On that day the announcement to Jerusalem will be,
“Cheer up, Zion! Don’t be afraid!
For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."
The waiting for my first child seemed to stretch on forever as it was a week past my due date before labor pains began. After laboring all day, I sat in the hospital expecting to be told she would come soon only to be told I needed to wait and walk some more. Each step felt like it made the pain start anew and the end felt nowhere in sight. Even two hours into pushing, my little diva still took her precious time as we found out she was face up, having a hard time coming into the world.
Struggle and joy are never so intertwined as in those moments of labor, when you speak those words and mean them - "I can't do this anymore!" You truly feel like there is not another ounce of strength in you, even though you know the reward is near.
I cried those words and wanted to give up, even after nine months of waiting. Even after hours of labor and pushing. One more anguished push and I couldn't even understand what was happening when this squirming little body was placed on top of mine. I didn't even realize she had arrived until my mouth was gaping open, tears streaming down my face as I held her to my body. Outside my body. In my arms. How did this happen?
There would be time for celebrating, for announcements and laughter, for photos. Oh, so many photos.
But in those moments, there was nothing but me and her. All of my waiting and working had finally come to an end, even after I had stopped believing it was possible. There were only those dark eyes looking into mine, looking like mine. Nothing else mattered. My dream was living and breathing, in my arms.
I have always read the Old Testament prophecies about Christ from the perspective of one who knows they have been fulfilled, like the mother who already holds her newborn. I haven't really felt the waiting in the words, the pain and struggle the people of God must have felt as they waited for the One to come who would change their lives.
'The day will come', says the Lord 'when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them. In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’ - Jeremiah 33.14-15
When I found myself expecting my first child, I was twenty-seven years old but nothing made me feel more unprepared and like a child myself than knowing what lie ahead. No one stops to learn how to be a mother, to care for another human being and all that entails, until they themselves are preparing to have a child. And nothing makes you feel as utterly inadequate as knowing the responsibility that you now carry.
The two blue lines barely had time to appear on that little white stick before I started reading books about pregnancy, birth, and caring for a baby. I suddenly knew how much preparation was needed. I didn't only need a crib and a car seat, diapers and a thousand other gadgets and tools to take care of a child. I also needed the knowledge that mothers before me, doctors, and friends had to offer.
That firstborn of mine now stands next to me, hanging the sparkling silver angel that was her first ornament on the seventh Christmas tree of her little life. All the rush and hurry of this season is upon us again. I look into her sweet blue eyes that still see the magic of all the lights and songs. I want to create with her traditions that speak also of the expectation that should come with this season before us.
Advent, the season beginning four Sundays before Christmas, means "to come" in Latin and its essence, to me, is reminiscent of that very expectation that I felt as a mother-to-be.
Shouldn't it be so? Mary found herself still a child, unprepared and unexpecting when she carried both a great weight and the very One who frees us from every burden. Continue Reading
November blindsided me with its arrival this year. I know everyone says the years go by faster the older you get, but this year has rushed by with startling speed.
By the beginning of November I usually have the kids gather up some of the many branches that have fallen from the sturdy trees in our back yard. We string paper leaves from the branches placed in a vase and take stolen moments around the dinner table to jot down our thanks, to stop in all the hurry and be grateful.
The rain came in sheets this year. Busyness surrounded us, keeping us from our usual project as the month began. As the days passed and our little centerpiece wasn’t in place, I felt the chance to be intentional slipping away.
My heart skipped a beat when I realized a vacation planned in the middle of the month, along with a busy season at work and writing deadlines mean that Thanksgiving would come and go and then Advent would be upon us.
Advent. By definition this season is an expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of Jesus. I close my eyes when I think of the word Advent and picture candles lit, ornaments hung, carols sung. I think of a peaceful expectancy, a stirring in your heart that says something wonderful is on the way.
I open my eyes and the image disappears, replaced by parties marked on calendars, shopping lists and presents to wrap. This season that leads up to the celebration of Jesus’ arrival on earth has become for me, as I suspect for most of us, anything but waiting...
This week I start my December focus on Advent over at The Mudroom. Join me there?
The holidays have always been a time of togetherness and feasting for my family. When crispness enters the air, bringing relief from the stifling Georgia summer, my mind turns to standing in my mom’s kitchen and making noodles or pound cake, pulling out the card table to make room for everyone in the kitchen.
The year my husband and I found ourselves living in a land that was still new to us when the holidays rolled around, we had none of the familiar traditions to anchor us to the season of feasting and family.
Our family was celebrating together over 6,000 miles away. Fall for us in the Middle East was marked by one uncommon rainfall, not falling leaves. We spent Thanksgiving with a group of internationals, eating turkey alongside stuffed grape leaves, the familiar next to the new. There was food and laughter, but it didn’t feel like a feast.
Homesickness settled in over my soul in the middle of the holiday season, pictures from home brought reminders of all I was missing out on. The poinsettia and little Charlie Brown tree in the corner were the only evidence of an approaching Christmas until an amazing thing happened.
Twinkling lights started adorning the buildings next to us and lanterns were strung between balconies. Candies and dates piled up in the produce section of the little grocery store and makeshift stables were erected in the streets outside our flat.
The Muslim holidays occur at different times each year following the lunar Islamic calendar.Eid-al-Adha the cause of all of the decorations and excitement, happened to fall only a few days before our Christmas that year...
Today I am over at SheLoves Magazine talking about how I learned what a Muslim holiday taught me about what a feast should look like in our lives. Join me there?
When I moved back into the fast-paced American church after being a part of the slower moving Middle Eastern church, I learned something crucial. I learned how to cover my pain with a smile. I learned how to say “fine” when people asked how I was doing, even if it wasn’t true.
On the inside, I was a mess of anxiety and shame, confusion about my place in the world and with God. I felt like a failure for returning to America earlier than I had planned. I doubted my purpose, my place in the world.
But people had little time to hear that story and I was afraid of what it said about me.
I was plunged headlong into the truth Sarah Bessey mentions in Out of Sorts - “Our culture makes little space for the mess. We are expected to have it all together. Don’t let them see you sweat, keep your dirty laundry and unsanitized stories to yourself, thank you very much. Be successful, look good, feel good.”
In the middle of believing I had to appear I had it all together, I was starting to believe lies about God, too. My view of Him shrank to someone I had to please instead of someone who loved me without limits. I went through the motions of what I saw around me, what I thought I was supposed to be doing.
I had a “quiet time” and participated in Bible study like I had always been taught to do, even though I didn’t feel like I could hear God in my time in Scripture. I dove into serving in the church when I was probably not healthy enough to be serving anyone. I thought if I did these certain things I would be who God wanted me to be.
I used to think I had to perform for God, to measure up to some standard of holiness to be a part of His church. Then, I found myself in the middle of a community that lived fully in the mess of life together.
I had been in small groups the entire time I had been in the church. This one was different. Most of us were young couples with growing families. At one point we had a baby shower every other month because there were so many children adding to our ranks. Our lives were anything but neat and tidy.
But we pressed into life together, moving families into new homes, bringing meals to new moms, having late-night coffee and sharing our hearts with each other after the kids had drifted off to sleep. We prayed. We were honest. We were all messes and we all loved each other and discovered together that we didn’t have to say “fine” when we didn’t feel fine.
We cried together and laughed together. We watched each other overcome anxieties and move into the life that God intended for us. We carried each other to Jesus when we couldn’t make it there on our own.
When I saw church again as a place for real people, sharing their pain, carrying each others burdens, welcoming those who don’t have it all together – my view of God started to realign.
I realized how much the people of God shape people’s views of God. It is a heavy responsibility but is made so much easier when we are just real with people.
The Jesus Sarah Bessey talks about in Out of Sorts is the Jesus I found in that small group.
“God is much bigger, wilder, more generous, and more wonderful than you imagined,” she says and I found this to be true.
I used to think I had to clean up my act to come to God but now I think that only God can make me clean.
And I think we, as the Church, need to be the place where anyone at any place in life can feel like they can come as they are.
The broken and the whole.
The confused along with the certain.
“I hope we change,” says Sarah of the people of God. “I hope we grow. I hope we push against the darkness and let the light in and breathe into the Kingdom come. I hope we become a refuge for the child and the aged, for the ones who have been strong too long. And I hope we all live like we are loved.”
This is what God did. This is what the People of God should do.
May we keep growing into living like we are loved and loving like we are His.
Buy Out of Sorts now (This isn't an affilate link, just me sharing a book with you that I believe will speak life to your soul!)
Join me next week as I continue to discuss Out of Sorts
Respond with your own stories of evolving faith. "I used to think _______ but now I think _______." Leave your response in the comments below!
I sat in the middle of people I had called brothers and sisters for the past three years. I had shared my life with them and forsaken my own family, who weren’t followers of Christ, for this family of God. I had believed they had all the answers. I thought I just needed to align my life with their theology and practices and everything would be okay.
In the sticky summer air, they laughed too loud and excitement filled the air as we rounded the bend into our senior year. But I didn’t fit anymore into their midst. I felt exposed among them, like I wore my broken heart on the outside. People I believed could show me clearly who God was had betrayed me.
Those practices I thought I just needed to emulate to be a “good Christian” were murky now. I saw one thing in the church building, another in school.
I was heart broken over a broken faith in God and in the people of God. I walked away into the humid night and away from all I believed. I thought if I didn’t have all the answers then I didn’t have any at all. All I thought I knew was wrong.
I wish someone had been there to tell me then “I know you feel a bit out of sorts. We all do sometimes. It’s okay. Don’t be afraid. You are so very loved. I pray you would remember it, know it, live it, breathe it, rest in it: beloved.”
Those words came in the form of the book Out of Sorts. I joined the launch team for Sarah Bessey’s second book (releasing November 3, 2015) after falling in love with her words on her blog. The gift that fell into my hands was this raw, real encounter with a faith that is evolving over time and a permission to question and grow into the truth of who God really is.
Out of Sorts, in Sarah’s own words is “about embracing a faith, which evolves, and the stuff I used to think about God but I don’t think anymore...This book is my way of leaving the light on for the ones who are wandering.” It is for those have ever felt “Out of Sorts,” like everything they “once knew ‘for sure’ has to be figured out all over again.”
For 31 days I have been going against my very nature. As I have focused on the qualities of keeping a quiet heart for this month, I have worked largely without a plan. I mapped out ideas as the beginning of the month, different Scriptures or thoughts I’d like to explore.
But each day I came to my computer or journal with that list and just asked God what He wanted me to write. I wanted my writing to be in the moment, recording what He was actually teaching me every day.
It was so draining for a Type-A, ISFJ, Enneagram 1, and perfectionist planner to work this way! There was also a strange freedom I found in it.
I tend to like to know the plan ahead of time. Actually, I like to make the plan, to be in control.
God knew this when He created me as a writer. Maybe it is why he gave me this gift.
This writing world is strange and goes by anything but a plan. You can send out a pitch to a magazine and not hear back from them for a couple months (as in, you forgot you even pitched what article you pitched to them by the time you got a response!) You may get a piece accepted that you love and after the edits you don’t even recognize your words anymore.
This writing journey has helped me let go of the plan more than I ever dreamed possible. Now if I could just do that in the other areas of my life!
I find I have to constantly ask myself one question - Are you looking to the future or to the One who holds the future in His hands?
This is a season in my life where I am faced with a lot of unknowns. I come each day to an empty page and try to make order out of the chaos that characterizes my heart most days.
I am clinging for dear life to the wisdom of Elisabeth Elliot who said, “Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.”
I know my heart will never really be quiet if I am anxious about what tomorrow holds.
As we all walk on towards keeping a heart that is quiet before God, that trust the future into His hands, may the words of Colossians 3.15 be my prayer for you.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”
So, I release these words out into the world each day and I pray that God would change me through writing them. Maybe He will even give me the incredible gift of knowing that reading them helped someone.
And tomorrow I will do it all over again. Well, maybe not tomorrow. It is November tomorrow. Write 31 Days is over and I think I need a nap…
When I was young, both in maturity and in my faith, I threw myself into my walk with Christ with abandon. I wanted to soak up every bit of knowledge about God I could, to do as much for Him as possible. I wanted to be around believers constantly, to be a part of the church I had never experienced as a small child.
When I got my wish and was around believers constantly…and my faith was utterly shaken.
I quickly saw hypocrisy in the friends who knew all the “Christianese” to speak at church but who were equally adept in keeping up with our high school culture of sex and drugs.
In college, I witnessed the pervasive speeches about the love of Christ given by campus ministry students literally right next to the guys set up in the student center berating those with different beliefs. All in the name of Jesus.
My heart cried out to return to the church I had left as God drew me back to Himself but I was shaken by what I saw in others, in the church, in beliefs I couldn’t hold to.
I found a group of girls to meet with weekly and we prayed together, struggled together over all kinds of theology and faith issues. I found the reality of believers being real about their faith and I saw something for the first time.
Our theology can change over time. I can sit in the same room with someone who doesn’t hold to each tenant of my particular denomination as we worship the same Jesus. There are a lot of issues we get hung up on in the church that make us throw up our hands and walk away or that make us push others away that don’t believe exactly as we do.
Cultures shift. People grow. All of those little issues that divide us really don’t matter at all. There is one thing that is unshakeable.
His name is Jesus Christ.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” says Hebrews 13.8.
“What do I most unshakably believe in?” asked Elisabeth Elliot. “God the Father Almighty. Jesus Christ His only Son. The Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting. Not a long list, but all we need.”
My heart is full of confusion and pain when I forget this and look to the individual issues and the people around me to define what I believe. To have a quiet heart, I have to look to that short list of what really matters and keep my heart tethered there.
God says in Malachi 3.6 “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
The shifting sands all around us can either consume us or we can choose to stand upon the rock of the Unshakeable One.
Thank you for joining me in this journey towards keeping a quiet heart!
You have just a couple more days to enter to win a copy of Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart. Enter through October 31 and a winner will be chosen November 1.
If you have children or have spent any amount of time around kids, you know that learning to lie happens very early in our lives. I am not even sure it is something we have to learn but a natural instinct to protect ourselves.
My daughter is a people pleaser and wants to please her mommy above all else. She is hardly ever openly disobedient but oh, how she will weave a little lie so quickly if the truth makes her look bad in my eyes!
The moment I realize there is a smudge on my heart that tries so hard to be quiet and good, I quickly try to gloss over it and hide it from God. I lie about what is really going on inside my heart and head, like He doesn’t already know!
Not six chapters into the Bible we see that God saw the human race for what we really were “and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis 6.5)
As much as I might want a pure, holy, and quiet heart I cannot have it on my own. God knew this all along! It didn’t stop Him from sacrificing it all to win us back and it doesn’t stop Him from pursuing us today.
“Be persuaded, timid soul,” says Archbishop Fenelon, “that He has loved you too much to cease loving you.” Nothing in you is ever going to separate you from God!
In those moments, I find I come back to the words of Psalm 139 – Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
Be honest with God. Ask Him to search the heart that He created and knows so well. Ask Him to point out anything in you that offends. I know those are the things you want to hide. But He sees them already and He will blot them out completely if you let Him!
I know sometimes though the things you feel burdening your heart, that you feel you can’t bring to God, might even be doubts about what you believe. For nearly a month now, I have looked at keeping a quiet heart but I realize sometimes what we need it to speak our minds in order to quiet our hearts.
Next week I will be discussing a book that I think will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled with doubts or questions, a heart that can’t be quiet even when you want to force it to be.
I have been privileged to be on the launch team for Sarah Bessey’s forthcoming book Out of Sorts and have been slowly digesting all she has to say about “making peace with an evolving faith.”
For anyone who wanders, who has questions in their heart they haven’t been able to be honest about, this book candidly wrestles with issues of who Jesus is, with theology, the Bible, the church, and so much more.
As Jen Hatmaker says in the forward of Out of Sorts, this book will give you “permission to leave behind the stale trappings of religion in order to find Jesus again. He is as good as we ever hoped.”
I hope you’ll join me then. Until then, two more days of a Quiet Heart to go!
I love my husband, my kids, my home, and my life. But I have this dream.
I have a whole day to myself to spend with God alone, in prayer, journaling, or just resting and reflecting. Every now and then my amazing husband makes sure I get one of these days. At least once a year I get away for at least part of a day spent in this way. I wish I could do it weekly instead…
Because this world is so full of noise. My mind is so full of noise. Most days I feel pulled in a thousand different directions and so often lately one of those directions is not towards prayer.
In this season of my life I know exactly what Elisabeth Elliot meant when she said, “Prayer is no easy pastime. As I grow older I find that I am more conscious than ever of my need to pray, but it seems at the same time to become more of a struggle.”
Whether it is a child calling out or a deadline looming, a lunch to be made or an appointment to be kept, it seems there is always something pressing.
For me, this is why prayer can become a struggle and my heart can become cluttered with thoughts and worries instead of kept quiet by prayer and surrender.
If I get distracted in my day and forget to pray, then I feel guilty for having forgotten and the vicious cycle begins. I feel unable to come to God because I should have remembered to pray first. So, my shame over thinking I should know better keeps me from the throne of God. I can go a whole day this way, running from prayer.
But here’s the thing – God never said prayer would be easy. Even those closest to Jesus asked Him to teach them to pray because they weren’t certain how.
No matter whether we feel the prayers rolling off our tongues easily throughout the day or we feel hard pressed to utter a word, we must continue struggling. It’s our lifeline to God, the way we stay connected to the Good Father who is waiting to hear our hearts.
Romans 12.12 says for us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Does patience come easily in times of affliction? I don’t know about you but it doesn’t for me. And neither does faithfulness in prayer. But the struggle is so worth it!
Prayer itself can be a wrestling with God. If we are really coming to Him with the deep needs and desires of our hearts, we won’t just be uttering platitudes. We will be struggling against the flesh and against the darkness.
Keep struggling. Keep fighting for a heart that can lay it all down before God, quiet and resting in Him.
“Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings. You know me more deeply and fully than I know myself. You love me with a greater love than I can love myself…Look at me, see me in all my misery and inner confusion, and let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil…Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple quiet rest.” - Henri Nouwen
Thank you for joining me in this journey towards keeping a quiet heart. This last week I will be giving away a copy of the book that God used to prompt me to seek hard after the qualities of a quiet heart. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway and a winner will be chosen at random on November 1 to receive Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart.