Bethlehem & the Beginning of Advent

Bethlehem & the Beginning of Advent

I rarely eat bread these days. Unfortunately, carbs are no longer the friend they were in my twenties. But when I do have bread, I want the good stuff–crusty bread baked with rosemary and olive oil or a tangy sourdough baguette with melted Brie on it. Last summer some girlfriends and I found this rich, dense homemade bread with ribbons of dark chocolate at a little farmer’s market. We sat down at a picnic table telling ourselves we would just have one bite. Several bites later, I thought to myself, “I know why Jesus called himself the Bread of Life.”

Today begins Advent, a season of expectation, of waiting, of longing. It is an invitation to remember the meticulous details of our Savior’s birth so we can see the glory of God the Father. One of those details is the place where Jesus would be born. Bethlehem was a tiny dot on the map, a place for Mary to rest her weary body from their travel. But it would be in this town, this Bethlehem that means “house of bread” that the Bread of Life would be born. And on that night when the virgin Mary gave birth to the Savior of the world, this seemingly insignificant town would find its way into history, but that night when the star shone bright wasn’t the first time Bethlehem got notice.

In the Old Testament in the book of Ruth we find one of my favorite stories. A man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi, along with their two sons, leave Bethlehem because of a famine and head to Moab. While in Moab, their sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. In the course of a decade, Naomi loses her husband and both her sons. In her grief and need, she leaves Moab to return to Bethlehem. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to leave her and find new husbands. Orpah agrees to it, but Ruth begs to stay with her.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16

Naomi concedes, and they return to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. In an effort to find food for herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth goes to a field to glean. And then comes her behold moment, that flash when God interrupts her story, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4). The music changes, and we see God’s provision for Ruth and Naomi, not only in the kindness of a stranger, but in the detailed orchestration of a family kinsman-redeemer. Boaz was in a significant and not coincidental position to be able to redeem Ruth and Naomi.

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” Ruth 3:6-13)

Boaz, their kinsman redeemer, came from Bethlehem, a town whose name means “house of bread,” the same town from which our Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ, would come. Bethlehem was the place Ruth would come to, vulnerable and needy. It was the place where God would provide the grain for bread for Ruth and Naomi and the place where God would provide the Bread of Life for us all. Bethlehem was the place where God would show his care for the widow and all those who feel forgotten. It was the place where God would show His sustenance to the woman who would become the great-grandfather of David, the one through whom the Savior of the world would be born. And it would be this Savior who takes our bitter, broken hearts like Naomi’s and shows us unending faithfulness. Bethlehem was a place that had once been in famine but would become the birthplace of the One who gives abundant life.

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. Ruth 2:14

Ruth was satisfied and had some left over. When God interrupts your story with a behold moment, it isn’t about scarcity. It’s about being satisfied with the Bread that never leaves us hungry. We sometimes think if God blesses someone else, it means less blessing for us, or if we honor God with the Sabbath, we will be less productive and successful. Or if we give, we won’t have what we need. But that’s not how the Bread of Life works. The second part of John 10:10 tells us, “I have come to give you life and life abundant.” When God interrupts our story it isn’t about scarcity because God certainly wasn’t scarce with his love. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). These words come from a God who rained down manna in the desert and a God who multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand. He is the Living Bread, the One who gives abundant life.

From a tiny town called Bethlehem whose name means “house of bread” the Living Bread would come. He would come from the line of David, great-grandson of Ruth, the woman who faithfully followed God to the grain fields where her kinsman-redeemer Boaz would come for her. Just as our Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ, would take the bread in his hands, break it, and say, “This is my body, broken for you.”

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The End of 2014

The End of 2014

2014 began with this…

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And ended with this…

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A special year indeed. When I chose my word for 2014–Behold–I had big goals. I wanted to run 1000 miles this year. I wanted to go to Colombia with my dad and teach women about the love of their Savior. I wanted to start writing a book. None of those things happened.

Instead, I spent much of the year being the vessel for God to grow a beautiful baby girl. Which means I spent much of the year moving more slowly than I would have liked. “Be still,” I heard him whisper over and over.

We begged God to keep Ethiopian adoptions open, and I heard Him remind me, “Hold on.” I walked with two people I love dearly through the searing pain of divorce and heard the same reminder, “Hold on.”

I faced new fears, new doubts, new questions and felt the weight of the angels’ anthem, “Fear not. For Behold, I bring you good news of great joy.”

I never imagined Behold becoming so literal, but it did. Be still and hold on. Two things I struggle with greatly. I want to go and do and move and see. He asks me to be still and know that He is God. I want to abandon the endeavor when it gets hard or I think I might fail. He asks me to hold fast to my Hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful.

I loved studying how often God used the word Behold in his love story to us. It’s as if He knew we would need the reminder time and time again. It’s as if He knew I would be prone to struggle with control and perfectionism. He knows me so well.

Sometimes we run across the finish line and sometimes we pad gingerly banged up and bearing scars. But I’ve learned this year, what matters most isn’t the speed I travel but the Hand I’m holding.

He who calls you is faithful. He will surely do it. (1 Thes 5:24) Someone needs to hear that promise today. Someone needs to be still. Someone needs to hold on. Someone needs to stare fear in the face and declare, “Behold.” We do not walk this road alone. And tomorrow we begin a new year, but before the clock strikes midnight tomorrow night we will have already messed up. But January 2nd we will begin again. And January 3rd and January 4th.  Our goals may change because God has surprises in store we cannot imagine. Some we will like. Some we will resist. But the promise we can always hold on to is that He is faithful. Great is His faithfulness. Morning by morning, new mercies I see.

With a grateful heart for the blessings and lessons of 2014 and with an expectant heart for what 2015 holds, thank you, Lord, for being my Sustainer and for never letting go.

Behold, Christmas.

Behold, Christmas.

IMG_2793Behold. Be still and hold on.

When I chose my word for 2014, I had no idea what a literal manifestation it would take in my life. When mid-way through the pregnancy the ultrasound tech measured my amniotic fluid on the low side, my doctor told me to rest as much as possible. I asked her if she had met my girls, particularly my curly-headed Firecracker. She laughed and told me to do my best. This Type-A personality struggled with it, but I knew it was necessary for the baby so I forced myself to rest.

Now, I have a precious newborn to feed which means hours spent on the couch staring at the Christmas lights and those tiny ears and eyelashes and fingernails. I still remember the first Christmas after becoming a mom. I remember looking at the nativity one night and tears welling up in my eyes. I was flattened by the weight of a mother’s love for her Son and even more so a Father’s Love for His children.

As we celebrate Advent, I pray my heart waits in expectation and anticipation of not only God’s provision but of His very Presence. For it is in that wait, that stillness, that holding pattern, that my heart hears, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Emmanuel. God with us. 

Behold, indeed.

When God Doesn’t Lay Out a Red Carpet

When God Doesn’t Lay Out a Red Carpet

Our Bible study group has been going through Beth Moore’s Children of the Day, and 1 Thessalonians has been rubbing me raw. Paul has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? (Not to mention the Holy Spirit.) Last week, I learned something from a woman I greatly admire, a woman who has taught me much not just by her words but by her life. Karin wrote an amazing blog about open and closed doors. I fall into the same trap she describes of thinking that if something is a part of God’s plan for my life then it should come easily. The doors should all swing wide open, and God should lay out a red carpet for me to saunter down.

And that’s where 1 Thessalonians has been rubbing me. Paul certainly didn’t have it easy. If anything, he had every door slammed shut, bolted down, barricaded, and reinforced. But he never wavered in his faith to what God had called him to do.

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-4, NIV

Paul had warned the believers they would meet closed doors, that hardship and trials would come, that persecution was inevitable. The ESV translates persecution as affliction, that feeling when it just isn’t working out, it seems like it isn’t worth it anymore, the fight is too hard, and you start wondering if maybe you just heard God wrong.

There is this history timeline song Lydia has to learn for school, and right after Jesus the Messiah are the words, “Persecution spreads the gospel.” The disciples and the early believers must have known a thing or two about closed doors. Finally, their long-awaited Messiah arrives only to die a gruesome death on a cross. He is resurrected only to leave them and return to the Father. He tells them the Holy Spirit will come upon them, and then they are hunted, beaten, imprisoned, stoned, and killed. But it wasn’t a rose-petal covered path that spread the gospel. It was persecution–affliction.

This past weekend in Chattanooga, I was telling Matt about this passage and how God was working on my heart. At the first sign of affliction, I am tempted to run the opposite direction, but I think one of the reasons God has us on this adoption journey is so that I will learn to trust Him, to hold fast to Him in the midst of affliction. I want the easy road, the one where cross-country airplane tickets fall from the sky and housing values suddenly sky-rocket back to pre-bubble numbers. It’s completely in God’s power to do that just like it was completely in God’s power to make it easier for Paul and Silas and Timothy. But he didn’t. He chose to grow their faith in their affliction. While my struggles certainly don’t compare to those of Paul and to many of the people I know and love, I wonder if God is teaching me that not every closed door is a no and an excuse to drop that calling. Maybe instead He is working to strengthen and encourage my faith in the midst of my waiting and wondering.

Paul always asked God for direction, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you” (1 Thess 3:11). But he expected affliction, “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thess 3:4). Paul knew a closed door is sometimes an invitation to bust right on through and show the enemy the strength of an Almighty God.

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24. ESV). 

When You Need a Reset

When You Need a Reset

IMG_8260Next to a muddy river with the cicadas singing their song in the trees above, I pulled the stroller over to the edge and paused. Both girls had fallen asleep on our walk, and no one else was on the path right then. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes for just a moment. Behold.

Moments that quiet are rare these days and even rarer in the days to come, I’m sure. One of my favorite parts of running was being outside before the world wakes up. Seeing the sun paint the sky in cotton candy colors and knowing a fresh start was ahead. I’m realizing running was an exercise in the literal sense, certainly, but maybe even more in the practice of being still. Instead, I’ve been running at the gym with six televisions in front of me and one on my machine. There are voices in my earbuds and closed captioning before my eyes. I can see Fox News, HGTV, ESPN and the Today Show all at one time. I enjoyed it at first–not having cable will do that to you–but now I’m missing my solitude.

I need to push the reset button on some things in my life–a little less noise, a little more white space. I want to pull out my camera and take pictures just for fun and not because I’m on a vacation or trying to make my kids smile for the camera. I want to cook something that doesn’t involve a crock pot but rather a lot of chopping and stirring. I want to make a pie with a lattice crust and get lost in a good, hard book.

My calendar wants something different. It wants me to fill up every square and say yes to every invitation. It wants to tell me I’m only a good mom if I can keep all the balls in the air, but I don’t have to listen to my calendar. I can choose to be still. I can choose to say no. Right there in the middle of the craziness, I can choose to Behold

 

 

When Wait is Harder Than No

When Wait is Harder Than No

iphone-wallpaperSometimes hearing God say “wait” is even harder than hearing Him say “no.” At least no is closure, and I can start heading another direction. But wait means staying put. Wait is ambiguous and obscure like trying to put on makeup when the bathroom mirror is all steamy. Wait is staying where you are when you want to start chasing something new. It’s being still when you want to get up and go. It’s trusting God when you want to make it happen yourself.

I don’t know about you, but one of my daily struggles is the tug I feel to insert activity into every waking moment. While I wait at the doctor’s office or the grocery line, I check IG or Twitter which only exacerbates the problem because now I can clearly see in cropped square photos and 140 characters that everyone else is moving. They’re moving while I’m waiting. They are going and doing and creating and changing, and I’m just waiting.

And right there in the middle of that muddy place where my feet feel stuck like someone oozed superglue all over my soles, I hear God whisper, “You are waiting because I’m moving inside you. I’m showing you true gratitude comes not from getting what you want but from depending on me as your Provider. I’m teaching you contentment is found not in new, shiny stuff but in a trusting relationship with the One who made you and gave you a purpose. You say I’m your everything. I’m going to prove to you that I Am Everything.”

Be still and know that I am God. Stop your moving. Stop your doing. Stop your striving. Just be still and know that I am God. Not you.

*The beautiful image comes from Kelli and Ashley, two crazy talented women. I love what Kelli wrote in her blog about this latest work. It was exactly what I needed to hear, and I have this image as the lock screen on my iPhone so I can see it regularly. Thank you, Kelli & Ashley for sharing your work and heart with the world! 

New

New

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetWhile walking back to the front door with the mail yesterday, I looked down and saw thin green blades poking through. My toes did a little dance, and a smile covered my face. Finally, after a brutal winter–at least by my Southern standards–signs of life and sounds of newness are bursting forth. We spent the weekend in Mississippi where everything is already green, and my parents’ wisteria is starting to bloom and will soon coat their pergola in a lavender canopy. My brother and sister-in-law were in town with my precious five-week-old niece, Abigail Grace. So beautiful, so new.

During our devotional from Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing this morning, the girls and I read these words…

Just before he died, Jesus shouted from the cross, “It is finished!” What was finished? Jesus was saying: everything you need to come back home to God, everything you need to be free and happy in God, everything you need to live forever, I’ve done it all! It wasn’t a cry of defeat. It was a shout of victory. The great work of rescuing us was finished! There is now nothing you can do to make God love you more–and nothing you can do to make him love you less. It is finished!

I immediately thought of a conversation with a friend last week as we talked about things we’re holding on to, pain from past sin that we’ve already been forgiven of but can’t quite let go of. And those words our Savior uttered as He hung on a cross spoke deep into my soul, “It is finished!” We can let go because He said, “It is finished!” Because He gave up His life. Because He humbled Himself. Because of Jesus.

I’ve shared before that I struggle with fear on a daily basis. Occasionally, I will wake up in the middle of the night after a horrible nightmare with my heart racing. Last week I was dealing with a specific fear and my dear friend Kimmie shared with me words that have kept her heart at peace during seasons of great fear, “God is doing something new.” Her words came from Isaiah 43:18-19, and she sent me the Message version, “Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” And when I looked up the same verses in the ESV, I smiled because verse 19 starts out, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” Behold is leaving its mark on my heart and soul. Behold is changing me, helping me learn to be still and hold on even in the midst of my greatest struggle–fear.

It’s time to let go, time to surrender that thing we’ve been holding on to. Mine is fear, specifically this week, fear from past pain. What is yours? The sin you’ve struggled to release? The stronghold you’ve wrapped yourself in, convinced you’ll never escape? The shame you’ve carried for way too long? When Jesus declared, “It is finished!” it was a shout of victory. We can cling to His promise that He “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Behold, I am doing a new thing.