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

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.

A Lesson Before Going on the Air: Regret, Empathy, and Rescue

STL Public RadioIt was already a busy week, but this was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

Through her school, my daughter submitted a story last year to The Grannie Annie, a foundation that inspires students to give their family stories a voice. Her great-grandfather rode the Orphan Train from New York City to a Kansas farm, and Kharis had recorded the loneliness and fear of what a child might have felt on that ride. “Abandoned” was selected to be published in Grannie Annie, Volume 12, and we went to cheer her on when she read it at the 2017 Family Stories Festival held at the Missouri History Museum.

It was quite an experience for Kharis in June of 2017, but the opportunity grew even larger last week — Thanksgiving week. We would be hosting 10 relatives and three dogs for a few nights, but when I got a phone call last Monday inviting Kharis and I to appear on St. Louis Public Radio with a co-founder of the Grannie Annie, of course I said, “yes.”

We were to be in the studio at noon on Wednesday but were told a breaking news story could possibly delay our segment until 12:20pm. News story? I search my memory but couldn’t think of any possible breaking stories in St. Louis. I was quickly consumed again with cooking and prepping and making our house feel like a home for out-of-town family members.

On Wednesday morning, the station informed me they would indeed be delaying our interview due to covering the Ratko Mladic conviction. Ratko Mladic? I quickly googled the name and discovered he was a general responsible for the genocide in Bosnia back in the 90’s. The ethnically rooted war spanned almost three years in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a former republic of Yugoslavia with a multiethnic population comprising Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Serbs, and Croats. Mladic, the “Butcher of Bosnia”, was responsible for the deaths of 7,000-8,000 male Bosniaks in two days, and on November 22, 2017, he was convicted over twenty years later.

Bosnian Cemetary editedOf course our interview would be delayed — St. Louis is home to the highest population of Bosnians outside of Bosnia. After living in South St. Louis during 2001-2005, I experienced this melting pot first hand. Our neighbors across the street were Bosnian, and their preschool-age girls would interpret for us. My hairstylist was Bosnian, too. She had given my now teenage son his first haircut as a toddler.

I was in my late-twenties, and I was consumed with being first-time homeowners and starting our family. Both of our kids were born when we were living in that adorable brick house with the arched front door. I was trying my best to be an incredible mom, leaving only enough energy and passion to be an adequate neighbor. I remember being so tired those years as I cared for my baby and toddler. My fatigue brought self-absorption, for I interacted with my neighbors — American, Bosnian, Albanian, and more — only when it was convenient for me. I even later carried this worldview and lifestyle to the suburbs.

If you’ve read Repurposed for a while or know me personally, you know I choke on regret often. I surrender this pattern to the Lord over and over, and I promise, I really do believe the Holy Spirit brings healing as He reminds us “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 NIV) But the Lord does convict also, sometimes gently, and my heart began to break as “breaking news” surfaced.

We arrived at St. Louis Public Radio and were escorted to a small waiting room, separated from the actual studio by a glass wall. A woman was seated and smiled ever so slightly before we were introduced. As she spoke, it was obvious — she was from Bosnia and would be soon reliving her family’s trauma to thousands of listeners. Yes, she was there to respond to Mladic’s conviction and the genocide that stole her cousin’s life. Her studio companion revealed on the air he had lost his dad, grandpa, uncle, and cousin to Mladic.

Just moments ago, I was reminding my daughter to speak in complete sentences while on the air. And now I was silent.

We heard everything the listeners heard that day, but we could see the guests in front of their microphones through the glass. They spoke of the pain that lingered despite Mladic’s conviction. They referenced an entire population of Bosnians suffering with PTSD and the impact it’s having on a younger generation being raised by those parents. They spoke of trauma and mental illness and coping mechanisms like keeping busy.

They were right there across the street, and I shut myself in my Tudor bungalow with my babies…

Did my neighbors sleep at night?

Who had my stylist lost in the war? When our chit-chat paused, what was she thinking about as she cut my hair in that salon?

Just recently, I wrote about the importance of looking around instead of gazing ahead. Oh, to go back fifteen years and look beyond my four walls and around at my world — oh, to have engaged with that community of Bosnians. I knew about a war. I knew about their ravaged cities. I was kind, but I lacked empathy. I was consumed with stretching our one income, and getting my son and daughter on sleep schedules, and introducing the right baby foods to my kids at just the right time. I ignored the battle of my neighbors’ hearts and failed to reflect on their ravaged lives.

And there they were behind that glass, speaking of brokenness but sounding so strong. Alluding honestly to pain while attesting to moving forward. Referencing loss and grief and wrapping themselves in a vulnerability that was beyond anything I had ever dared.


I think of my King, my Protector, who Himself became a refugee at the age of two while fleeing from a ruler’s massacre. He escaped Herod’s insane wrath only to hang on a cross 31 years later. He’s the One who wrapped Himself in my shame and desolation and sacrificed Himself to rescue me.

And I am the one trying to hold together brokenness, but He’s holding out strength. I’m the one with pain unspoken, but He beckons me on and reaches for me, lifting me out of myself when I just can’t move forward. I’m the one replaying loss and grief, but He bottles up my tears and washes me into wholeness. (2 Cor 12:9, Ps 40:1-2, Ps 56:8)

All of it — it all lays in the shadow of the One who offers abundance.

      The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that
     they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10 NKJV

God, open my eyes to the fullness You’re holding out. And open my heart to the stories that come with the people I interact with every day. Send grace to me, the one who follows You but fails to mirror You so often.

I love how He works. The last-minute invitation to be interviewed on the air, the re-lived joy over my daughter’s published article — my Maker’s story for me that day was so much bigger than our own experiences. He does it for all of us — He invites us all into a something bigger than ourselves and our own dramas. He sends perspective just when we get a bit too inward, calling us to more.

He rescues us from ourselves.

Photo by Dimitar Dilkoff via WikiTribune

 

When You Think God Doesn’t Care: How to Recognize Deception

Deception Original

I see you — running around, doing your work, yearning to live purposefully. I see your deep, deep soul and your mind rich with knowledge. I see you clinging to truth as you remind yourself to hold on, for some days you can feel yourself drifting away.

Does He care? Does He love me? Because if God did, I wouldn’t wake up questioning if this is all worth it. I wouldn’t read about California, and Puerto Rico, and Mexico, and Florida, and Texas. I wouldn’t see my own angst and pain reflected in the eyes of the next generation. I wouldn’t feel forgotten in midlife, and millennials wouldn’t be asking, “What now?”

Yeah, I see you because you’re me.  Continue reading