Confession 452: Goodness

Psalm 27_13

My oldest has to be at the bus stop by 6:40 each morning. As Summer gives way to Fall, the early morning light has dimmed. The sun takes longer to rise, and so my son and I walk together down the deserted street in the quiet twilight of pre-dawn. I often look up at the sky as we walk, noting the gradual arrival of daylight, and the way the light doesn’t push out the darkness, but rather, the light moves into the darkness, streaking through it in beautiful shades of pink, purple, orange, and yellow that eventually spread to become a brilliant canvas of cerulean blue.

The other morning, the light bled into the darkness in such a way that it looked like an Impressionist painting. Beautiful paintbrush strokes of violet, pink, and white were drawn across a backdrop of blank indigo. I paused my son in his never-ending discussion of Lego sets and Funko Pops and pointed heavenward: “Look,” I said. “It’s a painting.”

In those early morning treks to the bus stop, I see God’s goodness. I see his goodness in the dawning of the day, as the light eases its way into the darkness and gradually moves over it until the darkness is transformed. I think this is how God works in our world, which is often anything but good. God moves into the darkness, transforming it until his love light is the only thing that can be seen. God overcomes the darkness by moving in and transforming it.

My sister used to work for an organization in the Kansas City area that provided transitional living for homeless teenage boys. These young men would come to the residential facility with very little, little in regard to material possessions, and little in regard to a hopeful future. The boys worked with tutors, social workers, and counselors to overcome the struggles of their past and to forge a future that was bright with possibility. It was hard work, and change came slowly. There were often setbacks, and some of the young men chose the familiarity of the past rather than the unknown of the future. However, over time, these boys’ lives were gradually transformed. They graduated from high school, some even went on to college. They got jobs that paid a living wage, purchased cars, and rented apartments or homes on their own. But, it wasn’t just the boys who were transformed–the entire community that held and supported them was transformed, as well. Lives were changed. Perceptions were altered. Transformation came. God’s goodness was seen.

Psalm 27 makes a promise about God’s goodness. The psalmist writes, assured by his faith, that he will see the goodness of God in this lifetime. We don’t have to wait until the next life to see God…we can see him now. However, we have to look.

Where do you see God’s goodness? Where do you see the light of his love pushing through the darkness? What transformations are taking place in your community that reflect the goodness of God?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 451: The Complexities of Love

Sunset and Trees Landscape Good Evening Quote

Several years ago, I remember getting a phone call right before dinner. I was juggling plates, loading up food, and sniffing the milk to make sure it was drinkable when I glanced down at the caller ID and immediately sighed. Ugh…what now? 

The person calling me was someone I had been ministering to for awhile. This person was trying to get back on the path that leads to life, but it was a very rocky road, and I simply did not have the time nor desire to be a hiking guide. Instead of embracing the opportunity to show the love of God to someone in need, I instead chose to ask God why he insisted on brining people into my life who needed to be shown that love in the first place. With my best impersonation of Alicia Silverstone’s Clueless performance, I rolled my eyes to the sky and said, “Like, you know, God, I to-tal-ly have my own life!”

Of course, God responded in equal measure and I’m pretty sure I heard him say, “Are you serious right now?” I put down the plates and picked up the phone.

Sometimes, love is hard. If I’m being honest, I don’t always want to put out the effort to love. Love is messy. Love is complicated. Love is uncomfortable. Love makes you vulnerable. Love takes time. Love requires intentionality. Love is unpredictable. Love is hard. Why didn’t Paul say any of that in 1st Corinthians? I suppose no one would want to hang it on their living room wall…

It’s true though…real love is work. It’s so much easier to talk about it than to do it. Take my 13-year old. He’s come up with about 100 different screenplays over the years that he plans to put into development one day when he sets forth on his moviemaking life in LA. But, put a pen and paper in the child’s hand and he suddenly has something much more pressing to do than work out the details of a script that is so much more fun to just talk about. Scriptwriting is a lot of work. Talking about a concept, pretty easy.

The thing is, Jesus was pretty clear about the easy life, and it’s not for us would-be Jesus followers. Jesus said, if you want to follow me, you’d better be ready to work.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

 

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.-2

Jesus says that we can’t truly follow him unless we’re ready to give up ourselves and focus on others. We have to put aside our own ambition, our own wants, our own plans, our own will, our own perspective at times in order to put love into action. Because our job is to follow Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t always take us on a beach vacation. Where Jesus goes, life is rough. Where Jesus goes, people are broken. Where Jesus goes, shadows threaten. But Jesus makes rough places plain. Jesus heals the broken spirits. Jesus casts out the darkness with the light of his love. And my friends, he invites us to follow him on this journey.

I’m ashamed to admit that when it comes to putting love in action, I often don’t want to follow. I don’t want to give up my time, my energy, or my dinner plans to follow Jesus somewhere or to someone who makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to see the broken, or walk in the shadows. But then Jesus says, if you can’t put my love into action, then you can’t really follow me. And I want to follow Jesus. I want to follow Jesus because he is the way, and the truth, and the life.  I want to follow Jesus because I thrive in his presence. I want to follow Jesus because he gives my life purpose. So, I need to work more on talking less and walking more. I need to put Jesus’ love in action, so that others can know how great his love truly is.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

Confession 450: When God Says, “Umm…I Didn’t Tell You To Do THAT”

Proverbs 4_2 CEV

Awhile ago, I went with my Bible study group to a painting class. I have to tell you right now, art and I are not friends. As one artist sagely noted while grimacing at my misguided attempt to draw a beach scene, “Well, you have other gifts.” Truer words have never been spoken, and yet, I signed up for a painting class anyway. It was a lovely scene,  a graceful willow overhanging a still pond…dappled sunlight falling lightly through the leaves. I took one look at this portrait of sublime serenity and thought, you’ve got to be kidding!

90 minutes into the class, I was ready to be finished with the entire project. I had used all of my mental reserves to painstakingly craft a semi-shaded grassy embankment from which my graceful willow would spring. But, there were so many details involved in painting grass that I just did not have the energy or ambition to do anything else. And so, when it came time to create the wispy willows of the willow tree, I didn’t do my best. To be fair, I thought the instructor said to make tiny dots along the canvas for the willow branches. However, I was restless and tired and didn’t want to be paining willow leaves all night. So, instead of clarifying the instructions and copying the proper form, I did this.

Willow Branch

When the instructor came over to inspect our work, his response was less than encouraging. In fact, when a friend repeated what we thought his instructions were, his response was, and I quote, “I most certainly didn’t tell you to do THAT!” Instead of wispy willow branches lazily skimming the surface of a pond, I had Medusa’s head on a purple tree trunk. In my rush to be finished with a task that was tiring, I ended up with a useless painting I’m too embarrassed to even throw into the trash.

As I contemplate my Medusa-willow, I can’t help but reflect on the instructor’s exclamation, and my own heedless desire to forego process for finished product. In my rush to be done, I did a poor job, and the instructor made it abundantly clear that my work should in no way be considered a reflection of his teachings.

How often, do you think, we Jesus followers rush through the process of living by faith and mistake or misrepresent Jesus’ actual teaching? Do you feel like, sometimes, Jesus is echoes the  sentiments of the art instructor? Does Jesus ever say to us, “I most certainly didn’t tell you do to THAT!”?

If we’re honest, I think the answer is a resounding YES! The truth is, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The process by which we grow in our faith is long–a lifetime–and requires a lot of focus, a lot of effort, and a lot of intentionality. John says that when we run ahead of Christ, then we, in essence, run away from God. When we run ahead of Christ, we miss important details. The masterpiece of God’s creation within us becomes a bit of a mess. And, while God can absolutely redeem and restore it, wouldn’t it be better if we just followed instructions the first time? Proverbs tells us that God will teach us well, but we have to follow those teachings. But, how do we live that out? How to we go about living this Jesus life on a practical day to day basis?

First, I think we have to bathe our decisions in prayer, both the large and small. Most of us understand the need to seek God’s wisdom when it comes to major life decisions. But, I believe that seeking God’s wisdom in the small decisions can help us to better hear God’s voice in the midst of those major decisions. For example, sometimes I ask God if I can have a cookie. I know, it sounds crazy. But, here’s what I’ve found. If I go to God in prayer about a cookie, then he and I can have a conversation about the nature of the desire for the cookie. Is it really just about a cookie? Or is it about meeting a deeper emotional need? Going to God about a cookie can lead to deeper self-reflection and awareness. Moreover, if I can train myself to seek God for something as mundane and non-life-altering as a cookie, then I’m prepared to go to him when something truly life-altering comes my way.

Second, we need to clarify information by regularly reading Scripture. Scripture is God breathed. In the stories of faith, we find wisdom and guidance for our own faith journey. God’s Word is a lamp for our feet; a light for our path (Psalm 119). God’s Word shows us how to live. It reminds us that when we’re really frustrated at inefficiency in a place of business, that those serving (or not serving) us are children of God whom we are called to love and snapping at them will not improve the service (or lack thereof). God’s Word reminds us that we are to have compassion for the oppressed, not condemnation.  We are to seek justice, even when the world seems unrepairably unjust. God’s Word is instruction, and that instruction leads us on the pathway to life.

And so, my friends, this week I challenge you to seek God’s input. Seek his wisdom in matters both big and small. Then,  follow his instructions, even when you really just want to be finished with the whole process.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

Confession 449: God Will Finish

Do you think that by yourself you can complete what God’s Spirit started in you?

Picture happily created at Canva!

The other day, I opened the door to our living room closet in the hopes of finding my Sunday school book. The scene that greeted me was nothing short of chaos personified. Within this small cubby under the stairs lie fragments of the myriad projects I have started and abandoned over the past three years. There’s the Christmas present I didn’t finish sitting in a basket I never cleaned out from Christmas Eve service. There’s the scrapbooking paper and stickers I shoved into a corner after I hastily slapped some hearts on a box for my son’s Valentine’s Day party. There’s the sewing box, lying on its side after I ransacked it looking for a piece of thread to re-attach a button. There are a variety of notecards scattered like leaves…the detritus of good intentions. There are also coloring books, colored pencils, puzzle pieces, a sewing machine, playing cards, and two yoga mats silently waiting for unfinished business to be taken up again.

My closet is an exercise in unfinished business.

We are all well-familiar with unfinished business. Isn’t life itself one giant closet full of business left to do? Sometimes, it can feel like God has abandoned the unfinished project that is our life. We feel like God has tucked us away in some celestial cubby-hole, forgotten and relegated to miscellaneous junk.

In those times when we feel most forgotten, we have a tendency to try and find completion on our own. We decide to take matters into our own hands, rather than lying around waiting for God to pick us up again. And so, we set about sewing uneven stitches and cutting pictures to the wrong dimensions. We open our mouths to speak when we should have left well enough alone. We quit a task before thinking it through, or take up a task when it’s really not ours to do. We sit in the seat of judgement when we haven’t been presented all the facts. We blunder and bluster our way to a position, relationship, object we think we want, only to find it’s not what we needed at all.

In short, in our desire to finish on our own, we make an even bigger mess.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul addresses this tendency of human beings to make an even bigger mess of life by trying to conquer it on our own. The Galatians have become impatient with Paul. Other leaders have come to them preaching a way of life that makes more sense than the Gospel Paul has preached. It’s easier, more concrete. These new teaching focus on the law, which is much more tangible than grace. Chapter 3 finds Paul at his wit’s end. The people have decided to revert to the law, forgetting that it was the law that had them spiritually chained. Paul reminds the Galatians of their freedom in Christ. He advocates patience. If we abandon the journey, then Christ’s sacrifice will have been for nothing. If we abandon the journey, then we are choosing to remain unfinished.

God will finish his work

One of my favorite passages in Scripture comes from Philippians 1:6:

God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete on the day that Christ Jesus returns. (CEV)

In my world of unfinished projects and a life that is ever-changing, it is comforting to know that God is never finished with me. I find hope in the knowledge that God will finish the work he began in me when I first came into this world. I rest securely in the knowledge that I am not abandoned to the cubby of unfinished business; rather, I am a continual work in progress. Until Christ comes again, or I meet him face to face, God is working and finishing that which he started.

The same is true for you, my friend. God has named you and claimed you. You are his beloved child, heir to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you’re going through, whatever business in your life feels unfinished, know that God is still working. Don’t rush the process. Don’t try to finish it yourself. God has an eternal view, and can see so much more than our limited eyes. So have patience. Keep going. And know that the work God begins, he will always complete.

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Confession 448: The Importance of Fallibility

Ephesians 1_7-8 (CEV)

Rude…that’s how a random stranger described me as I ducked under some ropes to stand beside my husband and family waiting for a bus at Disney World. And, maybe I was. Maybe there are some social mores that dictate appropriate line positioning in highly crowded environments which I completely flaunted. But the truth is, in that moment, I really didn’t care.

I am not at my best when surrounded by great hordes of humanity. I get anxious, overwhelmed, and sometimes lose my patience. Disney World over Spring Break was a wonderful celebration of family. I throughly enjoyed the time our extended family shared and value the magical memories made in the happiest place on Earth. However, I do cringe when I recall the time I raised my voice at cast members who were just trying to do their jobs. I regret the moments when I forgot that the people cutting in front of me or using their double-wide strollers as battering rams were actually human beings, just like me, and beloved children of God. I’m embarrassed that, in the midst of tens of thousands of people all seeking the same experiences, I valued myself above others and let my temper get the best of me. In short, I feel bad about the way I behaved a few times during our Disney Spring Break trip.

The problem with behaving badly to complete strangers is that you don’t get a do-over. I can’t apologize to the cast members I was short with. I can’t seek forgiveness from the people I line jumped and explain that, in general, when I am well-rested and not surrounded by a sea of people, I’m really a kind and gracious person. I can’t go back and make better choices regarding my behavior. And that, my friends, is when self-deprecation sets in.

Like many of you, I do my best to reflect the love of Jesus wherever I go. I want God’s light to shine through me to others, so that others can know they are valued and loved. I want to show Christ’s compassion and grace in every situation. But, more often than not, I fall way short of those goals. My human nature kicks in, and I become grouchy, judgy, territorial, selfish, and negative. Instead of moving on, I dwell on my imperfections. I berate myself for not being better, for not trying harder, for not fully living into the person I know God has called me to be. In short, I beat myself up for being fallible.

But here’s the thing…fallibility is a part of the human condition. As Paul writes, we all fall short of God’s glory from time to time. We all get cranky, we all lose our temper, we all act selfishly, we all get judgmental, we all neglect Jesus’ call to love God and to love others. In short, we all fail to get it right at some point or another. And yet, fallibility is not always a bad thing, because often, it is our fallibility that draws us back to the table of God’s grace.

Fallibility is part of the process of grace

If we were infallible, we wouldn’t need God. We wouldn’t need his forgiveness, his mercy, his compassion. In short, we wouldn’t need grace. And so, our fallible moments provide us with a remarkable opportunity to receive God’s gifts once again. When we humble ourselves before the King, when we lay down our faults and mistakes and failures…

  • we receive grace
  • we receive forgiveness
  • we receive compassion
  • we receive strength
  • we receive encouragement
  • we receive direction
  • we receive wisdom
  • we receive love
  • we receive humility

When we place our fallibility before God, we, like Paul, can boast in our weakness because it is through our weakness that God brings his strength.

Peter understood fallibility. Peter, with his brash boasting and incredible confidence in his own superior intellect and authority denied Christ not once, but three times. Peter, the Jesus-proclaimed Rock on which the church would be built got it all wrong. He lost faith when walking with Jesus on the water. He tried to persuade Jesus not to take the path that God had laid out for him. He demands compensation for all he has sacrificed to follow Jesus. He falls asleep when Jesus needs him most. And finally, he resorts to violence in the face of opposition, despite the fact that Jesus preached peace.

Peter messed up time and time again. And yet, Jesus appointed Peter as the head of the early church. When Peter knelt before the resurrected Christ, he laid his fallibility at the feet of Jesus. And Jesus gave to Peter a sure and solid faith that allowed him to withstand persecution and spread the gospel message near and far.

So this week, let’s work on embracing our fallibility. Let’s lay our mistakes before God, and allow him to replace those mistakes with an overflowing portion of grace and mercy. Let’s decrease our drive to perfect and accept the reality of our human condition. Let’s humble ourselves before the Lord, knowing that he will lift us up.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 447: The Juggling Act

Keep looking straight ahead, without turning aside. Know where you are headed, and you will stay on solid ground.-2

Image Text: Bible Gateway; Image: Canva

This winter, I’ve been doing a lot of exercising indoors. The constant barrage of snow and ice has forced my sneakers from pounding the pavement to pounding the carpet. I can honestly say that Leslie Sansone and her Walk at Home program has saved my life. I need those positive exercise endorphins to keep me sane during the long, dark winter months!! The other day, I was going through my 4 Mile Power Walk when my 10-year old decided it was an excellent time to take up juggling. He had received a juggling kit for Christmas and looked at it a couple of times. But today, my power walk day, was the time to put the kit to work.

The first step in learning to juggle, according to his instruction book, is to toss the balls in the air. That’s it. Grab balls. Toss. Repeat. The idea, as he explained it to me, was to get comfortable with dropping the balls. And so, as I walked, jogged, kicked, and knee-lifted, I did so through a minefield of red velvet balls flying through the air.

I could have told him to knock it off. I could have banished him and his deceptively heavy missiles to the basement where he would bother no one. However, as I kept my focus on my workout and dodged both my son and his juggling act, it came to me that this is how many of us consistently experience life–navigating our way through a series of randomly-flung objects in order to achieve a goal. I call it the demolition derby approach to life. We strap in, grip the wheel, slam the accelerator, and swerve, hoping in the end that we reach the finish line with non-catastrophic damage.

However, I don’t think this is the life God designed for us to live. When Jesus talked about fullness, abundance, and quenched thirst, I think he envisioned a more focused and intentional existence. I think Jesus envisioned a life spent with our eyes fixed on him, growing in his wisdom and love, sharing our experiences of him and our understanding of him with others. And yet, so often our lives become reactionary. We lose focus of the goal and instead get distracted trying to catch all of the balls flying around through the air.

The mundane tasks of everyday living, the constant need for busyness, to be productive, to prove our worth to the world gets in the way of experiencing the fullness and completeness of God’s love and grace in our lives. And so, we push harder. We strive for more. More stuff to organize our clutter, more food to fill an already full pantry, more clothes to be on-trend, more activities for the kids to participate in, more projects to fill our already maxed-out time, more work to show that we have accomplished something tangible. The world seems to always cry, “More! More! More!” And so, we grab at the more and forget that maybe, just maybe, life is really about less.

Decrease. . .

The idea of less has been slowly coming to me over the past two years. It’s a quiet word God whispers to my soul whenever I consider how much more I need/want/crave. There’s freedom, I think, in the less. Freedom to let the balls drop. Freedom to focus on God’s abundance already present in my life. Earlier this fall, I decided that my 2019 word was DECREASE. I was going to flesh it out during the New Year, consider action steps that would help me intentionally decrease the things in my life that were preventing me from becoming the true version of myself God intended for me to be. But then, when we lost my dad, I just didn’t care.

The past three months have been a haze of “Meh” moments for me. I focus on work because it occupies my time. I focus on exercise because it makes me feel less sad. I focus on being with my boys and my husband because they bring me joy. But my usual zest for living and becoming the best version of myself I can be has waned significantly in the wake of grief. So, when Lent rolled around on the annual cycle of time and my boys asked me how I was observing it, I was caught off guard. The truth is, I hadn’t even considered the prospect of Lent. I sat through my husband’s sermon on Ash Wednesday contemplating Lent. How was I going to observe it? What could I lay down before the King of Kings to honor his great sacrifice, and to move myself closer to his glorious throne?

Again, God whispered a word to my soul…decrease. Stop trying to catch all of those balls flung haphazardly in the air and focus…focus on me. Focus on my words. Focus on my love. Focus on the work I’m doing in this world. Then…then…you will stay on MY solid ground.

This Lenten season, I’m focusing on decrease, not of the material, but of the spiritual. My first step is to decrease the continual internal monologue of “not enough”. You know this monologue, you’ve probably engaged with it before. You look in the mirror and think, not thin/young/pretty/trendy enough. You consider your work and think not dedicated/talented/educated/task oriented enough. You consider the direction you’ve taken in life and think it’s not successful/financially beneficial/typical enough. You spend quiet moments comparing your life to the lives of others around you and think you’re not popular/trendy/successful/happy enough.

However, when we fix our focus on God, he tells us that we ARE enough. We remember that we were made in his image, that he appointed us to do his good works in this world, that he gifted us with talents and abilities for use in building his kingdom. And everything God creates and gives is good, because God has spoken it so.

I don’t know what balls you’re trying to catch right now, but what happens if you let them fall? What happens if you stop striving to catch them, and instead, fix your eyes on Jesus, knowing that he who began a good work in you will see it through to completion. (Philippians 1:6)

Blessings and Peace,
Sara

Unexpected, Part II

john 16_33

I read the above words two and a half weeks ago, the day after my dad’s funeral. My dad passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly on December 19. While it’s been traumatic and heartbreaking, we have experienced God’s abundant grace through it all. There have been so many moments so carefully orchestrated I know it can only be God’s hand at work.

My dad was an amazing man–a “bona fide character” as one of his best friend’s so correctly put it. He lived life to the fullest, with love, wisdom, laughter, and faith. I heard it said once that a parent’s job is to be the physical manifestation of God’s love for their children. If that’s true, Dad greatly surpassed expectations. My sister and I only knew love from our dad. And laughter…always laughter. Dad taught us that nothing was too sacred for at least a smothered giggle, and never to take anything or anyone–especially yourself–too seriously.

My parents also understood the great responsibility of raising daughters in a world that is unkind to women. They taught us to be independent, to be responsible for ourselves, and to always, always, always seek knowledge. Both of my parents are educators. This was Dad’s 47th year in the classroom–his goal was 50. Thinking was highly encouraged in our house, and my sister and I were always allowed to share an opinion on any subject. This included thoughts on faith. Instead of telling us what we were to believe, my parents actively taught us about God. Church on Sunday was not an option, no matter how late we were out the night before. Sunday dinners consisted of Dad asking questions about both our Sunday school class and the sermon. He didn’t tell us what we were supposed to have gotten out of either, he genuinely facilitated a learning experience where we could develop and strengthen our own faith.

Dad insisted that we continually seek educational opportunities. Each vacation had to have some sort of educational component. I cannot tell you the number of Civil War battlefields I’ve stomped across on a hot, summer day while other kids were at a water park. Where I sulked as a teenager, as an adult, I wouldn’t t trade those moments for anything.

Grief is a funny thing, as I’m sure most of you know. Initially, I felt like I was under attack by a squadron of grief bombers. They’d fly in, drop their payload, and then retreat until the next round. Now, I feel like my grief has settled over me like a weighted blanket. Instead of fighting it, I’ve chosen to just wrap it around myself. It trails behind me when I take long walks, pulls tight when I go to the grocery store or Target, and covers me when I lay down to sleep. And, honestly, I’m okay with that. Because the truth is, Dad deserves my grief, and I need to grieve. So often in our society we try to push death under the rug, hide it away in a closet or spare bedroom, let it accumulate dust under the bed. But the truth is, grief is an important process. Grief allows us time and space to heal from the wounds that trauma and loss leave behind. We all grieve in different ways. The important thing, I think, is to work through the process, whatever it looks like for each of us.

And above all…there is God. In the midst of the tears, God is there with his peace that truly does transcend all understanding. In the midst of the anger, God is there with his comfort that enfolds us in our time of need. In the midst of the incomprehension, God is there with his presence that provides something sturdy to hold onto. And in the midst of unimaginable sorrow, God is there with his promise of salvation and resurrection in the life to come. That, I think, is what gives me the most hope. I refused to tell my dad goodbye. I refused to say those words aloud, or even in my heart, because it’s not goodbye. It’s see you later. Not that the understanding of salvation diminishes grief–it doesn’t. There are still moments, many moments, when I raise my fists and beat at the sky screaming, “It’s not fair!” There were things to do, tasks to complete, promises to be kept. And now, those of us who loved Dad are left in the midst of a bombed out crater where our world exploded around us.

But…even in the midst of the anger and despair…I feel God with me. I feel his gentle voice as it whispers Jesus’ words of comfort.

Yes, this world will bring grief and sorrow and pain. But…but…take heart. Lift your head. Take a deep breath. For I, the creator and sustainer, the redeemer and perfecter of faith, have overcome the world.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

chris, dad and i london

Confession 446: Unexpectedly Expecting

With all my heart I praise the Lord,and I am glad

Expectation. This is the word that encompasses the entire Christmas season. We have expectation. We expect certain foods and gatherings. We expect lights and trees and gifts to go under those light infused trees. We expect Christmas carols and a 24-hour-loop of A Christmas Story to take us through Christmas Eve. We get so caught up in the expectation, in the heavy weight of nostalgia and memory, that sometimes (all the time) we are completely unprepared for the unexpected. You know…the sudden onset of the stomach flu. The sky that was long ago full of angels becomes dark and, rather than letting forth glorious four-part harmony, instead lets loose with snow and ice. The budget that was unexpectedly downsized, or the relationship that unexpectedly ended.

Unexpected…that is the place we often find ourselves in during the Christmas season, after our expectations have fallen so very short of perfect.

And maybe, unexpected is a better word for Christmas anyway. Because it’s in the unexpected that God so often shows up.

Consider Elizabeth and Mary. Both women were unexpectedly expecting. Elizabeth was too old, and Mary was too unmarried. But yet, here they were, both full of a holy expectation. When Elizabeth unexpectedly finds an expectant Mary on her doorstep, she doesn’t say, “Dang, girl! You’re in a hot mess!” No, Elizabeth responds with the beauty and eloquence that only the Holy Spirit can give.

“God has blessed you more than any other woman!” she cries. “He has also blessed the child you will have. Why should the mother of my Lord come to me?” she inquires.

As soon as I heard your greeting, my baby became happy and moved within me.”

And then, the final unexpected declaration: “The Lord has blessed you because you believed that he will keep his promise.” (Luke 1: 42-45)

Unexpected, isn’t it? Elizabeth called Mary blessed. The baby that grew within her womb was happy, at Mary’s unexpected news, and Elizabeth was honored that the mother of the Lord would come to her. Elizabeth saw God in the unexpected. Not just God, Elizabeth was the first person to receive the biggest news of all time: the Messiah was coming. Salvation was at hand.

How different would Elizabeth’s experience have been if she had been unable to receive the unexpected? What if she had simply said, “You know, Mary, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now and I just can’t deal with your stuff, too.” What if she had pretended nothing was happening and stubbornly stuck to her own plan? She could have welcomed Mary and ignored the unexpected, sending Mary on her way before it became too obvious that anything was amiss. But instead, Elizabeth accepted the unexpected gift placed, literally, upon her doorstep. Not only that, Elizabeth offered a blessing to the unexpected.

Elizabeth blessed the unexpected.

Mary, too, blessed the unexpected in her song of praise at Elizabeth’s greeting. Gone was the fear and frustration that she had first experienced upon receiving this most unexpected news. Like her cousin, Mary full embraced this unexpected turn of events and saw God’s divine hand in the process.

“From now on,” Mary says, “all people will say God has blessed me. “God All-Powerful has done great things for me, and his name is holy.” (Luke 1: 48-49)

I wonder if there isn’t a lesson for us in the story of these two women who were unexpectedly expecting. I wonder if we, too, might see God at work in the unexpected. Can we offer a blessing to the unexpected that arrives on our doorstep this year? Can we, like Elizabeth, find honor that God would show up in such a nontraditional manner? Can we sing a song of praise, like Mary, for the promises God will keep? Can we unexpectedly expect the Holy to arrive this Christmas, as it did so long ago?

As Christmas draws near, I invite you to unexpectedly expect the presence of God. I invite you to see his presence in the most unlikely places, people, and events. Like Mary, I invite you to praise the Lord with all your heart, and be glad because of God our Savior. God wants to do mighty things through you. He wants you, like Mary, to magnify his presence in your life, even when it comes in the most unexpected ways.

Merry Christmas,

Sara

 

Confession 445: Because God Doesn’t Do Redo’s

Let us take time to meditate on our blessings

Image happily created with Canva. Scripture courtesy Bible Gateway.

Awhile ago, I was driving and praying. The car is often a sanctuary spot for me, a time to turn off the noise around me, decompress, and check in with both myself and God. Apparently I was having one of those days. You know those days. You get out of bed off-kilter and the day just keeps turning in the wrong direction. Maybe you forgot to get milk and let your ten year old eat a cookie for breakfast. Perhaps you forgot to sign a study guide and your child lost a behavior point. Or, an unexpected medical bill might surreptitiously arrive in your mailbox and send your budget into a tailspin. You get the point…stuff happens.

So, as I was driving and praying on this particular off-kilter day, I said to God, “You know, I just need you to give me a redo.” Honestly, I don’t think that’s too much to ask of the God who stopped time for a full day so the Israelites could defeat  the Amorites in the book of Joshua. If the Earth could stop on its axis for a day of battle, surely I could get a do-over.

Alas, it was not to be. As I pondered the idea of a redo with God, this thought came to me. God doesn’t do redos. God does restoration.

God doesn't do redoGod restores

Think about that for a minute. If you’ve ever watched one of the bazillion house flipper shows on HGTV, you understand the difference between a redo and restoration. A redo involves demolishing everything and building from scratch. You get rid of the existing structure, tear out the old foundation, and build a completely new structure out of new materials. In restoration, however, the goal is to bring the structure back to its original glory. This involves some demolition. If the plumbing is rusted, it needs to be replaced. Systems need to be modernized so they can be functional. However, the basic bones of the original structure are still there. And, when possible, original materials are repurposed into something useful once more.

A restoration takes a lot more time and effort than a redo because he goal is to bring something that has faded back to its original pristine condition. A painting that has lost its luster is restored to brightness. A crackly, old recording is made crystalline once again.

God doesn’t give us a redo because he loves us as we are. God knows our mistakes. He knows our faults and our weaknesses. He knows the things we’ve experienced, and he wants to use them in his restorative process. God’s not going to obliterate our bad days, he’s going to use them for a greater purpose. If, of course, we let him. We must be active participants in God’s restorative process. We have to put on our work gloves, strap our tool belts to our waist, and dive into the depths of our being with God.

It’s a painstakingly tedious endeavor. We don’t become the person God has designed us to be overnight. There’s some demolition involved, some pipes and wiring to replace. There’s also the refurbishing that has to be done, as we clean up the messes within our hearts so that God’s love can shine through us. But, in the end, if we give God time and space, we will experience the beauty of God’s restoration in our lives.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 444: Trusting the Author

Stay in and

Graphics happily created using Canva at canva.com.

The past few weeks, I’ve been reading a novel by Wiley Cash called The Last Ballad. It’s a novel based on a true story about a woman with the courage to fight for herself and her family during labor strikes in North Carolina in the late 1920’s.

Cash’s writing embraces the Southern narrative tradition. Meandering prose unfurls a long yarn that seems simple on the surface but is, in fact, calculated and complex. At one point in the narrative, I found myself wondering where on earth this tale was going. It wasn’t a bad thing–I wasn’t straining toward the finish, eager to put this novel aside and pick up something different. I wasn’t concerned or holding my breath in suspense. I just couldn’t see how the pieces were going to fit together. Normally, I must confess, this irks me. As a reader, I want to know that the author can resolve the conflict in a manner that is satisfying. There’s nothing worse than coming to the end of a book and being disappointed. That’s why I often skip to the end of a book to ensure that the resolution will be worth the journey there. But, as I pondered the ultimate resolution of events in The Last Ballad, I realized that I didn’t need to read ahead. Somehow along the way, Wiley Cash gained my trust as an author. I knew I could faithfully follow his narrative through to the end, even if I didn’t know the exact route it would take.

I think there’s a similar trust that needs to exist between God and the Created. God is the author of Creation. As such, he knows how the story ends. While the journey to resolution can seem long and winding, we must trust that God will make it satisfactory. Indeed, God has promised us a satisfactory resolution. God sent Jesus to triumph over death. Jesus forged the path of salvation and perfected it within us when he took the mantle of sin from our shoulders and carried it to realm of the Dead. God, through Jesus, brought restoration to our souls.

And yet, the journey doesn’t end there, for Revelation promises restoration for Creation.

Look! I'm making all things new.

Graphic happily created at Canva!

When it comes to God as Author, it’s not a brand-new story. We know the end, because God told it to us long ago. And yet, so often we still struggle to trust our journey to God. We don’t like the detours, the introduction of new characters, the meandering through desert places. We want a clear-cut path from point A to point B. But, my friends, that path is uninspiring, for it’s in the detours and desert places that we come to know God’s strength. It’s through the introduction of new characters that we come to know God’s love. God is a trustworthy Author. He is invested in his Creation, more so than we are, and he knows how the story unfolds.

This week, I encourage you to stop trying to come up with a plan. Instead, embrace the journey you are on, and trust in God’s ability to lead you through.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara