A season of waiting

War. Violence. Hatred. Disease. Death. Abuse of power. Suffering. Hidden bruises. Insecurity. Fear. Injustice. Abuse in the place of love. Divorce. Broken relationships. Poverty. Sexual violence.

Everywhere we look, we see a world full of hurt, full of pain; a world with hurt that is so deep-seeded and generations deep that it seems impossible to weed it out and replace it with healing. Sometimes, we can turn a blind eye if we really want to, of course, but the brokenness of our world always has a way to sneak in when we’re not looking. Sometimes we don’t have to look any further than inside ourselves.

Advent: Traditionally a season of waiting and a season of anticipation. Christmas without Advent robs us of the opportunity to be intentional-to prepare ourselves, to slow down, and to be more aware of the world around us. Christmas without Advent tempts us to fill up the month of December with to-do lists and Christmas shopping, with decorating and Christmas lights, with the Chipmunks and Rudolph, and to miss the main event.

A world of brokenness. A world without hope. A world that had been so sure that they had figured out the answers, but the restoration that continued to elude them. And into that world, a baby. A Savior in a baby’s body.

The Creator of the universe, suddenly unable to hold up his wobbly head and flailing his sweet baby arms. The Creator of the universe, furrowing his brow and seeing indistinguishable shapes and colors and trying to make sense of it all. The Creator of the universe completely dependent on a man and a woman who were still trying to figure out their own lives.

A Creator who knew that the only way to begin restoring a broken world was to enter it. We all know that the ones who think they have all the answers but have never experienced the problem are usually full of a lot of nice-sounding hot air. This Creator got down and dirty, and grew into a man: dusty feet, hunger, poverty, rejection, and being misunderstood. This Creator in human skin said that He came to show a new way of doing life. A way that leads to life. A way that leads to living water.

As the great theologian Ricky Bobby said, “I like Christmas Jesus best.”

But before Christmas, there’s a pause for Advent. We long for hope–the kind of longing that sometimes makes you cry or breaks your heart. A hope that a bright light has come and that there’s a new way that Jesus taught. A hope that Paul’s words are true: That the same God who began a good work will complete it. A hope that there’s a different way of doing life: a way, not defined by revenge and about looking out for myself, but a way that’s defined by understanding my own short-comings and needs and keeping a pure heart; a way marked by mourning for the brokenness of the world rather than gloating; a way that prioritizes being gentle and full of mercy; a way that emphasizes making peace instead of causing division, a life that hungers and yearns for righteousness instead of injustice.

God help us. That’s a lot to fulfill on our own.


Traditions, covered in icing and sprinkles

I’m placing as many cookies as I can on the cooling rack. As I squeeze them in together, I can’t help but think about the way that this connect me to my story and the family that has come before me.

The pans and mixer that I’m using to mix up the ingredients were wedding gifts from my husband’s family, and every time I use them, I can’t help but think about the people that gave them to us. My sister in law said that she ordered the largest mixer for us because she knows how much my husband loves to make sure he doesn’t run out of food when he cooks. Right now, I’m glad we have such a giant mixing bowl so I can make such a big batch. Memories start to flow through my mind as I turn around to mix up the next batch.

I remember the years full of happiness and anticipation, and I remember the years where things were hard and money was tight. I remember the year that my grandmother was dying and my brother and I came home from school and the one thing we could think of to do while we waited was bake cookies. Lots of cookies.

Oh, the cookies. This year, we won’t be with our families for Thanksgiving, but as I taste test Grandma’s brownie cookies, I remember all of the Thanksgivings and Christmases with all of Grandma’s cookies-especially these. I think of the years she spent making (way too many) dozens of these so we would have enough to graze on throughout the evening. And I feel connected to my family, even though we’re far away. And even though Grandma is gone, she feels close in this moment. With so many changes that have happened over the years, the taste of that cookie anchors me to my story and my history and things feel very much the same.

And…well, that batch is burnt. But I know, as I check the undersides of the cookies, that I am not the first woman in my family to burn a batch of cookies. I imagine my mom and dad, my grandma, and my great grandmothers, realizing they’ve kept the cookies in just a little too long, and it makes me smile.

I look over my list of cookies and check off the ones that are finished. The list itself shows my changing story. I have Grandma’s brownie cookies, of course, and the chocolate buckeyes (for a shout-out to my home state), but there’s also my husband’s aunt’s apricot balls, his favorite banana nugget cookies, and some other cookie recipes that we found on P interest or cookbooks that just seemed like good ideas. For our new family, new cookies and new traditions. My story and his story have become our story.

And that’s probably one reason I love the holidays so much. In an ever-changing world, with our ever-changing lives, these traditions anchor us. We add traditions as our lives change and years later those traditions trick us into thinking they’ve been a part of our lives forever. And tomorrow, as we sit around the table and eat the turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce out of a can (because, come on. What other way is there?), I’m going to be overwhelmed with thankfulness. For these memories, for the memories that we’re making, and the memories and traditions that are still to come.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Easy DIY and other lies

I recently took a day to do several of the Do It Yourself projects I’ve had on my to-do list. I had read several different blogs and articles with detailed instructions. I’d read about the “fails” and the best ways to prepare to get the best result. The pictures looked so easy. The finished products had looked perfect and so simple. After several hours of prep, following instructions, and waiting for the finished products, I found myself with projects that needed to be scrapped so I could try again from square one. It looked so easy on P interest!

One of the best quotes I’ve heard about social media is that reading what others post is like seeing a highlight reel of their life. (How many selfies does a person have to take and delete before they’re happy with the one they post?) We so often only see the best of what others are doing. Most people won’t show you their “fails,” and quite honestly, shouldn’t. Sometimes my husband and I watch those shows where people film themselves trying to jump over a fence, or lift a ridiculous amount of weight, or jump onto a counter with their socks on (*eye roll*), and it never turns out well (I always wonder who thought it was a good idea to film it and why in the world they didn’t delete it IMMEDIATELY!). No one needs to see all that. We need to be careful with who we let into our “mess” without broadcasting it to the world. But still, it’s a good idea to remember once in awhile that the small sliver of life we see in social media is only that–a small sliver. 

Have you noticed all of the voices that we have in our lives today, telling us what we SHOULD be? Every commercial is a small sermon on the life you should have, the relationships you should have, the things you should have, the way you should look, or the person you should be. Sometimes I wonder, while walking through the beauty section at W algreens, how in the world I didn’t know how much was wrong with me that I needed corrected? There are thousands of products available for problems I didn’t even know existed. Buy more. Buy new. Do more. Your life could be so much more if only you had… Your relationships could be so much better if… And at a low price of $29.99 you can have it all. Until the next new thing comes around.

Have you listened lately to the people around you? We are a connected society that is lonelier than ever. We talk, hoping that someone will care enough to look us in the eye and hear–really hear–what we have to say. But we are becoming better talkers and worse listeners. And we compare ourselves to others. We put others down so that we can feel better about our own “fails.” We listen, not because we care, but because we’re gathering information to share back with others to earn us some more social capital. We listen so we can feel better about ourselves. And so we as a society continue to walk through our days increasingly lonely with our ears full of all of the SHOULDS of the expectations that surround us. We watch the highlight reels, comparing them to our own behind-the-scenes documentary. And our own “documentaries” are gloriously messy. They have to be. Real life is messy. Relationships are messy and we rarely trust each other enough to let a small group of people into our lives to walk with us as we grow and change. 

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of my fails, just like if I ever decided to jump up on my counter with socks on, I wouldn’t have a video to show you, either. And unfortunately, there isn’t a tidy 10 step solution to being aware of what’s true and what’s a sales pitch, or of having more authentic relationships with the people around us. But it’s a good starting point, I think. Accepting our own “fails” for what they are (opportunities for growth and learning) and celebrating our wins when they come are a good first step.


Are your hands weak or strong?

Words have power. Have you noticed that? Our days and our conversations are filled with words–so many of which fly out of our mouths without ever being checked through our filter. I often wonder what would happen if we were forced to budget our words. If we only had, say, 10,000 words a day, how would we use them?

Words have power. I heard this story last week that reminded me of how true this is. Back around 457 B.C., a group of Jewish exiles returned home to rebuild a temple. The people in the area were cut out of the project and so the people discouraged the rebuilders–to the point that they put their project on hold for years.

That word-discouraged? It turns out the Hebrew word used for discouraged is RAPHAH-a word that literally means “to discourage, weaken the hands of.” It means to make weak, make feeble, to sink down, be despondent, be disheartened.

Isn’t that just what discouragement does? A discouraging word from someone can take the air out of our balloon. It can deflate us and take away our excitement, hurt the drive we had toward a goal. Our hands become weak and we feel overwhelmed.

The story doesn’t end there. Years later, the exiled temple builders were able to complete their job. As the story goes, they celebrated because God had changed the heart of the king to encourage them to finish their work. And that word, encouraged? The Hebrew translation is CHAZAQ, which literally means “To be firm, strong, and courageous.” It means to encourage, to strengthen, and to support.

If you’ve been through anything on the spectrum from stressful day to tragic loss, you know the power of an encouraging word. One well timed, thoughtful word can re-inflate that balloon and give you the strength for five more minutes. It can reinvigorate you to finish the work ahead of you, no matter what it is. Encouragement binds us up like a bandage or a cast on a weak limb. 

Here’s the deal. As a society, we’re busy. We often run around without two of our most precious resources: time and money. People become exhausted. People are hurting and lonely and that affects the way they interact with us. But what if one resource that we do have and that we do use–our communication–could be used in a way that strengthened the hands around us instead of weakening them? If we watched our words and used them wisely, how would that affect the people and the culture around us? Oh, gossiping and complaining come so easy, but the easiest choices are rarely the smartest or the best for us. It’s much easier to point out the bad rather than find the good in others.

Just think: what kind of work could we accomplish if we strengthened each others’ hands instead of weakening them? 


Why my Christmas tree is up

People tend to get a little bothered when Christmas decorations go up too soon. We are touchy about overlooking a day set aside for giving thanks for a season that has been overtaken by “the gimmies.”

As of yesterday, my tree is up and the Christmas music is on. This isn’t out of a desire to rush through Thanksgiving, but because in addition to everything I have to be thankful for, I am very aware right now how much we need hope. We’re desperate for hope.

We hear and live stories filled with death and brokenness:  The death of relationships, the death of dreams, and the death of people we love. We mourn. We mourn our mistakes and we mourn the unfairness of a world filled with so much hurt and brokenness. Those of us who believe that there is a Savior — a Messiah — live in a reality where we believe in a Savior but too often the darkness that surrounds us overwhelms the light.

“Advent” is a part of the Christian calendar that is sometimes overlooked, but historically is a time that Christ-followers have set aside for anticipation, expectation, longing, and preparation. God’s people waited expectantly in silence and in captivity for their Rescuer. It’s a season that forces us to slow down and remember. We are hungry for light. We are hungry for hope. Our world is messed up. The news is full of stories of mass shootings, natural disasters, broken people and broken relationships. We can go through life pretending that we aren’t hungry for some kind of hope, but even if we are problem-free in our own lives, a quick look outside of ourselves shows how desperately we need a Rescuer.

In a season filled with full of Rudolph and Frosty and Silver Bells and Grandma getting run over by a reindeer, there’s a trove of Christmas songs filled with the words of people who have lived before us and have experienced suffering but have also thrown themselves into the hope of Christmas of a God who not only came to earth, but broke into our world and has struggled like we have, hoped like we have, and cried like we have. The God who had been silent for so long burst into our world with a cry as He filled His lungs with the very oxygen he created. I love the words in “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day:”

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

So, yes. Our Christmas tree is up. This is a season of thankfulness for what we have, and we have so many things and people to be thankful for! This year, though, this is also a season of anticipation and hoping. We have hope today, but we still live in a world full of brokenness. December 25 won’t change that fact. This coming season (and that Christmas tree!) reminds us of the truth of the hope we have:

…the truth that God is not dead and he doesn’t sleep.

…the truth that, one day, God will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or separation (Rev. 21:4)

…the truth that God has told us we don’t have to be afraid (John 14:27)

…the truth that Jesus himself said that He came to put back together the broken-hearted and to bring freedom (Isaiah 61)

So all of that to say, be thankful! Have hope. And don’t be embarrassed if your Christmas tree is up. All the cool kids are doing it.





This is a picture of a post in N@shville, TN. It’s covered in staples left behind from thousands of signs advertising different concerts and shows in that area. Thousands. Remnants of all kinds of activity.

There are days my brain feels like this post.

We are surrounded by information. It’s a great time to be alive. on T witter alone, I can get instantaneous information on the latest news, what’s new in music or culture, what friends or even celebrities are thinking, and what’s going on with my favorite football teams. I can even watch a cultural event on my TV while I can watch my phone and follow what complete strangers are saying about the event while it’s unfolding. Sometimes this can be a good thing to stay safe. Sometimes this is complete nonsense and too much noise (say, recent awards shows on TV). 

We have books, we have websites, we have radio, we have streaming music, we have cable. We even have “whiparound” sports coverage so we can be aware of EVERY SINGLE GAME.

Sometimes my brain hurts.

I am both an information junkie and a person who loves to be still. Sometimes the stillness is overrun by thousands of staples in the post of my mind. I become a shallow pool of knowledge-I know a little bit about A LOT of stuff. I am a well of useless knowledge. 

There’s wisdom to turning off. There’s  wisdom in embracing silence. There’s wisdom in choosing what to pay attention to and at the same time, choosing NOT to pay attention to other things. I’m learning to say no, even to things that seem good. 

Is there anything you’ve learned that helps you bring quiet and stillness to your life?




Those stubborn weeds


I’m always drawn to weeds growing in unexpected places. A weed or a flower breaking through asphalt is more beautiful to me than a well-kept garden. I think it’s the perseverance of that stubborn weed that gets me every time. I don’t know the story of this little guy. I think it reminds me that beauty is possible anywhere. It’s not as likely in the hard, asphalt-y times, but it’s possible.

A few months ago I read a book that asked the question, how do we define what is “good” in our lives? Do we define it strictly on how enjoyable it is for me, in this moment? What if God’s definition of “good” involves some situations that seem completely scary to us at the time? I have spent hours, I’m sure, raging against what I saw as unfairness or complaining against what seemed wrong to me at the time. Hours that were, in all honestly, wasted, since nothing really good comes from that. How do I define what is “good?” Complaining, raging, and worry are enemies of perseverance. They waste energy and weigh us down.

Is it even possible to be grateful in those times? This is an area where I have a lot to learn. I’ve tried to start asking God, “What now?” What weeds are buried underneath the asphalt of this situation, and how can I help those weeds grow into something beautiful? I’ve found that the past six months have been more productive for me than the year before of raging, complaining, and worrying. My eyes have been opened to new possibilities and opportunities that were hidden from me before by the blinders of What I Think Should Be.

So today I choose to be grateful. I choose to persevere rather than waste my energy. Today I choose to be that stubborn weed and push through the hard ground into something beautiful.