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

3 Books to Read in Midlife

Midlife Books

I’ve been on a journey the past 12 months. Well, honestly, it’s been much longer than that, for hope and courage and fear and life circumstances from years gone by are woven into a web below the path I’ve walked recently. In recent months, these layers have all pointed to an intimacy I’d uncover with my Maker as my dreams became shards with edges sharp. Dramatic? Yes. When you’ve risked hope, and you find yourself with empty hands, it does feel quite dramatic.

I began to dance with midlife when I was 35, a bit early. Is this it? Is this really it? … and… I’ve given it my all, and it doesn’t quite feel like enough. I read a book and committed to find my identity in Christ, and that sustained me over the next several years.

But a shattered dream after months and months of hoping wakes you up to your frailty, and overnight you’re face to face with the truth that you’re really not in control — of your story, of what others think of you, of others’ behavior. At this breaking, midlife and its quiet doubt become harder to ignore.

I’ve written about my God who transcends time and prepares our hearts in advance for the pain of the now. It’s real, friends, it really is. That book I read on my own at 35? Well, a group of us read it together a few years ago. I never re-read books, but I thought it would be beneficial to open this one again because its words were so striking the first time. And my friends were reading it. Now I see God was preparing my heart for 2017. Oh, my God who transcends time and blurs the lines of present and past lessons to prepare me for tomorrow — I’m overwhelmed with His care.

So we begin here with that book — followed by two more. I can’t imagine all three will resonate with each of you, but they were part of the lifeline God held out when I felt myself sinking into my fallenness. I can’t say the order in which you read them will be magical for you, but they were for me. We’re so complex. Sometimes you need doctrine and a guidebook. Sometimes you need prose so beautiful you have to re-read its paragraphs a time or two to soak it all in. And sometimes you need a non-intimidating, friend-like writer who lays her soul out bare and gently pulls you out of yourself.

Lost in Middle
Lost in the Middle: Midlife and the Grace of God
 
by Paul David Tripp

I sum up this book in one sentence: “Midlife reveals your idols that have always been there.” It’s a scary thing when you discover things about yourself that you never saw before. On the margins of my book, you can see my pencil scribbles (because I’m too scared to write in pen):
– where is it that you’re looking to find your value?
– self-righteousness = when my obedience is prompted only by the amount of my blessings, the blessings I define
– did I want to travel so much to earn significance?
– disconnect — numbness — lost — apathy
I imagine Tripp’s words will evoke responses different than mine, but I promise he’ll lead you boldly towards self-discovery. And when we come face to face with truths we’ve tried to cover up for years with ambitions and affections, well, our Maker and His grace become all the more beautiful, all the more sustaining.

Tripp’s guidance is rooted firmly in Scripture, and I’m amazed how he ties ancient stories I’ve heard countless times to the doubt and insecurity I’m feeling today. Over 300 pages, Lost in the Middle presents you with themes of the invincibility lie, feeling exposed, trying to make a name for yourself, suffering, identity crisis, and yes, idolatry.

I’m so glad this was the book I read first about midlife. Twice.

Falling Upward
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life
 by Richard Rohr

She stopped by with a treat for my family and a book for me before I had started healing. Grief has its stages, and I was feeling all of them — except acceptance. My friend entered my home and stepped right into my range of emotions, right into the awkwardness, armed with Falling Upward.

Richard Rohr is one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever read. He writes of the paradox, the irony, of your faith in Christ maturing (“upward”) as a result of failing or stumbling into humility (“falling”). He speaks of our two stages of life and the rhythm of coming to terms with our own brokenness which launches us into the second half. Rohr challenges the reader to face the truth and fall well.

Hear his words:
“In most all legends and literature, sacrifice of something to achieve something else is almost always the pattern. Some kind of falling or “necessary suffering” is always programmed into the journey. It creates the whole storyline inside of which we can find ourselves. Losing, failing, falling, sin, and the suffering that comes from those experiences — all of this is a necessary and even good part of the human journey. How often did Jesus tell stories where the character does his life totally right and is, in fact, wrong; and the other who does it totally wrong ends up God’s beloved? We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right.”

A Million Little Ways
A Million Little Ways
by Emily P. Freeman

Self-discovery, for me, revealed a lack of humility, and it surprised me. Entitlement is hard to see in yourself. And while it’s good to face the truth, my new discoveries paralyzed me. I didn’t trust myself, my heart, my motives — so I stopped dancing — even when the rhythm begged to pulse out of me. I stopped using my voice, questioned my passion, and doubted my purpose while embracing shame.  I feared the critic, and silence seemed like a more favorable option than risk-taking.

A Million Little Ways wooed me back into community. Believing I reflect the Master Artist and bear His image is an invitation to come alive despite the truth of what I’ve come through. Freeman beckons the reader to live from our facets of wholeness instead of our remnants of dysfunction. She tenderly dares, “The world needs you to come alive right where you are and not where you wish you were.”

Chasing your crazy ideas, validating the dream you just can’t shake, remembering your belovedness — Freeman calls out your art and boldly puts you back in front of the canvas. And I love her for it.


Are you waking up asking, “It this it?” Are you aching at how life has (or has not) turned out? Are you hiding in shame over how little you’ve accomplished all these years?

Or are you facing a season of suffering, desperately longing to know there’s purpose that will unfold from it?

Friend, you are so not alone. You are seen and loved and known.

Where as Lost in the Middle speaks truth boldly and helps you recalibrate your thinking, Falling Upward is like a tender song that helps you interpret your heart. And A Million Little Ways beckons you and gives you permission to find God-sustaining courage to respond to your story for the benefit of others.

I needed all three.

Even When God Is Silent

soragrit-wongsa-599087-unsplash
I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining.

I believe in love,
even though I don’t feel it.

I believe in God,
even when He is silent.         – Unknown

Etched on a cellar wall by a victim of the Holocaust, these words won’t leave me.

Yes — even when…

I first heard this truth from the lips of a middle school choir. We lead busy lives, as most of you do, and that night we had raced to our daughter’s choir concert. I love these concerts, for my girl comes alive on stage, and these times are a reminder that God will unfold any story He wants in my children’s lives. There are glimpses of me in my kids, but the real joy comes in watching their talents that could only be God-inspired, not mom-inspired.

I was unprepared to hear from my Rescuer that night. I was still catching my breath from our race to the concert.

But there in the dark and in the quiet, came the most heart-wrenching song of surrender:
I believe in the sun, I believe in the sun,
even when, even when it’s not shining.

I believe in love, I believe in love,
even when, even when I don’t feel it.

I believe in God, I believe in God,
even when, even when He is silent. 1

Oh, thirteen year-olds, yes. Etch these words on the walls of your hearts for you will need to read them again someday. I wish it wasn’t true, but yes.

Just as I know the sun exists when there are clouds covering it, shadowing my city, I will cling to what has been proven as true. And just as I know love is real even when I don’t feel it from certain people, I will remember the world is bigger than my own loneliness in those moments. And just as I know God not only exists, but holds His purposes together with fierce intention, I will trust Him when He is silent.

Why does surrender bring me to tears? Why does trusting a silent God take my breath away as confusion and conviction and even comfort together press upon my chest? Why can’t I find words as I ponder His silence?

And there’s no mistake that this truth was written by an “unknown” author… an “unknown” victim… an “unknown” teacher who is still teaching me truth years later, for my Maker is calling me to “unknownness” even now:

  • It’s in surrendering being known by others that He mysteriously reminds me I’m cherished by Him. And His divine intimacy mocks loneliness.
  • It’s in refusing to be swallowed up by the dark that I see Him unchanged by the darkness. His power transcends my fear of not being understood.
  • It’s His unchanging love, even when I’m too self-absorbed to feel it, that helps me not drown in shame.
  • It’s His silence that causes me to read others’ stories of His faithfulness and see He is not defined by our expectations of who He should be.

Yes, children, on the eve of adulthood — the sun does shine, love does exist, our Maker is real — regardless of our experiences.

Even if I am afraid, and think to myself,
“There is no doubt that the darkness will swallow me,
and the light around me will soon be turned to night,”
You can see in the dark.  Psalm 139:11-12

He can see in the dark.

Oh, to be like the Psalmist who boldly testifies that His God can see in the dark instead of begging Him to take the darkness away.

Will you join me this Easter season? Will you trust the One who is not defined by our expectations? Will you surrender all of your plans — even the ones you wildly dared to hope for? As D.A. Carson writes, “Christians have learned that when there seems to be no other evidence of God’s love, they cannot escape the cross.” 2

And so we start there. The cross. If you’re needing to recalibrate your perspective, let’s focus on different aspects of that horrific day in the life of Jesus, that beautiful day in the life of the Christian, that day of fulfillment for our Redeemer’s plan. Bookmark or pin this page, and beginning Monday, come back for daily devotionals to prepare you for Easter, to prepare you for surrendering to a Plan bigger than your own…

… even when He is — in the moment — silent.

 

photo by Soragrit Wongsa on Unsplash


1 Mark Miller. “I Believe.” J. W. Pepper online. Accessed March 25, 2018.  http://www.jwpepper.com/I-Believe/10335690.item#/

2. DA Carson. How Long, 191.

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