Advent Week 3 – A Very Ordinary Life – Joy

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“Don’t be put off by the ordinariness of the means of joy, for in that ordinariness is hidden the extraordinary riches of the Gospel.”  Tim Keller, Hidden Christmas

For years I was the “run into Target for one thing, spend $100″ girl. I need this shirt, laundry detergent, a 500 pack of cards, and new measuring cups.

But then job leads dry up and so do needless shopping trips. Unemployment squeezes a lot of unnecessary out of a life.

Not too long ago, I walked into Target for the first time in nearly a year. It felt like coming back to a hometown. I knew how to navigate the aisles, but it was all so foreign.

I stayed away from Target like an alcoholic stays away from a bar. Pennies were ruthlessly counted. Retail emails had to go. I counted up how many hours I would need to work at my part-time job to pay my bills. I bought travel size toothpaste and laundry detergent with the hope that by next paycheck, I would have enough for more. One month, I slipped my rent check in the mailbox and was so overwhelmed with gratitude, I welled up with a flood of tears. I didn’t think I would have enough. I didn’t think I would make it.

(Pause: I understand how very first-world this is. I know thousands of people across the country–not to speak of the millions of people in the world who will never even know the provision of having bills to pay–live this way every day and I feel your weariness in just a small way. If I could carry every burden, to ease this for just a bit, I would. I see you.)

A lot of glitter fell off my life in those months. That’s ok. I was never meant to wear a ton of it anyway.

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Advent Week 2 – If your heart is pierced through this Christmas – Love

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Last Christmas, because of extended unemployment and a dwindling bank account, I left my apartment and moved in with generous friends who have a spare room and even bigger hearts. I spent my days working a part-time retail job and padding around their house trying to will myself to open LinkedIn for yet another day.

One morning the house was quiet, the Christmas tree up, it was raining outside, and I sat down by the fireplace with a cup of coffee and a book I wanted to finish. Hurting and weary, sitting on the floor by that tree was the only thing I could muster up that day.

I believe with all my heart that season of unemployment was ordained. I was intended to sit on the sidelines for a while. The need to produce, drive and succeed needed to die and it was a slow fade. To date, this was the hardest season of my life.

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I hope we can hope again – An Advent Celebration

pexels-photo-383646“That’s the sacred intent of life, of God – to move us continuously toward growth, toward recovering all that is lost and orphaned within us and restoring the divine image imprinted on our soul. And rarely do significant shifts come without a sense of our being lost in dark woods..” – Sue Monk Kidd

I have a tiny tree this year. Wreaths and candles in the windows. I even have Christmas decorations in the bathroom. It’s all set.

An Advent candle wreath was a new addition last Christmas, the year I decided that instead of wagging an angry finger at decades of waiting, I would embrace this season. I joined thousands of others in lighting the candles to commemorate eons of longing for what was most wanted.

Advent – waiting with anticipation, “coming” in Latin.

Throw a rock in LifeWay and you’ll hit an Advent devotional – readings for these four weeks leading up to Christmas. Weeks of quiet, stillness, lighting candles, remembering how much the world groaned under the weight of waiting, hoping, longing. Why in the world do we need to embrace that?

Honestly, this practice confounded me. Mostly because Advent is tinged with the hardest and tenderest parts of life – waiting, hoping, longing, silence, stillness. To make peace with pleading prayers and long-dead dreams has never been something I wanted to chase down.

Many of us are starting down years of silence. Many of us have heard whispered dreams and are hoping for something not yet here. A thousand times we’ve given up.

And yet we still believe this isn’t all. But we can’t quite stomach a belief in anything more than what is in front of us. Here we all land in these weeks before Christmas, weeks we have set aside to remember we are all waiting. Nothing is completely finished. Nothing is completely fulfilled. In the face of years of silence, we are scared to hope in anything greater. We’ve become Sara laughing at the absurdity of the promise. Who can blame us?

Soon we will enter into the story of Mary and Joseph who have only ever heard tale of God’s voice but believed him all the same. Of Elizabeth and Zechariah who had all but given up, yet were still at the temple, still faithful in the only way they could barely eek out. And Simeon, who was waiting in Jerusalem and believed this baby who came to his door would save his soul.

But before all of this, there was white silence.

These weeks as we march up to this story of a census, manger, innkeeper, angel choir and mighty baby, let’s honor the waiting. Let us peel back the promise for just a second and remember what it is like to not hear, not see, not know. Let us honor the faith that builds only through heart-sick hope.

I am not an expert in anything, not the smartest, most refined person to know. Most days I feel like the cheese is barely on the cracker. But I have been waiting a long time for many, many things. In fact, I’m not entirely sure I can point to one area of my life in which I am not waiting. I’ve spent years mourning what I did not have while nearly missing the faith the Lord was building in me – the sturdy kind that won’t break when things like careers, relationships and hearts break. That brand of faith can only come from watching and waiting.

Over the next four weeks, I simply want to tell a few stories to celebrate the pillars of Advent – Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. I want to pull tender, often hidden parts of life, into the light and pray they will strengthen weak faith and renew abandoned hope.

I hope you will come along. Just one story a week, the first one will post this Wednesday.

I hope we all can hope again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you’ve ever been bruised, bloody and pushed back out to fight again….

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The day I left my job at NewSpring, Katelyn knocked on my door with a bag full of Chick-Fil-A stress food. I was in shock, not yet as sad as would be, not yet feeling anything. I believe I cried a bit, but nothing like what would come.

I lived in a condo on Lake Hartwell and the living room faced the water. Katelyn sat on one couch, me on the other. I remember staring at the water. I just remember looking through the trees at the water.

I worked at NewSpring for nearly eight years. I tight-fisted that idol-job until it broke me. I sported the self-inflicted wounds of pride, perfectionism, fear and I can still smell the relational carnage I left in my wake.

Now, here we were on a day in mid-March watching the sunset over the water, taking the tiniest steps toward healing. Food wrappers littered around and the light fading away, Katelyn broke a silence.

“Do you want an easy life or do you want a better story?”

“A better story,” I said.

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He Said We Would Not Lose A Single One – On the truths greater than the trouble

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“He said we would not lose a single one,” he said.

On the second story balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean, Pastor Vincent looks like a small, giant of a man. Dressed in khaki pants and a white, button down, gauzey shirt, he is smiling so wide his eyes disappear. HIs wife quietly comes in and out. His daughter sits at a table inside working through a book of math problems.

It was hot and humid, but the church building is positioned to catch the wind, as are most coastal structures in India. The sand is white, palm tress shoot up through the beach, the ocean is less than a quarter mile away from where we stand. In the distance, horizon meets water. Though this scene is pristine enough to be anywhere in the world – Rio, the Virgin Islands – this is India and just a short time before, the ocean gobbled up every bit of life in its wake, somehow ignoring the few dozen people in Pastor Vincent’s church. Because as Pastor Vincent said, “He said we would not lose a single one.”

In Hindu-rich southern India, a church like All For Jesus is rare. Temples populate the villages as frequently as open air markets. In the event a person cannot make it to a temple, there are small, roadside shrines to various Hindu deities. Like a strange version of a drive through window. Jesus loving churches so few in number the ones that are in each community are treasured. Almost all attendees walk to attend on a Sunday, some walking as many has 12 or more miles. No one drives. There are a few bikes and rickshaws parked in front.

There is a desperate hope in the people. It is Sysiphian, their mission. Against shelves of Hindu gods, the temptation is to take Jesus and place him next to the hundreds of others. Your Jesus? He can sit here with all the other tiny multiarm statues. He is a safe, a good idea, rather than Savior of the world. The country is full of people with ash on their foreheads and red strings around their waists. At times, Indian Christians can feel the weight of the boulder rolling back down the hill.

But holding up faith in the face of an mountain builds muscle. There is a belief here that is sturdy and tried, that despite all that surrounds them, Jesus is better. He is better because he HAS to be better.

And in the midst of this, the ocean raged.

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The 2004 tsunami barreled through South Asia on a Sunday. Pastor Vincent was preaching to a full church building. Men, women and children were all sitting on the floor of a first story, small, open room. It was then that Pastor Vincent’s wife noticed what only a life-long astute coastal dweller could notice. All the animals – and there are lot of them on the streets in a reincarnated believing country – were retreating away from the ocean. It was not raining. The sky was not dark. But something was happening and it was not good. And in that instant, the Holy Spirit spoke to her and told her to send all the people home. She steps up to her husband, pauses the service, and sounds the warning.

“If you can make it home quickly, please start walking now. If you cannot, stay here and go to the second story. And we will all pray,” he recalls telling the church.

A little less than half the church stayed, waiting out the storm winds and water. Everyone else walked home.

And while the bottom floor of the church flooded, the Lord spoke to Pastor Vincent. “He said we would not lose a single one.”


Just outside of Valankanni, India, there is a mass grave of hundreds of mystic pilgrims. They traveled from all over the world to fulfill the once in a lifetime requirement of their faith, much like Muslims to Mecca. They were ritualistically bathing in the Indian Ocean the morning of the tsunami in 2004. All died and whether is was too hard to transport their bodies back home or if they simply could not find or identify them all, a mass grave was constructed. It is estimated over 300 people are buried there. The grave sits a few miles from All For Jesus, the church Vincent pastors.

It is hard to recall now amid the wars, refugee crisis and countless of other natural disasters, but in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami stories abounded of people stranded for days without food or clean water. Entire villages misplaced. Fear, fear, fear.

What must it be like to take inventory? What must it be like in the days following to wonder if the promise spoken was true. She is missing. He is barely holding on. What is it like to believe against all hope.


And in the waiting and believing, the stories came. She was stuck in the branches of a palm tree for several days without food or water, but as the water resided, famished and dehydrated, she climbed down very much still alive.  A mother was caught in the current of the waves, clutching her two small children. Her infant was washed completely out of her arms. Many waves later, the baby floats back to her waterlogged but mostly unharmed. Story after story after story. Miracle after miracle. Though seemingly unprotected and vulnerable, all lived, all survived. Not a single precious one was lost.

The grave they all pass on their way to worship is a reminder. Not all made it. Mercy is real.


A while later, on the church balcony overlooking the very Indian Ocean that puffed up her chest and marked her territory, Pastor Vincent recounts the storm but more than the terror, he talks about faith. He talks about believing against all we can see. Living this close to the ocean that tore apart so much life, is this like coexisting in a home with a pet that bites? Isn’t there fear she will show her teeth again? No, not when the story isn’t about the destruction or the fear. The story is about trust and a Father that gives both the faith to believe the promises spoken in the midst of the storm and the protection to make them so.