Expecting the Unexpected

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One of my favorite things about kids is their curiosity.  They are unassuming, full of questions and wonder. They are always hunting, searching for answers—freer than we are to admit that they don’t know something. They love surprises and that little thrill that comes from the appearance of the unexpected.

Adults aren’t really like that. We like to know what to expect, what’s going to happen next. Our modus operandi to act like we have all the answers, like we have everything figured out already. We like to plan, to be in control of every aspect of our lives.

But that’s not really the way God works, is it? From the very beginning, the life of Jesus was all about the unexpected. We expect that the long-awaited Messiah, the Savior of the entire world, would arrive in some grand fashion with flashes of lightning and clashing cymbals, but that’s not what happened.  Instead, Jesus came quietly, gently, and without threat or fanfare.  In fact, only a few lowly shepherds and animals living in a stable had any idea that the world would never be the same.

We expect that the very Son of God would be awarded great power and prestige, but again that’s not what happened. Jesus taught us that the meek would inherit the earth and the last would be first.  He taught us that it is better to serve than to be served, and he lived that truth in his leadership throughout his life. And then finally he died. Jesus didn’t use his incredible power to free himself from the cruelty of crucifixion, but he died a painful and humiliating death on the cross. For us. Because he loved us so much.

And now we arrive at Easter. The women went to the tomb that first Easter morning with the no doubt that they would find exactly what they expected.  A tomb. A body. Sadness. Despair. But then the most unexpected thing happened—the tomb was empty.

The women, understandably, were terrified. But an angel appeared to them and asked what must have seemed like the strangest question: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The angel was tasked with delivering the most unexpected surprise in history—Jesus could not be found in a cold, dark tomb. He was not there anymore. He is risen.

The story of Easter has so much to teach us, but I think one of its greatest truths is that God has the power to do so much more than we expect or imagine. You think God can’t bring healing to the brokenness in your life? Think again. You think no beauty can come from this hurt? It’s not true. The story of Easter—the story of God—is about light from darkness, hope from despair, life from death. The resurrection is God’s promise that what is lost and broken can be redeemed, that whatever pain you’re experiencing right now doesn’t get the last word in your story.

This Easter, I’m thankful that God does so much more than I expect or even believe is possible. And he that he loves me so much more than I know.

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Aware

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I’ve been studying the story of Moses recently.  Our kids are doing a musical about Moses freeing the slaves, and in an effort to help them understand more about the man they’re singing about (no kids, Moses was not one of Jesus’ disciples), I’ve been learning more about him, too. The other day I was reading the story of Moses at the burning bush. I’ve read this story many, many times and heard it told a hundred different ways. But this time, I was struck by something new. There was one word that stood out and changed everything for me: Aware.

God spoke to Moses, and he said, “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering.”

Aware. That word says everything, doesn’t it? Often, in times of hurt or fear or pain, we feel like God is absent—like he doesn’t know or doesn’t care about what we’re going through.

But God speaks to Moses in the most miraculous of ways, and assures him that he does indeed see what’s going on:

I know. I see. I’m there. It may not be the way you want right now, but I promise that I’m working in this, too. I’m aware. I’m with you. 

I think that what we want so often is just to be seen. So many people are walking through life carrying massive burdens that know one else can see. And even though we may try to keep these parts of our lives quiet, there is something inside of us longing for someone to come along and say that they see our pain. They get it. They’re right there with us. We want to know we’re not alone.

God’s promise to us is not only that we don’t have to go through it alone, but that he knows and understands what we’re experiencing.  He’s knows every fear, every worry, every hurt—he sees all of it. God is aware. Isn’t that a beautiful promise?

Lent and the View from the Mountain

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In Exodus, God speaks to Moses and says, “Come up to the mountain and stay here.” It’s a simple invitation, and yet it strikes me as profoundly important.  As I’ve reflected on those words this week, I can’t help but think that this invitation is at the very heart of Lent. During this quiet,  reflective season, God offers us an opportunity to come up to the mountain with him and just stay.  He invites us to stay with nowhere to be and nothing pressing to do. He invites us to rest in the quiet and just listen. He invites us to be present and make space for his glory.

Last week I spent some time with a group of ministers talking about wellbeing.  One of the leaders spoke about this particular scripture and he noted that the thing about being on top of the mountain is that it changes your perspective.  Suddenly, your view is completely different.  When we’re on top of the mountain, we notice the beauty and majesty of creation—the vastness of it all.

But at the same time, everything feels smaller. The details fade, and we’re left with the reality of who we are.  We are human. We are small. Sometimes we fail. We are broken and in need of a Savior.

And yet, we are surrounded by the grace and majesty of God.

Lent offers us the chance to see things from a new perspective. Today, on this first day of the Lenten season, I’m giving myself the space to experience something new. I’ll be closing my office door for a few hours in order to go up to the figurative mountain and stay for a while with God.  I will let the details fade away, if only for a moment, and listen for how God is speaking to me in this season.

The invitation extended to Moses is for us as well.  If you’re tired, restless, weary, or broken, there is place for you to sit and rest. Come up to mountain, take in the view from the top, and stay.

 

*Photo Source

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.

*Photo Source

 

 

 

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.

 

Kenya

A few years ago I travelled with a group from church to Kenya. We spent the first few days of our trip in Nairobi and visited a school situated right in the middle of the slums of the city. As we drove through crowded streets to get to the school, several words came to mind—broken, hopeless, desolate, despair. And yet as soon as we walked in the school there was only joy. The school had children as young as five months and as old as twelve years, many of whom had special needs. Every single child was absolutely thrilled to have visitors, especially visitors who were willing to take their pictures and then show them the images on the screens of our digital cameras. 18601_10100990179693778_1109330903_n 314105_10100990176709758_476418411_n-2 We spent the day with those kids, playing on the playground and doling out high fives. We visited one two-year-old class where they sang us a song about butterflies, and to this day it’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. I taught a few of the kids how to play peek-a-boo (a game they found completely hysterical), and one sweet little boy gave me a kiss on the cheek. 546853_10100990179753658_2033733486_n 602335_10100990177682808_1066495181_n-2 As we walked around, I heard the teachers saying over and over again, “You can be anything.” It felt like the biggest blessing in that moment to know that those children were not only in a place where they had food to eat and could learn and play, but a place where they were loved—a place where they were valued and treated as children of God. 314233_10100990180197768_2046763450_n-2 293818_10100990183331488_824755045_n We spent the latter part of the week in one of the more rural villages, building a bridge for the Pokot community.  Their village was basically divided in half by a deep, fast-moving river that was extremely dangerous to cross. As we pulled the final pieces together, along with members of the community who had come to work and build with us, people stood on either side of the bridge waiting to cross it for the first time. 21487_10100990183690768_184021002_n 66565_10100990181714728_433299290_n 22816_10100990184149848_2059222007_n-2

Kenya has been on my heart lately—partly because there’s been an ache in my soul to go back there and partly because I’m watching our nation be torn apart by injustice and racial division. As I went back and read journal entries that I wrote during my trip over two years ago, I was reminded that there is something within us that transcends culture and ethnicity and socioeconomic status.  It is the thing found in music and laughter and the sound of children playing.  It is our shared humanity, and it is a precious and beautiful gift—if we’re willing to acknowledge it. 559399_10100990186325488_656099012_n-2 394036_10100990187822488_937097828_n

Today I’m praying for a different kind of world. I’m praying for a world where children know they are loved and valued, where people have access to the most basic things they need, where we fight for justice and love and opportunity for all people—because they are people and people matter. And I’m praying for Kenya—for the Pokot community and the teachers and the boy who kissed me on the cheek.

Friday Links

Friday Links are a round-up of my favorite posts/videos/projects/photos from around the web.

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Happy Friday! This week was a little crazy trying to catch up from being away for a week, but the weekend is here! Plus, I learned how to use a power saw this week when our church staff worked on a habitat build, so I really can’t complain. I truly can’t believe that May is here already, and we have an absolutely packed month ahead of us (including lots of time with family and celebrating two years of marriage!). Since we have so much coming up, this weekend we’ll be sleeping in, relaxing, and probably watching  lots of HGTV. Hope you all have a fantastic weekend, too! XO

For your weekend reading pleasure…

  • This post from Amy Butler about savoring the present. Amy presented these words at the children’s ministry conference I attended last week (more on that soon), and her words are still weighing on my heart. Sit in the reality of what is now. Witness the young lives around you in all the wonder that they are in this moment. See your own life through the lens of God’s creative genius. And give thanks. For what a gift we’ve been given, these lives of ours. Be here now. 
  • I’ve been struggling with how to think and pray about what happened in Baltimore this week, how to wrap my head around all the sides and perspectives and stories. This post from Sarah Bessey gave me words—she speaks with honesty and grace, offering freedom to envision a different kind of world.
  • 10 Habits of People with Organized Houses from The Inspired Room. I love this because organization is kind of my jam. I do a lot of the things on this list, but not #4. I want to change that. I think it would make all the difference, but mornings are just so, so hard!