Heart · Holidays

How We are Celebrating Advent with Waiting

Back in August, I read that in some liturgical traditions, they don’t begin to decorate or celebrate Christmas itself until December 24 or 25. These weeks between Thanksgiving and the celebration of our Savior’s birth are reserved for waiting.

As the calendar neared December, and I started planning the ways we would observe the holidays as a family, I kept coming back to the idea of waiting until it was actually Christmas to do any celebrating.

My temptation is always to try to do too much. Other familys’ traditions all sound so wonderful, I’m afraid to leave anything out. I want to make Christmas candy and bake a birthday cake for Jesus, and go to all the parties, and teach my kids about Hanukkah, and go caroling, and celebrate St. Nicholas day, and do an advent wreath, and attend a cookie swap, and make a Jesse tree.

But I can’t do all of it. So as I sifted through all the ideas and my own desires, I wondered: what would it look like for our family to obverse Advent as a time of waiting?

To intentionally delay our celebrations and live in the tension of the now-and-not-yet Kingdom of God?

To seek out reminders that this world is not our home?

To store up treasures in heaven instead of earth?

I couldn’t move my friends’ parties, obviously, or ask the city park to wait six more weeks to put up their lights. And I could only avoid Caleb and Garrett seeing the Christmas displays at Walmart for so long. But I could figure out ways to bring an intentional waiting into our home.

As it turns out, forgoing the holiday trimmings has been a necessity as much as it was an intentional choice. When everything else is going into boxes, I can’t really justify bringing the Christmas things out of their boxes.

While moving at Christmastime has been stressful, I couldn’t ask for a more poignant reminder of waiting.

Truth be told, we’ve been waiting all year for the Lord to move in one way or another. Back in January, we had revival services at our church, and we knew then that this year was going to be a hard one of transition for our family. When we finally sensed the Lord leading us to close our church plant, we did so in faith, not knowing what would be next for us. When we sensed His leading to Nashville, we put our current house on the market, and made an offer on one in Tennessee.

Now, even though we have two houses under contract, the closing dates keep shifting, and the Lord is still, after eleven months, saying wait.

We are doing a few small things as a family to look to Jesus in this season, to anticipate His coming and joy that will be ours on Christmas Day:

We are unwrapping and reading one new Christmas picture book each day. (I’ve discovered a bunch of new-to-me treasures this year; I’ll share a full list of what we’re reading soon!)

We are lighting Advent candles every morning at breakfast.

We are listening to music that reminds us of the yearning the Israelites felt for the coming Messiah.

And tonight, we will begin this Christmas devotional during story time before bed.

That’s it.

Christmas is in twenty-four days, and I’m not exaggerating a bit when I say I do not know where we will wake up on Christmas morning. We could still be in our familiar Ozark home. We could be in our new house in Nashville. We could be somewhere in between. I really don’t know. I don’t know if we will have a chance to put up a tree or not.

God knows, though, our job for now (for always) is simply to wait on Him.

We won’t have to wait forever. At just the right time, Jesus came and broke the 400-year silence of God towards His people. When the time is right, He will come back for his church. And at some point in the meantime, I do believe that we will eventually, finally, get to Nashville.

But for today, we wait.


I know many of you are still praying for our family as we walk through time of transition. Thank you so much. Now that I’ve shared where we are at, I want to know: how are you celebrating Christmas with your family this year? 

Heart · Holidays

The First Whisper of Christmas

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Today is December 1st. The big meal and big deals are behind us. We started lighting advent candles at our dinner table two nights ago, and tonight, at bedtime, we will crack open a brand-new storybook that will carry us through these next 24 days, tracing the family of Jesus, the promised Messiah.

It begins with the promise that God made to Israel, through the prophet Isaiah:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD–and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. 
“He will not judge by what he see with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the people; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious.” Isaiah 11:1-10

This is what the whole Old Testament has been leading up to, what all of creation itself has been waiting for since Adam and Eve took that very first bite of sin. This is where we place our hope, this Coming One, who will reconcile us to God and bring us peace.

My advent devotional reading this morning asked where in my life I was longing for a tender shoot of hope, and I wanted to ask back, “where am I not longing for hope?” Two thousand fifteen has been, without question, the hardest year I’ve had yet. Truthfully, there’s a large part of my heart that would be willing to box up the tree and skip right over this season and right into a new year.

This year has been a year of circling the story of Elijah. There’s the story of Mt. Carmel, when God answers Elijah’s simple but faith-filled prayer by sending fire from heaven. It is, to my mind, one the most astounding miracles in the whole BIble–this fire that burns up soaked wood and laps the water filling the trench beside it.

But that’s not the story I keep coming back to. In the aftermath of that miracle, Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah, since he killed her false prophets.

And Elijah is DONE.

“He came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD.’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.'” 1 Kings 19:4

It is this story that I kept coming back to.

“I have had enough, Lord,” I prayed in April.

Then we put our dog to sleep.

“I’ve had enough.”

My son, who is about to start kindergarten, can’t stop having accidents.

“I’ve had enough.”

Attendance numbers at our church leave me feeling discouraged.

“I’ve had enough.”

My doctor can’t figure out why the medicine isn’t helping my asthma, and in the meantime, I can’t walk a block without getting winded.

“I’ve had enough.”

My friends move away.

“I’ve had enough.”

Hurt. Betrayal. Loss. Failure. Fear.

“I’ve had enough.”

Every single thing that happened, small or large, felt like the last straw, and I would kneel in my bedroom and read this story and pour my heart out before the Lord.

Like the people of Israel waiting for a political Messiah to throw off Roman oppression, I want Jesus to come in big and loud and rescue me out of this mess. I want God to be in the mighty wind or the earthquake or the fire. But that isn’t how God appeared to Elijah, and it’s not how he appears to us.

“After the fire came a gentle whisper.” 1 Kings 19:12

“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and place him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

All year long, I’ve been begging God to come and change my circumstances. But instead, he offers to come in quiet and small, and change me.

Come, thou long-expected Jesus.

 

Heart · Holidays

What it Means To Celebrate Freedom

God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her, through the night with a light from above. 

I was at a church service on 4th of July weekend a number of years ago, where we sang this, along with a handful of other patriotic hymns, such as America the Beautiful and Battle Hymn of the Republic. About halfway through the set of songs, I looked around the room and was surprised to see a number of people with their hands in the air.

I’m from a charismatic background, so it’s not strange or surprising to me to see people lifting their hands as they sing a worship song. But we weren’t singing worship songs. At least not to Jesus.

Are these people even listening to what they’re singing? I wondered. Are we so accustomed to raising our hands simply because a song is slow and moving, that we’ll do it no matter what the song is about? Or are they intentionally raising their hands to this land, this nation, this government that was formed by human hands?

Neither answer makes me feel any better. In fact, both are terrifying. Whether we are worshiping America on accident or on purpose, it’s still idolatry.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love this county. I will help my kids play with sparklers in the driveway today, and then go see a fireworks display later tonight. I will have my hand right next to my beating heart if they pledge allegiance to our flag, or if they sing the national anthem. I will probably cry if they play “God Bless America.”

I count myself blessed to have been born under the stars and stripes, a nation affluent enough that we never went hungry, even when we were poor, and progressive enough that I received a free education even though I am woman. It’s not because of anything good that I did that I was born an American. I am so very, very blessed. And I love this nation that I call my “home” for now.

But I love my Jesus more. 

If America falls apart tomorrow, I won’t lose my identity, because I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).

If God calls my family to leave America to proclaim the gospel in a foreign land, we’ll be okay, because we are already strangers and aliens in this world (1 Peter 2:11).

And if I begin losing the civil liberties that are currently afforded me as an American, it doesn’t matter, because I am free in a way that has nothing to do with the Bill of Rights (2 Corinthians 3:17).

If in the days to come, the government begins to take away from me my free speech, my right to peaceably assemble, my right to bear arms, my protection against unlawful search and seizure, even my right to vote, it’s not going to shake the core of who I am. Jesus promised us that in this world we would face trouble, and that if we choose to follow him, people will hate us in the same way that they hated him (John 15:18).

For today, my right to worship whatever God I choose is protected under our government. But if that went away tomorrow, if the government decided that my proclamation of Jesus Christ as Lord was grounds for my detainment, torture, or even execution, it wouldn’t ultimately be the end of me, because I have already died with Christ and have secured eternal life through his resurrection (Colossians 3:3).

I will celebrate America today. I’ll read my kids the Declaration of Independence and teach them about the America our forefathers envisioned.

But freedom? I will celebrate that every day. Because my freedom doesn’t come from the White House. It comes from Calvary.

Church · Holidays

Why I’m wearing the Same Thing I Wore Last Easter (And it’s Not a Dress)

Easter Sunday

This is me last Easter. I wore jeans to church, and I did it on purpose. It was my first Easter as the pastor’s wife of the congregation we lead in Ozark.

I like dresses and skirts, don’t get me wrong. I wear them on a pretty regular basis on days that aren’t Sunday, and even sometimes to church. I also wear jeans to church a lot. Our church has a very casual dress style, mostly because that’s how my husband, Jason, likes to dress. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen him in a tie in the almost 8 years we’ve known each other, and they’ve all been very solemn occasions: weddings, funerals, ordinations, etc. But for the average Sundays, a button-down shirt and jeans is his idea of “dressed up.” And that’s okay with me. I’m not a big fan of dress codes, either, and while I like to dress up more than he does, I would probably bristle at having to be in a church where the pastor’s wife was expected to be in a dress and pantyhose every Sunday.

But Easter is its own thing, and I LOVE dressing up for Easter. It was always an occasion in our house growing up. We would go to the store and pick out dresses (or in the leaner years, fabric) and then wait anxiously for forever with that pretty dress hanging in the closet until FINALLY it was Easter Sunday, and we could put it on, complete with new tights, white shoes, and a few times, a hat. And back then, by the time Easter rolled around I usually legitimately needed a new dress – being a growing child and all.

But now that I’m an adult, I admit, I still like picking out a little something new for myself for Easter. One of my favorite dresses to this date is one I bought for Easter when Jason and I were newly married. And then there were two years in a row when I was pregnant on Easter, and finding a pretty maternity dress those two springs went a long way in boosting my attitude and ability to be at peace with my growing belly. Two years ago on Easter, I was nursing Garrett, and I wanted to be able to wear a dress really badly, but I didn’t have any that were nursing-friendly.

So then last year rolled around. I was planning (and excited) to wear a dress. I hadn’t even really thought about it all that much. I could, I wanted to, and so I was going to. But a few days before Easter, I began to feel the Holy Spirit stirring up something inside me about that choice.

Being a pastor’s wife is not for the faint of heart. A lot of people in that role assume some unnecessary pressure and let the weight of people’s expectations for them dictate their every decision, and I agree that this is not healthy. But at the same time, you can’t be in that role and expect to have zero influence on people’s perceptions and expectations for the church.

People tend to wear their very best on Easter. As I toyed with the idea of wearing jeans on Easter Sunday, I was a little worried – would I be the only one? That’s when it hit me – Easter is also a Sunday when people who do not regularly attend church are most likely to set foot through your doors. And I knew in that moment that if someone visited our church in jeans on Easter, I most certainly didn’t want them to be the only one.

I remember getting ready on Easter morning last year, still a little self-conscious about my choice. I’m not completely above the superficial side of myself. But what’s funny is, almost a year later, I have no memory of whether anyone else was in jeans that morning. After all the mental debate last year, I must have ended up being totally comfortable with my decision to wear jeans.

So as I started planning things for Easter this year, I settled on jeans without even thinking about it. But the more I read and studied during the season of Lent, meditating on what it means to go without, to fast, and to deny oneself things that very well may be your right, as Jesus did, the more and more I came to this conclusion: I don’t need anything new to wear.

I’m not that 7-year-old little girl who outgrew last year’s Easter dress anymore. The clothes I wore to our last Easter service still fit me, and by some miracle they have survived several rounds of closet purges in the last 12 months. So I’m not going to try to find anything different. This year, I am planning to wear the exact same thing I wore last year.

Now, if you buy a new dress to wear to church, do I think there’s anything wrong with that? Of course not. This is about thinking through my unique position in my own church, and what God is doing in me right now. I just want to leverage the little bit of influence I have to proclaim the message to anyone who walks through our doors that they can come exactly as they are to the foot of the cross. And I know my own tendency to focus on everything except what Easter is really about, and I want to leave as much room as possible in my mind and my heart for God to move and speak and resurrect as He chooses.

Because I don’t want to get something new for the outside at the expense of God doing something new inside me.

I hope you all have a great Easter, regardless of where you go and what you wear. And if you live in the Springfield metro area and don’t have anywhere to go on Easter, we would love for you to join us at Life360 Ozark!

Heart · Holidays

Why I’m still listening to Christmas music

I know my mom will be appalled, but I have a confession to make:

It’s February, and I’m still listening to Christmas music.

Let me explain myself. By the end of December, I am usually ready to say goodbye to to all things Christmas. The stockings and lights and parties and candy canes have had their month in the limelight and I itch to start January with a clean slate, a lighter diet, and freer schedule.

This year was no exception. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever been as anxious to see Christmas behind me as I was in 2013.

For some reason that Jason and I have not quite been able to articulate yet, we found this Christmas to be one of the most stressful, complicated, and overwhelming holidays we have faced as a couple (or perhaps ever). It was probably a combination of the weather’s unpredictability, the ping-pong feeling of bouncing back and forth between home and the various celebrations, and the sheer vastness of the stuff that our kids received this year. Those things, coupled with the normal way that tensions and expectations run high over the month of December made us feel that this year, Christmas just drained the life out of us.

So when January 1 rolled around, the tree was already in the attic, the house had been swept clean of all the junk we’d been pigging out on for weeks, and it felt like we all just took one huge sigh of relief. I’ve put all of Christmas behind me, save for one thing: a playlist on my phone I’ve called “Christmas worship.”

One of the things I feel that, unfortunately, we did not do well in December was to spend time stilling our hearts long enough to focus on the image of Jesus in the manger, to remember that he came, and to receive the peace he came to give us. I don’t want to throw that baby out with the bathwater of everything I was so tired of by December 28. So I find myself, more than ever, irresistibly drawn to songs that remind me that that stuff’s not Christmas. Jesus is.

So yes, I’m still listening to Christmas music. Because my soul still needs to hear words like these:

From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in thee
(“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” Matt Redman & Christy Nockels)

And these:

God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the infant light
(“Come and Worship,” Bebo Norman)

And these:

We’re not that far from Bethlehem
Where all our hope and joy began
(“Not that far from Bethlehem,” Point of Grace)

And these:

Rejoice, rejoice
Emmanuel shall come to thee
O Israel, rejoice
(“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” Stephen Curtis Chapman)

I still need to remember that Jesus did not come as an infant to give me a parade with free candy, and lit-up snowmen in the park, and hot chocolate, and packages wrapped in red and green paper, as wonderful as all of those things are. He came to reconcile me to God. He came so that I, sinful as I am, would have a way into the Father’s presence. He came to be God with me.

And I don’t ever want to stop celebrating that.

Heart · Holidays

Advent

At work today, I overheard a lady say that she was so sick of everything, she wished Christmas just wouldn’t come.

I was heartbroken for her. 

On the one hand, I totally get it. My to-do list is long, too, and my wallet is starting to wear a little thin as we buy up the last few things we feel we need. I understand the stress of managing family obligations and expectations and the tug of covetous desire warring against the cry of our hearts to throw off the materialism just for a moment. 

If I thought all that was what Christmas was, I might wish it would not come also.

In my home are two little boys who have landed squarely on the other end of that spectrum. They are driven crazy with anticipation and hardly unable to stand the waiting. In fact, on Thursday, Caleb simply decided for himself that it was Christmas, and had opened two presents before I was able to make it into the living room and effectively kill all their joy. Now we have a calendar on the refrigerator that we reference almost every hour to see how many more Xs we have to make until we get to the box with the 25 in it. 

And I get that, too. 

I get the pull of wanting something that will be yours but you aren’t allowed to have yet. I get the desperation for the waiting to be over, to cry out incessantly, “how much longer?,” because I’ve been there, too.

And that is why we MUST have Christmas. It was into a world of busy-ness and work and impossible expectations that Christ came and said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

The law was a burden the people of Israel could not bear. It told them what to do and how to live and they could never measure up. And then in the 400 years of God’s silence, the Pharisees studied those laws and heaped more and more rules upon the people’s already burdened shoulders. They had to much to do and they couldn’t take it. So they cried out to God. Over and over, the prayers of the righteous could be heard. Righteous and devout men like Simon, who were waiting for the consolation of Israel. Their prayers rose up to the throne of God, crying out “how long, Lord? How much longer?” 

And then the waiting was over. 

Christ came.

He came.

Our Messiah came to us. To end the waiting. To give us relief from our burdens.

So as we look forward to this Christmas, as our calendars point to December 25, and as we turn our longings toward the blessed hope, that second Advent in which we eagerly anticipate the day when Jesus will appear in the sky and call his church home, we can still rejoice with Simon because Christ has already come.

Even with the groaning the earth makes as it waits for redemption. Even as we still do battle with sin. Even as we experience pain and grief and shame in this broken world. Christ has already come, and he is with us now.

We don’t have to wish Christmas away. We don’t have to wait for it. We can experience the hope and joy and peace and love of Christmas today.

“For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people. a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:30-32