In Anticipation of Easter

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5: 3-4

It’s been a while. The first few months of the year have required me to sink in deep each day. Peeling back layers of conversation, stints away from home, the hard work of staying present each day. I’ve been okay with keeping my writing voice quiet, but not today.

I ache for the family of Deputy Carl Koontz, who was shot and killed in the line of duty just two counties over. I’m at once angry and sad, and as a police wife myself, it’s a sobering reminder of what my husband, friends, and friends’ spouses willingly do five nights a week. It’s gut-wrenching.

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I found myself praying portions of Psalm 119 this morning:

“I lie in the dust; revive me by your word…I weep with sorrow; encourage me by your word.”
Psalm 119: 25, 28

And I remembered how when Jesus sat down on the mountainside and began to teach, one of His very first statements addressed the poor in spirit and those who mourn.

I’m participating in a study of the Sermon on the Mount, and we looked up definitions of the word poverty. One such definition was “the state of one with insufficient resources.” To be poor in spirit, then? To be unable to provide hope of my own accord. To be at the end of my rope. To be aware of the faultiness of self-sufficiency and self-effort and self-help because I can’t do enough to clean up the mess, reverse the evil, fix what’s broken.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven…as Jen Wilkin writes, “the kingdom of grace here, and the kingdom of glory hereafter.” Those who desperately ache for justice and feel hope crumbling beneath their feet – in Christ, they are not bound to this world, as we know it. This may be our current station, but there is more to the story. How I long for reconciliation and the whole story now.

In the midst of whatever we mourn – death, illness, the dissolution of dreams, unmet expectations, dysfunctional relationships, our own sin, or anything else – we can hope in a God that meets us in the dust. Who desires to be present and longs to give us the grace and peace we need today, tomorrow, and the next.

“And emptiness itself can birth the fullness of grace because in the emptiness we have the opportunity to turn to God, the only begetter of grace, and there find all the fullness of joy.”  -Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

As Easter approaches, I’m very aware of Jesus, who can actually clean up the mess, reverse the evil, fix what’s broken. How long, O Lord? How long before we see the kingdom of glory hereafter? How long before we recognize the kingdom of grace right now?

The emptiness of feeling will meet (assuredly, has already met) the emptiness of the tomb and the powerful and compassionate reign of Jesus. Then, now, and hereafter.

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On Choosing to Abide

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This is the beginning of my post for (in)courage. Read the full article here!

I am aware of my broken pieces.

I know what pulls at the sleeves of my patience and what triggers my insecurity. I recognize my propensity towards perfectionism and where I’m prone to apathy.

And where there is my sin, there is me: desperately trying to determine the source of those broken pieces to hopefully, eventually, fix myself.

If I could just be more selfless, then I would be more present to my husband.
If I could just be less controlling, then I would stop turning my day into a task list.
If I could just be more patient, then I would not have said those harsh words.

As I grow in awareness of God’s character, the more I see we were never meant to be our own heroes, our own handymen, our own problem-solvers and saviors.

Read the rest of the article over at (in)courage.

I started following (in)courage during my first year of college. Wander around their website, and sign up here to receive free daily encouragement from (in)courage writers.

A Piece On Grace

I’m convinced grace is a big deal.

I’m also still trying to figure it out.

It is, essentially, the Gospel. But its implications are daily and permeate my actions, my thought life and my relationships.

And to consider that accepting grace for myself requires courage? Well, that resonates somewhere deep within me.

I read a ton of articles online regularly, and I keep coming back to this one. It’s called Be Brave Enough to Accept Grace by Nicole Unice. I’d encourage you to find some quiet to read the whole thing, but here’s a short excerpt:

A friend once told me about her grandfather, who was fascinated with radios. His condo was full of broken radios that he insisted on keeping, thinking that the transistor from one would fix the other; that he could cobble the broken parts together and make an old radio new. But despite his good intentions—he just owned broken radios.

Our hearts can be just like that—a storeroom of broken stuff, full of mismatched bits and broken pieces. But we keep adding to the pile, thinking that more life experiences will help us sort out and fix all the broken pieces. We are desperately holding out for the one piece we need to fix ourselves. The problem is, the right piece isn’t in our hearts, and it’s not something we can find on our own. The missing piece—grace—comes from outside ourselves.

3 Resources for Advent

Growing up, I remember the excitement of counting down to Christmas with an Advent calendar. Depending on the year, we’d punch out a piece of chocolate each day or open up a tiny flap to reveal a tiny picture, probably a snowman or nativity. I liked the chocolate ones best.

I haven’t observed Advent with a calendar in years, but lucky for me, I’m continuing to find resources to help draw my attention to the remembrance and anticipation of Christ more than my Amazon orders. Here are a few I plan to explore and wanted to pass along to you.

1. She Reads Truth: Born Is The King

For women, specifically (good thing they also have a He Reads Truth version!). The first few weeks of these daily devotions, which always include tons of Scripture, focus on how Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies and promises. The second half will go through the Christmas story narrative. I know many women who use SRT throughout the year for regular study, so if you’re interested in a daily plan with pretty pictures, start right here.

SRT - Born Is The King

2. Paul Tripp Advent: The Whole Story

I first heard Paul Tripp speak at a conference a few years ago and still enjoy reading his weekly email newsletter. This is a four-part devotional with questions and full sermons that explore the Christmas story in the context of God’s bigger story of the world. Check it out here.

3. Restoration Living: A Simple Advent Book

This e-book has short daily devotions with prompts for meditation and prayer, centered around Isaiah 9:2-7. Get it right here.

A Simple Advent Book

Happy Advent-ing!

With Deepest Empathy

One of the main roles of working in campus ministry is being a listener.

When a student chooses to share a piece of their story with me – a deep hurt or current chaos – I feel both incredibly honored and wildly deficient.

Brené Brown explains empathy well in this video. It’s messier than pitying from a distance; it requires involvement, presence, with-ness. “Me too” – the ability to connect over a feeling or experience – is a powerful thing we can offer, even when we don’t have answers or resolutions to pain.

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But here’s what I wrestle with. Sometimes – many times – I can’t honestly say “me too.” I feel like I can’t actually relate to that thing. Abuse is far from me; I’m not burdened by addiction or discontentment with singleness.

And I’m tempted to think, “Well, I’m certainly not very useful here,” and write myself off because (in all truth, praise God), I have not experienced everything I hear. I can zoom out to the larger reality and relate to broken relationships, desiring control or lacking passion for scripture. But to sit with someone in a specific trial, what does that require? A relatable answer? A prayer? Redirecting them to someone obviously more equipped than me?

I’m discovering, slowly and with a constant pushing away of negative and un-affirming thoughts, that two other phrases (articulated and practiced) can be just as healing.

  1. “God sees you.”
  2.  “I’m here.”

Because He does. He sees and knows and loves you.
And I am. I’m here if you need to vent, need a meal, need to know you’re not alone.

Of course, there are healthy limits and boundaries; we can’t be anyone’s superwoman or savior. But maybe that’s exactly what frees us to move towards people, anyway, with seemingly little to offer.

Empathy begs to extend beyond “me too.” I feel like I’m just beginning to test the waters.

Simply Tuesday (on a Friday)

I’m reading a book on smallness. Or rather, “small-moment living in a fast-moving world.”

It’s called Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman. I’ve probably referenced her writing a dozen times on this blog over the years.

I’ve underlined and boxed in lots of text so far, but I wanted to share one of the prayers that she writes at the end of every chapter. I think we have this tendency to want to know that what we do matters. We like to be recognized for our good efforts and get a lot done in a day and call ourselves productive. And maybe this isn’t entirely wrong until we start believing that big accomplishments are more valuable than the un-fancy movements of our daily life.

The reality is we can live well and glorify God in what feels like really small ways. I’m dwelling on these words this weekend and pray them for you, too.

“May we stretch out in the fullness of small and move downward with gladness rather than upward in fear. May we let go of the constructed life and embrace a connected life, even if it leads to less. May we be marked more by our small moments than by our fast movements. May our small moments do more lasting good than our fast movements do harm. Be gracious to remind us that our souls aren’t made for fame. May we receive the gift of obscurity with joy, gratitude and a light heart” (p. 112).

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A Word to the Planners

Hey, hi, hello. I hope September has been good to you so far.

The past few months have been wild, working in campus ministry during the start-of-the-semester hustle and attempting to create healthy rhythms in the midst of it.

Photo Credit: Andrej Chudy

Days are full, and although they sometimes wear me out, they’re also full of purpose. I’m continuing to process all the changes of this year – job shifts and two houses and new friendships, and I hope to share those with you in time.

But for now, I wanted to tell you about a blog post I recently wrote for Deeply Rooted Magazine about releasing expectations and seeking Jesus instead. You can find it right here!

I discovered Deeply Rooted this spring and was immediately captivated by the lovely design and honest content. I’m humbled for the chance to write for them and hope you’ll meander around the site to explore it for yourself.

Thank you for reading, and for hanging out with me on the journey.

 

How Lent Is Going

It seems like most years, the season of Lent comes and goes pretty uneventfully. The weeks in between Ash Wednesday and Easter pass by normally, with routine work schedules, pleas for warmer weather and maybe revamped mantle decor.

In many ways, the same has been true for this year. But, in a way, not.

Still taking advantage of my non-work days, I’ve settled into a morning rhythm. After feeding the dogs, I make coffee (or heat it up from the previous morning), and I sit in the middle of the couch. It’s still dark, and I’m still tired, so I just sit. Directly in front of me, the window points to the sky that begins to lighten in ribbons, folding into vivid colors before the sun pops over the fence and nearly blinds me.

In this time, I may read a little. But in the last week I’ve let myself wonder. And it’s nice, but it also stirs me up.

My whole life I’ve heard that Jesus died for my sins and the sins of everyone. That this is a gift, not earned. I’ve read again and again that Jesus’ death and resurrection paved the way for our salvation and restored us to God. That the God I follow stripped Himself of dignity to get us back.

For a long time, I heard and recited the phrases, but I didn’t really consider them. I didn’t let them roll around in my head to stir up questions because the questions seemed so big.

But this Lent, I find I’m more eager to be pushed toward understanding, toward the why of the gospel. Why death? Why an empty tomb? Why us now?

My earthly brain is not capable of fully comprehending the death and resurrection a Savior. That is why we’re called to faith.

But here’s what’s encouraging to me: even biblical authors didn’t just recite the phrases. After Jesus’ death, the people wanted explanation; they craved understanding.

The writer of Hebrews, for example, frames up the why of the gospel in various ways to give new followers an anchor point of understanding…something that resonated and reminded them, “Oh yes, that’s why we needed Jesus,” (See Hebrews 8-10).

I guess I’m like them. I want to talk about it and wrestle with it and have somebody spell it out for me so plainly that I feel its weight. And this isn’t just a Lent thing; for the believer, it’s a forever long process that doesn’t stop at Easter.

Push me toward understanding.

That’s my prayer these days.

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Redefining Value

Something of magic happens when the weather turns a few degrees warmer, hinting at spring and open windows.

I know we’re not the only ones who dragged our grill to the back deck, swept off the front door mat and walked around sockless. We moved here in deep winter, and even the slight uptick in temperature has us refreshed, hopeful and craving more. We’re coming up on three months in this house. I’ve not been working, which has been a great blessing in that I’ve been available to support Thomas through sleep-altering schedules and nutty stories.

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So I think about these fast three months and wonder at them. The freedom of un-rigid days that sometimes, somehow, still felt daunting. The idea that I’d use this season to do or make progress on, or, at least, plan something substantial for my writing or other another big idea. Like a productive sabbatical where the stars would align, bolstering my ambitions and hindering obligation to other people’s needs. It was going to be my time.

In an ironic turn, a different message keeps pressing into me. In our church small group, through sermons, blogs, books and hard conversations, what I’m hearing has nothing to do with goal-setting, productivity or self-preservation.

Instead, I’m asking questions like:

“How can I give more of myself away?”

“What actions and pursuits have long-term value?”

“How can I love those directly around me and tend to this small piece of the kingdom I’ve been placed in?”

My body fights it. I want to protect myself and my season of freedom so I can accomplish something concrete. I don’t want to be taken advantage of by always taking care of others. Every ounce of culture tells me I’m entitled to pursue what I want, like we’re all little soldiers fighting for our rights.

So again, I think of these fast three months and see a lot of small, seemingly inconsequential actions…dinner-making and dog-bathing and candle-burning on the nights our friends come over. In terms of things I’m doing, it all seems average.

But the idea that it’s not all about me and what I accomplish has been refreshing and satisfying. The quiet days with tiny victories, un-pressured and un-hurried, have been generous to me.

I’m redefining what’s valuable and learning that even the inconspicuous and intangible have worth. I’m reconsidering what is pleasing and good, productive far beyond me and not just about right now.

Every meal made, every person cared for, every prayer uttered, every dream chased and every idea set aside for now – I think God uses all of this, shows up in all that seems small, so we don’t need to worry about what we’re not accomplishing by the world’s standards.

And for that, I am so thankful. It’s exhausting to always lead the charge, to always feel the need to achieve, to feel that our achievement is who we are.

This is ongoing for me. Releasing what has no place here, pursuing what is good, and differentiating between the two.

That’s the journey I’m on. And, maybe, the one we’re all on together.

P.S. I’d be lying if I told you the only thing on my horizon was more cookie-baking. This June, I’ll begin working at Purdue Christian Campus House, a church that primarily serves college students and a growing number of young professionals. I’m thrilled for the opportunity and will certainly keep you posted!

How We Talk About Our Bodies

This is the time of year when everyone and their uncle talks about kale chips, pilates class, “easy” ways to lose 10 pounds and keeping health resolutions going – at least through January.

I get it. And I’m with them (except for my research yesterday on homemade puff pastry. The butter, Lord help us all).

Last week, I saw that some bloggers were gearing up for a prayer event that happens once each month called 12 Prayers. Each month focuses on a designated issue or topic. The goal is to read truth and attack the issue with prayer throughout the day, in 12 prayers.

This month’s focus was, rightfully, body image. Here are a few prayers from the day:

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“We pray that we would stop trying to grasp perfection for a vessel that is weak and dying.” 2 Corinthians 5:2-4

“Help us see where YOU find beauty.” Proverbs 31:30

“We pray that our souls would know the dignity we possess because we are made in your image.” Matthew 22:37-40

“We live our lives convinced these bodies are about us and our identity but we ask that you would take them back for your glory. When we forget their true purpose, remind us that these bags of flesh are tools for advancing your Kingdom, nothing more and nothing less.Romans 12:1

I loved this mini-study for a few very different reasons.

It went straight to the heart of what our bodies are made for. We like to like our bodies. This study did not claim that liking our bodies is bad. But it can be futile. We’re so critical of ourselves, scrutinizing dimples and shapes and the hair on our arms.

And our culture has competing ideals – we’re expected to strive for the (albeit often unattainable) flawlessness we see on magazine covers, yet raise the white flag and sign body peace treaties, accepting ourselves for who we are now. What? As long as perfection is the metric of success that society pushes, real body peace is hardly an option – by earthly standards.

What if we bypassed this confusion and celebrated our bodies for what they were made for? Not just high cheekbones and tiny ankles. What if we didn’t “settle” for what we have, didnt’t over-eat or under-eat to meet the expectations in our heads, didn’t say we’ll be happy when we have visible abs or triceps?

I’m under the impression we have every right to celebrate our bodies because – for heaven’s sake – we were given bodies with breath! To worship, and to fulfill God’s purpose of advancing the Kingdom while we can.

What this tells me is that my vision and purpose for my body is not about working out. But it’s not about not working out, either. What I’m saying is that I should eat the kale chips AND the puff pastry. We can’t abandon caring for our bodies (we were entrusted with them, after all). But the obsessions and critiques and wars with food and super close-up mirrors don’t rule us. They can’t, because we’ve already established a higher calling for our bodies.

The study also opened my eyes to the encouraging power of Instagram. No, really. A while back, one of my favorite authors wrote an article about Instagram’s Envy Effect, or how it’s tempting to project our lives in idealistic and inauthentic ways. While I know plenty of that goes on, I love seeing examples of how media can be used for encouraging and building. The idea of 12 Prayers relies on scripture, a group of writers’ honesty, and a dedication to spiritual movement. Now it has me wondering how I can implement something similar in my circle.

On a related note, I came back around to this blog post that advises how to talk to daughters about their bodies. Should I have a daughter one day, I hope I communicate some of these things to her.

And thanks, Mom, for frequently singing the ‘Miss America’ song when you heard me walking down the stairs in the morning, before you even saw what I was wearing.