Are you feeling unsettled by the expectations and urgency of the season?
Let’s challenge each other to not detach this Christmas, but rather, go deeper.
I dug into the archives and will be posting 12 devotionals I wrote a couple years ago to help you navigate the contrast of your heart’s longing with the whirling of culture right now. Be watching your inbox daily through December 23.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. xo
She has fire in her heart.
Some call her competitive, but the longing in her eye seems deeper than wanting to win. The intensity of purpose and the drive to get there — I watch her up close and I study from afar, and I wonder exactly where God will take her with all of this.
But she does like to win.
She once finished 12th out of about 200 runners, and it pained her to not be in the top 10. So she trained by herself after school and brought her ache to the next race. She started out strong — so strong I wondered if her speed would hurt her in the end. But as the two-miles unfolded, it was clear our daughter was the girl in first place.
It was an odd race, for it was co-ed. In all the other middle school cross country meets, the guys and girls ran separately — two races during the one meet. But this day they ran together. I assumed it was simply to be efficient. I assumed it was still really two races going on at the same time with all the runners just woven together.
Assumptions are hard.
As she neared the finish line, I let my heart start to celebrate. “She’s going to be thrilled,” I thought. “She showed up. She didn’t choke on past disappointment. She really is going to win that blue ribbon.”
As she crossed the finish line, a woman handed my girl a tiny square of paper, her place number. She glanced down, chest heaving deep, and crumpled it up. “Is she trying to be humble? Why isn’t she celebrating?”
I moved toward her and was met with a blank face.
“I got 24th,” she said through a clenched jaw.
And indeed she had. I opened the tiny paper, and 24 was written unashamedly in black marker. It was a confusing moment. I went from self-restraint (not wanting to celebrate too early)… to silent, internal cheers… to greeting her with joy… to figuring out how to comfort — all in a matter of two minutes.
We thought she was winning the whole time, for we could only see boys ahead of her. But the runners we ignored suddenly had meaning. They were the ones winning, and we didn’t know. They were her competitors, and we were completely unaware.
All that mental toughness between this race and the last — all the physical endurance of the last two miles — was any of it worth it now?
Have you been there?
Have you moved forward with determination despite resistance? Even when circumstances whispered unanswered questions and you doubted yourself to the core? Have you been running “your race with endurance” only for the story to end wrong?
I’ve seen marriages broken and children wandering and illness that ends in death and unfulfilled job searches and empty cradles after in vitro. I’ve seen re-addiction after recovery and unraveling after remission and disappointment after promises. I’ve seen perseverance end with threats of insecurity and doubt and self-loathing and disunity.
Have you seen that, too?
The disappointment that comes after a long season of perseverance is sometimes harder than tragedy that takes you by surprise. Our expectations get high, too high, and we believe there’s eventually victory for the one with enough grit.
As quickly as our joy unraveled, I heard Him say, “This is about so much more than a race. This is hardly about running at all.” I knew her Maker was right, but I didn’t like His story for our family in that moment. I would have written my daughter’s page differently that day.
“But she persevered, Lord. And she worked so hard. And she hoped.“
Maybe those moments — maybe our moments — are really about something else:
… Finding my identity in what Christ did for me on the cross. Period. Instead of achievements.
… Knowing I am loved deeply regardless of what number is scribbled on my place paper.
… Believing the lesson that striving leaves me empty.
… Growing trust instead of resentment.
I ache for the Sutherland Springs community: The loved ones grieving with empty arms… The little ones asking “Why?”… The grandmas and dads and those stuck in mid-life asking “Why” and having no answer to offer themselves… The silence and the forever night.
I wonder if any of the 26 victims were in a season of perseverance before death disrupted their hope. Was anyone battling cancer? Were any digging deep in their hearts to rebuild their marriages? Were any kids enrolled in tutoring to satisfy grade-level standards? What were they all enduring? I’m certain — because I know we live in brokenness — I’m certain some had to have been gathering up courage every day, clinging to a hope we can’t explain. And their perseverance was met with… oh why, Lord?
What now, God?
What now for the hundreds of people who knew them well and loved them through their frail, brave humanity? What now for those left behind facing their own seasons of perseverance?
Hope does not disappoint us… God, help me believe you.
“You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalm 56:8 NLT
I see You’re writing a story with our tears, God. Help us reconcile the confusion. Weave in trust if reconciliation never comes.
“I waited a long time for the Eternal;
He finally knelt down to hear me.
He listened to my weak and whispered cry.
He reached down and drew me
from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay.
With a gentle hand, He pulled me out
To set me down safely on a warm rock;
He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again. Psalm 40:1-2
Photo by Terry French
I wonder what I would have done back then.
Would I have heard the counter-cultural man as He promoted turning away from ritual and embracing a repurposed heart? Laying aside the security of rules, clinging to repentance and grace? Grasping the new Gospel so tightly it changed my ambitions and my relationships?
“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” He challenged.
And He’s still right here — warning against materialism and daring me to release anxiety over what others think.
And I’m still here wondering if He really can be trusted.
“Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don’t worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don’t worry about how you clothe your body… Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow. They do not work or weave or sew, and yet their garments are stunning…
Do not consume yourselves with questions… Outsiders make themselves frantic over such questions; they don’t realize that your heavenly Father knows exactly what you need.”
He sees right through me, for I’m the one consumed with questions. I’m the one who over-thinks. I’m the one slipping into that frantic state He warns against.
To ignore my insecurities, I rank myself and those around me. I question His goodness in creating me and writing my story, and I numb my heart with what will not last. I wonder if He’ll really be my Provider for the deepest, most secret needs… Wonder if He’ll really be my Protector, shielding me from all that’s not tangible.
Have you been there?
In that frenzy, when I’m ranking and questioning and doubting, I feel the shame taunting me. I know this can’t be the plan. And then I remember them — the first people whose shame drove them into hiding and made them frantic. With trembling hands, they pieced together the very first articles of clothing to cover their darkness, the very dark He was still warning against in AD 30.
“So if your eye is well and shows you what is true, then your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is clouded or evil, then your body will be filled with evil and dark clouds. And the darkness that takes over the body of a child of God who has gone astray—that is the deepest, darkest darkness there is.”
Do you see the irony? The first item humanity created to cover our shame has become an object of worship. Am I so far removed from their utter regret that I forget I’m in the dark?
For some, yes, it’s clothing. For others of us it’s achievement… and travel… and the right body… and control… and sarcasm… and kids who make us look good… and anything that numbs us to the reality we can not face.
Will you brave the dark of your own heart?
Will you pick up your anxiety and worry and misguided pursuits?
Will you throw the mess into the shadow of the cross and wait for healing?
I promise you — He’s right there offering rescue. He’s ready to redeem the darkness in the crevices of your mind and heart that you see no way around. He’s waiting to alter your ambitions, alter your focus.
“He reached down and drew me from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay. With a gentle hand, He pulled me out to set me down safely on a warm rock; He held me until I was steady enough to continue the journey again.” Psalm 40:2
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ…
He did again. He transcended time.
A simple chalkboard message God gave me in June was really for a mystery I would face in July. Oh, why does He love me so? Why does He hold my tender heart again and again?
The Author has done it since the beginning of His Great Story…
… a thread of redemption woven throughout centuries. Centuries.
A timeless God, perfectly planning events. Perfectly planning time.
I’m amazed at His pursuit of us. I see God’s intentional love story planned from the first day His heart was wounded by His own creation. I marvel at His crimson thread woven throughout generations, stitching together a masterpiece of grace. I see His tenderness preparing our hearts for what’s to come.
And here I am — humbled — when I think of my own story, my own little mural, as compared to God’s huge rescue plan. And yet this timeless God, the Planner of events and healing and restoration, does it again and again. He prepares our hearts in advance for what we face today.
I believe deeply in God’s sovereignty and His big picture and a story larger than my own. I find comfort as I meditate on these beliefs and my smallness.
We moved this past spring, and in June I hung our 20 year-old slate in our new dining room. I didn’t know what to write on it, so I penned these words from a Hillsong United song. It seemed strange that this particular phrase came to mind, for I don’t really have trust issues — especially with God. But the words are poetic, and the song is beautiful, so I went with it. Several times over the past month, I challenged myself to erase it and write something more relevant to me or my family, but nothing came to mind.
You see, He had me write myself an encouraging note a month ago because He knew I’d need it this week. We didn’t face a huge tragedy or crisis, but just enough of a disappointment to remind us of our frail hearts. And our need for Him.
I love how He works like this. I love how He transcends time.
There have been books picked up again – after being ignored for months – whose truth spoke to present circumstances. I’ve journeyed with friends through their pain, only to discover later their path would become my own. I’ve written words in the past to encourage others whose messages would later heal me. I ponder at how He prepares our hearts – so tenderly, and then not-so-tenderly other times.
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” God asks His people. “Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16, NIV) Carved on His hands. Etchings transcending time. My walls – my days – my salvation and forever security are on the forefront of His mind.
Oh, His thread of redemption pierces me with truth and weaves a larger beauty I could never create myself. I’m covered by this masterpiece. I hide in its comfort. I wrap myself in His grace.
And once again, I’m amazed at His timeless grace evidenced in this very time.
photo source: Murray Campbell on unsplash