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

Series on Suffering: Miscarriage & Infertility

miscarriage

Continuing our Series on Suffering is Jami, a thirty-something who has quite a story to tell. We’re here today with her original interview from 2012. Be sure to come back tomorrow to learn how Jami’s story has unfolded. There’s joy and more suffering and mystery and redemption.

Christan: Thank you, Jami, for your willingness to talk to Repurposed readers. I’m grateful for your openness about such an incredibly painful part of your life. Tell us about your family.

Jami: Thank you for letting me share. My husband, Jim, is a graphic designer, and our son, Tate, is in first grade at the school where I teach. We live in southeastern Kansas and have a great support system.

Christan: You have one child, and you want more.

Jami: Yes, I’d love more. A large family is something I’ve always dreamed about. When Jim and I first started talking about having children, we always planned on having four.  He comes from a sibling set of three, and so do I. We’re both the middle child. It was inevitable that someone was always left out, so we always planned to have an even number.

But I miscarried in 2006. It was the most painful time of my life, but then it just got worse from there. We’ve not been able to get pregnant again. Our son was two, almost three at the time. He’s now seven.

We wanted the baby – that baby. It was so weird being pregnant and happy one day and then not being pregnant the next. Even months later I’d find myself driving to the library or store and think, “I was just pregnant and now I’m not. How is that?” It’s hard to let go of something you held inside of you and wanted so much.  It’s been even harder not being able to get pregnant again. I’ve had to let go of the dream of more children. It feels like many deaths instead of just one. 

Christan: When did you start telling people you had miscarried your second child?  

Jami: As soon as it happened. It was a really rough time for me, and I needed people to know. I tried to go on like everything was okay, but it was hard. People respond in different ways to miscarriage. Some see it as no big deal… like, “Oh, well”. But others acknowledge it and are kind. Many just don’t know or understand what it’s like. It’s a death. I have a friend who miscarried after I did… she told me she wishes she’d been more compassionate to me and admitted she just didn’t understand until she went through it herself.

Christan: How did your son handle it?

Jami:  Tate was so young I think all he knew was that Mommy was unhappy. We still talk about his brother or sister in Heaven. He wishes he had siblings… mostly someone to play with. That aspect has been the hardest for Jim and I. We’ve always wanted Tate to have brothers and sisters. Seeing him alone so much is a constant reminder of what he’s missing out on. It’s even harder to look to the future and see him alone then, too. We love getting together with our siblings over the holidays, and Tate will never have that. It breaks our hearts.

Christan: How did the Church respond?  

Jami:  At the time I was part of a Mommies Group in our church.  I remember going to one of the meetings a few weeks after my miscarriage. No one really said anything. I knew they were aware, but they just kind of avoided the topic and tried to be cheerful. I needed more.  People just don’t know what to do in that situation. When you have a baby, people come over and bring you gifts and food. When you lose a relative, people bring flowers and cry with you. But with miscarriage, I got the impression that people wanted me to move on and get over it quickly. 

Christan: Did anyone walked through the mess with you?

Jami:  My husband walked with me and still does. I have some really great people in my life who still cry with me over the experience. It’s amazing how God works… it’s amazing how He gives me exactly what I need exactly when I need it. He’s brought people into my life at just the right time — people who’ve let me be sad.

Christan: Did you ever feel like it was your fault?

Jami:  Yes, from the beginning. In many ways. The day before I lost the baby we went for a bike ride. I felt like I had over-exerted myself. I know now that’s silly. I also didn’t go to the doctor right away after learning I was pregnant. It was my second baby, and I was determined to be more laid-back than I was during my first pregnancy. I kick myself over and over for that.

I was nervous, too, about my ability to parent two kids. I was tired from chasing a two year-old and wondered if I was capable of still being a good mom with more kids. I thought maybe God heard me and knew I couldn’t handle it. I’ve also thought that I was being punished for choices I made in my past… like God must be mad at me for something or that my faith just wasn’t strong enough. 

Christan: Were you mad at God?

Jami: Oh, yes! Sometimes I still slip back into this anger. He gave. He took away. And then He took more away. I’m infertile. There was a time, though, that I was so angry with Him I didn’t talk to Him for a long time. I went through the motions, so no one knew. I stopped singing to Him in my heart. I’d go to church and just stand there during praise and worship — not singing — with a cold heart. It was really hard to cut that out of my life. It was so second nature for me to start up a conversation with God… I’d find myself doing just that, remember how angry I was, and stop.

Christan: Are you still mad at Him?

Jami:  That’s such a hard question. I hate telling people that I’m still angry sometimes.  This is what it is, you know? I’ve had people tell me that it’s a sin to be angry at God and it’s wrong because His way is perfect, so whatever He does is what should happen. I don’t want it to be His way sometimes. I want it be my way.

It really depends on where I am. I work at a preschool, and half the moms are pregnant. I have to face it every day, and it’s hard. It’s really hard to see everyday what I’m not going to get. I’m more angry when pregnant women are right in front of me.

I know that God loves me, and that He wants the best for me. I have to preach that to myself over and over, and it’s an everyday thing. It’s like a person who deals with alcoholism and wakes up every day going into the world knowing they can’t have what they want. I, too, have to wake up everyday knowing I desperately want another baby, but I can’t.

But God knows we’re human. He made us. I have to pour out my heart to Him about how angry I am with the situation. I ask Him what to do.  When I open up to Him, I do feel peace at times. I also have to let go of myself — wanting to be pregnant took up so much of my life. It’s a very selfish mindset.  t’s been me for so long, wanting it, wanting it, wanting it. I feel like God is saying “no”. I feel like I need to let go of what I want and somehow find contentment in that, but I don’t want to many days. I have to let go of myself and my wants over and over and over everyday. 

Christan: You’ve obviously healed over the years.  How did that happen?

Jami: My family. People listening to me helped. I know that there’s some people I drove crazy by talking about my miscarriage and infertility. There’s others that just listened to me — and still listen to me — for however long I want to talk about it.

I do guard myself sometimes. I stay away from situations where I know I’ll get angry. I don’t go to baby showers. I’ve lost friends, I really have. I hate admitting that because it’s selfish — it’s a very selfish part of me. If a mom comes in who is pregnant or has a new baby, I usually step away.

I’ve prayed. I still pray that God will take the desire to get pregnant away from me. So far, the desire remains. I still hope for this, though. I do feel like just asking this of Him, though, lessens the pain and reminds me to surrender. Reminds me to trust. It’s still really hard.

Christan: Looking back, has God redeemed any of the brokenness?

Jami:  That’s hard to answer. I guess I can see that Jim and I have come closer together.  I’ve learned who I can trust and lean on, and I have a deeper understanding of trusting my Savior. I wish my story was one where I went years and years of not getting pregnant and then all of the sudden I find out I’m pregnant… music swells… we make excited phone calls… we kiss passionately… happily ever after. I know this is not what my Lord has planned. I know infertility was not His original plan for this world, but we all tasted the fruit. We all nailed Him to the tree. This is my part in the brokenness. His suffering is my suffering. For Him I can endure.

My prayer life has changed more from a focus on me and my wants to other people. It seems like for so long I was just praying I would get pregnant and everything else was forgotten. When I finally let go and gave control to God, I could see I was not using my prayer life to its fullest, and my praying changed.

Everyday, though, I wake up and realize I’m infertile and that I’ve lost something. Everyday I have to deal with the anger and make a choice about what I am going to do with it. I’m constantly depending on God for help in this area. Sometimes I am bitter. All the emotions can come and go depending on where I am and what I’m faced with and I make a choice on how I respond.

It’s not always a pretty picture. I’m a sinner and I get ugly. How wonderful that because of Jesus I know that God is looking at me and sees me as pure and beautiful. I’m forgiven for the ugliness in my heart.

Christan: How have you used your suffering to help other women deal with their own infertility and loss?

Jami: I write about infertility, and this has actually helped with my own healing. I’d love to start a support group but that always makes me nervous. Things like that are so important, though. Infertility is a very lonely affliction. 


And so Jami waited as her heart was transformed and her understanding of her Maker and Redeemer matured. I remember times when I knew about others’ pain — miscarriage, a still-born baby, a cancer diagnosis, and on and on and on — and I remained silent. Not wanting to say the wrong thing, I said nothing at all. I grieve now over my cowardliness. I’m embarrassed of my fear of stumbling upon my words and appearing foolish — ashamed of my selfishness. Let us all be inspired even today to love others well.

Join me tomorrow as Jami’s story continues to unfold. You’ll never guess what God’s writing…

 

photo source | milada vigerova

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.

When You’re Feeling Unimportant

coffeeshop

I live with the hope of being rewarded. Maybe you crave the simple reward, too. It’s just a whisper that says “You’re okay. You’re really okay.”

And that whisper, it fades every time. Do you hear yours fading, too?

I crave approval and admiration — even from those invisible culture-makers who convince me I’ll never be good enough, from those who usually make me feel worse about myself. “They” speak louder than whispers.

It’s embarrassing to wake up and realize you’re wrestling with the same thoughts you had as a teenager.

The more insecure I feel, the harder I try.  It’s painful to watch someone try too hard.  It’s even more awkward when you’re watching yourself do it.

“When you pray, do not be as hypocrites who love to pray loudly at synagogue or on street corners—their concern is to be seen by men. They have already earned their reward. (Matthew 6:5)

And I pity them, those who need to be seen and admired.  For their reward has already been received, and they’re still hungry.  I’ve known it all too well. I’ve received praise, only to find myself more insecure and empty than before.

“When you pray, go into a private room, close the door, and pray unseen to your Father who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.” (v6)

What is this reward that comes in secret? This counter-cultural reward?

I empty myself of everything but hope.  I cast off the world’s measuring stick.  I come to the quiet — to the silence — before I can be filled.  I stop trying.

Intimacy. 

I’m known. And amazingly, I’m cherished.  Acknowledgement and admiration seem so empty after you know what it’s like to be cherished.

The hope of Your reward, Lord, silences me.  No words here, just a quiet longing to know intimacy that transcends mortal comprehension.  You overwhelm me.  Your Story boasts complexity.  Your reward, Your very Presence given to me in secret is more satiating than anything I’ve tasted.   

Your grace finds me moment after moment.  Your mercy is new each morning.

Forgive me for heaping up empty phrases. Give me the grace to stop talking and the courage to hear. Give me discernment to ignore the empty whispers and to listen instead to Your Voice.

My reward in private is intimacy.  My reward is believing I’m pursued.  My reward is the hope I’ll always see You running after me.

Help me get back to this place again.

photo credit