Breaking Through

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All that is sweet, delightful, and amiable in this world, in the serenity of the air, the fineness of seasons, the joy of light, the melody of sounds, the beauty of colors, the fragrancy of smells, the splendor of precious stones, is nothing else by Heaven breaking through the veil of the world.

-William Law

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.

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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Offering

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A few weeks ago I travelled to Atlanta for CBF Fellows orientation.  CBF Fellows is a program that invites young ministers to learn together, build community, and support one another. Our meetings were held at FBC Decatur, and the room we were in had a Bible verse written on the wall. Day after day, I sat in sessions forming new relationships and learning about leadership and family systems and healthy ministry practices. And I looked at these words:

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” Romans 12:1 (The Message)

Weeks later these words are still on my heart. I can’t stop thinking about this idea of offering.  It often feels like I have nothing of value to offer God.  But the truth is that I do have something to give to God—we all do. The real question is not whether or not we have something to offer to God, but what we choose to give to God.

When I think about my daily life, here are some words that come to mind: tired, frantic, stressed, busy. But what would look like to live my life as an intentional offering and response of thanksgiving to the God who loves me and created this ordinary day? Joy, gratitude, grace, peace?

One thing I’m certain of is that I want to lay the very best of what I have to give as the feet of God as my life’s offering.

Now I understand that life is life, and there will be days and weeks and seasons that drag and weigh us down no matter what.  But this idea of our daily lives as an offering to God is an invitation to a different way of living, a more intentional way.  It invites us to approach each  day to day with more reverence, more hope, and a profound expectation that we will encounter something holy.

Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day. But that’s okay—there’s something sacred there, too. What can you offer to God today?

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Books and Magic

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“Books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, words that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live.”

-Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

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5 Books

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One thing I know for sure is that words have an inexplicable power.  They can transport us to different places and times, break our hearts, and mend our souls. The other day I started thinking the about the books that have changed my life. Here are five I came up with:

Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist. This is the book (and the author) that made me want to be a writer. Shauna’s writing is beautiful and graceful, and her words make me feel and think deeply about what I’m doing with this incredibly gift of life I’ve been given. Most specifically, Cold Tangerines changed the way I think about friendship—about the circle of people who I invest in and care about the most. This is hands down my favorite book of all time.

“Because we were made for motion, for arching up toward God with all the energy and passion of a thunderstorm, lightning slices through a sleepy world to remind us that we serve a fast-dancing God, a God who set this world whirling and crashing through space so that we could live from our toes and drum out the pulse of a billion veins carrying lifeblood to a billion hearts, temples to a God that got his hands dirty making us from dust. Let’s get dirty, in his name.  Let’s sizzle and pop in his name. Let’s dance and shimmer and scrawl out our stories across the sky, like he taught us to. Let’s echo his words, and let our lives speak those words: It is good.”

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. I can’t even count how many times I’ve read this book—it’s one that I go back to over and over again, and it teaches me something new each time.  This book, maybe more than any other I’ve read, changed the way I view God.  I read this book for the first time during a difficult season of my life, and it helped me recognize God as truly PRESENT—in a real, tangible, life-changing way.  God is not only big and mighty and omnipotent, but he is also gentle, patient, loving, and with us right where we are.

“Love the Lord your God, and love one another. Love one another as he loves. Love with strength and purpose and passion and no matter what comes against you. Don’t weaken.  Stand against the darkness and love. That’s the way back to Eden. That’s the way back to life.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. This book is one of the books that made me LOVE to read.  I read Harry Potter for the first time in seventh grade. I was already a reader before then, of course, but this book changed everything. It introduced me to a new world that has remained an important part of my life for over 15 years (and counting). I love books that just make you ravenous for more of the story—stay up late, under the cover with a flashlight, because you just can’t stop reading books. This is one.

“A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect anything astonishing to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken up in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousin Dudley…He couldn’t know at this very moment, people meeting in secret all over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices: ‘To Harry Potter—the boy who lived.'”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Like most people, I read Harper Lee’s famous novel for the first time in high school, but I have ready many times since then.  Harper Lee writes with such gentleness and candor about humanity, justice, love, and respect for other people.  When I think about what I want to teach the kids I work with (and my own children one day), those are the things that come to mind.  They are also the things our world so desperately needs—people who see each other as worthy, valuable, and deserving of love. We belong to each other. Lee’s novel helped give me words for that.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor.  Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite writers, and this book has changed the way I think about calling, ministry, and my own relationship with God. Church can be a hard place to be, and I have found that to be true over and over again. I have also found church to be one of the most affirming and life-giving communities I have ever been a part of in my life. Leaving Church is about finding God in all of that—in the brokenness and at the table.

“At least one of the purposes of church is to remind us that God has other children, equally as precious as we.”

 

 

On Change

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This month I left my job. I recently accepted a new position as Minister to Children and Families at another church, and I’ll start there in February.  It’s a church I love and know well—the church where we got married and where I had my first experience in ministry.  It’s a church that holds a very special place in my heart, and I’m thrilled to be going back there.  Even still, leaving was incredibly hard. I’m attached to my kids, and leaving meant saying goodbye to them. I know that I won’t get to see them continue to grow and learn new things about God and how much he loves them. I know I won’t get to experience the fruit of what I’ve been building, and that is a hard thing to lose.

Change is like that, of course. It almost always involves saying goodbye. Sometimes the things we say goodbye to are things we need to let go of for one reason or another. But sometimes they are wonderful things. Sometimes we have to say goodbye to something we love, something that has made our lives richer and better, in order to create space for something else.

Change is a part of life. Life is always moving, and that is part of what makes it so beautiful.  As we grow, we are constantly reweaving the way we think and understand the world. If are moving forward, we are opening ourselves up to change. But it’s not easy.

I love the way my favorite writer, Shauna Niequist, talks about change:

This is what I’ve come to believe about change: it’s good, in the way that childbirth is good, and heartbreak is good, and failure is good. By that I mean that it’s incredibly painful, exponentially more so if you fight it, and also that it has the potential to open you up, to open life up, to deliver you right into the palm of God’s hand, which is where you wanted to be all long, except that you were too busy pushing and pulling your life into exactly what you thought it should be. I’ve learned the hard way that change is one of God’s greatest gifts, and most useful tools. Change can push us, pull us, rebuke and remake us. It can show us who we’ve become, in the worst ways, and also in the best ways. I’ve learned that it’s not something to run away from, as though we could, and that in many cases, change is a function of God’s graciousness, not life’s cruelty.

She’s right, of course. Change is hard and painful and scary, and that’s where I am right now. I have felt God in every step of this process, and I know that I will look back on this season of change with deep gratitude. But for now I’m somewhere in between. I’m grieving the goodbye at the same time I’m looking forward to the next chapter. And all along the way I’m learning again that change is the hardest kind of gift.