my words. I would love to hear how your children have taught you or how (if your are a student or simply don’t have kids) looking at the world through the eyes of a child can change your perspective and how God can speak to you through that?

A call to prayer

There is a painfully large amount of heartbreaking events occurring all over the world right now. From senseless shootings in the heart of America, a life-threatening epidemic outbreak in Africa, to holocaust-like purge of minorities in the Middle East. My heart aches.

You know the verse talking about the earth moaning for the return of Christ? I believe that I understand that reaction now. While the earth has seen the perfection at the dawn of creation and was forced to suffer through every gut-wrenching atrocity that has disgraced the world. Creation knows its Creator. And it desperately longs to experience that absolute perfection once again.

The more I seek Jesus and learn to not only know about Him but to truly know Him, the more my heart yearns to experience that perfection. The closer I grow to God, the more my soul recognizes the pain that God feels each and every day for the brokenness of His greatest love.

But then, like I’m sure many of you, I become overwhelmed with this great sense of helplessness. What could I possibly do to help with any of it? I am only one person.

God has been speaking to me the importance of one’s identity, especially as it rests in Him. Part of my identity is as a mom. Within that, I find it difficult to do anything but personalize all of the pain that others are experiencing right now. I imagine the mothers of children who are killed whether from gun shot, disease, or worse (yes, worse). I imagine the mothers who are forced to watch their child suffer and my heart breaks and I can do nothing more than weep. But that is where I can find strength.

As I allow myself to hurt for mothers I know nothing about and have very little in common with, I take a step closer to knowing God’s heart. As I weep for the pain that I beg God that I never have to experience, I find myself in the company of thousands (millions) of Christian saints who are crying for them as well. Together, we cry out to God to move on this earth. We cry out for deliverance from this horrendous evil that has infiltrated every facet of society, across every country in the world.

God responds to the prayers of His people. The Bible proves this over and over again. And so I want to petition you, beg you really, to join with the saints and cry out to God. Even if you have no words, scripture tells us,

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27, NIV)

Whether with words, tongues, or simply groans-cry out to God on behalf of all those around the world. I can’t implore you enough. Pray, pray, and pray some more. Deliverance will come by the grace of God alone.

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of Godto be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i]have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstbornamong many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:18-30, NIV )

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. (Biblegateway.com)

 

I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment any thoughts, prayers, or comments. I will post opposing views, however I retain the right to refuse to post negative, hurtful, or derogatory comments that only serve to attack and instigate. Thank you for respecting me and fellow readers in this.

Easter contemplations

I can’t believe that Easter is already here.  Of course, the 60-70 degree weather in April is throwing me for a loop in believing that we are in the middle of spring (not that I’m complaining since hot on it’s heels is the triple digit summer heat…sorry for the bad pun,  I couldn’t resist).  But Easter is commonly a time of reflection and redemption.  People who haven’t been to church all year will put on their Sunday best this weekend and sit for the service.  Churches across the nation are planning parking contingency plans, extra seating, and working harder than ever to make sure that the church is also presented in it’s Sunday best.  None of this is necessarily bad, so please don’t take any offense.  I’m merely painting a picture of what we see on the outside of Easter weekend.  But beyond the oh-so-delicious chocolate, the brightly colored eggs, the frilly spring dresses, and table full of spring time delicacies, is the reality of what we are celebrating.  We reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus and then celebrate His resurrection.  We clap and sing of His greatness in overcoming the grave, but do we really, truly understand what we are celebrating?

Both of my girls are sick right now.  They have been coughing since this weekend and began the week with fevers.  My younger daughter handles sickness like a pro.  Outside of the pathetic cough and the momentary pauses that she takes from her constant tornado-esque personality, you may not even realize she is fighting a fever over 100 degrees.  Now her big sister on the other hand does not hide her weariness well.  Whenever her fever peaks, she cries out for me.  She gets the shakes and just asks to be held.

I have never experienced anything that makes me feel so incredibly helpless.  I genuinely hate when my child is in pain, and even more so when I can’t do anything to make it better.  I administer the medicine to help combat the fever; I offer her water and juice to keep her hydrated and to soothe her raw throat.  But I can not make her pain go away in my own power.  In those moments, as I pray for her healing, I just wish I could be the one sick instead.  Let me deal with the coughing and fever because at least my girls would be well and happy and at peace.  Let me take the pain for them.

It was in the moments that I prayed this that I caught a glimpse of the majesty that is the love of Christ.  God saw and experienced the pain that his people were walking through from the day that Adam and Eve fell victim to sin in the garden of Eden.  His heart broke that we had to endure the consequences for our choices.  He grieved that our selfishness took us further and further away from him.  Jesus said, “Let me take the pain for them.”  And so, He sent a way.  He sent Jesus to live the life that we could not live and then die a death that we could not endure to conquer the grave that would have held us down.  In the same way that all I want for my girls is to bear their pain to save them from it, Christ did that for us.  He bore the weight and pain from our sin and shame.  He died to pay the penalty, but he rose again to show that he conquered death so that we may experience life, an eternal life free from pain and in eternal joy in the presence of God.

My prayer for you this Easter weekend is that you would allow God the opportunity to show you who he is.  Not who you may think he is or your preconceived notions, but allow him to show you himself.  Allow him to show you his wonder and glory and mercy and forgiveness.  Allow him to show you how desperately he loves you and desires for you to be his child.  Allow him to change you and mold you into the beautiful creation you were meant to be.  Allow him to bear the pain for you, because he already has.  That’s why we celebrate Easter.

Happy Easter everyone.

Perception Part 2 (kinda)

What is perception?  Let’s just begin with that.  The dictionary definition of perception is:

the act of apprehending by means of the senses or of the mind; cognition; understanding

immediate or intuitive recognition (insight) -dictionary.com

When we perceive something, we are discerning it, we are understanding it (at least at face value).  When we perceive the state of someone we have just met, we are making quick judgments that may or may not be accurate.  Simply because someone has a furrowed brow, haphazardly bumping into you as you walk by does not mean that they are a mean or selfish person.  Maybe they just received a phone call about their loved one being in an accident and is dealing with a flurry of emotions that they are just figuring out how to deal with and can barely see clearly enough to put one foot in front of the other.  Or just because that girl “always” seems to be smiling and “always” has people around her doesn’t mean that she is necessarily happy or doesn’t understand what it means to feel so lonely it aches.

Like I said before, perception is not the reality.  Perception is the assumed reality.  The problem isn’t based in how we want others to see us, but when we take this “reality” and try to play it off as real to ourselves, and more so, to God.

Depending on your background often times determines your perspective of God.  Whether he is distant or intimate, judgmental or merciful.  Our opinions are as feeble as we ourselves are.  We change our minds depending on our mood and assume that because we feel it, because we “perceived” it, it must be true.  That is of course until our circumstances change and we find our perception wavering once again.

But where we are finite and small minded, God’s perception on us is never misguided or shortsighted.  He sees who we were, who we are, and who we will be–all at once.  He is able to not only understand, but envision beyond the perception we have tried to create.

Last night, my 3-year-old donned her yellow tutu (her princess dress) and came to my husband asking him to dance.  He reaches for her hands, but she only takes one, then proceeds to hold the edge of her “gown” as she walks him into the living room “dance floor.”  He of course catches his oversight of the elegant nature of the situation, and bows before initiating the dance.  My daughter holds the edges of her skirt, curtsies, grabs one of her daddy’s hands and begins to dance…running around in circles, laughing and giggling to the point of silly hysterics.

The initial perception was of formality, way beyond the basic comprehension of a preschooler.  But the reality, to really know and understand my silly little girl, is to know that while she loves to dress up like a princess and dance with her prince (her daddy), she thrives in silliness and dancing and jumping around.

God knows that we like to present ourselves to others as pristine and spotless.  But he knows the truth in our hearts.  Whether it is as silly as a 3 year old or broken and bruised, pasting the smile on day in and day out just to get by, he knows.  We can not create a false cover when it comes to God and the longer we attempt to maintain the facade, the longer we have to bare the burden alone.

Jesus said,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

In order to take the “yoke” of Jesus, we have to first lay ours down at his feet.  We have to be honest with ourselves on the reality, not simply the perception.

The past several weeks I have been seeking sanctification by God to be ready to do whatever he calls me to do.  During this time, I have also taken a greater focus on my writing (something which has taken the back burner more often than I would like to admit).  While I have written on here over the time, I haven’t focused on a book that God laid on my heart a couple years back.  I finally picked it back up and have been giving it some much needed focus.  While I am looking toward publishing it in the near future, the calling on my heart doesn’t end there.  I long for the opportunities to speak to students.  My desire to be an author and speaker has just continued to grow and develop in my heart and I pray that there will be opportunities in the future.  But to be successful in this arena (God success, not man’s success), I will have to be painfully honest.  No facades, no false perceptions.  It’s scary but something that I am greatly looking forward to whenever that dream comes to fruition.  I say this as a prayer request.  The “kinda” in my post title is because I did not take the time that I hoped to put this particular post together.  Partially because my mind was distracted by the above prayer and partially because I am distracted in the first of many re-writes of the book.  I hope to go into this particular subject in greater detail in the future, but for now I leave you with a challenge.

If your perception of Jesus is different than the Jesus of the Bible, take a step back and ask yourself why.  Read scripture, ask God to reveal himself to you, and be open to the possibility (likelihood) that your perception might change because Jesus is always who he says he is.

Then, if you are trying to give God a false perception of who you are, save yourself the hardship and know that he is trustworthy and already knows you to the depth of your soul.  Surrender your burden to him.