Wednesday, December 28, 2016

all the favorites: books & posts from 2016

I really don't know where this year has gone. I had high expectations for 2016 to be something special, because I was turning forty (why are new decades such a WEIRD THING, by the way??) and 2016 was the year Morgan and I would celebrate 15 years of marriage (which seems like a lot to everyone except the people who have been married for any number of years over sixteen). I was very "Audrey Hepburn finds love at last in the rain" kind of excited a year ago. Expectations are complicated, though, so I should have known better.

In some ways, 2016 didn't disappoint. Morgan and I got to travel to South Africa for the first time. I love exploring new places with him. I had many chances to speak and preach, which I love doing in increasing amount. And, even though turning turning forty was AWFUL I am grateful it's over, like a big ol' bandaid being ripped off at last. (Incidentally, don't let everyone tell you forty is the new thirty. It isn't AT ALL, unless the old thirty involved massive shifts in metabolism, an increase in your most charming neuroses, sadly diminishing skin quality, and lots of new and bizarre health concerns. In which case, they're totally the same.)

In lots of ways, 2016 was a real dud. Such is life, I suppose. I certainly didn't see the election going the way it did. But I am no political savant, so my naivete should not be surprising.

But this has been a year of unprecedented favor in some ways. I have never felt so lifted by God's grace before, and I end this year with a great deal of gratitude in my soul.

I read some really amazing books this year, too. Just this afternoon, I sat at the kitchen table with my friend Cori and gushed over the stack of seven books I'm loaning her for a trip she's taking this week. (I truly hope my enthusiasm for literature is my geekiest quality.)

I wrote some things this year. I wrote some posts I'm still processing internally. I also wrote six chapters of a book that will probably sell like HOT CAKES to at least a dozen people whenever I finally finish it and get it published. (BTW, if you are a book agent, I promise the dozen people will all buy at least 10,000 copies each. I have lots of friends named Oprah and Bill Gates.** You should totally represent my book!)

As a final farewell to this strange year, here are my favorite books and posts.

I hope you find that God's favor has rested upon you in surprising ways this year, and that His Light is leading onward through all the mysterious grace that 2017 holds for you. May it be your best year yet.

Cheers and Happy New Year, sweet friends.


Favorite Posts from 2016:
Spolier alert: I realized in the car on the way to church that I forgot to put on makeup. (This post could also be called, the day I proved I was exactly that vain.)

Gosh, I love being a mom. But it is so crazy hard to love them this much, be this angry with them when they make bad choices, and still let go a little more every day because they're becoming big people.

Who doesn't love a post about chasing the trash truck in your yoga pants??

Just this, forever and always: "Our love of books isn't just about reading. Books and reading will teach us empathy for others' stories and help us tell our own stories well. This is about the way technology is causing us to lose ourselves and each other a little bit, because we are more engaged with people on the internet than we are with the people right in front of us..."

I long for justice and unity in the area of race. I have too many friends with brown and black skin who are hurting and afraid right now. I carry their stories and I will not forget them, or that Jesus has carried all of us in the most amazing ways.  "When Jesus carried the cross to Calvary, everyone could see He was carrying death, but only He knew He also carried the greatest gift of life on His back. He carried death so He could end its reign on earth, and life so He could lavish it upon the children of God for all the evers that ever will be. If we look away or fall asleep, we might miss our chance join Him in living for the sake of true Love...."

This is my heart as clearly as I can put it out there. I am clinging to my people more than I ever have before here at the end of 2016. I have learned this year that we only really heal in community. My natural and spiritual family are essential on my path to eternity, and I am grateful for all the people who let me be who God made me to be, and who love me unconditionally. 

Favorite Books from 2016:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This tale of a dysfunctional family was FUN. I finished it in about two days and then immediately loaned it to a friend. It's a good poolside/beach/sit and enjoy a book read. I liked it as much as What Alice Forgot, and to me, they're super similar in experience, although different in structure.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
What can I say about this? It's moving and meaningful, full of poetic language and science, too, which was really intriguing. Some tragic emements of the story made me angry, which may mean the author did a great job helping me to care too much about the characters. It's WW2 Historical fiction, and I would say that if you liked the Book Thief, you will like this, too.

An Altar in the World and Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor 
One of my dreams in life is to meet BBT. When I read her words, I feel like I've found a friend who understands how much I love Jesus. She encourages me with our similarities, and challenges me with our differences. I'm a better human after reading her books.

 A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. 
Backman writes beautifully, with a poetry that sort of sounds more like wisdom literature. This story takes place in modern day Sweden, but also tells Ove's life story, so it jumps back and forth a little. Ove's life is a sad and yet funny tale. It seems so true you easily forget this is fiction. The book is about a man of another era who is forced to accept the post-modern world he lives in by the neighbors around him. This is not Christian literature, so if you don't like to read books with very post-modern morality and worldviews, it's not for you. But it is a redemptive story in a lot of ways, and so if you can hang with the secular ways of the characters, you'll find yourself loving these awkward, broken people with great sincerity of heart. If you liked All the Light We Cannot See, I think you'll like this book.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty. 
Such a fun book!! All of Moriarty's books have twists and secrets that are slowly revealed as you read and they are highly addictive. Her books are completely worth reading in one sitting if you can get your kids to leave you alone and stay up until 3AM dying of joy. I loved her books What Alice Forgot and The Husband's Secret so much, I will probably read every book she ever writes, because when you love a writer, you stay loyal.

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. 
I had GREAT anticipation for this book because I enjoy Nieqist's writing supremely. I loved Bread and WineCold Tangerines, and Bittersweet. Present over Perfect didn't disappoint. It was hard to read in parts, because it's so vulnerable. But I am extremely grateful for the challenge it brought me to redefine success in my daily life is still pressing into my soul. I have come face to face with my contorted way of trying to earn grace and impress Jesus lately. The emptiness that is in that endless race is not what I want. I am learning the beauty of being His is far sweeter than earning a crown I can't hold in His presence. Present Over Perfect may be my favorite book this year.

Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen. 
Nouwen is one of my favorite writers. Most of his books feel like liquid wisdom flowing directly into my soul. This may be my favorite of his books. It is simple and yet exceedingly profound, and taught me many things abotu what it means to be God's beloved. Everyone should read this book. 

** I don't really know Oprah or Bill Gates. But in my defense, they might love my book anyways!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

god bless the christmas mamas, every one

Around here, Christmas looks something like this:

It's Christmas lights and long lines and photo cards and apple cider and a last minute this and a beautiful that and it is all going too quickly.

We play cards and dominoes, Sorry and twenty questions, and we eat too much chocolate and laugh too loud, we stay up too late and the kids are too excited to sleep in and it's the only Christmas these beautiful faces will be the magical ages of 8, 10, 11, and 12 and I ache a little when I think about that.

In one dark theater we watched Frozen and in another we gazed on beautiful dancers and cheered for the Nutcracker, we have read scriptures around our sturdy kitchen table and spoken of the Advent of Christ with awe in our hearts, and all of the stories point us to Him and His love and the wondrous tale of how He came for us.

I wrestle with a torrent of holiday emotions and a mountain of red and green work, I clean and cook and clean again, I shop and wrap and shop some more, there's one more batch of hot cocoa and one more pan of cookies, we carry tired children from cars and weary hearts to the manger for a little peace and a silent night.
Christmas will wear you out.

Jesus mamas know that love doesn't grow on trees, and if we're going to have any love to give our babies we have to kneel and receive some first.

This year I have one wish for all the mamas I know. I hope you open your bibles in the quiet hush of Christmas morning, either before the chaos begins or during a lull in the flurry of joy, and I pray you find God's gift there for you. It's wrapped and waiting, carefully selected just for you. It is the gift of love and perspective, of strength and faith, it breathes hope into your tired bones and waters even the driest of souls.

We don't often mention His gift in conversation, it's the one we think we may never actually get, and the one no one but our God can give us. But we need it most of all.

Because when the lights fade, the tree comes down, the carols end, the work slows, and this epic seasonal joy rolls into everyday life we will need His voice singing over us.

Christmas will come and go. A new year will begin and become an old year too quickly. Our children will grow and change. Birthday candles will be lit and blown out. Smiles will shine, tears will fall, every season has its beauty and its pain and 2017 will be no different.

But God never changes. He doesn't come and go. Our Heavenly Father isn't a candle that can be blown out or a day that is checked off on the calendar.

He won't move away or let us go or take a few days off.

As we clean up shredded wrapping paper and discarded bows from the last of the gifts tomorrow, His gift for us be rewrapped and waiting for us the to sit in the quiet and listen again to His voice.

Christmas is never really over because Christ is born to us, He is God with us, every day of the year. Again and again we can come to Him and He will have more love and beauty to give us than our hearts can hold.

Happy, joyful Christmas to you, dear friends. May it be the best and most beautiful Christmas of your life. And may the gifts never end.

Monday, December 19, 2016

someday at christmas: a post for my church family

“Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmas time

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Hate will be gone and love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart.
-Stevie Wonder

This Christmas has me feeling a kindredness to Ruth and Naomi. As we walk through this holiday post-election season, I feel torn and shocked by the pain and fear I feel along with some of my dearest friends, and yet hopeful and grateful for my natural and spiritual family.

I hear the bells of Christmas and I also hear what Naomi described in Ruth 1, that many feel the hand of God has gone out against us. I can’t shake the general awareness that in that old Bible tale lies a story that mirrors our own spiritual family at Mosaic Church.

I can almost see three women standing there on the side of an ancient road, Ruth the Jewish mother-in-law with Naomi and Orpah, her Moabite daughters-in-law. They were not so unlike us: different ages, races, and faith backgrounds. Naomi and Orpah thought their love could not withstand the pressure of their loss. The deaths of their husbands had divorced their hearts from the love that had made them a family.

But Ruth clung to her mother-in-law. In my mind’s eye, I see Ruth kneel before Naomi and wrap her arms around her ankles. I see the surprise in Naomi’s wise eyes, and the great longing for family in Ruth’s.

That’s when I know I want to be just like both of them.

Given the challenge of learning to live and love in a diverse, multi-racial, multi-generational, multi-ethnic church, I realize it would be simpler to be more like Orpah. When the days turn dark, we could go back to the comfort of a people who “get” us, back to wherever it is we came from. We could divorce each other, I suppose, by segregating our lives and our faith relationships. There would be no shame in this choice, but it would require we relinquish the joy of building a faith community that validates the gospel's message that we are all one, brothers and sisters united by the sacrifice of Jesus.

Nothing can separate us from God's love, but I suppose we could allow the love we share here at Mosaic to be taken away from us by the deep pain and pressure that has been created by the recent election.

Or we could cling to one another’s ankles and the dream of sharing everything in life: our people, our God, what we gather as we go, and our dream for a better future.

I don't think we know exactly how to love one another perfectly, but I hope we are learning to do it better all the time. God has offered us a beautiful gift in the scriptures, by showing us how Boaz humbly redeemed Ruth and Naomi’s lives. Jesus is our greater Boaz, of course. He has lifted His blanket of grace and covered us with it, making a safe place for us together beneath the shelter of His Church. He offers us a chance to dwell here, to endure the unknown and the pain with Him by our side, to find our way through the darkness, hand in hand and heart to heart.

It will always be easier to stop trying to understand one another. It will always seem like letting go is simpler than clinging to one another.

But today my heart shouts it from the mountains, that I have come too far to go back. Your God will be my God and your people will be my people. Our church has become a song for us in the valley and a prayer in stillness of this needy world. This is the hope of the gospel in our midst: that we would take this journey of hope and faith together, hiding ourselves in Christ’s sacrifice, allowing the love of God to comfort us when loving one another costs us some of our earthly comfort.

The grand heavenly judge has ruled in favor of all who cling to Emmanuel. All that we have lost since the beginning of time will be returned to us One Day. Our Jesus has redeemed us and assured we will inherit our true home in heaven. Our endurance and faith builds a house here on earth together, where generations of Ruths and Naomis can live and learn to love each other better and better every day.

Perhaps we can’t change the entire structure of society or every hate-filled heart simply by loving one another. But our love and unity can answer the questions our culture is asking about fear and freedom. Here within this church fmaily, we can experience a taste of what it will be like on that great Someday at Christmas, when Jesus returns for us. On that Someday, there will be no more hate. Love and freedom for all God’s people will prevail.  

We will all kneel before Him, our arms clinging now to His scarred feet. We will sing for joy because we could not have made it safely home alone. In the end, church and Christmas are about you and me, cradled in Jesus, fully loved and fully loving.

Merry Christmas, my dear family. I love you.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

how we find our way when we can't see a thing

We sit at our usual table, with our books and our discussion questions and our coffee in our hands. Cookies wait on a happy plate of sweet friendship to share as we discuss our week's reading. I read a passage from Ann Voskamp's book, One Thousand Gifts, then ask a question of my own:

“Faith is in the gaze of the soul. Faith is the seeing soul’s eyes upon a saving God, the saving God of twisted bodies, the saving God of harvest moons.”

How do you open the eyes of your soul to see?

Because maybe I'm a woman groping in soul darkness. I grasp about for a solid hold, but my hands never land upon what I really need.

I yearn for Christ, but I'm not even sure what that looks like right here, exactly.

Faith is the assurance of what you can't see, I know that much. Even so, what I can't see taunts me with its haunting, transparent nature. My soul squints and I follow God's voice, but I'd like to find peace in the middle of this harried hunt for God's will.

I tell the women at that table the truth, because that is what we do here:

I need God to do what only He can do, because He's asked me to live a life that only He can live. 

"Be holy, love me sacrificially, leave the old, crooked woman at the door and take up a life in Me," He says.

And so I have, but this new way of living takes practice and I can never see well-enough here in His way of doing things. I stumble, I freeze, I fall, and I wonder if I will ever really know what I'm doing, where the path is heading.

After we have finished our discussion I drive home with headlights whizzing past and the night-sky sprawled out overhead. I ponder the prayers I hold up in His presence like white flags. I will do Your will, and I need to see You move the mountain of my lacking ability, Lord.

This is the will of God, that we follow faithfully even in the darkness. 

I step in line behind the many men and women who have gone before me. I take my place here behind my Jesus, laying a blind hand on the shoulders of the One who obeyed without fear, who lived without sin.
"This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." -1 John 4:17-18 
My soul sets its gaze on His love that drives out all fear. Nothing makes me more brave than knowing His will, and His will is for me to be made like Him. 

Once I get home I eat another cookie and take in the view out the kitchen window that is only darkness. My eyes still can't see a thing, but my soul seems to know the way now. This girl will grope about no longer.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

an advent prayer for the weary parent's heart

Morgan and I always seem to have these deep parenting talks in the dark of bedtime, when the day is over and dishes are done and we can rest at last. The conversation always begins the same way:

"I'm not sure the kids are doing so great right now..."

The sun has gone to bed, but my heart can't rest after the long day of raising big kids. This weariness is different than the exhaustion of tending to squishy babies, tantrum-filled toddlers, and squeaky elementary goofballs. Back then I wished one of my kids could just Do Something to Be Helpful, instead of Needing Me for Everything. Every day back then was a repeat of the one before it: change the diapers, fill the sippy cup, wipe the bottom, make the macaroni, clean the mess, set up the train table, do the dishes, push the stroller. On and on life went, an eternal drumbeat of laborious servitude.

But this preteen and teenage weariness wants to make me afraid. It feels like losing; losing control, losing babies, losing sight of where they actually are heading. Everything up until now basically could be predicted: they would learn to sit up, walk, use a spoon, throw a ball, say all the words, read all the words, tie their shoes, etc., etc. Nothing seems predictable any longer.

I stare into the faces of my children now and I am shocked at how little I know. I don't know who they will choose to be. I don't know what the challenges ahead will mean for them. I don't know if those new friends are people my children will follow off the proverbial cliff, or if my kids will lead the doomed parade themselves. I don't know if they'll be willing to work hard enough to become who they say they want to become. I don't know if I've spent enough time praying, enough money investing, or enough time tending their character. Most days, I don't know much of anything- which my kids seem to sense and use to their advantage.

The most terrifying part of all of this is that all the unknowns I struggled to sort out in my own coming of age, my children now begin to face. (Lord have mercy!) It's my job to let them find their own way through, despite the drive within me to machete away all the scary underbrush and vines in their paths. I am here, ready to catch them when they fall, cheer them when they valiantly rise, and love whoever they are on the other side. But I have to sit off to the side, present and accessible, but very quiet, observing them like some kind of wise Jedi master.

Except most of the time, I feel more like a frantic basketball coach, about to throw a chair across the room.

But here we are in the advent season, and it seems God has come again to quiet my heart and teach me what it means to wait and love and trust that He is Immanuel, God with Us, the Prince of Peace, and our Everlasting Father.

Today I feel a new kinship with God as a parent. I am in awe of the way He laid His Son here in our lives. What was God the Father thinking all those years ago? Sending Jesus to a world full of sinners suddenly strikes me as The Scariest Idea Ever. The world was full of bad characters with even worse morals who loved jumping off cliffs. What if Jesus got in with the wrong crowd in Jerusalem and God's plan for redemption was thwarted by the thrill of cliff diving into oblivion? 

For goodness sake, it would have been so much safer to just stay home in heaven.

But maybe safer isn't God's ultimate goal for us. Maybe happy and risk-free lives won't satisfy our heart's longing to live the gospel. Maybe a predictable path is over-rated and an easy life is a sham.

I look up to dark ceilings on these weary nights, my gaze settles on the dark horizon of the future, and I know so many new things. I want to be a brave parent, who lets Her children run after God's heart, no matter how winding their path may seem from my view. I want to throw confetti instead of chairs, and carry hope in my heart instead of judgments

And, oh man, I want to see how high and far these kids of mine are going to fly. But to do that, I really will have to let go. Advent means that I don't have to be afraid of what could happen any longer, because we all have a God who has promised to be with us, and love us to the very end.

"Lord, I put these children in the manger of your will. I lay them down, I set them loose. But my eye will always be on them. Give me Your vision for their hearts. My voice will be close. Grant me Your words for their needy hearts. Let me be the kind of parent who is close but not controlling, wise but not annoying with my knowledge. I trust You to hold them when I can't, to see them when I am blinded by my humanity, and I know You will carry them when they lose their way. My love for them is wider and deeper than the ocean, and yet your love for them dwarfs my own by infinity. Let my heart rest in that truth when it feels afraid. I trust You. I am waiting for You in so many ways today. I put all my hope and faith in You. Thank you for being God With Us."