Choosing Substance: Defiant Hope (Day 5)

refugeemama

After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for… After a few months had passed, Herod realized he’d been tricked. The wise men were not coming back. Herod, of course, was furious. He simply ordered that all boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years of age and younger be killed. Matthew 2:13, 16

He simply ordered… It’s a tragic part of the advent story that’s been swept away by countless Christmas pageants. It’s hard to process, so I avoid. Hard to reconcile, so I ignore. Have you looked away, too?

Only Matthew chose to go there — not Mark, Luke, or John.

Mary and Joseph fled a leader’s insatiable greed and insanity, racing to Egypt. No promise from family to email. No hope of seeing their relatives’ Instagram posts. No ability to connect to headlines to see what was going on back home.

The carpenter-turned-refugee fled. The girl-turned-Mother of Messiah found herself a refugee, too, desperate to escape Herod’s wrath. And the Son of God, in all his mortal, two year-old adorableness was clinging to his mama and probably asking “Why?” a hundred times all the way to Egypt.

Are you, too? “Why, Rescuer? Where is Your deliverance? Why Emmanuel? I’m so alone, so lonely. Why, Morning Star? Why is my story so dark?”

The injustice they left behind was so threatening, so severe, that pursuing the unknown with no one waiting on the other side was the solution. As Christ fled deeper into the mystery, baby boys in Bethlehem were being ripped from their mama’s arms, torn from the earth forever. The wounds of the community’s heart were so great that Matthew pointed back to another refugee crisis in his people’s history:

* A voice will be heard in Ramah,
    weeping and wailing and mourning out loud all day and night.
The voice is Rachel’s, weeping for her children,
    her children who have been killed;
    she weeps, and she will not be comforted. Matthew 2:18 (Jeremiah 31:15)

And suddenly the advent story sounds similar to our own headlines. Did you catch it? Countless murders. Utter fear. Injustice.

A person of substance hopes defiantly. Her belief and desire will absolutely not be conquered.

From His birth, Christ entered a world churning with violence and injustice and fear, and from the beginning, He pointed to the cross. His cross. For through violence and injustice toward the Rescuer, we have life.

Our hope is not in what we watch every evening, or the headlines we scroll through on our phones, or countless news analysts. Our hope is found in a God who saw injustice and chose to enter the suffering in order to save us. His solution was to strip Himself of glory and wrap Himself in the mess. All the way to cross.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ ”  Revelation 21:3-5 niv

On the fifth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the Reason to hope defiantly.

… A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices…

photo source


Choosing Substance

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What horror abroad is making you restless? What situation in your own story leaves you unsettled every morning, every night?
  • Read the Maker’s response to Israel’s weeping long ago: Jeremiah 31:16-17, Jeremiah 31:25, Jeremiah 31:35.
  • How’s that definition of choosing substance coming? 🙂

* Matthew 2:18 — “The setting is Ramah, a village a few miles north of Jerusalem, where exiles are assembled before the long march to Babylon. Later the prophet himself will spend time in this refugee camp awaiting his own exile (Jeremiah 40:1). For now, he paints the picture of Rachel, one of the matriarchs of this nation, weeping for her children as they head off into captivity.” (The Voice: Step into the Story of Scripture, p. 922)

Choosing Substance: Owning Your Grief (Day 3)

griefListen to my voice.
You will hear me begging for Your help
With my hands lifted up in prayer… Psalm 28:2


A person of substance sits in her sadness.

(“Wait!” you say. “This is an Advent series. Don’t turn down this path already!”)

It’s been a long time coming, but I’m slowly becoming a mom who is okay with grief. I was a Dismisser for years, determined to rescue my kids from all things sad. Watching someone suffer and grieve clashed with my need to encourage. Sometimes your talents work against you. Or worse yet, they work against the ones you love.

Maybe you’re a Dismisser, too. Do you play the role of cheerleader? Motivator? Perspective-giver? Do you grab the half-full glass and beg your friends to drink it? Do you drown yourself in it?

It’s all good — it really is — until we get imbalanced. Until we stop living life in moderation. Until our encouragement feels like an interruption, and those we love stop talking. They know we’re not listening anyway.

“Oh, friend, that’s awful. You’ll have a better day tomorrow.”
“Look at the bright side, son. It snowed a little. We don’t have a snow day, but at least we have a four-day week next week.”
“Yeah, you came in second… but there’s always next year.”
And so on. And so on.

Maybe we’re not as comfortable with authenticity as we’d like to think, for we whisk people out of realness. We whisk ourselves away, too.

While there’s a place and a need for encouragement, maybe we’re bestowing it on others a little too soon. Without winter, spring would feel ordinary. Without hunger, there is no fullness. Without suffering, we don’t understand wholeness… we don’t recognize redemption.

If we dare to see we’re lost, we long for Emmanuel all the more. If we sit in our brokenness, we long for the Rescuer. Long for Him.

Choosing substance means seeing your pain, naming it, grieving over it… even during Advent. Because we were made in the image of God, we reflect Him. Because we bear His image, we’re capable of grief. He wrote suffering into His own story, and so a person of substance does not fear the ache. The agony, the mourning, reminds us this isn’t our home.

This Advent season, might you choose to sit in your sadness a while? Might you be a companion to those who can’t hum the carols but are instead singings Psalms of angst? Injustice. Illness. Betrayal. Misunderstanding. I know the list is long.

Watch over my soul,
    and let me face shame and defeat unashamed
because You are my refuge.
    …Vigilantly I wait for You, hoping, trusting. Psalm 25:20-21

On the third day of Christmas my True Love gave to me the courage to sit in my sadness… the hope that He will reconcile the painful mysteries of this world.

…’Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth…


Choosing Substance

  • Read all of Psalm 28 (link can be found at the very top of this post).
  • Think back to how you were raised. Was your home a safe place in which to “sit in your sadness”? Who was the most uncomfortable with your grief? What did you do when you were sad?
  • Ponder your view of your Maker. Do you view God as One who was uncomfortable with your grief? indifferent to it? intimate and caring?
  • Add another concept to your definition of substance.

photo source | Camila Damasio 

Hope

10888478_10203590246578826_910944565872039823_n Be strong, I thought as I silently scolded my quivering voice. Deep breath. Don’t you dare let those eyes water.

“I’m sorry this is your story,” I said to my 13 year-old.

“I’m sorry this is your story, too,” he replied.

My goodness, how does he do this? How does he balance between childhood one minute and manhood the next? I was trying to comfort him, and he let his tenderness spill out, flowing right toward me like a stream I wasn’t expecting.

We were talking about nothing life-threatening. Nothing that would look tragic to someone on the outside. To us, though, the ache we whispered about, the pain that was reaching both our hearts, was real. It was a simple conversation in the car that suddenly turned intimate.


And here we all are — well into the second half of 2015. I had intentions of taking a seat at the table again as we approached mid-year. July 1. It would be a Happy New Year and a Half post, full of reflection and challenge and grace as we pondered where we all were on December 31, 2014… and what we were hoping for on January 1.

But sometimes you literally can’t find words. Sometimes you must wait for your mind and heart to intersect again, in what you know and believe to be true, before you bring words into the equation. And as hard as it is to give yourself grace in the silence, sometimes it’s your season to be quiet. When you can’t find clarity within, it’s certainly hard to join the conversation again — especially that cyber one.

I remember back to last New Year’s Eve. I was weary, carrying burdens that really weren’t mine to carry. I was in the company of dear friends and slipped away for a moment, succumbing to social media numbing myself with social media. And somehow, I stumbled upon this photo of a street called “Hope” victoriously giving direction through the brokenness.

This will be my story in 2015, I determined. I am choosing Hope. A picture says a thousand words, and this would be my voice. So I boldly posted and shared this photo of Hope personified. Thank goodness we can’t see the future, for if we did, we’d be constant cynics.


“They’re really struggling,” I said to my husband recently.

“Who isn’t?!” he replied. It wasn’t said in disgust, but almost in a comforting tone.

I read between the lines. He was speaking truth again. We’re not lone victims, Christan. Our chapters read differently, but we’re all surrounded with the reality that we were made for a different Place.

We’re all kind of aching for something that doesn’t exist here, yes?


Another school year’s about to start. And you know what a whirlwind fall is, as we hold on tightly and watch life quickly unfold into new stories. It’s easy for me, come August, to mentally place myself in the autumn cool and the bustling holidays and another calendar year coming to a close. We blink, and what in the world?! We’re already Christmas shopping after stocking up on pencils and glue sticks and notebooks galore.

But this year I’m choosing to mentally place myself half-way through 2015. Seven months down, five to go. Am I still clinging to Hope? Watch closely, I am preparing something new; it’s happening now, even as I speak, and you’re about to see it. I am preparing a way through the desert; Waters will flow where there had been none. Isaiah 43:19

I’m still so thirsty, and I’m really needing those streams in my desert. I look at my friends, my dear community near and far, and they’re choking on broken relationships and cancer and parenting aches and racial inequity and loneliness and mental illness and more. They need grace to wash it all down. My friends — those I hold dear have carried quite a bit in 2015.

And if I’m not careful, I start doubting in my mind what I know to be true in my heart… I am preparing a way through the desert; Waters will flow where there had been none. 

But in the voice of a child, or in a young teenager this time, I’m reminded that I am seen, and those I love are not forgotten, and Hope really does rise boldly out of the rubble.

“I’m sorry it’s your story, too, Mom.” You see, I was resenting the fact that sometimes you just can’t protect your kids, and out of nowhere, I drank in empathy. And tenderness. And I saw facets of God’s character I had been ignoring.

Whatever it was you were hoping for on January 1, let yourself go back to that place. My intentions are not always yours, explains the Author, and I do not go about things as you do. My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you… My word will go out and not return to Me empty, but it will do what I wanted; it will accomplish what I determined. Isaiah 55:8-11

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts. Romans 5:5

Cheers.

Mercy Will Follow You. I Promise.

mercywoman

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Psalm 23:6

I opened my laptop and found two post-it notes on the keyboard, scribbled in handwriting I know so well. I’d wept in front of my daughter about something beyond my control. And later that day, her spirit met me in the solitude of my kitchen.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4. God will comfort you. And will walk through this with you.”

She’s eleven, and I’m supposed to be reminding her about God’s forever presence. About the One who doesn’t fear the valley full of shadows. About the Rescuer who doesn’t stop rescuing. But there are moments that turn into seasons when you’re so in touch with your weakness, with your realness, you’ll drink grace from a child without shame.

Have you walked the valley shadowed by the inescapable? Are you plagued by crevices of unanswered questions?

Mystery without hope shackles you to valleys deep. Are you convinced you’ll never make it to the mountain? I’ve been there, too. We know death is unavoidable, but headlines and conversations with friends and faces we love the most all point toward the unraveling whether we’re ready to see it or not. The winter branch, a fading flower — we can’t escape the reminders that death is on its way.

Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

Look over your shoulder. Can you see the mercy? Surely, the Author says. Surely, goodness and mercy are right there following you. Can you feel goodness pursuing? Can you see mercy running after you, chasing you down?

Whether you’re stumbling in the valley or you’re running away, surely grace and truth, forgiveness and relief are on the forever pursuit.

Are you crawling because fear won’t let you take another step? Stumbling because you’re reliving all those regrets? Slipping because your heart is so tired that Exhaustion has become your identity? Running away because it’s easier than risking…easier than reading your story and finding hope unfulfilled?

If I don’t search, I won’t be disappointed. And the classic “push you away before you push me away” leaves us desperate in our cynicism. Leaves us lonely in our doubt.  What if I come up empty-handed? Yes, sometimes it’s easier to carry a weary heart than hope.

And you may be almost to that mountain, ready to breathe deep and climb new heights. You may have endured the struggle and have quite a story to tell.

But those of you in that valley, I see you crawling and clutching and wondering how in the world you got there. You think you’re hidden in the shadows, and I know there’s no view. I know there’s no air to breathe. I know you’re dying in the monotony and routine of stumbling.

But when there’s no view, there are no distractions. And your eyes have no choice but to risk and look for goodness. And when you can’t breathe, His Spirit floods your being because that’s all you’ve got. And when you’re angry from the monotony, His mercy carries you when you least deserve it. Carries you to that place of safety, that place you could never crawl to on your own.

He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land, assured Dr. Martin Luther King.*

Many have gone before us. Many have crawled to the mountain and discovered it wasn’t about the mountain at all. But that’s another story for another day.

Hope does not disappoint. But if you just can’t go there yet, if you just can’t risk quite yet, turn around. Surely, goodness and mercy are following you.

Photo by Luke Palmer
* I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Choosing to Weep

nyc

It’s an interesting Advent season at best, as the call for justice and equity rises above the hope of a silent night. The voices, long unknown by many, have grown loud enough to spill over into unsuspecting homes this December.

Do you hear them? Do you see them?

Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

The beauty of city streets donned in lights and holiday bliss serves as the backdrop for masses chanting and marching and looking anything but peaceful. The scene clashes over and over. NYC window displays. A Seasons Greetings banner spread over a Ferguson street.

Silent night. Holy night. All is not calm. And all is not bright.

And maybe the chanting hasn’t reached your neighborhood, but do you see the irony that’s all of our story?! We wrap ourselves in beauty this season when God chose to wrap Himself in fallen flesh. We illuminate our homes and garages with lights as He chose to descend into darkness. We spend and buy and party away when He chose to join a mortal family with nothing.

He descended among those oppressed by Roman rule. He saw the victims and fully embraced the Rescue Plan.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. John 1:14

But there was more, so much more. Their captivity was greater and deeper than even they knew. He descended for those in spiritual oppression whose hearts were aching and longing during that forever Advent. But He descended here for the numb souls, too. He came for those who were never satisfied but didn’t know why. For those who couldn’t name their ache.

Some were captives of their own doing. Some were reaping consequences of their own sin. Some were bound by wounds inflicted from family and neighbors and the system and society at large.

He came to the mess. In fact, the mess was the reason He came. He came to the mess that couldn’t come to Him.

Maybe the chanting and the marching and ache for truth is more like the first Christmas than we’d like to think.

Israel’s call for justice. The heart’s cry to be rescued from a world we weren’t created for.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

And might we strike that balance, too? The balance between grace and truth? Truth and grace?

Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

Do you hear the voices? Regardless of your interpretations on why there’s weeping, do see a nation suffering?

Give us the courage, Lord, to enter the uncomfortable. 

Come, oh come, Immanuel, and ransom captives… 

 

 

Photo source: Huffington Post