Do You Need Christmas, Too? (Part 2)

Find Part 1 of “Do You Need Christmas, Too?” here

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
    The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His

     shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
    He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
    Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace. 
Isaiah 9:6


Sacrifice. Does it mean death? Yes. Does it mean life? Yes.

As we reach out for the “hope of all hopes and dream of all dreams,” our full hands prevent us from clinging, really clinging, to the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Counselor. I’m carrying fear this year with a little resentment. You may be grasping dreams that never flourished… or plans others won’t acknowledge… or wounds that can only be healed by forgiveness. You may be carrying good things that, over time, have come to replace your passion for the very One who breathed life into us. 

Mirriam-Webster understands the complexity of “sacrifice.” There’s the literal definition that points back to ancient worship — the slaughtering of life to present an offering to God. There’s pain and work and reflection all wrapped up in an act of humility to acknowledge there’s Someone bigger than yourself. To surrender to Someone bigger than yourself. And in that surrendering, we find redemption.

Even Mary and Joseph, when presenting eight day-old baby Jesus to God in the temple, gave a sacrifice, an offering, out of their poverty. Trading uncleanliness for purification, they were to sacrifice a lamb plus a bird. Instead, they gave the offering of the poor — two birds.   

But we find less physical acts of sacrifice defined, too, like the “surrender of something for the sake of something else” and the choice to “suffer loss of, give up, renounce, injure, or destroy especially for an ideal, belief, or end.” And let’s pause while we wrap our minds are that.


How do I surrender for the sake of something else? How do I make the choice to lose something, to destroy something, for what will stand in the end? How do I discern what’s worth giving up? What end, ideal, or belief is worth risking?

And what about when the decision is made for me? To me?

Is sacrifice death? Absolutely. It’s often as raw and messy — in a figurative sense — as the animal sacrifices of ancient years. There’s a carving of one’s heart as we slowly begin to align our passion with God’s desires. There’s pruning away that which prevents restoration, what prevents life. There’s letting go and releasing and submission and strength and courage and maturity all wrapped up in the dying.

But, is it life, too? 

“Brothers and sisters, in light of all I have shared with you about God’s mercies, I urge you to offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God, a sacred offering that brings Him pleasure; this is your reasonable, essential worship. Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete. Romans 12:1, 2

God’s mercies
living sacrifice
sacred offering
essential worship
authentic transformation
renewed mind
discernment in rhythm with my Creator’s desires

Yes. This life. It begins with God’s mercies and ends with His desires. This is the life my thirsty soul is craving. This is the life that looks nothing like what I pursue here. This is the life reminding me I was created for more than the brokenness I reach for.

For Joseph, it was the mystery of fatherhood when he least expected it. It involved mentoring and teaching and raising up the One who had formed him in his mother’s womb. For Mary, it was never doubting she was seen and known by God. For the magi, it was dreams and studies fulfilled. And for the shepherds, it was inclusion in the most breathtaking way — being invited to the divine party and asked to dance.

For us, might we reach out and catch the mercy? Might we lean into the intimacy of what’s sacred? Lean into Him who is sacred? Might we be transformed and have our thought process renewed? Might we crave what the God of the universe desires?

Friend, I see your tender heart, weary from worry, craving relief. And I see you who are determined to live purposefully even though doors are slamming shut. And I see you who have reluctantly surrendered simply because you’re tired of fighting. I see you because I am you.

But maybe, just maybe, the hunger and closed doors and weariness will show us something greater than our dreams of beauty ever could.

Maybe they’ll show us our need for Jesus.

Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters…
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,
        
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:1, 8-9 niv

Yes, come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters. Journey toward the One who satisfies the deepest thirst — even when surrender is required. It’s a risk, for sure. But there’s more than enough in His deep, deep well of grace. For when we refuse to come to the water, He brings it to us. When we lack the courage to let go as our full hands carry the weight of misguided passions, He still reaches. He grasps us and holds us in the most intense, rescue sort of way.

“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices…”

Photo by Jesse Bowser on Unsplash

Do You Need Christmas, Too? (Part 1)

Hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams,
    a child is born, sweet-breathed; a son is given to us: a living gift.
And even now, with tiny features and dewy hair, He is great.
    The power of leadership, and the weight of authority, will rest on His

     shoulders.
His name? His name we’ll know in many ways—
    He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Dear Father everlasting, ever-present never-failing,
    Master of Wholeness, Prince of Peace.
  Isaiah 9:6


Gosh, I need Christmas this year. You, too?

I need the Prince of Peace, and the perspective, and the reminder that there’s something bigger underneath the everyday. I need the challenge to slow down, to stop working, to stop striving so much.

A year ago, I needed the Mighty God. I needed to know, to believe, “the power of leadership and the weight of authority” really did sit in His hands because I lacked strength like never before. That was the year I read Psalm 40 over and over, begging God to not let go because I certainly wasn’t “steady enough to continue the journey again.” I read that passage well into 2018.

The year before that in 2016, I needed the Counselor at Christmastime. There was too much to navigate. There were too many questions and not enough answers and certainly not enough wisdom.  


Yes, I’ve needed peace, strength, and wisdom numerous times over the years — but never, ever would I have said I need sacrifice at Christmas. I can weave suffering and sacrifice into Easter, but Christmas? Yet the theme of surrender is imprinted on the hearts of all those in the Nativity story — Mary and Joseph and the magi and shepherds and all the unknown, unremembered people who were part of God’s great design we’ll never know.

Mary radically surrendered to God’s plan, and Joseph eventually did, too. They risked their reputations in order to join God in His rescue plan despite all the glances and whispers and judgments made without the whole story. They exchanged people’s approval for the chance to help bring redemption to humanity. God’s hand pointed to a different path as their hands held their former dreams loosely.

Sacrifice. The sacrifice of plans.

The magi set aside their pursuit of knowledge and sacrificed their time. They exchanged prestige for humility, safety for risk, and became active participants in God’s rescue plan rather than just discussing it. All the years of reading and deciphering and wondering and dialogue — they boldly reimagined their purpose and became travelers and worshippers. Their role became even more radically defined as they stood up a power-hungry, blood-thirsty king to protect the very One humanity had waited for.

Sacrifice. The sacrifice of time. The sacrifice of safety.

And the shepherds, the ones in the margins of society, left their stations and risked not feeding their families that day. They walked away from their work — and maybe away from their paychecks — and ran toward mystery. Hearing God speak in the song of angels, they turned a deaf ear to the boundaries of society. Exchanging their social-class shame for the belief that God valued them, they joined His rescue plan and worshipped Him on that first night He kissed the world in the flesh.

Sacrifice. The sacrifice of material security.

Embracing the “hope of all hopes, dream of our dreams” meant sacrificing what all these used to hope for before they knew there could be more. A quiet family life built on tradition and hard work and religion… A life of research and study and academic discussions… A way to provide for their wives and feed their children — Mary and Joseph, the magi, and the shepherds traded it all to participate in something bigger than themselves. They sacrificed, and this sacrifice became their offering. 

Yes, I really need Christmas this year in the worst way. I’m anxious about my son and daughter — their present and their future — and I’m not quite sure how to guide them when I don’t have answers. Surrendering — when it involves my kids — is the hardest for me.

And I want the quiet academic discussions instead of rolling up my sleeves. I want to live my life the way I planned instead of embracing what’s clearly given to me, forcing me to reimagine my purpose. It takes so much humility to surrender.

And in a bizarre way, sometimes it feels safer to hide in my shame instead of living a life of passion. Maybe my sacrifice this year involves letting go of the way others define me, embracing vulnerability, and trusting God really will sustain me. It’s hard to let go of control.

Those we hold dear… Career dreams… Relationships… Our place in the world, our place in society — Yes, I really do need Christmas — excuse me, I really need Jesus this year.

So, what does sacrifice look like? Is it death? Is it life?

Yes and yes.


Come back for Part 2. We’ll define sacrifice in a counter-cultural way…

Photo by Emanuel Hahn on Unsplash

When You Vacation in a Town That’s Rebuilding

GulfportI felt like college students. One day before our spring break began last March, my husband asked, “Do you want to get out of town? To the beach?” Of course, I did.

Spring break has always meant creating space at home for sleeping in, extra cups of coffee, visits to new restaurants, and conversing with our kids. Sometimes it’s great to have nowhere to be for a week. But times have changed — there are new summer jobs and extra summer sports commitments and cool things like songwriting camps. And with our summer flexibility fading away, wanderlust seemed especially strong this past March.

We hit VRBO and searched for beach condos as close to St. Louis as we could find. We started with the Florida panhandle but then kept expanding our search west. When it was all said and done, we chose a cute, dog-friendly place in a town we had never heard of along the Gulf Coast — Gulfport, Mississippi. Our plan was to hang at the beach and venture over toward New Orleans. It would be our first time in Mississippi or Louisiana.

The night before we left, I went online and discovered Google Earth describes Gulfport as “… a town still recovering from Katrina…” Oh, wow. The cottage was already booked and paid for.

I thought quite a bit about hurricanes this past year. Fifth graders at my school raised money for a community ransacked by Harvey. And my brother’s job sent him to Puerto Rico to do hurricane-relief — also Harvey. These headlines always remind me of two seasons in my own life: When I was six years-old, thousands slept inside our mega-church until Hurricane David passed through Florida. And, almost twenty years later, Hurricane Bertha hit North Carolina and rolled up the coast to New Jersey on my wedding day.

But Katrina?! That was 2005… and Gulfport, Mississippi is still recovering? I’m quick to hurt for a community when it makes the headlines but my empathy sadly fades as the days progress. And with Katrina, we’re talking 13 years later. I remember we donated a mattress when someone was hauling supplies of used goods down to Louisiana. But I haven’t ached for those victims since then. I had two preschool-aged kids back in 2005, and my life was embarrassingly all about us.

As dawn broke, we drove south and settled into an adorable brick home that had been repurposed into a beach cottage. We noted the closest Starbucks and donut shops on our phones, unpacked, and walked to the beach.

Two things struck me about Gulfport: 1) Yes, Katrina’s footprints were all over, and 2) This was a working town. I’ve never vacationed at the beach while rubbing shoulders with as many locals as I did tourists. Gulfport is home to the Mississippi State Port, and its horizon is punctured with the most industrial complex ever. Rentals were sprinkled among real neighborhoods where people got up early and drove to work instead of packing up their beach bags for yet another day of play and rest. It was an experience like none other. I navigated guilt and pity and pride and privilege — all in a few days.

It’s quite fascinating to watch a community thrive and intersect with one another … especially a community that has suffered. I fell in love, really. I felt redemption pulsing through its streets and beaches and even through its coffee shop. I read numerous tourist magazines highlighting locals who rose above the odds while opening new businesses and restaurants to replace those that were destroyed.

Our first meal was artisan pizza at Tony’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, a place mentioned on the Food Network.
Tony's

Oven

Shaggy’s welcomed us the next night.

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 6.27.41 AM

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 6.27.18 AM

And Coast Roast stole my heart with its industrial vibes, open air counter, and rich, deep coffee. I went there every day to order an Americano while my daughter, a bit more adventurous, tried something new each time. We saw a dog peering in from the outdoor counter with its owners sipping away. I loved this place so much I asked for a Coast Roast shirt for my birthday and asked my husband to paint our house the same color. (He said yes.)

Coast Roast Outdoors

Cocast Roast Indoors 2

Each of these restaurants’ websites told more than their business hours and menu items. Like many Gulfport establishments, their About Us pages referenced Katrina. When you’ve been hit hard, you view your story in two chapters: pre- and post-trauma. And while trials don’t define us, they impact our worldview. They deepen our understanding of ourselves, our faith, those around us — everything, really.

While we were in Gulfport, I happened to be reading Culture Making by Andy Crouch. He referenced how creatives and cultivators of culture adopt a posture of purposeful effort… how they do the painstaking work of preserving the best that those before them have done… how they dare to think and create something that’s never been thought of before… and how they steward culture, guarding what’s best in a neighborhood or field of practice. It’s a lot to navigate, really. I find it often easier to design something completely new than to rebuild what’s broken.

But restoration, it’s the heartbeat of the gospel. It’s about a God who pursues those whom sin has fractured, relentlessly drawing us near as He holds us with one hand and points back to the cross with the other. It allows us to understand — and believe — how much our Maker loves us. The gospel impacts everything — allowing us to risk, speak honestly, ask for forgiveness. It gives us the courage to redeem friendships and keep finding our voice instead of withdrawing in shame. All the while, we’re pointing back to that cross, too, with our own fingers.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, keep rejoicing and repair whatever is broken. Encourage each other, think as one, and live at peace; and God, the Author of love and peace, will remain with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11

I think of my own brokenness that needs repairing everyday. I grow weary at my constant need for restoration, and I’m sure those around me tire of my fractured state, too. I think of the communities that I intersect with — and those I avoid — and how rebuilding and restoring is in my DNA as a Christ-follower. And that call to love people and be others-centered — it’s how we help tell the story of the Author of love and peace.

As Gulfport’s residents exercise persistence and resilience over a span of years, as they rise up stronger than before, we can’t ignore the call on our own lives to do the same. Where will we be in 13 years? Ignoring brokenness? Still stumbling over the rubble? Or building something beautiful and empowering others to do the same?


“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

12 Advent Devotionals

Advent Series

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

Thanksgiving: How Are You Shaping the Next Generation?

diverse hands original
In any given moment, we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety. – Abraham Maslow


They faced the horizon and watched a tiny vessel grow large until it finally docked on their shoreline. Coughing and unsteady, pale refugees emerged from the ship who would forever redefine their society.

The Wampanoag tribe leaned into the unknown, expanding their understanding of the world instead of hiding. They stepped toward growth as the immigrants stepped away from religious persecution in Europe.

The first Thanksgiving offers a lesson in risk and community that reached across racial and cultural comforts. They celebrated together after months of hard work and sacrifice as cultures and worldviews rubbed against each other.


“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” said Neale Donald Walsch, and I can’t ignore what I need to learn from the Wampanoags. They ran toward the mystery, risking and throwing themselves into the the unknown. They gave in order to sustain a foreign culture. Gave to sustain lives not their own.

Authentic, racial integration not only reflects God’s kingdom, but it serves as my textbook into greater facets of God’s character. Diversity is more than living among those who look different from me. No, it involves admitting my need for others, as I see and study and welcome the culture that comes with the person. It respects and acknowledges how much other image-bearers of God can teach me. Really, true diversity involves heaps of humility.


But just one generation later exercised a radically different worldview. Just one.

Ironically, the children of those who bravely ran from religious persecution oppressed the Native Americans, oppressed those who were the very reason for their parents’ survival. And somewhere, woven throughout their lust to make people just like them came the insatiable need for power and control. The root of so many sins reared its ugly head even in the late seventeenth century.  


Do I really need more power? Am I so insecure, forgetting my identity is in what Christ did for me on the cross, that I need the validation that others are like me?


Maybe some of the Pilgrims were too busy surviving to share their worldview and convictions with their kids. Maybe their deep loss and grief silenced their mouths as their hearts broke over and over again.  


And lest I appear woefully judgmental, I sit here today wondering how clear my deepest passions are to my children. With the sports schedules… and the homework… and the play rehearsals… and the reminders to clean rooms — Are my son and daughter absolutely certain of my deepest convictions? Tragically, I have to ask if what I’m portraying in my home (and in the car) as I hurry about speaks a different philosophy than what I truly cling to in my heart. Is my heart repurposed enough to speak boldly amidst the scurrying? Is the Gospel woven so deeply into my life that my actions speak my thoughts?

I will sing of Your unfailing love, Eternal One, forever.
     I will speak of Your faithfulness to all generations.
     I will tell how Your unfailing love will always stand strong;
     and how Your faithfulness is established in the heavens above. Psalm 89:1-2

God, help me. Life is too short. Their childhood is racing by.

Later this week my U.S. friends and I will celebrate Thanksgiving Day. But regardless of where you are in the world, may we impart to the youth in our lives what is truly important to us. May we help them see God’s goodness from the beginning of time. May we risk, despite the mystery and the unknown, and may we point the next generation to a God who radically pursues us.

As we point to Him, may His gospel infuse our worldview, infuse our everyday routines. And may we recklessly love each other well.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Photo by Han Kim