When Advent Doesn’t End at Christmas

Sometimes the Christmas season is my least favorite time of the year. It’s busy. It’s chaotic. It’s an all out fight to slow down enough to even consider Jesus.

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And then before you know it, it’s the middle of December and you’re behind on all four advent plans you started at the beginning of the month with good intentions to make this season different, you have absolutely no gifts for anyone on your list, and the days seem to get longer and harder.

No matter how many years pass, there’s still a sense of grief and loss and something missing.

And then as you honestly lament – with a rawness that surprises you – the grief and suffering that tends to fill-up and take over this season that should be characterized by pure joy, one of your dear friends says it so well … this season is hard for many.

You’re not alone in this.

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It’s the first Christmas after a tragedy or a loss. Or it’s the tenth Christmas after those same events. It’s when family trauma and fighting becomes unbearable. It’s when brokenness becomes most evident. It’s when struggles and doubts about faith rise to the surface. It’s when the core of one’s faith is most deeply questioned.

Yes, Christmas by our standards is hard.

But advent? This same season that is characterized by expectation, waiting, anticipation, longing, and hope?

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I’ve always been fascinated with and deeply moved by the incarnate Christ. By this Emmanuel who literally made himself one of us, to walk and dwell among us. To save us, yes. But also … just to be with us.

And I am blown away by this reality over and over again. And blown away further still by the promise of his presence with us always.

But advent is new this year. Because in this particular season of advent, I see beyond the coming of a newborn King to the small town of Bethlehem.

Advent doesn’t end at Christmas. Advent is my life.

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And just as I’m learning to recognize and be grateful for the small and simple moments of wonder and hope that characterize this Christmas season, I’m also recognizing that the waiting, the longing, the expectation, the anticipation and the hope make up every other day of the year.

These things that we call advent are the things I understand. These things that we call advent deeply move me. These things that we call advent are the things with which I most identify.

Because it is in this season of advent, perhaps more than any other, that we remember all is fulfilled and satisfied in Christ. This Emmanuel who became one of us.

And as I continue to read the advent plans this year, likely well into January, I can’t help but be left deeply humbled, amazed, and awed. I’m beginning to fall in love with the wonder and the mystery in the tension between the grief and the joy, the sorrow and the triumph, the suffering and the victory in the everyday of this life.

Because it is this very tension, this very intermingling of seemingly opposite emotions that run deeper than I know how to fully grasp, that leads me to the absolute edge of myself and straight into the presence of my Savior.

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And this Savior is with me now. But the full reality of his presence has yet to be realized. Because a tangible eternity with him is still coming.

And there’s hope in the waiting, the longing, the expectation for that day. The day I’ll be with him forever. The day I’ll be home and all longings will cease. The day when advent ends and all will be realized in the coming of our king.

But for now, I embrace this extended season of advent, the one that doesn’t end at Christmas, the one that makes up the everyday of this life, and I continue to find the rest that my whole being so desperately craves in the One who dwelt among us then, lives with us still, and is coming again.

Prone to Wander

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.”

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I don’t want those well-known hymn lyrics to be true of me. But every time I sing them, especially recently, they resonate so deeply within the depths of my being, and I know that they are.

I am prone to wander.

I am prone to leave.

There’s a battle being waged between my flesh and my spirit.

And at certain times, it becomes particularly intense.

It takes my heart and mind and energy and all.

But why does this battle – this sometimes all out fight – so often surprise me? Why does it still catch me off guard?

Isn’t this what I was promised in Scripture? Isn’t this what I was guaranteed?

Not happiness, not material gain, not even the husband that my heart so often longs for and desires.

But battle. Against evil. In the spiritual realm.

This is the guarantee for those who bear the name, the image, of Jesus Christ, for those who identify as his followers.

But in the battle, I also have the promise of his Spirit, his very presence with me, his ultimate and eternal victory, his prevailing purpose.

And from an eternal perspective, isn’t that better?

I don’t like the ugly and painful middle of the battle any more than the next person. I hurt and cry and get angry and so often just plain don’t understand. But I also look back on who HE is and on what HE has done, on his constancy, on his provision, on his faithfulness to his promises, and I still want this life.

This life I live WITH him. This life I live IN him.

And mostly. I still want him.

I still want to follow and trust and obey.

And even that is an absolute testimony to his goodness and grace because that’s not my flesh talking.

If I’m being really honest, in my rawest moments, my flesh just wants out. To be done. To not be held to these standards, to not care so much, to not be sensitive to the needs and hearts around me, to not live under the weight of conviction. To do things my own way.

But that makes me all the more grateful for this Good Shepherd who knows and loves and holds his sheep.

He holds on tight and is faithful to speak the truth when I need to hear it the most.

And even when it’s hard, even when I can barely make it out over the roar of the world’s lies and temptations, I know his voice.

Because I know him.

It’s the voice speaking the truth that I am his. The truth that I am known. The truth that I am loved. The truth that I am redeemed.

And that is truth worth fighting for.

5 Things: Summer 2014 Edition

How is it that the days can feel so incredibly long and exhausting, but then just like that, it’s September 1st (what?!?), and I haven’t blogged for the entire month of August and I don’t really even care because life has been full.

Of hard things and amazing things and God-orchestrated things.

And I just know that those things were more important for this season than showing up in this space. That perhaps this has simply been a season for mostly setting this space aside to lean into Christ and who He is making me to be in this life and for eternity (more like Him…), and sometimes part of that process is laying the unnecessary things down … sometimes for even longer than just a short a season … and keeping my eyes fixed on Him. Oh, how that takes effort and intention sometimes. But it’s always always always worth it.

But it was time to come back. Because I happen to know that many of you look forward to these “5 Things” posts each month, and I have neglected them for the entire summer. Yep. That’s right. The last time I posted one was at the end of May.

So here’s the “5 Things: Summer 2014 Edition”…

5 Things Summer Edition

 

1. I can’t believe I just heard this Keith Getty song for the first time yesterday, but these lyrics are SO powerful and truth-filled (and this is just part of one verse)!!

“Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness…
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.”

2. In light of my angst over major (but good) life changes including a new job and new church (all in one week…), my sister/friend/roommate said:

“The only easy change is a baby’s diaper…”

HA! This might just be the best thing she has EVER said to me!

3. The bug-repelling candle pictured above will go down in the books as one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. Not because it’s extravagant, but because it represents that someone listened to my heart and then listened to the Spirit prompt her to be caring and generous. And that was (and still is) beautiful.

4. Speaking of being generous … it’s my new life goal. Something I’m intentionally focusing on and striving for. I long to be generous with my time, and my money, and my resources. And why have I never acknowledged this (much less written it publicly) as so important and central to who I am in Christ?

5. If you’ve been around this blog for any time at all, it’s no secret that I’m a WORDS girl. I love everything about words, I’m careful with how I choose and use my words, and words just plain mean a lot to me. And every once in a while, the Lord gifts me with friends and mentors who understand that part of me and speak into my heart and life in a way that few others can. These relationships are rare, and when I come across them, I recognize them for the gift that they are and treasure them.

One such relationship – someone who I know as both friend AND mentor – wrote a post about a week ago that spoke to me so deeply about the power of words. She once again reminded me and challenged me to pay attention to the words I choose to speak and the words I choose NOT to speak, and it’s a challenge (wrapped up in a sweet and precious story) that I couldn’t help but pass along … click here to read that post … it’s well worth your time!!

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*linking up with Emily P. Freeman at Chatting at the Sky as we all share different things we learned last month*

 

This Day…

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March 31, 1988 – July 29, 2002

It’s been 12 years. But this day will always feel different.

It will never be just another ordinary Tuesday … or any other day of the week it happens to fall on.

July 29th will always bring with it memories. Good ones. Bad ones. And many more in between.

We all remember a little differently. And every year is a little different from the last.

Sometimes we look at old photos and reminisce, sometimes we talk about the impact of grief, sometimes we dream (literally. and some of those dreams are good, but some of those dreams make us re-live the worst moments all over again.), sometimes we confide that other days are harder than the actual birthdays or anniversaries themselves and that those days catch us off guard, sometimes we talk with friends and compare notes about what exactly we remember from that day 12 years ago, sometimes we ask questions without answers, sometimes we consider what might have been, and sometimes we just sit in silence.

Sometimes grief seems almost holy in the way it draws us near to the presence of Christ out of sheer desperation, and other times it seems most decidedly unholy as it seems to pull us away from that very same presence.

But grief is part of this life.

And this grief on this day, no matter what it looks like, is part of our story.

Even Jesus grieved during his days dwelling among us as the incarnate Christ.

And perhaps the most profound thing Scripture records about his grief is that in his humanity and out of his love, he wept.

So in our grief, we weep and smile and remember.

And on this day, maybe a little more than the one before or the one after, the boy who’s heart and flesh failed before we were ready or prepared is never far from our hearts and minds.

“My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

Sacred and Still

It’s been a month since I’ve shown up in this space. To say something; anything.

And in real time, it’s Saturday morning. In mid-July. A dreary one at that. I’m breaking all of the rules of blogging by posting on such a day, but I couldn’t let this sacred and still moment pass.

Because some gifts were meant for sharing.

To acknowledge that we walk this life together. To encourage each other to press on and press in.

And this is one of those gifts.

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I stepped out on my back deck this morning (one of my very favorite places these days), just outside the sliding glass door to avoid the slow and intermittent falling raindrops, with coffee in hand, and recognized the gift of quietness for what it was. A breath of fresh air. A pause. A sacred and still moment carved out of the emotional rollercoaster of this week.

In other words, rest.

For my body and soul.

And as I continue to lean further into this truth – rest – into this word full of grace and peace that is somehow meant to characterize this year of my life that in many ways feels anything but restful, I’m filled with gratitude.

Toward the One who sees me and knows the deepest parts of me.

Even the parts that I can’t quite name or understand.

Even that parts that I’m not proud of.

In the very moments that I fear I’m just going through the motions of my faith, that I doubt my own sincerity, I can’t deny the intimacy that comes from simply drawing near to the presence of Jesus Christ and staying there. Not because of anything I am or do, but because of who He is, because of what He’s done.

It’s in that place of nearness – through all of the hurt and uncertainty and restlessness – that I acutely feel the Spirit of Christ ministering to me in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. It’s deeper than words can express.

But it’s there that I feel myself learning to trust all over again. Learning to depend on His grace instead of my ability. Learning that only Christ knows and understands me in the way I so desperately long to be known.

And though He knows every good thing along with every horrible thing about me, He still loves me and He still claims me as His own.

I don’t deserve it, but I’m tired of fighting against it.

So I begin to walk forward in confidence once again. Not because of anything I bring to the table, but because of who He tells me I am in the seat He’s already prepared for me there.

And as the sun begins to peek out between the clouds on this day, out of the sacredness and stillness comes newness and possibility and hope.