When They Cannot Repay You

The day we pulled up into our driveway with them — into the home that had been full of empty bedrooms for years while we waited for them — we sat with the keys in the ignition while they, buckled into boosters in the back, slept off days of sleepless travel and we sighed.

Done.

We’d finished the hardest part, hadn’t we? They were … home.

They transitioned almost seamlessly into our home — but for some minor hiccups with attachment that an ergo and night-time bottle feeding (eye-to-eye) seemed to cure.

My little girl smelled like me. (She was mine.) My son even looked like Nate, aside from his chocolate skin. They slept through the night and played for hours like best friends and made our family of four feel easy.

A year later and we were adopting again. Insta-family.

And somewhere between that cloudless day when we brought our first two home and the one when we had five packed into our rusty suburban, the seamless days of adoption had vaporized… Continue reading over here–>

Sometimes I Get Stuck — Do You?

One of my favorite parts of life during this stretch, when it would feel easy to think that having five children and being a homeowner makes me old and wise, is having women who truly are wise (and maybe on the other side of forty) in my world. I can’t imagine doing life without women, hungry for God, who’ve been hungry a lot longer than me, teaching me — by their stories — about their own pursuit of Him. Today I’m giddy about one of those women, writing right here. Susan Yates is a seasoned voice in the writing world, a sage with years — and an ever-growing-reach-for-God to prove it (and she so happens to be married to my husband’s childhood pastor — how cool is that?!). Read …and receive.

When I was a young mother with five small children I got stuck. Most of the time, I simply felt like a failure. I wasn’t living up to my expectations of myself as a Mom or a wife or a ministry partner. With colicky 2 month old twins, 2, 4, and 7 year olds, I was sleep deprived. We’d recently moved; I had no friends, and no local family. My husband was in his first job as a Senior Pastor. He got up each morning excited about his day. I woke up just longing to make it through the day.

For almost 2 years I prayed, “God make me a better Mom and wife. Please give me peace and joy in this season.” Only silence answered back. I felt like I’d been put on hold by the Lord. I was stuck.

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I continued to pray for Him to make me a better Mom and wife. But I was not seeing any progress.

One morning I read a passage in Jeremiah 33:3 and I finally heard an answer.

God said through Jeremiah, “Call unto me and I will show you great and mighty things that you do not know.”

Thinking about this promise I changed my daily prayer. Father I’m stuck on praying about my issues. Please show me something that I don’t know. I just need to see your hand at work.

As I opened myself to God’s showing me something new He began to reveal to me that I had lost perspective. I was evaluating my life from a wrong assumption of God. I was acting as if God approved of me when I was successful but in my season of life there was no visible success. I had to realize that God didn’t love me because I was a good mother, or good wife, or doing great things for Him. I wasn’t. He loved me because I belonged to Him. Period. But there was an even deeper lesson. As I read the words of Jeremiah I realized that in my misery God had something “other” to teach me. I call this the “Principle of the other.”

This little principle has had a huge impact on my life even though I still get stuck sometimes.

Recently I was on a plane returning from speaking oversees. I was exhausted and scrunched in a middle seat next to a snoring man. In my miserable state I began to think about my kids. They were adults now but I couldn’t wait to get my feet on the same continent as theirs. As I thought about one particular child I began to imagine a problem this child might have. The more I thought about the child the more the problem grew. I’ll read my Bible and that will help. It didn’t. OK, I’ll pray. The more I prayed about the issue the bigger it grew. Finally I cried out to the Lord, “help.” While I did not hear an audible voice what came to mind was unmistakably from Him. Two words that were to impact my life once again: “Remember Me.”

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What I realized was that I had let my concern over a child become bigger in my head than God was. I needed to begin to focus more on how big God is than on whatever issue is on my heart at any given moment.

Whatever season of life we are in we all get stuck and we all have issues-a child, relationship, financial need, marriage or singleness. It’s so easy to grit our teeth and try to trust God with the issue. But walking with Christ is not gritting our teeth. It’s focusing on His character traits—filling ourselves up with who He is and then our issue will be seen from a healthier perspective. It won’t completely go away but it will be less likely to control us.

I still get stuck but I have learned to use the “principle of the other” from Jeremiah to call on God and ask Him to show me something unrelated to my current issue. Knowing that He has something special to teach me gives me hope. It generates vision within my shriveled heart. I become expectant. My view of God is enlarged and I am refreshed because I look forward to seeing Him do something new in my life.

To help me focus on God, I begin each day asking Him to give me one character trait of His to meditate on throughout that day.

He Understands

When no one else can understand me or my situation, you do-completely Oh Lord.

“Great is the Lord and mighty in power, his understanding has no limit.” (Psalm 147:5)

I find that when I discipline my mind to think about who He is instead of focusing on my current issue my joy is greater. In His presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11)

And so I pray for each of us:

Lord, as we get into this new year open our eyes to see the “other” things, the new things you might teach us that will broaden or understanding of How Great Thou art.

If you would like to begin the habit of focusing on one character trait of God you will find some that I have used and you can sign up to get them in your inbox twice weekly at www.susanalexanderyates.com.

Yates Family PhotoSusan is mom to five children (including a set of twins) and grandmother to 21 (including a set of quadruplets!).  Susan has been married to John for almost 45 years. She’s written 13 books and speak on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and women’s issues.  Some of her books include And Then I Had Kids; And Then I Had Teenagers; Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest (with friend Barbara Rainey) and Raising Kids with Character That Lasts (With John). She writes regularly for the blog: MomLifeToday.com, sponsored by Family Life. 

John and Susan and Grands

Are We Too Careful With Our Faith?

I never wanted to be you.

All those years that my womb was hollow and when friends were shifting clothes in and out of their closets – moving out pilled maternity shirts (well-worn), and moving in those post-maternity jeans (worn much longer than planned) and pre-maternity sizes that never quite fit again but remained on the hanger as a “one-day, maybe again” reward – the hardest months for me were the ones when I was a few days late.

A few days expectant.

A few days, planning. Dreaming.

A few days hopeful.

The ones that ended in what I then labeled to be a few days foolish.

I inadvertently had given permission to this part of our life in God, that great mystery – one that I had patterned my life around boxing out: hope.

So, here’s why I didn’t want to be you – mama whose womb was filled, only to be emptied again, early. Those few days of expectancy were days when my hope could be mostly dismissed as girlish – even foolish – fantasy.

[Continue reading on inCourage.me —>]

 

What If You Didn’t Search for God Alone?

I was pretty sure I knew how to do life-together with friends when life all happened on time, working as it should. Late night hangouts and laughing until your sides split, interspersed with the occasional “God story” and prayer request. We shared clothes and coffee dates and “can you even believe I said that to him?” moments.

It was easy to make friends and keep friends over Saturday night sweets binging.

But sometime post-college, after leaving that house on East Vine that moved when the wind blew and was teeming with lives of girlfriends-made-sisters, the content I brought to a coffee date was a little different.

Life got hard. It didn’t run on my time. The year of my newlywed bliss lasted for a day and my womb was empty. We weren’t nineteen and cooking dinner in roller-blades in the kitchen just for kicks anymore.

My girlfriends still circled up every year, coming in from spots all over the country and meeting in the furnished living room of a “real” house instead of just cramming our over-caffeinated bodies onto one girls’ bed after class. And though I had friends in my city, in my world, these girlfriends were my metronome for how my view on friendship had changed since I was young and carefree.

Girls shared updates while I chewed the inside of my cheek — scared to unveil myself to ones who’d once all worn my clothes and driven my car and seen me every morning at 7am with mascara-lined bags under my eyes for four years. We used to share everything and I now couldn’t figure out a way to communicate the torrent inside of my twenty-something frame. How would they handle my mess, when I could barely handle my mess? Was it safe to even speak out-loud what I’d been feeling inside?

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In those few short years since college, I’d experienced the convergence of beautiful and awful. The identity around which I’d formed my life — my ministry, my output — was slipping through my fingers, alongside my harder-than-I-thought marriage and any plans I’d had for a family. How do you put words to that?

Simultaneously, I’d started a new search for God. This life-ache was unearthing a hunger for Him that maybe I’d always had but never identified. I started to want Him more than I did a neat and tidy prayer-requested life.

But that, too, felt different. Almost unexplainable. Weird.

I didn’t know how to let them in.

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When life gets hard — when life gets real — how do you transition out of the slumber party into holding the story of another before God? Into holding another, before God, with His eyes and His perspective on them?

What does friendship look like when coffee and casual prayer requests and late-night chocolate aren’t enough to cushion another’s deep life-ache? What does it look like to let yourself bleed a little, in front of another?

How do you find the kind of friendship that fuels hunger for God without losing the deep belly laughter so necessary to life and love of Him, in the meantime?

A decade and a half later, and many of those college girlfriends and others have now shown me — with their own stories — how you do what I just couldn’t do when I was twenty-four and lonely.

They’ve bled, outside their skin, and didn’t wait until it was a hermetically sealed environment to do so. They didn’t play it safe when it came to friendship.

They’ve hungered for Him in an unconventional way.

And they talked about it.

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Various friends taught me, with their lives, that the convergence of their own messy loss and their own unkempt (but burgeoning) hunger for God weren’t so awkward that it would disrupt friendship — but that it instead would cause friendship to grow. (And they still split their sides in laughter at themselves and at life and ate chocolate and planned coffee dates.)

Hunger for God is the undercurrent of deep friendship. And true friendship fuels new hunger for God.

CandlesMJ

Want this fusion of hunger for God and life-ache and friendship for yourself?

What if you didn’t wait until it was the perfect set-up or the perfect potential people or the safest-by-your-standards environment … but just took one little step?

How about this for a start:


(Click here if viewing this in a reader)

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Whether you’re twenty-two or sixty, it’s never too late to ask Him for unconventional friendship, the kind that makes you laugh more than you’ve ever laughed and hunger for Him in a way you just might not, by yourself.

First four photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Fifth photo compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography.

Becoming a Closet Radical

I was in my second year out of college and full of zeal and opinion. After all, you only have one life to live on the earth — eighty years at best. Whose story would be linked back to my impact, in eternity?

I’d change the world for God in my twenties.

Except I was tired. I hadn’t factored in how my zeal might translate into longevity.

We were headed out of town for just a few days of respite and this mentor, this friend, met Nate and me for breakfast before we scooted. He gently interviewed me on my second year’s work in a new town and read right through my words to my heart. Peppered throughout my analysis of the year was my mention of various people who’d placed varying levels of expectation upon me, or so I thought. (I couldn’t bear up and I felt it.) “Something needed to change,” was what I said. But what I really meant was that they needed to change — all of them, this collaborative yet unconnected group of people who were forcing me to turn up the treadmill.

But my hand was controlling that treadmill. I’d pushed the needle a little too far and went from zeal and passion to exhaustion, without noticing it.

These people — the ones with all those expectations — didn’t need to change. I did. I was “headed for burnout,” said this friend, boldly. Something on my insides was off and I wouldn’t be the marathon runner I wanted to be if I kept sprinting through my long-runs.

I left breakfast in a fog, unsure of what to make of all this. His words resonated, slightly, but they didn’t match my understanding of Christianity. There was so much of His work to do … wasn’t I supposed to maximize my daylight hours for His kingdom? My days are numbered, why would I ever waste them? 

Somehow I needed to gear back up, I thought. Get another dose of motivation to expend my life for Him, again.

Bowls MJ

And what is burnout, anyways?

That breakfast was portentous, I learned soon enough.

Months later, my bone-tired insides slowed to a stop. I didn’t heed this friend’s words, so instead I lived them.

There’s no time for planning when exhaustion overtakes you and you just.can’t.keep.going.

I was forced into rest.

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Rest, at twenty-three, was reading books and taking walks and holing myself up in my room for long-hour stretches with just worship music and my Bible. It was awkward. Unfamiliar. It didn’t feel natural to this one who’d been sprinting.

I hadn’t slowed to this pace maybe ever since saying “yes” to God when I was fifteen.

It was re-introducing myself to a God-Man for whom I’d been so hard at work and realizing that I barely knew Him.

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My twenties went from my self-declared decade of impact to years when the only heart I sought to impact was His. It was as if  — because I couldn’t get my mind around a love that didn’t come as a result of what I produced — He allowed almost all of my external “doing” to wither so that I might find that sparkle in His eye when I was at my most seemingly-unproductive for His kingdom.

He was so kind to dry up my ministry.

It took years for me to begin to see that He delighted in me during my most “inefficient” years. He loved me in my closet.

He was now the Man sitting across my breakfast table encouraging me to find Him in my unproductivity.

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A decade and a half later, He’s still saying the same thing.

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The needs of my five children grow as they grow. They crave back rubs and to sit on my lap over long books and to rest in my arms as their little hearts ponder their big stories. They ripen under my time.

And my to-do list goes unchecked.

So, those free hours (because, mamas, when it all boils down we do have free hours) — they allure me. Make more lists, they say. Clean the corners and dust the edges and bake-up more homemade something. Sometimes they say clear your inbox or meet a need or start a foundation.

Go. Run. Work. Make an impact … somewhere.

Yard Tools MJ

But there is a rest in Him, available to me and absolutely necessary for a heart that’s made to be in love with God not just work for Him, that supersedes seasons and needs.

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To choose rest — true rest, not the “rest” this age of ours says is rest, when the work is finished but the alerts inform us and feeds scroll before us — is to say, with our lives, that who He is matters more than what we perform or who we know down here.

To choose true rest is to believe that beauty often happens outside of what I create with my own two hands.

To choose true rest is to believe there is only one set of eyes that matter, only one perspective on me that counts, only One heart I need to move in the course of my lifetime.

His.

From this angle, my most productive days may be the ones that include long walks and unfolding conversations with Him (not just quick asks) and candles lit in the afternoon to remind me there is more of Him to be had, here, right smack-dab at 3pm on Monday.

They are the ones that include unconventional time with God.

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Practically, for me, it means my cobwebs might not be dusted when you come by and I may not be loading my kids in the car to drop off a meal for a friend down the street. It may take days or weeks, rather than hours, to respond to your emails and take-out may be necessary over “from scratch” some days. She may go a day too long without a shower and he may wear the same clothes twice in a row, all so that I can carve out pockets of this new productivity.

But something you might see in the house of the one who has found that hard-to-reach place of resting in Him when their hem is tugged, as you step over the bikes in the yard and lift your eyes from the smudges on the glass, is the light of a wild love in their eyes.

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Those who look to Him are radiant because they need not wear their accomplishments as their garments.

They just wear the One at whom they’ve been looking.

Dear church –

I’m tempted to add a dozen caveats that say “care for the orphan”, “don’t forget the hurting, the ones who don’t yet know Him”, “your children are not to be neglected” while you practice this rest, but something tells me that all of us have that tickertape running strong across our brains. We are zeroing in on the outward expression of a life lived for Him, but we’re starving for an underground, radical devotion to Him. A devotion that happens when no one is looking. A closet devotion. 

We’re bone-tired on the inside and turning up the treadmill and wondering why our twitter feed looks more interesting to us than His Word.

When we give our insides permission to fall radically, unconventionally in love with God, the world we’ve been wanting to impact might just turn upside down like we’ve been envisioning, all through the overflow.

Sitting at his feet, like Mary, really is radical devotion these distracted days.

It moves the most important heart. (His).

And the rest follows …

 

[Have you read this, yet? It might just be the story that gives your story a bit of a grid.]

For Your Continued Pursuit: Psalm 20:7 | Hebrews 3-4 | Psalm 23:1-3 | Song of Solomon 2:14 |Psalm 34:5 | Luke 10:38-42

First through sixth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. Seventh photo compliments of Cherish Andrea photography.

The Words You Use When You’re Not Ready To Talk

If we sit sideways in the oversized leather chair — the one that was already faded and cracked before we left our marks on it — two of us can fit.

His little body, tucked into last season’s mismatched pajamas, pressed beside mine and I wondered just what might come out of this kid’s mouth tonight.

He’s still a mystery to me, this child. He was the youngest one we adopted and has no memories of life without being a Hagerty. He smiles like Nate and pops his collar and could spend hours using his sisters’ thread to string plastic toys and legos and army men from the second story bannister.

He’s goofy and loud and all things boy, but some days the clouds hang low behind his eyes. They threaten to disrupt seven year-old boy light-footedness. He has a history that one day will be deep fodder for his conversation with God, but right now he’s not ready to talk.

I think my son is a mystery to himself, too.

Cherish Road

Those clouds brood some days and he can’t access what feels so hard in between building lego forts and shooting his bow up at the sky, so he grumbles. Something hurts. It’s that dull ache again, but how does a seven year old process the kind of life-loss he faced before he ever lost his first tooth?

Each of my children are different in how they face their grief. One crawls into my lap, near weekly, and says “I’m just having a hard, hard day,” her once-long-ago loss so near to the surface. It’s barely a thought before I hear it.  She makes the connections to her past, without me. Her grief is tangible to her. Another cries in secret while I spend months readying myself for the sliver she’ll give me of her heart when she’s ready to talk.

But this boy, he climbs trees and scouts for hawks and makes pets out of field mice. Underneath all the action is a young one that will one day discover that bravery is in a bare heart. Until then, we wait.

Colored Pencils MJ

I wait — until he’s ready to talk.

And we take an actively passive approach — if there is such a thing — with him and the others.

We take a phrase or sentence of God’s Word, we see what those words say about who He is, and we speak it back to Him and to our own souls, in words that make it real. It sounds simple and habitual. Maybe even ritual. Sterile.

But tonight was anything but habit.

His body making new impressions on the old creases of the chair, my boy spoke his adoration. We were adoring God out of Luke 2 — the God who told His secret to poor shepherds — and here’s what he said “God, you didn’t give your secrets to just the wealthy or the kings, you told the people that nobody cared about.”

My son — who can’t yet verbalize the life-question of so many former orphans who can’t yet put together thoughts to ask God why he felt forgotten or forsaken, even despite now being in a family — could see another’s seemingly forgotten existence as noticed by God. He could try on, for another, how it felt, before he is ready to talk about it for himself.

Boots MJ

This is adoration.

Adoration isn’t for the pious rule-followers who see discipline like a feather in their hat. It’s not for the measured and studied, careful followers for God. It’s not for the good girls and boys who keep their emotions under lock and key.

It’s for the seven year-old former orphans who aren’t quite yet ready to talk to God about the deepest parts of their hearts and the fifty seven year-old grandmothers who are learning to open their hearts up to Him, in love. It’s for the once-hardened and bitter who want a second chance to live another stage of life, soft. It’s for the unkempt who are hungry for a new experience with God, but can’t put language to these nascent sprigs inside.

Adoration is for the one who’s lived a lifetime awkwardly approaching conversation with God, but somewhere, buried deep, wants to know what it’s like to have Him hold their hand.

It’s for the ones who aren’t ready to talk, but are craving the conversation that gives their insides permission to not just form words about God but to fall again in love with Him.

Girl MJ

Adoration is for you and me, just like it’s for my son.

Adoration is for the one who wants to be seen. And known. The one who has memorized and quoted his Word, but isn’t laying in bed after the lights are off, awake, aware of their ever-expanding love for Him.

Adoration is introduction to conversation with God, for the ones who aren’t yet ready to talk.

Hand Butterfly Cherish

“So where do I start,” you say?

There’s no better time than now, to approach His Word in a new-to-you way. Starting January 1st, we’re adoring God through the Psalms. We are taking one (sometimes itty bitty) phrase, and using that as our starting point for conversation with God — and with ourselves — about God.

We’re not waiting until we feel God to tell God who He is. We’re not waiting until we like who we are to tell God (and our own soul) who He is.

We’re not waiting for the best time to start.

‘Cause the best time is now. Chopping onions and carrying a load of laundry up the stairs and riding the train into the city for the day. The time to adore God is any new minute you want to salvage, to sabotage, with His thoughts and His Words. It’s in the carpool line and tying toddler’s shoes and walking out to the mailbox.

Produce MJ

Adoration is breathing in His Word and exhaling it back to Him, in our own words, over minutes.

That one phrase about Him from His Word, put into your own language — coming from your angle — gets to work its way into your day and before you know it you’re informing your conversation with God … you know, the one you weren’t sure you were ready to have.

Adoration is sticking that big toe in the water of God’s deep and bridging the gap between the mighty, sometimes mystical, and your everyday experience with Him. To get to the ocean-deep, your flesh has to get wet. One toe at a time.

One minute adoring God, at a time.

Is this your year to talk to God?

There’s no better place to start — especially for the one who finds themselves tongue-tied — than His Word.

[And if you don’t want to try this thing out alone, you surely don’t have to. There’s a group of us over here dipping our toes in the water.]

First and fifth photos compliments of Cherish Andrea Photography. Following photos compliments of Mandie Joy, who also puts together our daily Instagram adorations.

Giving and Getting at Christmastime {a guest post from Amy Julia Becker}

If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you’ve heard me mention Amy Julia Becker.  Amy Julia and I were, first, friends by default, as our husbands lived together in college. But since, we have formed a sweet and separate friendship, where she’s encouraged me at all the right times in my writing. She’s recently published her second book —  a beautifully thoughtful reflection of finding God in the midst of parenting children. It is called: Small Talk: Learning From My Children About What Matters Most. I love that I get to share this writing space with her just a few days before Christmas, as I think this narrative (nope, it’s not a prescriptive parenting guide) is a perfect gift for the one who wants to slow up and consider life in God amid parenting.

And now, hear from this friend …

Holidays and celebrations start early in our household. Marilee, about to turn four, is already discussing next year’s Halloween costume. (This morning, she wondered aloud about being the baby Jesus. Her six-year old brother William pointed out that she would have to be wheeled around in a manger, so she went back to the Cat in the Hat.) They discuss the Thanksgiving decorations in August. You can probably imagine the long lead up to Christmas.

Winter BranchMJ

They began writing lists in October. All three hang on the kitchen wall. William’s begins with an array of electronic devices—iPad, iPod, iPhone (none of which he will be receiving)—and then moves on to small animals—fish, bird, gerbil, hamster—before enumerating the more typical Lego-type options. Marilee’s is shorter, but more complicated. It makes reference to items like, “the skirt Layla was wearing at school today.” Our oldest child, Penny, almost nine, kept it simple: Books. Board games. (She also asked for a baby brother or sister, but we are ignoring that request.)

In other words, we entered Advent with material desires clearly stated. As a mom who has always wrestled with the commercial aspects of Christmas, in recent years I have stopped seeing my children’s expectations of presents as being in conflict with our celebration of the incarnation. I’ve even begun to see the two as interrelated. Our kids see a direct connection between Jesus’ birth as a gift to the world and the gifts they receive on Christmas morning. They also see feasting and presents as a crucial way to celebrate, and it seems fitting that our birthday party for Jesus is the biggest and best of the year.

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Still, Advent is a season of preparation, a season of waiting. We have one type of waiting figured out. It’s the waiting with eager anticipation for December 25th, the anticipation that prompts Marilee to ask every morning, “Is it Christmas tomorrow?” But Advent also involves a different type of waiting, the sorrowful expectation that God will indeed bring good news by showing up in our messy, painful, broken lives. The lyrics of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” hint at the contemplative and even mournful season practiced by Christians of old.

CandlesMJ

Now, Christmas lists and “Holly Jolly Christmas” and sitting on Santa’s lap at the local fire station don’t come close to conveying that sense of longing for Jesus to return in fullness to this broken world. I want our kids to at least have a glimpse of the expectation that arises out of scarcity and brokenness, out of vulnerability and need. I can’t say I’ve figured out a way for Advent to supersede the festivities that begin well before Christmas day, but we have integrated a new tradition into our Advent practice this year. It is a tradition we will certainly continue, because it may have taken us all one step closer to knowing Jesus as both the one we celebrate, and the one we long to see again.

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We decided to each give away one thing every day during Advent. The idea came from my friend Margot Starbuck, who made a video about her family giving away 1000 things. We decided to start with 25 (or so) each. I thought our kids might resist, but so far they have liked this tangible expression of faith and hope. We’ve created bags and bags of giveaway clothing. Piles of stuffed animals. Stacks of DVDs. Boxes of books. Each child offers a different reason for this new practice: “Because there are people less fortunate than we are,” says William. “To make room for the stuff we’ll get at Christmas,” says Penny. “Because you said to give some things away,” says Marilee.

I don’t know that our children will connect this physical act of giving away stuff to the gifts they will open on Christmas morning, but I hope this practice has deepened all of our understanding of the spirit of this season. Yes, a season of feasting and celebration and jumping up and down with delight. And also a season to recognize the disparity between what we have been given and the needs of others in our community. A season to let “every heart prepare him room,” a season to make space for Jesus in our households and in our lives.

Author Portraits

Next Wednesday evening, we will gather at my parents’ house for a birthday party for Jesus. Penny will read the Christmas story out loud while William and Marilee arrange a nativity scene to represent the words. And I will remind them that we have been giving things away, just as God gave away his son to us.

I will remind them that we have been making room, and that Jesus offers to come into our lives to stay. And then we will sing Happy Birthday. We will eat chocolate cake. The next morning, we will open lots of presents. And I hope they, and I, will have a better sense of what Christmas is all about, giving and receiving, longing and rejoicing, God with us in our need and in our abundance.

I hope we will be better prepared to sing with joy, for the Lord has come.

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Amy Julia Becker is the author of Small Talk: Learning from My Children about What Matters Most (Zondervan). Find out more at amyjuliabecker.com.

(Author headshot courtesy of Eddie Berman; Seascape shot by Chris Capozzielo; Nightscape by Hannah Gray; Christmas shot (the blurry one) laughingly taken by the author.)

Falling Down, In Love Again

This December we fill the base of a thirsty Christmas tree with water. It’s hanging on for just a few more days. We sing hymns by the fire while the littles wrap their fingers around big mugs of hot chocolate. My house is full of anticipation. We tromp through a live nativity in 45 degrees and sing the Hallelujah Chorus just like it’s an everyday anthem.

All while my insides ache. Again.

This December, we lost a baby.

Rain

In the fall we whispered shouts, to each other, about this crazy miracle: Twice — this long-barren womb, opened twice? Could it be?!

Every diagnostic came back as a reassurance, but really I didn’t need it. The miracle was had. This configuration of his DNA and mine was warming in secret so that we could say again, out loud: “He is the God of the impossible.”

I didn’t count the years to see how old I’d be when this babe graduated college. I didn’t count beds or bedrooms or even myself as “one of those” who hears don’t you know how babies are made? with a one year-old underfoot. Sometime around age thirty, with already years of waiting behind me, I knew that any brush with life inside me — no matter how old I was or how many years my crew had been potty-trained — would leave me in awe.

So I when we stared, giddy — expectant, at a sterile screen with no blink of life, I plunged from quite a height.

I walked through the waiting room, past round women with life bulging out of their girth, and realized I was no longer one of them. My frame had become a casket.

This wisp of a life had only found a temporary home in me.

Doorway

I assumed that a baby who didn’t consume my food or energy for the better part of a year wouldn’t also consume my emotions. I didn’t know the color of her eyes or where her birthmarks were or whether her toes were stubs or long, like Nate’s. This unknowing, I thought, would make it easy to let go.

But I woke up to unexpected pain and fell asleep in grief. I missed her, the babe I never held.

MJ Baby SHoes

Can you grieve over someone you never knew?

I wanted to feel the lumpy flesh of newborn legs and uncurl infant ears. I wanted to see a three-year old twirl and watch her learn to read. I wanted her lanky teenage frame to lay across my bedspread and laugh with me well after what was (once) bedtime.

But I never saw her heart beat.

All of a sudden, 6pm dinner plans and the laundry pile that’s spilled on the floor and the long task list don’t matter. The toilet handle that’s broken and the dentist appointments that need to be scheduled and the extra practice I’d planned to give her, writing her letters, all fade.

Grief pares your life back. It makes life simple, if we let it.

Lantern

I fold myself up under pillowed down, near the fire, with a candle lit on my bedside table. I cry on my Bible and add tissues to the growing pile next to my bed. I read phrases, not chapters — over and again — and listen to worship songs on repeat so that they would tell me truth that my heart might not feel.

I mourn.

This time, I don’t need to resist the urge to harden and push through — I don’t have any of that powerless fight left in me. I let the loss of this babe and this life — this season of thrill and delight that slipped through my frame — crack open new parts of me and make me bare before God.

I bleed my tears.

As I do, my heart receives that which my mind can’t yet catch: this place is the one where I fall in love.

The new breath of God resuscitates long-dead parts of me when I slow down to undress my grieving heart before Him.

Feeling nearness to God, here, isn’t about Him being near. (He is). I move from knowing to feeling the nearness of God when I finally let the weakest parts of myself unfurl, exposed and raw, before the One who knows what to do with them … the One who knows what to do with me when I’m a mess.

Grief removes the option.

My ordered life with labeled bins for socks and toys and books and a calendar with lists and checkmarks (every day marking accomplishments ) and those neat and tidy goals … well, it makes me want to bear down in loss. To keep my head down and lock my jaw and gut it out.

But in those few, rare moments of life when you face the kind of grief that you just can’t push through — when you serve dinner on paper plates and you can barely show up to work (forget performing well), and you choke down sobs at the grocery store  — the line between our humanity and God’s unseen reality is thinned. Suddenly, He has eyes that hold within them fresh corridors of tenderness to explore. He has hands, rough with once-worn flesh, that cup my tears.

He knows my pain in a way no one else can.

He holds me in the place where death has dropped me …

this place that is now is becoming the one where I fall in love. 

MJ

Dear mama who’s lost your baby — or one who’s walking through this advent, living loss,

When you push through the grocery store line today and everything in you wants to scream on the inside while life happens (gleefully ignorant) around you, come home to your bedroom and cry.

Undress your heart before Him.

There are a dozen reasons around you telling you to stuff this grief and get on with life. They tell you: just.keep.moving. Plow through.

But might I suggest this: take this rare moment to breathe. Him.

We crave the unseen — the radical life in God — yet we often have no idea how to get there. Mama, with your baby, gone, (or you with your pain and your grief) this ache can be your road. Radically encountering the radical love of the God of Bible life happens when life gets quiet on the outside and we expose our insides to Him. 

And grief brings that inevitable exposure. (If we let it.)

Underneath this babe you never dressed, mama, is your bare-naked heart, invited to meet the One who is beauty. You’ve been ushered into line with the growing number of those who’ve lost — who can no longer survive life by staring at Him from afar.

What if this child and your loss is the entry-point to an encounter with God that paints a forever majesty over death’s sting? 

What if it’s at the tomb that you fall in love … with God?

[Have you, yet, read this story? This may just be the advent-read you need to remind your heart, in this loss, that He is beautifully near.]

 

For Your Continued Pursuit: Matthew 5:4 | Psalm 30:5 | Hebrews 13:5 | Isaiah 41:10 | Isaiah 43:1-3 | Romans 8:38-39 | Joshua 1:9 | Deuteronomy 31:6 | 1 Corinthians 3:16 | 1 Corinthians 15:55 | Song of Solomon 8:6 | Psalm 34:18 | 2 Corinthians 1:3 | Psalm 106:44

Photos compliments of Mandie Joy.

 

 

Broken (Together)

Before I share this very personal post, let me tell you that not one of these posts goes up without Nate’s eyes first reading them.

And this post below, especially, I might as well call *our* post, not just mine. I wrote the words, but we both are living them. I chose to be discreet about any specifics here because what may seem like “big” sin to me, in my world, could be very small in yours and what is “big” to you may cause me to shrug. Comparison doesn’t help us to understand what God has for us. This story isn’t about what we’re not, it’s really about who He is.

 

The dirt floor of the inn got all gritty in my fingernails at twenty-three.

Before then, I didn’t have much patience for mess. In fact, what I knew of mess I avoided so that I wouldn’t need to have patience for it. Christianity — for me — was slick, at least then. It was a tight listand firm boundaries and success of the pious kind. Sunday-shined shoes. It wasn’t just about appearances, though. When the shades were pulled I lived in fear of how one false move might leave my heart destitute.

I was my own keeper.

I expected marriage to be a mere extension of this way of life. The fence was now widened to fit two of us. As long as we both were careful not to make a misstep, our trajectory was good.

But it didn’t quite work that way.

Now Nate’s story is his own to tell. But because of his story, I have a story.

In short, he would fall down. Like the rest of us do daily and hourly — he fell.

The problem is he married a wife who’d patterned her life around not falling and did her best to only fall in secret. There were certain types of stumblings that were within the category of acceptable for her — an occasional bout with pride or a terse word or a judgmental thought — and others that just weren’t. His was of the latter kind.

This girl of his, she unraveled. What’s a girl to do with a man who does what he does not want to do and needs more than just a stern admonishment to get back on the path?

So he fell down and I caved. I judged. I feared. I raged on the inside. All while he broke.

I spent weeks (into months that rolled over into years) consumed with what he wasn’t, lost in the noise that comes when someone you share covers with fails. I started believing the lies he believed about himself — that inevitably led him to that fall.

And while I was distracted, he started a new habit … (Continue reading here, where I’m very honored to share …)

When God Has a Better Word

As I sighed under my breath towards her, I caught her eye.

She’d heard the exasperation that was intended only for me. Her sister was on edge, too. She needed my cheek against hers and my hand on her back, but in my tiredness she got the one-sentence pep-talk that rarely moves a heart. I was coach, today, barking instructions and correcting their errors. I couldn’t see them past the seven things on my list that needed to be done (yesterday) and the fact that I was hours away from dinner and I’d forgotten the main ingredient at the grocery store meat counter. Again.

They were players on a field, not hearts, to me on this day.

But the real evaluation happening in our home was centered around me. Failed! — at the chance to reach her when my sigh betrayed my words. Failed! — at speaking to where she was when I used flat phrases. Failed! — at training when I chose to command, not teach. Failed! — at keeping up with yesterday, which left me in the negative today. All capped off by another family dinner from Chipotle to cover over this mama’s gaps.

I carried my internal report card into the nook off our bedroom, without even noticing. It’s hard to catch on to your own scrutiny when you’re always under it. As I stepped across the threshold into that sacred place where I get to breathe, I heard on my inside His declaration over me: yes, this is good. And I knew as I absorbed the words that “this” meant my home, these children, this environment we’d created in the space that held more laundry and disparate doll clothes and random puzzle pieces than I’d like.

He had a declaration for me that day. It was different than my own. {continue reading over here –>}