All Things Made New

On this eve of a New Year, I cannot help but reflect on the year that we will close out tonight.

Honestly, I am relieved to see 2013 fade and to have a new year beckon me forward. This year has been challenging.

Just a few days before Easter, I broke my leg. With two little girls (newly three and newly five at the time), who still needed quite a bit of help from this stay-at-home-mama, hobbling about on crutches was not conducive to the task of chasing little girls.

In the middle of May, my husband confessed to me that he had been having an online affair for several months. Months that spanned one daughter’s birthday, my broken leg, Easter. The pain pierced deeply and shook our vows mightily. Especially after I read many of the email exchanges.

By the end of May, my husband and I were in counseling – individual and couples, though the focus was more on our individual journeys in order to prepare us for the healing necessary to continue our journey as a couple.

In November I took on the awesome challenge of National Novel Writing Month and wrote 53K words in 27 days. The story remains unfinished because my muse was derailed when I discovered only two days before Thanksgiving that despite being in counseling, my husband had entered into another online affair. This time with a different woman.

So, here I sit at the end of December. The end of a difficult, sometimes wrenching, and, yet, sometimes still awesome and amazing year.

And yet if someone were to ask me about this year, I would tell them that I had much for which I am thankful.

Yes, there were awful moments. Yes, there were difficult circumstances. Yes, there were emotional upheavals.

But the year was not awful. It was challenging. And at times it was difficult. And, no, I would not have chosen to live through all the moments I was given. But because God was faithful, this year has worked together for my good. Because that is what God does for those who love him and are called according to His purpose. The purpose to glorify him with my life. With my choices.

Choices that include my thoughts, my words, my actions.

This has been a year of incredible growth for me. Growth that involved and continues to involve wisdom. Learning. Discernment. Which means that the new year can only be amazing.

I am learning how to be thankful no matter what.

I am learning how to trust God for what I need. My joy. My heart’s desires. My worth.

I am learning how to trust God with the people I love. Starting with my husband. Including my children. And all of the concentric circles of family and friends.

I am learning that I am more than what others or even what I see in me.

I am learning that I can forgive others because I have been forgiven.

I am learning that I am free to be the woman God created me to be. Free from living under others’ expectations, including my own. Free from living in a way that is just getting by. Free from living in fear.

I am learning that I am indeed fearfully and wonderfully made and that the world needs the gifts I have to share. That my girls need me here at home to guide them through the challenges of childhood and to reflect Jesus to them and to speak love and encouragement into their lives. That my husband needs me to have his back and to pray for him no matter what.

Yes. It is New Year’s Eve and tomorrow marks the beginning of a New Year.

But I am thankful that because of God’s infinite love and amazing grace, I can live every day like it is New Year’s Day. Because God’s mercies are new every morning. And because God makes all things new. Every day.

Including me.

Advent: Time of Change

My husband and I are pretty big Jon Acuff fans. It started with Stuff Christians Like and then it was his incredibly inspirational books, Quitter and Start. You see, Jon is a dreamer. And a doer. He lives what he writes about. In fact, he’s in the midst of switching things up and starting something new in his own life these days.

Which is where my husband and I find ourselves right now. Pursuing change. Creating change. Living out changes that we need, that we want, that God is calling us toward.

And it’s scary.

And that’s okay. Because as Jon Acuff pointed out in a recent talk he delivered in Nashville, Advent is a season of change. A season when God created awe-inspiring change in a world that was in desperate need for Him. An awe-inspiring change that came in the form of a baby.

And we are still in desperate need for Him, my husband and I. In order to redeem the brokenness and deep hurts of our marriage. In order to shake off the limits the world places on who we are and what we can do. In order to dream big and change the world.

Because it’s possible. All things are possible with Jesus. Even the scary things.

Especially the scary things.

So, if you’re facing change in your life, this message is for you. If you’ve had a dream whispering to your heart, this message is for you. If you are in need of hearing that it’s okay to be afraid, this message is for you.

Advent is all about change. Big, scary, awe-inspiring, God-sized change.

Jon Acuff speaking at Kairos Nashville

Advent: Jesus Right Now

The sun is shining. The sky is bright blue with nary a wisp of cloud. It is 22 degrees outside, but a cozy, crackling fire inside. And yet.

And yet I am preoccupied with worry. It creeps into my mind and I attempt to pray. But this morning I am too easily distracted and so my prayers are stilted. Faltering. Incomplete. With the faltering prayer, I look outside at the sun-soaked day. I sit and watch the fire as its flames flicker and dance.

As my eyes take in the beauty so near to me, my heart reminds me that God is all around me. He is ever present and persistent. He sits with me and comforts me. He knows my needs before I speak them.

But I speak them anyway. It is my small act of faith to his constant faithfulness.

Even though I stumble with words. Even though I cannot keep my mind focused on Jesus, but instead stare at the waves of the storm that surrounds me. Even though fear wells within.

Even still my heart whispers truth to my mind. God’s truth.

God’s truth that God’s promises remain true and that I can trust them. God’s truth that He will not leave me. God’s truth that today I will receive the things I need.

How I need God’s truth. How I crave it. How I long for the coming of the Savior that we will celebrate one day. The second coming. The coming of the Savior that will bring me home.

But for now, I wander through this land, seeking the Star that will lead me back to the first coming of the Savior. The birth of God as a baby. The birth of hope for broken people wrapped in skin. The birth of relationship in the form of God’s Son wrapped in swaddling clothes. The birth of grace for a hurting world wrapped in a mother’s love on a cold night.

The birth of love in the form of the Word made flesh.

I carry these truths like treasures in my heart and I whisper yet another stilted prayer.

Sweet Jesus, my mind turns too easily to worry over money and bills and Christmas gifts for little girls. My mind fills with things over which I have no control. I entertain fear when I should embrace hope. But it is you, Jesus, that I need. When worry creeps into my mind, sweet Jesus, I choose to speak your name.

I choose to give thanks.

I choose to give thanks for the people in my life. I choose to give thanks for the blessings you pour out on me each moment of this day. I choose to thank you for this day’s bread. I choose to thank you that there is food enough for today. I choose to give thanks that there is a warm place for us on this cold day.

I choose to give thanks for peace that passes all understanding.

I choose.

I choose this Advent journey to Bethlehem. I choose to cradle joy in my heart.

If I am to prepare my heart, my life, my mind for Christmas, I must choose you, Jesus. Right now. Only then can I banish fear and ward off worry. Your perfect love casts out all fear, all worry.

Your presence bids me to rest in you. And really, what more do I need right now?

Advent: The Risk of Faith

During this Advent season, when I consider the challenges of modern marriages, including my own, I cannot help but reflect on the journey in faith that Mary and Joseph took to Bethlehem, even before they were married. Their arduous physical journey alone is inspiring. Add to that the fact that Mary was nine months pregnant and that Joseph was not the father of her child, and, well, I cannot even begin to imagine or comprehend what was required of this man and this woman.

Perhaps we are all given our own challenge of faith in our marriage journey. Perhaps we are all asked to stand by someone when the culture of the times would demand otherwise. Perhaps we are all asked to walk what seems too many miles when we are tired and uncomfortable and anxious.

Perhaps the beauty of marriage comes from these challenges. Perhaps the beauty is in the faith this marriage journey requires.

The faith it requires of us in each other. The faith it requires of us in ourselves. The faith it requires of us in our God.

And, so, in this second week of Advent, with a focus on Bethlehem and a focus on preparation, I eagerly anticipate what God has planned for my marriage this Christmas. Despite the broken vows, despite the deep hurts, despite the challenges of faith, I believe something amazing and miraculous comes to those who are faithful to the purposes of God. To those who are focused on a life, a marriage, designed by God for the glory of God.

In what ways would the Christmas story be different if Mary or Joseph or both of them had chosen differently? If they had not trusted God. If they had not trusted one another.

I think it is too easy today to take for granted the faith Mary showed in God’s message to her about the Savior’s birth or the faith Joseph demonstrated in the angel’s assurance that he should remain by Mary’s side. Given Mary’s age, given the cultural views, given the unknowns for both of them, the stretch of faith they made but that we so nonchalantly celebrate does not inspire us to similar choices.

But if we take a moment and consider what was asked of this couple, what was required of this man and this woman, how can we not venture forth boldly and faithfully to meet the challenges our marriage journey asks of us.

Would it be easier to quit? Maybe. Would it be easier to refuse the arduous, life-changing journey for the safety of life as usual? Probably. Would it be easier to settle for the world’s design and expectations of marriage rather than pursue God’s ideal and design. More than likely.

But it is only to those who accept the risks that faith calls us to who enjoy the miracle of Jesus.

And that it definitely something I want in my life. And my marriage.

Advent: The Heart of Christmas

Today, Sunday, begins the second week of Advent. If you are someone who lights the candles of an Advent wreath, you know that today we light a purple candle, sometimes called the Bethlehem candle or the candle of preparation.

Bethlehem. The place where God entered the world. The place where a teenaged girl and her husband-to-be searched through darkened streets bone weary tired for a place to spend the night. The place of shepherds and angels and mangers and good news and glad tidings.

The place of redemption. And reconciliation.

The place of God with us.

Bethlehem.

This afternoon, my almost-six-year-old heard a song that referred to Bethlehem and Jesus.

“Mama,” she begins, “why was Jesus in Bethlehem?”

“Because that is where he was born.”

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem?” she asks.

“Yes. Just like you were born in Cincinnati and your sister was born in Pawtucket.”

“Why was he born in Bethlehem,” she asks again and I smile. She no longer asks why he was born, instead she asks why there.

She has already concluded for herself that because Jesus is God that Jesus sent himself to be born.

She has already acknowledged that Jesus lives in our hearts.

She has already begun to understand that Jesus still loves her even when she isn’t quite so nice to her little sister; that he doesn’t vacate her heart because of what she does, but that he loves her because of who she is.

To this sweet little girl, Bethlehem could just as easily been one town over from us. She is fascinated by the story of his coming. She is delighted in him.

“Christmas really begins with Jesus,” she tells me tonight as we arranged the pieces of our nativity set. “And Christmas is about sharing.”

That God uses the heart and the words of my little girl to speak truth to my heart never comes without awe from me. Those words of truth remind, convict and encourage.

They remind me that my heart is Bethlehem this Christmas; it’s where the good news and glad tidings overflow in anticipation of celebrating a baby’s birth.

They convict me that even when I worry about gifts and wrappings and cluttered spaces, those are not nearly as important as the people with whom I get to celebrate Christmas.

They encourage me to prepare my heart, not just my home, for Christmas.

And so I pause, in the moments after the nativity is arranged and the girls are standing looking into the stable at the baby Jesus, and I whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for where I am, for who I am with this Christmas, especially my husband, and for who I am becoming.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep the Angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His Heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee,
Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching
And Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels,
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Advent: A Reflection of Light

{this post is part of Five-Minute Friday at Lisa-Jo Baker}

How it works: Write on one word for five minutes. No editing. {All the details for how to play along are here.}

Today’s word: Reflect…

{Go}

I saw today’s word come through my Twitter feed last night. Then, I saw Lisa-Jo’s post come through and was humbled by her words.

As for my Five-Minute Friday post, I considered how the word, reflect, related to my marriage Advent series. And it came to me as I thought about the way that Jesus came into the world and the way he brought his truth and his healing into our broken world.

Who he was and who he is still takes my breath away. And it is to him that I give all credit for my marriage, all the good, the bad, the messy, the betrayal, the pain, the joy.

He brought David {my husband} into my life after spending a good long time preparing me for that gift. And I still believe that, even now, in the midst of rebuilding and moving forward from the hurt and pain of deception and lies.

I still believe that because God is good.

I still believe that because it is still true that David reflects Jesus to me in ways that nobody else in my life can.

I still believe that because what God planned for good cannot be torn apart by the world or by the enemy or by my emotions.

Because Jesus reflects his light all around my life and I am blessed to reflect that Light to a hurting, broken world. Especially those who may be in the midst of hurting or struggle or less than in their marriage.

I believe that God can work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes.

And I am called. I am called to be a daughter of the King. I am called to be a voice of Truth in the world. I am called to reflect the hope and the peace that only Jesus can provide to a world that hurts and longs for something more.

And so I praise Jesus for right now. I praise him for the gift of my husband and my marriage. I praise Jesus because he showed me the way to do these things.

{stop}

Advent: A Miracle of Truth

Outside it is gray, foggy, somber. Inside, it is warm, cozy, Christmasy. This contrast of the warm glow of Christmas lights to the cloud of mist settled thickly outside my window reminds me of the seeming contradiction of a life lived in faith.

The way that circumstances appear, the way that they seem to stack up like an insurmountable obstacle, stands starkly against the inner presence of Strength, Hope, the Comfort of the Creator, that provides encouragement and assurance.

How is it that in the face of pain, brokenness, unfairness, fear that we can stand strong, radiate hope, whisper prayers of gratitude, embrace joy?

By faith alone.

Only because of Jesus.

I have waxed and waned in my trust and hope. But in the waxing moments, the extraordinary power and presence of Jesus in the midst of my circumstances has provided me recollection enough to pursue him when my faith wanes. Those memories remind me that faith is not a feeling and that faith does not depend on my emotions.

Jesus’ eternal love, his merciful grace, his omnipotent presence do not depend on my emotions.

Faith just is. Jesus is, was, always will be.

And I am more than thankful that none of it depends on me. On my ability. On my strength. And I remain more than thankful that Jesus has revealed himself to me in mighty and powerful ways in past moments. Moments of despair and desperation and moments of jubilance and celebration.

Which is why, in a circumstance of betrayal and deception, in a circumstance that would cause many to pause and consider walking away, I choose to stay where I am. I choose to believe that God will cause all things to work together for good. I choose to focus on, to cling to God’s promises and trust his providence.

Love is a choice. Marriage is not easy. Both require much from those who choose to enter into them. And to whom much is given, much will be expected. And I have indeed been given much: two amazing little girls and an amazing husband. Is he flawed? Absolutely. Because he is human. I, too, am flawed.

But that’s where Jesus enters in. In fact, that is why Jesus entered in. Why he came into the world as a lowly babe. Born a child and yet a King. A King to enter into our lives. To enter into our hearts.

To enter into our brokenness and make us whole. Including a broken, flawed marriage. Such knowledge is to wonderful for me. But it is beautiful. And it is truth.

It likely will not make sense to the world. Faith rarely does. But fortunately, what Jesus has done, what Jesus does, what Jesus will do, does not rely on what the world thinks or believes or perceives.

Because Jesus is, was, always will be. And that is the miracle of Christmas for me.

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.