Embracing the joy and mystery of Christmas {even when life hurts}

Repost from the archives of Ruthless Love, my former blog. Though we’re not facing the trials on my heart when I wrote this piece, there are others. Reposting this in hopes it will encourage those whose Christmas is anything but holly and jolly.

_____________

I’ll omit the apology for not writing in a while, because honestly? It’s been a very challenging season of trials and this last heartache left our hearts bleeding and crying out for Christmas joy like no other. I’m not gonna lie, if any one of us is needing joy, I’ll be the first in line! As I’ve cried out for comfort and leaned on friends in new ways, I’m finding that the things I’ll share here are making all the difference. Perhaps this isn’t exactly a picture perfect Christmas for you either? Well, stick around, because you and me, friend? We’ve got front row seats to a Christmas miracle and the tickets are FREE!
I’ve asked God for a special reminder of His presence and love, and the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel has sprinkled crumbs on the trail to His glory and grace. My worship-leader-treasured-friend reminded me that most Christmas songs are written in a minor key, and you might be asking why? Longing. We are all longing for the hope, peace, and joy that the people of God craved before the first coming of Christ. They weren’t just waiting for months, or a couple years, we’re talking hundreds of years since there had been any prophetic revelation from God.  Take a nice, slow read of a few stanzas in the song at this link.

Do you see the longing displayed in those words? These were some seriously dark times for the people of God, friends. May we find encouragement in knowing that we are not alone this Christmas, and God is again this year bending low, humbling Himself and giving His presence in the midst of whatever circumstances we are facing.

Emmanuel, God with us. He is the friend like no other, who will sit down with you in the middle of your mess. He’ll hold you, he’ll cry with you. In fact, He came to share the sufferings of life with you. He is the gracious and compassionate High Priest. My mind is struggling to wrap itself around the simultaneous truths of God’s goodness and sovereignty, yet again. No need to feel guilt over that if you are there too. But regardless of whether or not you are able to embrace those mind-bending truths, you can confess your doubt and struggle to believe Him.

My mind turns to the beautiful young Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus. Because of her humble faith, we are able to enjoy the embrace of our Savior in hard and happy times. When we don’t understand why God is allowing difficulties, or when we are equally astounded at undeserved blessings that come our way (as we should be), we honor God by entering the mystery of His grace with the humble faith Mary had. She did not understand exactly what God was doing, but she chose to praise Him in the midst of it and she chose to embrace HIS plan for her life. It was certainly not an easy road for her, in many ways. I’m asking myself this Christmas, how can I embrace where God has me, both the good and bad, and praise Him still? How can you?

Though He will always come to find us, humbly entering our mess, we can bring Him glory by moving towards Him in faith as well. Remember, He wants to be WITH YOU in your pain. He is not asking You to wash up and put on that cute holiday dress before you can show up at the ball. He takes your hand, and invites you into His presence anyway.
I’m still learning to dance, but here are some steps I’m taking towards His embrace this Christmas…

Honesty and humility – Nobody likes platitudes, but sometimes speaking the truth as a bandaid over our pain (whether it’s our self-talk or the words of others) helps, and other times, the wound just keeps festering underneath. I know, because when the pain is gushing out bright red, your sweet little heart feels like it just might explode and who wants that? Being honest with a few friends, my husband, and most importantly, God, has been vital to surviving this recent loss. It is pretty humbling to have to admit how much we can struggle to believe (especially when that word is plastered all over ads and commercials this time of year) but no one can really help if they don’t know what you’re going through.

Friends like Philemon – If you don’t have friends like Paul had in Philemon, who encourage your heart and stand with you in the battle, start asking God for them. But most likely, I’d be willing to bet there is at least one friend or family member who is wanting to be there for you. Will you let them in? I can totally empathize here, as asking for help is again, humbling, but thankfully the people who love me are patient, and I’m certain your support network will be too.
Moving towards the pain, not away from it – Ouch. I know, I had to bring this up, right? Hiding in bed is pretty comforting too, but we’ve all got to face the day at some point. The pain and grief you are facing won’t go away, and maybe you are not ready to deal with the issues right now, but the longer we put it off, the slower the healing will be. Give yourself grace, but take some small steps every day to look at the wounds, allowing the Healer to bind them up and comfort you with His word.
Forgiveness – If nothing else in this post has spoken to you, I’m guessing maybe this one might? Unforgiveness is such a huge obstacle to joy at Christmas time, considering all the people we are mingling with. Small talk won’t cut it if there are years of misunderstanding that need to be dealt with. What if you had that talk you’ve been putting off for so long? Have you considered forgiving yourself too? The Gospel is Christ coming to earth, entering our mess, making a way for hope, joy and PEACE with Him and others for eternity.
Tears of worship – Remember those friends I mentioned? Another lovely friend comforted me with the fact that our tears are precious to God (He keeps them all in a bottle, the Word says, but it’s okay if you need that Olympic-size swimming pool next to mine 🙂 When prayer is hard, friends seem absent, and you’re just not ready to deal with the pain, tears are enough. He is WITH us, and willing to walk with us, wherever we are today, whether we are ready to heal or still curled up in a ball.
I hope you can find comfort in the mysterious joy of Emmanuel this Christmas, regardless of your circumstances. Remember that dusty, dirty stable where Christ was born? It’s okay if that’s what your heart, your home, or your relationships are looking like this Christmas. Jesus did not demand a perfect situation for His arrival on earth. He humbled Himself and came in the most vulnerable way. Wherever you are this Christmas, He wants to be WITH you there. Will you let Him in?
For additional encouragement, check out Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground) by Chris Tomlin and Hope is Alive by Ellie Holcomb. I’ve had the second on repeat lately, it’s that good 🙂

Great encouragement for the suffering in this broken, hostile world from Ann Voskamp (don’t miss the spoken word video at the end!)

A new mom’s reflections on change, contentment, and waiting.

man-933701_1280
Run to Jesus, like a child. In that beautiful confusing mess.

Post partum is hard. I love being a mom and feel content many days, but at the same time, have to ask God for so much help every day. Change, contentment, and waiting are also hard parts of life. Three tough issues for me, and for many of you as well, I’m sure. So let’s talk about it! I’m writing from an ‘I’m-not-there-yet’ viewpoint, so take all of this as reflections on my journey, and apply through your own filters, most importantly, the Word of God.

Why are these things so hard? Change. I see our little man growing up so quickly, and though I love it, I just can’t keep up now that he’s moving or know how to prepare for what’s next! For me, it’s hard because whether what we know is good for us or not, we’re used to it. Comfortable in our cozy mess of sin, beauty, and braving the known rather than desperately clinging to God and others in the unknown. I’m there, friends. Change could be coming soon, and as much as I’ve wanted and prayed for it – I’m scared! What will it be like? Will I like it? How will my guys respond? Which leads to contentment. When we’re comfortable in our daily mess of beauty, love and life, we have found ways to be content, whether that includes idols or not. But when we are given something we’ve prayed for, and we’re still not content? I get really annoyed with myself, and can I say it? With God too. My heart remembers, again, that that next thing, season, or beautiful something is not going to fill my aching heart. But waiting on God is hard.

Waiting in the mess is where the beauty happens, but if we beg and cry out enough, often God does move us on to something new, even if it’s not best (Romans 1 – a hard word, for us, our communities, and country.) I usually do not enjoy waiting on God. And my little person reminds me how slow I am in waiting. But what I have slowly started to learn, is that patiently waiting on God is directly related to knowing God. If we don’t seek to know God, why would we trust Him? Why would P trust me, unless he knew I loved him? Why should we, if all God is to us is a comforting Santa Claus who randomly answers our prayers? Perhaps that was harsh, but like I said, I’m there too. However, I am ever so slowly leaning into the whispers of God, the words of Life, and finding that He is in the still small voice, calling us to know Him, but usually not explaining what He is up to. He is the I AM. Emmanuel. He is All Mighty God, worthy of our praise and immune to our demands, but He IS with us. This is what we must ask Him to do in our hearts – help us to trust, when we don’t fully know Him or what He is doing. It’s a beautiful battle.

Why do we avoid the messy? Mom brain is in full force now…and I find half-finished tasks everywhere I look! I forget what I’m doing when my chunky monkey needs something NOW! (I also feel strangely productive about the smallest things getting done.) A nice reprieve lately is enjoying the Marvel TV shows with my husband while little P naps.  Super Girl and The Flash, to name a couple. We feel burnt out on life after trial upon trial, and it’s nice to turn off your brain so you don’t keep thinking. My husband has always been able to do this – most guys can I think? But I am very new to the ‘nothing box’ in which you do, in fact, think about nothing!! I used to not be okay with that and insisted we watch dramas and documentaries, but as I watch my steady husband face life with a strong faith in God, rooted in Truth, I’ve realized that Supergirl and The Flash can be a gift too.

But not always. Anything can become an excessive addiction and distraction. We know when we are there, and we pull back or God does. (It feels nicer when we realize it first!) But He is gentle. And He will gently lead us into the hard places of life. I say that, knowing full well, and having experienced myself, that often trials come like a head-on train wreck, and you are begging for hope before you even understand what hit you. There’s no way to prepare for those times. Because we know (maybe only in our heads) that God is good and gracious, we must fight to find our way back to Him, cry out and ask Him to make it real in our hearts. We must refuse to believe lies that tell us He is holding out on us. We must find kind companions to remind us to care well for ourselves. But often, we must wait as He refines, slowly weaves our stories, and does not promise to give us the answers we want. We must accept the hard with the good. Up and down emotions (bring more hugs and grace), house is rarely put together (so I can legitimately ask for more help :)), and the most adorable little guy needs and wants me at every point of the day. (Hard, but good.) I like things to be wrapped neatly in a bow, but God prefers mind blowing glory for Himself and good for us, only in His timing. On That Day, (but hopefully before) we will want His will too.

We don’t need another Savior. Idolatry is a thief that promises hope, and robs you blind while you indulge. (Like most sin is!) It’s like a deceptive marketing scheme, or another gimmicky direct sales company banging on your door (trust me, not here bashing direct sales, but my husband has begged me to never sell again! 🙂 He says I’m not a sales person, and that is mostly true. I like meeting new people, talking and being persuasive, but asking you to buy something you might use once violates almost every part of who I am. Or maybe I’ve just been burned too many times by trying to sell with no results! Haha.)

Sorry for the rabbit trail. But bringing the bunny back around to the Garden of Life that God intended for us in Eden, we humans are hard-wired (in my belief) to choose poorly more often than not (Like, every time, except for the mercy of God). We are depraved, but we constantly look for alternate saviors! The next president will fix XYZ, a new church might be the answer, a different haircut, exercise regimen, book to read with plenty of formulas, or a relationship that starts out safe and quickly turns immoral. I’ve heard preachers say that we are idol-factories. And that doesn’t sound too far from the Truth. The Truth is, we have a Savior – Hurray!! And we can run to Him anytime – Amazing! [i.e. He doesn’t read texts and reply later 🙂 ] He HEARS us as soon as we cry out! And He will never turn away from us, no matter what we might throw at Him or wrestle through with Him – glory be to God!

We won’t stop sinning this side of heaven. The hope in our very slllooowww sanctification process is that we’re ALL there. Different issues, varying severity, controversial or not, we need to remind ourselves that the guys and gals in our spaces of living are hurting too, are wanting to grow (usually), need God desperately, are bound in sin and shame, and fail Him miserably, every day, just like we do. What the heck!? How am I giving you hope, you might say?

When we realize that we ALL are there, we can start asking for grace and forgiveness. We can talk about that hard thing because she probably understands, he usually has messed up that way too, and most of all, God was human like us, and fellowship in His sufferings is the most beautiful experience I have ever had. Living in a hard place, and instead of complaining, timidly walking into the Gates of Heaven and laying out my heart to him, asking – Have you been in this hard place? – changes and softens me like few other things. You will realize, as I have, that Jesus had to wait, he had to face drastic changes, he couldn’t trust anyone, but His Father, and even then, Father God had, for a moment, to turn away in His deepest time of need, so that we could have hope. We call that betrayal when it happens to us. My hope for all of us, in this changing world, filled with discontent, brokenness on all sides, battles that must be fought and others that needlessly destroy – we all have a broken place inside that needs a Savior. I pray you go to Him today. Pray that I will as well.

 

NBG signature

Own Your Life series + weekend goodies!

 

weekendgoodies

Hey friends,

Excited to sit down after the babe is asleep and ‘chat’ with you all! God is always up to something good, and don’t you just sense that in the air? The smell of fall, the hardships that are turning into beautiful things, and my sweet baby that is now crawling. Oh. my. goodness. Can’t even believe it, but being a mom is by FAR the best job ever!

So, on to the post. We’re doing a book club – yay! I know I’m getting this out late to those in the cyber-world, but a serious infection + new baby and time flies. There is a small group of friends that are going to be chatting about the book Own Your Life and have started reading already, but I am eager to have others join if you’d like! We’ll be doing a live FB chat party on my NBG blog FB page every other Thursday night at 8 pm ET. All you have to do is buy the book, and chat along with us. If you’d like to join my email list, I’ll send along some other resources and links as well.

Thus far, we have read the Intro and Chapter 1, as well as discussed that in a local group. But do not fear, we are planning to have our live chat party next Thursday at 8 pm, at this link (my blog FB page) to discuss chapters 2 and 3, and we’ll probably jump back into some of the previous content as well. So you haven’t missed much and please do still join us!

I love, love the author, Sally’s, focus on intentional living. It applies to every area of life and if you’re a guy out there reading, you are welcome too, because leaving a godly legacy applies to us all. Sally talks a lot about accepting the circumstances we are in, learning to be content and work out our ‘life puzzle’, but not become stagnant and give in to mediocrity. She has an amazing way of challenging but in an encouraging way. You won’t regret reading the book, even if you can’t join us!

Now for the weekend goodies:

Recipes I’ve been enjoying:

Books I’ve been reading:

Fun things to do with a baby or child:

What I’m listening to (UPDATED):

  • My favorite new artist (and dear friend) is releasing an album soon!! Don’t miss it. You’ll be very sad. I actually might be sad for you too – it’s that good!
  • Hillary Scott’s Thy Will Be Done (can’t get enough of this)
  • Sally Clarkson’s podcast for our Own Your Life study. Subscribe on iTunes or whatever podcast service you use or just link to this page for each new episode. Podcasts for this book started back in May, but I’ll update you on which ones correspond with the chapters we’re reading. Check out this one and this one for our upcoming FB chat.

That’s all for now, friends. Have a great weekend! Bring on the pumpkins, I say. 🙂

NBG signature

part five :: the Glory of God in darkness (as displayed by Daniel)

turban-60782_1280

Dear friends,

I’ve been mulling over this topic and know I need to finish it up and move on to the next exciting season of the blog (a book series! yay!) But with the postpartum season being so new and raw, it’s been hard for me to see and know how God was bringing glory to Himself. Everything just hurt so much – my body, mind, soul and spirit. But God is faithful, and He has, through my Bible study of Daniel, brought truth to my heart that I can hopefully encourage you with.

Daniel took action : “…the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.”  (Daniel 11:32, ESV). This is a key passage in Daniel, reminding us that we are not to sit and wait for God to act, we are to join Him in the acting. In knowing Him, in following Him. True, it is a discipline to seek His face, but I’ve seen that in every small step of pressing in, there are golden nuggets pushing me on to know Him more. You will find this too – do not become weary and give up…for in due time He will lift you up! And it will fuel your heart to trust Him in the waiting, as He works behind the scenes to glorify Himself and care for you.

Daniel cared for his body : This is not an advertisement for the Daniel plan (haha), but it is interesting to note that for whatever reason (most likely the avoidance of food offered to idols) Daniel followed his conscience and ate what he thought would make him most healthy. As I have said many times, the body, mind and soul are so interconnected, it is no surprise that for whatever reason – physical, spiritual, or mental, Daniel’s choice made him literally shine for God.

Daniel cared for his mind : Daniel was not too proud to resist the education provided for him by the king. All truth is God’s truth, and most certainly his mind was strengthened as it was exercised, even under the care of ungodly people. We too can learn from this – reading, thinking, loving God with all our mind. God requires that we seek Him in the word, of course – and I’m sure that Daniel was studying the portion of Scripture that was available to him at that time. I’m sure much of it was hidden in his heart as well!

Daniel cared for his soul : Daniel’s courage is displayed so beautifully when He chooses to pray, despite the fact that His life is on the line. In comparison, it often feels soul-crushing, in my experience, to continue to follow God when times are hard. How can we trust Him when everything in our lives swirl, discourage, and make us want to run to the other team? But Daniel disciplined himself to continue in communication with the God who had never failed him, and God was glorified!

Daniel honored God : Time and again, Daniel pointed to Christ with his humility. If you look closely at the first few chapters, notice how he is never desirous of the gifts and honor he is offered – that is not his motivation. I have to believe that this humility is a large part of why God was glorified, the kings and people of the land turned to the Most High God (at least for a time – oh how slow we are to learn! [sigh]. )

Daniel was courageous : Many times Daniel’s life was on the line, but He believed so strongly in his God (or maybe his knees were shaking and he was pleading for mercy behind the scenes, we don’t know). Courage is not always a feeling of strength to believe, not very often actually! Courage is looking fear in the face, leaning into God, and walking forward anyway. The strength of God will always be displayed in this, in our weakness and wobbly knees.

Daniel was honored : despite the fact that Daniel resisted the desire of the kings to honor him for every interpretation given of dreams, writing on the wall, etc., God was determined to bless him, I’m confident. And he will bless us too, as we wait patiently on Him. This spiritual principle, though it doesn’t happen in our timing, is a promise we can take to the bank, His bank of great riches in Christ. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:2, ESV)

Others grew and benefitted as well : As we have struggled in the past months (wondering when this season of ‘growth’ will end!), we have seen how our struggles have encouraged others, given them reasons to pray fervently, serve us, and give of their resources. I KNOW this honors God. We have to choose to accept these prayers, gifts and service, which can be hard at times (re: pride!). But as we humble ourselves and offer ourselves to the body we are in and the family and friends that care for us, they receive the blessing of growing closer to God and giving of what God has given them. We’re all in this together and that brings God great glory when we act like the church! A body of love and service. We long for the time when we can give back more, but until then, we rejoice in the ways we have seen this passage come to fruition: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)

With grateful hearts and hands held high in worship to the great King and Holy God….

NBG signature

More in this series ::

part four :: Being kind to yourself in the darkness

invited.NBG

Being kind to myself is a relatively new concept. Over the years, when hardship has come, my mode of operation has been – try harder, pray harder, guilt, shame, and assuming most everything is my fault. To be quite honest, I’m not as healthy in this area as I would like to be. But I’m trying. Points for trying? I hope as I’m typing reminders to myself, you can walk alongside me and find courage to be kind to yourself as well. Because the bottom line as believers, children of the Living, Gracious, and Most Holy God, our Father – His sacrifice of blood is not effective to heal us if we put up walls and reject His offer of daily, and deep rest.

Matthew 11:28-30

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

How do we rest, how do we learn to be kind to our own broken souls? One primary way I have received grace to love myself in the midst of darkness is letting go of my pride, and accepting love and service from others. It’s hard, friends. It is much harder to receive, I think, than to give. But there is mercy from God that is healing when we allow the wound to stay open, and the salve to be applied. Covering the wound with a cheap dollar store bandaid (as much as I love dollar stores!), while blood oozes out the sides and scars build up is resisting (often in pride or shame) the love and grace God intends us to experience. I know this all too well.

I have seen over the years, as I’ve walked through darkness, that the pain can intensify when we resist His love. And so, what we may interpret as an unloving God, a God who does not care or notice our pain, is actually a God who is trying to get our attention so we will receive His love. And if that means taking drastic measures to do so – believe me, friends – He will break you until you know His deep healing mercy. I do not say that to make you tremble, but I say it to urge you to not resist Him. To urge you to cooperate with Him as He longs to heal you. For it is in His kindness that we find repentance, rest, and true Gospel living.

Isaiah 30:15-18
 
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, 16 and you said, “No! We will flee upon horses”; therefore you shall flee away; and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”; therefore your pursuers shall be swift. 17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain, like a signal on a hill. 18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

 

NBG signature

part three:: Loving well breaks the darkness (and a thank you!)

 

 

loving well.2.nbg

Well, here comes a post I can’t avoid much longer, and as I type, I’m never quite sure what words God desires that end up on your screen. However, my prayer is that this testimony of God’s faithfulness will stir your heart and remind you of specific ways you can care for those who are hurting.

But first, the back story…

If you have read my story posted on this blog, you will see in a general way that I went through a tragic and tumultuous time in my early twenties that by God’s grace, turned me onto a new path of deep understanding of His love, His Gospel, and His emphasis on true community. I was lacking in all those areas. I intended when setting out to write this series to share details from those years previous, however as God intended, I would also enter a new dark time, with new stories to tell and glorious reminders of truth in action.

I’ll cut straight to it and say that though the journey to motherhood was hard – the waiting, the miscarriage, the pregnancy and birth – all of it – the postpartum time has been even more wonderful and terrifying. Nothing compares to holding and caring for a little one with everything you have, and desiring to do even more, as your heart is captured by an unexplainable love for someone you’re only getting to know. I have been stretched to my limit, and even for a time, collapsed into the arms of Jesus, with no choice but to allow others to care for me. I don’t want to dwell on all the details of the hardship – at some point I may be ready to share more of that. But I want to call attention to those who surrounded us in our crisis and loved us with a beautiful and healing love.

I can’t begin to thank everyone who loved us during this time, and those who are still reaching out in concern. Tangible acts of service, meals, prayer, gifts, care packages, gift cards, visits, and more fervent prayer, as led by God, even before we collapsed. Wisdom given, words of challenge and compassion, as well. I can’t begin to write enough notes of thanks while still keeping up with little P and his needs right now, as well as caring for myself and my little family.

But what has struck me most is that in my desperation and inability to care for myself or my family – and as frightening as that was – God was there already, providing help and hope in the most beautiful, unexpected, and undeserved ways. We received help we didn’t know we needed, with no fanfare or thanks expected, and learned to humbly accept it.

My encouragement as I end this short post is that you do as our friends and family have done for us – pray, pray, and pray some more – and only then do you act. God alone knows the hearts of those whom you might wish to serve, and deep sensitivity is required to walk alongside them, to offer hope, to know when to provide solutions, but more often, to serve and be with them in the pain. The gift of community in these times is the most beautiful of all. Not pat answers, not careless words, not ‘I’m praying’ but never praying. Many have been available for us at the last minute, and honest when then cannot be – always pointing us to others who can help, and others who can pray.

Our extended family has stepped up as well – providing help and hope, tangible gifts, weeping with us, seeking to understand even when there was no understanding. From the deepest part of our hearts, I say thank you, knowing that only God can repay you for all you have done for us. And though the struggle continues, we know we are loved and surrounded.

Over the past few months I continue to be drawn to Isaiah 30:15 – repentance and rest. The focus was repentance for quite a while, and still is when I am ‘stuck’ in my faith journey… but now it is more so the command of rest. God longs to be our primary source of strength. More on this in the next post, but I’m learning, one step at a time, that in this place alone, will I find peace.

Be blessed, friends. And go forth in the knowledge that you are loved deeply and called to love deeply as well. Let us love one another because He first loved us! 1 John 4:19

NBG signature

More in this series:

Intro :: A way through the darkness – into the light

part two :: What the darkness taught (and is teaching) me

part three :: Loving well breaks the darkness (and a thank you!)

part two :: What the darkness taught (and is teaching) me

dancing in rain

In the midst of our storms, it is very rare (at least for me) to thank God for the hardship from a genuine place, but rather the struggle is to trust Him in it. You too? The days and weeks, months and years that pass after a hard season often bring clarity, and for that alone, I am incredibly grateful. (Though we can’t demand or expect to ever fully understand what God is up to…) Seeing beautiful, redemptive fruit grow out of cracked, dry and impossibly broken circumstances produces joy like few things can. I hope this post will encourage you to cling to the God of Hope, the God of all Comfort, the God who can restore and redeem all things. But at the same time encourage you – and remind myself – that we can also trust in the God who doesn’t promise answers, the God who leads us down dark paths for our good & His glory, the God who breaks in order to build. Being a child of God has brought some of the darkest and most beautiful things to pass in my life – and often they are joined together in some way!

Being a Christian means instead of saying ‘shame on you’ or ‘shame on me’, we can say – ‘me too’ and ‘you too’?? It means we can sit together, cry together, and live together, rather than fight, point fingers, grow bitter and sling stones. But we can’t do this. Christ makes this possible through us – when we walk with him, live in Him, and oftentimes, despite our best efforts or regardless of our many failures – He is the God who is WITH us, and desires that we be WITH one another. This is perhaps the biggest thing the darkness has taught me, especially as it was the most glaring deficiency in my life when The Storm hit, exposing my lack of and value for community. I was an island, and vulnerable to my own weaknesses and arrows from the enemy of our souls.

One of the most trying circumstances I’ve faced is the journey I’ve traveled to motherhood. I can hardly believe I am writing from the other side of that pain, and feel a little guilty knowing that others continue in that battle. Though our little guy is still so small, it is true that my heart has expanded and exploded with love, even as he has grown. Many of the things that God taught me along that journey, when followed through in obedience, also ushered in this great gift, preparing me for what He intended all along.

I’m always hesitant to give a ‘how-to’ but I do want to share some quick thoughts on a few things that helped me persevere in my dark seasons…

What does walking well look like, in hard times?

  • humbly :: Often, but not always, God uses hard times to sift and sort our souls. The question is, how will we respond? This makes a huge difference in the intensity of the struggle – not that humility will always remove the struggle, certainly not – however resisting the work of God in our lives can often lengthen and intensify the pain we are experiencing. His discipline is for our good and His glory, but resisting the Potter’s work to mold, chip away, redirect, break, and rebuild only delays the good He intends through it all.
  • happily :: In the Christian world, especially, I have noticed a common misunderstanding of God’s heart for us to really enjoy life, and pursue good and beautiful ways of doing this. Why would God create such variety of fruits and vegetables, incredible landscapes and animals, unique and interesting people, and a plethora of dreams, passions and interests among us? I don’t believe that was an accident. I am no expert at celebrating and enjoying life, especially in hard times – but it is truly a gift when we can delight in the blessings He sends our way. There is an artful balance in enjoying, but not idolizing, and we will get this wrong, perhaps more often than not! Thankfully, we can trust the heart of our Father God to not only send blessings at the perfect time, but teach us how to hold them with an open hand. Because when He removes a blessing, He is moving our hearts to find happiness in HIM.
  • helping :: Firstly, I will clarify that I am not saying we need to TRY HARDER in hard times. God is not punishing us with hardships, and doing the ‘right thing’ or being a ‘good person’ is not going to suddenly make the clouds part and blessings drop from heaven. Yes, wisdom does often bring blessing and prosperity. But not always. There are no guarantees, except that God’s love will remain, and He will return. And it is so easy in hard times to become self-absorbed and think only of our pain and hardship. My mom has always been great at reminding and modeling the importance of looking to serve others in the midst of hard times, and this always gets my eyes off myself, while providing much needed perspective as the struggle continues.
  • with honor :: I find great comfort in reminding myself that God allows hard times, but He does not send shame along with them – that is always from the enemy. God will point his finger on particular areas where He wants us to grow and develop, but oppressive and vague feelings of worthlessness and shame that cannot be tied to concrete issues are never from Him. Confess the sins, yes, but remind yourself that as a child of God, you are chosen, precious, and a valuable member of His kingdom plans! As I have grown in my knowledge of God’s heart being FOR ME and not AGAINST ME, I am able to rest in His arms, even as the storms swirl around me.
  • healthy :: I must mention health and wellness (because, of course!) This is another big one for me, that I SO undervalued, unknowingly, until revealed by crazy life circumstances! It takes an intentional effort for most of us, on most days, to make healthy choices, whether that be in the area of nutrition, soul-care, relationships, exercise, finances, or a million other categories. My encouragement here is to keep making those healthy choices that we all know are important, even if it’s just small baby steps. Especially if it’s small steps! Choosing one healthy goal at a time works well for many, and remember to give yourself grace for the missteps as well. I am certainly not advocating a strict diet or rigorous exercise (or financial, or…fill in the blank) plan when life is swirling and sapping your energy and joy – but perhaps a refocus and renewed desire to make the next right choice. These small, intentional steps build on each other, and soon enough, you may just wake up to find that you are living a healthier life and loving it! I will also add that poor nutrition, lack of sleep, bitterness, unresolved issues, and no movement will lead to depression and compound any hardships you are already facing. Do yourself and those you love a favor and take care of yourself! Making simple but intentional wellness goals also gives me something concrete to focus on, when life seems out of control.
  • hopeful & heavenward :: It is truly a fight in hard times, to hold on to hope. I have seen God shift my gaze from earthly things, to the eternal, in remarkable ways, and only by His grace. I can see now that had I not faced hard times, my gaze could have remained entirely on shifting circumstances, rather than developing a firm foundation in true and lasting things. This is ultimately what God is after – a heart that hopes in Him, and looks towards the great things He is preparing for us not only through the hardships, but in the life to come. The best is yet to come, children of God; let us never forget it!

May the God of peace, joy, and abundant life pour into your soul as you grow in the knowledge of Him and His work in and around you. He is truly worthy to be praised, and will patiently, but persistently pursue you until You are confident of His extravagant love.

I pray that something in these words might have encouraged you to keep pressing on, in the race of life? What would you add to these thoughts, from your experience and wisdom? Please share! 

NBG signature

More in this series:

Intro :: A way through the darkness – into the light

part two :: What the darkness taught (and is teaching) me

part three :: Loving well breaks the darkness (and a thank you!)

A letter to my son, dedicated to God on Mother’s Day

littleP.NBGDear Little P,

Today is a very special day, when your life was dedicated to God in the presence of our church family. I can’t tell you how excited I am to not only celebrate this day, but also as I look ahead to all that God might do through you in the days to come. I can see that God has already answered our prayers over your life, making you a blessing and delight to others, and such sweet, content and joyful little guy.

I have waited for a long time to be a mother, and you are the gift that I have been waiting for. Your sweet blue eyes, precious smile, and endearing cuddles are such a treasure to me. I am aware of how much I have to learn to be the mom you need, but today I was overwhelmed by God’s grace for us. Pastor Vic spoke in the sermon today about Simon Peter in the Bible, and his commitment to Christ, and I couldn’t help but think about you, and how I pray that you will follow God with your whole heart. I reflect on John 6: 60-71, the passage from this morning – 

The Words of Eternal Life

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.

This morning, as we rushed around to get to church on time, I was a bit careless with my words and anxious that the event at church would go well. Praise God that His Words always bring life, even when ours do not. This has been a hard season of life, but you have been a bright light in the midst of all we have faced. I say this to tell you that there will be trying seasons, and just as the ways of Jesus did not always make sense to the disciples, they will not always be clear to you. In these moments, a choice to trust in the heart of God will lessen the heat of life’s trials. You may want to walk away from God, your family, or the ways of godly living that we will strive to teach you. Your Dad and I have both struggled at times to trust God, and in truth, all believers do at one time or another. Do not be surprised by the sin in your heart, a faltering faith, or the confusion you may face during difficult circumstances. God is not surprised, nor will He distance Himself from you if you struggle to believe.

In this chapter, John 6 – the disciples had just witnessed a miraculous event – the feeding of the 5,000. And yet, soon after, they were in a storm, and forgot what Jesus had done to provide for them. We humans are a fickle, forgetful bunch, which is why God reminds the Israelites time and time again throughout the Old Testament to remember His goodness and all that He had done for them. That “remembering” is what will stir your heart and renew your confidence in His goodness, even when life does not look how you might hope it would and God does not seem to be answering your prayers. He IS faithful, even when His answer is No, Not Yet, or Not Now. I often wondered if I would have the joy of being a mother, and though you are here now, the journey to this day has not been easy.

My prayer is that just like Simon Peter, your heart would be drawn back to Christ, no matter the circumstances, no matter the broken roads you may travel. We are all prone to wander, but I have found that the trials have, in God’s grace, peeled away my affinity for comfort, and helped me to find comfort in Christ. Many times, I have sat with the Lord, and sensed Him asking me what I was longing for…and why, in the midst of the trial, I was willing to come back to Him. In truth, there have been many hard days when that was not my desire, as being a Christ follower is difficult and the narrow road painful at times. But the mercy of God has ruined me for anything but fellowship with Him, and I pray that will be the case in your life. I do not desire that you experience hardship, and yet, I know that sometimes that is the only way. Perhaps you will be a fast learner – I truly hope so! But I pray that ‘the Hound of Heaven’ would pursue your heart in the midst of it all, and just like Simon Peter, you would have no where to go but the Holy One of God, to be filled with eternal words of life.

I pray as well, that just like King David, you would be a man after God’s own heart. Do not be surprised at your weaknesses as I was when my storms first started rolling in. I pray that you would allow your weaknesses, your sin, and your storms to not leave you in despair, but move you from self-focus to a focus on the glory of God in the midst of it all. Though your Dad and I want the world for you, and will train you in the ways of righteousness and wisdom, we will not be surprised if you fall. Our hope is in the Great God and King, Jesus Christ – not in our own power, or in your performance. Just the same, I pray that your successes would not draw you away from God or cause you to become prideful in your own abilities, but rather amazed at God’s grace working within you. You are a precious child of God, known since the beginning of time, and He alone empowers you to live a life pleasing in His eyes. When you succeed – point to Him. And if you fall – point to Him. We’ll be with you in it all – the good, the bad, and the in between.

We pray that just as our Father God accepts us no matter our choices, you will know without a shadow of a doubt that you are always accepted in our home. Both Simon Peter and King David made poor choices along the way, and yet, their lives are remembered as men who sincerely followed after the heart of God, willing to sacrifice for the glory of His name and the furtherance of His kingdom. May their lives inspire holiness in you, and assure you of grace as well. May the Words of Christ and the peace and power of the Gospel permeate your life, flow from your thoughts, words and deeds, and inspire those around you. Jesus, the Bread of Life, is the only One who can fill your soul, and I pray that your heart will be restless when you are apart from Him, but deeply satisfied when you are sitting and feasting in His presence.

The storms come in all of our lives, and the doubts may roll in with them as well – but I pray that God uses those storms to change your desire for earthly bread, to a hunger for the True Bread of Life.

With grateful hearts and abundant love for you, dear son,
Your Mama & Daddy

New blog series :: A Way Through the Darkness – Into the Light

darkness to lightIn the last few weeks, I have heard the sadness of friends, family, and acquaintances that are facing very dark times. These dark seasons look differently for each of them – some are financial, others are emotional, marriage-related, health, career, or just a loss of hope in general. Though a new and beautiful season of motherhood is just around the corner for me, I am certainly not a stranger to seasons of despair and hopelessness. I know I have a steep learning curve coming as a new mom, so it’s a great time for me to be reminded of God’s faithfulness through the hard times. I’m working through a study of the book of Ephesians, looking towards springtime, and best of all – Resurrection Day! For all those reasons, I’m excited to explore themes of light and darkness, my own personal experience with each, and offer encouragement on finding grace in our relationship with God, His people, and ourselves, during these seasons. Here is what I’m hoping to write on in the upcoming weeks:

  • What the Darkness Taught Me
  • Loving Others Well through the Darkness
  • Being Kind to Yourself in the Darkness
  • The glory of God in Darkness

I look forward to seeing what God has in store for us as we explore these topics! May His name be praised as we faithfully walk through the hard times, finding joy and ultimately living into the Light of His glory.

NBG signature

Reasons to consider that expert you already know

January is just about to pass us by, and I’m sure yours has been a flurry of activity (and perhaps snow?), as has mine. Hopefully, you have found some rest amidst the pressure to plan, dream, start fresh, and ‘prove’ this year will be different. As I’ve pondered the direction God might take us this year (which includes a sweet babe arriving soon!), I’ve been pleasantly surprised, and reminded, of the wealth I have in the people God has placed in my life.

child-1058285_1280

I’ve been slowly working my way through this book, and considering new ways to turn to the people around me (whether in proximity or through the blessings of modern-day technology!) rather than simply depending on the ‘professionals’. Yes, a life coach, that pretty new planner, or the whole foods nutritionist are helpful, but have you/we considered the wisdom of the people God has intentionally placed in our lives? Are we opening ourselves up to them, or is the only solution to pay someone who studied the information, but has no idea about the shape of our souls?

It’s a tricky conversation, for sure, as I am certainly not one to deny or avoid the blessing of those gifted and skilled in various disciplines, as well as the resources and helps we find in good books, podcasts, webinars, and famous preachers and speakers. Perhaps, however, I might share a few examples from my own life, to spur your thinking in this direction…

January has always been an obvious time for me to search for a new planner, map out the course for the next season, or seek counsel for new ventures. I love dreaming, planning, and hoping for what might be around the corner. And so, as I’ve considered my new role as ‘mom’ that is fast approaching, I have been eager to refresh my vision for marriage, family, and home. Some resources I’ve enjoyed have been this podcast, this podcast, and this ministry for moms, but I’ve been equally encouraged by… sisters and friends who have explained the ins of outs of lovely things like cloth diapers, car seats, and what not to buy  for baby, fervent prayers from family and friends, and recipes that will boost my energy and nutrition levels without breaking the bank. I’m sure I could have paid lots of money for all these ideas, but y’all… these people know me, love me, (and their hourly fee is quite reasonable 😉 )

pregnancy-792742_1280

Another example, which perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit? is that of the expert living in my own home – my dear hubby. For weeks, I considered various planners and printables online that would help me better harness my day, organize my home, and get on that cleaning schedule I’ve been desperately needing. But to no avail! Either the price didn’t suit, it wasn’t pretty enough, or the aspects included did not fit my needs. One day, in tears, I admitted to my husband over dinner that I just. couldn’t. figure. out. my. schedule – and can you help?  In less than 15 minutes’ time, we had drafted a lovely but effective schedule, that included my work, home and volunteer priorities, self-care, and things that would bless him as well. What?! That was too easy, I thought, but it has been a huge help to me, and I was shocked to realize that the answer was sitting right across from me all that time.

I will also say that YOU are an expert in some way as well, you just might not know it or being giving yourself enough credit! Just a couple weeks ago, a friend called, discouraged about the list in front of her that day, and how she was not only going to get everything done, but also care for herself and her family in the process – so we spent 15 minutes drafting a list of priorities for her day, some important self-care, as well as a time management strategy I have found to be helpful (which she was already aware of…but some days – most days? – we just. need. reminders.) I was happy to hear her report at the end of the day that all had gone well – and she was going to bed with a happy and unburdened heart!

day-planner-828611_1280

Let us not forget how much we need each other, friends… the question is, will we open ourselves up to one another in humility, be it for prayer, requesting a meal, needing a car ride somewhere, or seeking wisdom from God’s Word…among other things. The list of possibilities is long, you know what you need that I might have, and vice versa. Let us consider how we might spur one another on to love and good deeds, both by sharing the wealth of talents God has given each of us, and humbly making our needs known to those around us. Might we consider what is keeping us from living this way as well? Only you know. As I was reminded by Captain America only last evening, the only way we are going to get through the next crisis… is together.

NBG signature