A Prayer for MLK Day

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The Civil Rights movement was based on faith. Many of us who were participants in this movement saw our involvement as an extension of our faith.  We saw ourselves doing the work of the Almighty. Segregation and racial discrimination were not in keeping with our faith, so we had to do something. 

-John Lewis

May we always be advocates of justice, equality, and peace. Not only because it is right, but because it is the work of the One who calls us all children of God. Amen.

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A Word for 2017

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Well, it’s been pretty quiet around here for the past few weeks.  Last week I took a little break from the internet while Bryan and I spent a week soaking up the sun in Hawaii! We had such a wonderful time, and I’ll definitely be sharing more about our trip here soon.  We came home to snow and ice (sigh), so we’ve spent most of the past couple days curled up at home watching Netflix and snuggling Finley. For now, though, it’s back to real life. Today I’m sharing my one word for the year—the word I want to meditate on as I go through the coming year and the word that I hope becomes a bigger part of my story. This is my word for 2017:

Grace. 

As I thought about what I needed this year, what I was truly longing for, I kept coming back to the word grace. For me, it means grace for others—withholding judgment, offering forgiveness and understanding freely, and striving for compassion. For so many of us, this year has been difficult and divisive.  We’ve had to bite our tongues about issues of great importance and swallow our anger when friends and family members make remarks that are hurtful or cruel.  It’s a painful time in our country and most of us are struggling with how to respond.  I have to admit that my first instinct in these situations has been judgment or anger or even disgust. But if we’re going to move forward then each of us must learn to show grace…even when we disagree.

It also means grace for myself.  It means letting go of perfection and hustle in favor of a more present and content way of life. It means accepting that things may not always turn out exactly like I hope, and that’s ok. It means relaxing my grip and expectations and living with gratitude for the life I have, just as it is. It means cutting myself some slack when things don’t get done and learning about the beauty that exists in the imperfections.

Finally, this year I am praying for grace for our world. We are hurting and broken, but God offers us grace freely and unconditionally. My prayer is that we would accept and live into that grace, extending it to one another and working towards a different way of living.

So, what are you hoping for this year? What is your prayer for 2017?

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

1 John 1:16

What Joy Means to Me

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On Sunday, we lit the third candle on the Advent wreath—the candle that represents joy. For most of us, joy is a word synonymous with Christmas.  It announces itself in our favorite carols and the scriptures of the season.  It reveals itself through laughter, song, dance, and an abundance of merriness. Perhaps we experience its magic is the embrace of a old friend or the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven or setting up our nativity scene as we tell the Christmas story to a curious child.

Joy is abundant this time of year, and yet something about this particular year feels a little different. I find myself wondering if anyone else is having trouble finding joy this year.

This has been a hard year for many of us. We feel the weight of what is going on in the world bearing down on us. Instead of letting our hearts be light this Christmas, we feel heavy and burdened. Our souls are tired, and so we long for joy.

But what I’m learning, even in this season, is that joy has very little to do with our circumstances.  While joy does not ignore grief or pain, it does rise above it to speak to some more permanent and more true.

I love how Sarah Bessey says it:

Now, now I know this: joy is the affirmation of the truest thing in this life.

Joy is born, not from pretending everything is fine, but from holding both hope and truth together. The Christian can stand in that liminal space, the place of grief, even there with joy. Why? Because joy is the affirmation of the thing that is truer than any trouble, any affliction: the affirmation that Love wins. Jesus is as good as we hope, it’s all worth it, and all will be redeemed.

Joy, in its truest sense, is not about lights or laughter or carols.  It is a testament to what happened in the world when Jesus entered it. The good news of great joy that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds is still good news for us, still the best news the world has ever received.

We have joy this Christmas because we know that Jesus, who came to meet us and dwell among us, is still at work. He will not tire. He will not quit. Joy to the world, indeed. The Lord has come.

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The Gift of Advent

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Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent.  Advent is my favorite season in the church year.  Advent offers us the opportunity to pause, to turn inward, to make space is our busy lives and hearts for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us. Advent is both sacred and somber, full of both hope and longing.  Advent has something to teach us about expectation and promise. It makes a way, if we are willing, for us to connect more deeply and profoundly with the God who became flesh and dwelt among us. It offers us a glimpse into the millions of ways, big and small, that he is still making his presence known in our world today, showing up to remind us that love wins in the end.

This year the hustle and bustle of Christmas feel overwhelming to me. Shopping for gifts and hanging lights seems more like a burden, and I feel my soul longing for Advent. I feel myself longing for rest and connectedness and belonging more than cookies and ornaments and holiday cheer. I find myself needing to sit quietly in the presence of the one who came to be with me, the one who offers hope and peace and joy and love to a broken world. I feel myself longing for Jesus.

I don’t know what you’re longing for this year, but if you’re paying any attention at all to this messy, broken world then I know you’re longing for something. And that’s the promise of Advent. God’s gift to us in this season is hope. Hope that he hears our prayers and longings and hope that he is a God who keeps his promises.  Hope that he has not abandoned us, hope that he is still here right where he always said he would be—with us.

So don’t miss it, friends. Don’t skip straight to Christmas and miss Advent. It is too holy, too precious, too worthy to be forgotten. Accept the invitation to pause, to take the time to prepare your hearts for Jesus. It will make all the difference.

 

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Why I (Still) Voted

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I always vote early. I hate crowds and lines and tons of people (I’m delightful, I know), so I go early.  I went to my local library this past Friday to cast my ballot. And I waited. I stood in line for about 45 minutes before I even got in the building (which I know is nothing compared to what many people experienced this weekend). I waited in line with all kinds of people who decided that this election was important enough to show up and vote.

I waited in line with mamas who had babies sleeping on their chests and toddlers climbing up their legs. They looked tired and overwhelmed, and I know it would have been easier for them to stay home. But they came. I stood in line with people dressed for work, who had jobs to get to and meetings to prepare for and appointments to make. But they came. I stood in line with people who were much older than me and people who were voting in a presidential election for the very first time. I stood in line with people of different races and religions and backgrounds. As I waited, I overheard a conversation between the man standing behind me and an election official.  The man, an elderly African-American gentleman wearing a U.S. Army Veteran vest, told the official that he had driven by earlier that week and had noticed there was no line.  He said he thought about stopping but decided to come back later.  The official assured him that the line moved quickly, and he wouldn’t have to wait much long to get inside. He replied, “Oh, it doesn’t bother me. I’m not complaining.  I’ll wait all day to vote if I have to.”

As I stood there, a lump formed in my throat. I truly thought I might start sobbing right there outside the Durham Public Library.  My heart was so heavy that I just couldn’t stand it anymore. The truth is this whole election still baffles me. How did we end up here? I thought about the people I was standing in line with—people who had been demeaned and belittled and discriminated against throughout this election because of the color of their skin or their gender or their religious beliefs. I thought about the hate and distrust that weighs on our country leaving us all bitter and angry and so incredibly tired. I thought about the genuine fear that exists for many who are considering the future of our country and the kind of world we’re leaving for our sons and daughters.

All this to say—I get it. I understand why so many people are saying they want to abstain from this election. I understand why people say that they can’t, in good conscience, vote for either candidate. But friends, please hear me say that it is too important. This election is too close and the stakes are too high for us to be silent.  If you believe that neither candidate is the right choice for our country, then use your voice to vote for a third-party candidate and say that. Please vote. The choices are bleak, I know, but the choice is still ours.

I (still) voted because I have been given a voice and a choice. I can choose to use my voice to speak up for kindness and truth and hope or not. I can choose to use my voice to say that all people are valuable and worthy and equal or not. I can choose to use my voice for love or not. So I chose to use my voice. I hope that you will, too.

On Labels

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We spent the past weekend on our church’s family retreat.  The retreat is primarily for families with young children, and it’s a time for them to disconnect from their busy lives and reconnect with God and one another. It’s a crazy, fun, exhausting weekend. We sang hymns, played games, went on scavenger hunts, ate excessive amounts of sugar, watched the Cubs advance to the World Series, and stayed up late catching up on life.  And we talked about identity.

Our speaker for the weekend began by bringing up some of the labels we wear—either because we’ve given them to ourselves or because someone else has put them on us.  Things like parents, wife, husband, daughter, son, friend, colleague.  Things like christian, republican, democrat, feminist, liberal, conservative.  Things like busy, aggressive, competitive, tired, young, old, capable, accomplished, strong.

We wear these labels—sometimes proudly and sometimes with shame.  Sometimes we put these labels on ourselves because we think that’s who the world wants us and needs us to be. Sometimes it’s just who we feel we need to be in order to get approval from everyone else.

But the truth is that none of these labels tell the whole story.  They don’t reveal what makes us special, what makes us beloved. They don’t offer any real insight into who we are at our very core—the people we were created to be.

We talked about the fact that there are only two people who have the right the label something—the creator and the purchaser.  The only one who has the right to label us is the One who made us.  The One who created us from dust, who knit us together in the womb calls us beloved.  He calls us important, unique, and strong. He calls us child of God.

Some days it’s hard to say which is more difficult—to see ourselves that way or to see others that way. I get to sit in the promise and the truth that I am a beloved child of God, but I also have to acknowledge that every other person I meet is a child of God, too. The person whose political views I disagree with and the person who posts hateful comments on Facebook.

Today I am thankful that God is so much bigger than my limited view of the world and who I am. And I’m especially thankful that God sees what I sometimes miss from where I am.

 

The Art of Balance

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Hello friends! I know things have been pretty quiet around here lately.  September has been a crazy, busy, hustle-to-get-it-all-done kind of month. (And we’re barely at the halfway point—that can’t be right, can it?) I’ve been moving at full speed this month. Work has taken over all of my everything, and I’ve been struggling with rest. I’m tired and my house is a mess and I can’t remember the last time my husband and I spent more than an hour  or two together without our phones or computers. Life gets crazy, people. But you know that, of course.

I think we all struggle with this thing called balance.  How do we make it all work? How do we fit everything in? How do we care for ourselves and our relationships while also doing the work that has to get done?

The important thing to remember is that it’s all important. The Christian life is a sacred balance of both work and rest. Life cannot be all rest, but Jesus still calls us to stop, to be still, and to be present with him. We are to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. We are to set aside time for worship and stillness and rest. It is essential to our faith and to our lives.

And we are also called to do the work—to go, preach, love, and care. We are to work as if working for the Lord, which to me means doing my very best with what God has given me. I want to say yes to helping, and I want to do things that matter to the kingdom of God. The work I do matters greatly to me—this busy, sometimes crazy and exhausting work feels important to me. And I believe it matters to God.

There’s a balance to be found there, I think.  There’s a lot of pressure on all of us to do more, to be endlessly and relentlessly productive. But when we never stop, we miss opportunities for the connection and creativity and peace that comes with good rest. And when we rest well, we are better able to go and do good, holy, important work.  We work with more passion and commitment.  We serve out of a deep desire to do God’s work instead out of a well that continues to run dry.

Balance is an art, yes, and it’s also a discipline. It’s a rhythm and a way of living that requires practice, dedication, and patience.

The past few weeks for me have been about the work. So I’m choosing in these next few days to take time to rest. I’m choosing to let some things go undone. I’m choosing to go to bed earlier and wait to answer just one more email until the morning. I’m choosing books and coffee and conversations over an endless to-do list. I’m choosing to do the things that need to be done without piling more on. I’m choosing balance. And my soul is grateful.

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