A Pause at the Manger

A Pause at the Manger

I pause at the manger. A thousand times a day I walk by carrying sippy cups and bows, returning blocks and books. But once a day I pause and stare at a piece of African wood carved to reflect a baby in a manger. You came.

Friday, I pulled out Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift to read once again for Advent. As I started to read a song came to mind. I first heard these words at a concert with the Helsers just a couple weeks before we got our final approval for our Eve. I remember standing in my church’s auditorium and praying these words over our family. Never could I have imagined what the next few months would hold for us or how desperately I would need Him to come to me. I listened to the same song as we were descending into Addis Ababa. And at the start of Advent I listened once more.

You stood outside my grave
With tears still on Your face
I heard You say my name
My night was turned to day

You came
I knew that You would come
You sang
My heart it woke up
I’m not afraid, I see Your face
I am alive
You came
I knew that You would come

You said death’s only sleeping
With one word my heart was beating
I rose up from my grave
My fear was turned to faith

You came
I knew that You would come
You sang
My heart it woke up
I’m not afraid, I see Your face
I am alive
You came
I knew that You would come

“You Came” by Jonathan David and Melisssa Helser

This time as I listened I thought of a passage from Hebrews I recently read in The Message.

“Heads up! The days are coming when I’ll set up a new plan for dealing with Israel and Judah. I’ll throw out the old plan I set up with their ancestors when I led them by the hand out of Egypt. They didn’t keep their part of the bargain, so I looked away and let it go. This new plan I’m making with Israel isn’t going to be written on paper, isn’t going to be chiseled in stone; this time I’m writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people. They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.”

Hebrews 8:7-12 The Message

That passage has stuck with me because it feels like that’s what this year has been about more than any other year–knowing God firsthand in the little and the big. We’ve felt the carving on the lining of our hearts. We’ve been washed in mercy, wiped clean in His kind forgiveness. We watched one daughter come home and another come up from the baptism tank. We’ve known exhaustion we couldn’t have imagined and renewal that could only come from the Sabbath-Maker. So, when I pause beside the manger and sing in my can’t-carry-a-note voice, “You came. I knew that You would come. You sang. My heart it woke up. I’m not afraid. I see Your face. I am alive. You came. I knew that You would come” it feels like it isn’t just words on my tongue–it’s etchings on my heart.

Mercy & Help when the world tells you to be Merry & Bright

Mercy & Help when the world tells you to be Merry & Bright

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They were running through the leaves at the park. Big gusts of wind made it look like Someone from up high was pouring down big handfuls of fall confetti. Giggles and high shrills were in bounty. I hung back just a bit having one of those moments. Four daughters. Me, the woman who remembers being on her knees in her bedroom eight years ago, holding the ultrasounds of my babies who were gone. The same woman who penned in her journal, “Will I ever be a mom who gets to hold her babies?” As my girls ran ahead in the leaves, I pulled my sweater tight around me. But God. 

I know for some it’s hard to be grateful this Thanksgiving and you don’t feel merry and bright as we head into Advent. I know because I’ve walked that same journey. But could I whisper into your heart those two words, But God. Friend, please hang on. I know you wake up with a pain in your chest and you go to sleep with tears on your cheeks. I know you wonder how others can care about Black Friday sales or red coffee cups when your heart is smashed into a thousand pieces. I know you’re afraid to open the mailbox to see a Christmas card of another smiling family when something in your family is broken or someone is missing.

I’ve been digging into Hebrews with a few close friends and God has been etching this passage on my heart as I prepare for Advent.

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help. Hebrews 4:14-16, The Message

Take the mercy. Accept the help. We don’t have to come to him merry and bright. He invites us in our snotty-mascara-streaked-mess to come rest in His arms.

As I watched my girls play in the fall confetti fluttering from the maples above, I saw a snapshot of these past eight, nearly nine, years on my journey of motherhood–pain and joy, sorrow and celebration, the broken and the beautiful. Because while these four daughters are miracles, every single one of them, the even bigger miracle is what God has done in my heart. The woman who writes these words today has come face to face with her brokenness. She’s learned the pain and gift of surrender. She can’t make it one day, one hour, one minute without mercy poured on and help received. She needs it to be their mom, but she also needs it to remember that she is His daughter and she can walk right up to Him and get what He is so ready to give (vs. 16). That woman whispers to all the hurting hearts this holiday season, “You aren’t alone. You aren’t forgotten.” Put your arm in mine and join your fellow warriors who will whisper to your hurting heart on the good days and the dark ones, “But God.”

He’s in the waiting.

He’s in the waiting.

Last month, I thought December would be awful. If I’m honest, I expected Advent to be a season to be endured rather than celebrated. I remember the week before Thanksgiving driving down the road and telling Heather that I couldn’t do Christmas cards. The thought of sending out a family picture without her in it brought a lump to my throat and hot tears to my eyes. I told her we could send a Christmas card in February or March or right in the 100 degree weather of July, so long as it had her in it.

But in God’s grace, this month has been filled with joy. As we hung her stocking, instead of fear and dread, God gave me a bold prayer. She may not be here with us, but her name is on our mantel. We’ve waited almost five years to know her name, to see those crimson letters embroidered on snow white velvet.

My friend Annie sent a song last night–Take Courage by Kristene DiMarco. The chorus goes, “Take courage my heart. Stay steadfast my soul. He’s in the waiting. He’s in the waiting. Hold onto your hope. As your triumph unfolds. He’s never failing. He’s never failing.”

My Hope has come. In the dark of night to a humble manger, He came. This morning Lydia was writing the words to Matthew 1:23, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.'” With us. He is with us. No matter how our story seems to start or how it feels in the middle–Accident, Mistake, Broken, Lonely, Abandoned–He came and He is with us.

This morning I got a text from a friend who is praying for our E. She said, “I’m doing a study on the names of God and one in particular has stuck out to me for you and little E. Praying it brings comfort to you while you are not with her physically. Jehovah Shammah, The Lord is There. Praying that the Lord plants this truth deep in the heart of E as well.”

I immediately texted her back with a picture of a small white card with the name Jehovah Shammah written in Hebrew that hangs on the wall where E will soon sleep. And that’s why I love Jesus with all my heart. When every other religion gives a person a list of things to do to earn the favor of its god, my God left heaven, came down, humbled Himself, made Himself vulnerable to pain, injustice, and death, and dwelled among men. He came so He could be there–with the hurting and lonely, the broken and forgotten, the abandoned. When I could do nothing, He came.

In all that waiting, those 400 years of silence, many of God’s people had stopped hoping. But they forgot that God is not only a Promise Maker. He’s our Promise Keeper, and even more He’s our Promise. He’s in the waiting. He’s never failing. Hold onto your hope. Because He came. And He’s there. Jehovah Shammah.

*Top photo by abideinhimphotography.com. Thank you, Robyn, for capturing E’s story as only you can.

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When Christmas Isn’t Merry

When Christmas Isn’t Merry

Two friends texted me last night asking their circles to pray for a woman named Molly Remmert Rossell. When Heather sent me Molly’s story, I cried in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby. She is my age with three little girls. My day had been hard with sick girls and a baby who has a nasty double ear infection. Heather’s son had flooded her house, once again, with a toilet mishap. But everything comes into perspective when you read Molly’s story. And while I was out trying to shop for a few last Christmas things, it was a sobering reminder that Christmas isn’t about presents. It’s about presence. Our presence with family, friends, and a world that needs to know Love. And His Presence coming down as a Baby to redeem this broken world. Hope isn’t the removal of our awful circumstances. Hope is the promise of our Savior’s return and His complete and victorious redemption of this world. Molly, this Bama girl is praying for you and your husband and for those three beautiful daughters.

Last year in the wee hours of the morning, I wrote the following post. I was feeding my one month old, and my heart was broken for several I loved who were walking through a very painful Christmas. I don’t know where you are today, but I hope these words encourage you.

When Christmas Isn’t Merry ~ Originally published December 23, 2014 

Right now someone is buying a sparkly ring and practicing dropping to one knee. Someone is getting in the car to head to the hospital to welcome a tiny newborn to the world. Someone is arriving home from college glad to be in the safe embrace of home with a home-cooked meal at last. Someone just got news that her loved one is in remission. Someone just got a job.

And at the same time someone is facing her first Christmas as a single mom. And someone is devastated because there isn’t a new stocking on the mantel this year just like last year and the year before that. Someone heads home from college to fighting and a tense home. Someone just heard there’s nothing more the doctors can do. Someone is facing her first Christmas without a parent. Someone just found out she’s been downsized and doesn’t know how she will pay the mortgage next month. Someone is stuck at home with sick littles or desperate for a good night’s sleep. Someone is worried and afraid. Someone feels lonely and forgotten.

We feel like if Christmas isn’t merry and bright, all smiles and good cheer, then we’ve somehow messed up and missed out. But we haven’t. My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’
Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night, O night divine

There we are in all our brokenness pining for the Only One who can make us whole. But when He appears the soul feels its worth. At last. The thrill of Hope. Our weary heart rejoices.

The world tells us that our Christmas has to be merry and bright. But God whispers the truth. Fall on your knees, sweet child. I’ve got you. I know you’re broken and weary. I know your burdens. And I am shattering your darkness with the Light that brings Hope. I know you’re in the pitch-black of night right now, but I’m going to show you Divine.

God didn’t wait until morning. He didn’t wait until our circumstances were better or we had our act together because He knew that would never happen this side of Heaven. Instead, He comes to us in our weakest moment and brings the Light.

You don’t have to pretend your Christmas is merry if it isn’t. All you have to do is fall on your knees and hear the angels’ voices, “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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Fear not, weary one, your Savior has come.

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.”

When Christmas Isn’t Merry

When Christmas Isn’t Merry

Right now someone is buying a sparkly ring and practicing dropping to one knee. Someone is getting in the car to head to the hospital to welcome a tiny newborn to the world. Someone is arriving home from college glad to be in the safe embrace of home with a home-cooked meal at last. Someone just got news that her loved one is in remission. Someone just got a job.

And at the same time someone is facing her first Christmas as a single mom. And someone is devastated because there isn’t a new stocking on the mantel this year just like last year and the year before that. Someone heads home from college to fighting and a tense home. Someone just heard there’s nothing more the doctors can do. Someone is facing her first Christmas without a parent. Someone just found out she’s been downsized and doesn’t know how she will pay the mortgage next month. Someone is stuck at home with sick littles or desperate for a good night’s sleep. Someone is worried and afraid. Someone feels lonely and forgotten.

We feel like if Christmas isn’t merry and bright, all smiles and good cheer, then we’ve somehow messed up and missed out. But we haven’t. My favorite Christmas song is O Holy Night.

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn’
Fall on your knees, O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine, O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night, O night divine

There we are in all our brokenness pining for the Only One who can make us whole. But when He appears the soul feels its worth. At last. The thrill of Hope. Our weary heart rejoices.

The world tells us that our Christmas has to be merry and bright. But God whispers the truth. Fall on your knees, sweet child. I’ve got you. I know you’re broken and weary. I know your burdens. And I am shattering your darkness with the Light that brings Hope. I know you’re in the pitch-black of night right now, but I’m going to show you Divine.

God didn’t wait until morning. He didn’t wait until our circumstances were better or we had our act together because He knew that would never happen this side of Heaven. Instead, He comes to us in our weakest moment and brings the Light.

You don’t have to pretend your Christmas is merry if it isn’t. All you have to do is fall on your knees and hear the angels’ voices, “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. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

Fear not, weary one, your Savior has come.

When Christmas Comes

When Christmas Comes

I am a little tired. I’m sure you can relate. This time of year just seems to do it to us. I can’t complain because my Peach is sleeping like a champ. But there’s usually an early morning feed and then she goes back down to snooze until mid morning. My older two, on the other hand, are part rooster and don’t like to miss a sunrise. Whatever your reasons, I’m guessing a nap sounds pretty great to most of the mommas out there right now.

I’m thinking Mary could have gone for a nap too. There she was feeling like a cross between an elephant and a jumbo marshmallow when she finds out she has to take a long trip…via donkey. I can tell you what my reaction would have been to that news, and let’s just say Joseph might have wanted to be well out of arm’s reach for that.

The truth is Christmas didn’t come to a mom who was watching Netflix and eating snickerdoodles. Christmas came to a weary momma who felt insignificant, ill-equipped, and unpopular. And Christmas is still coming to weary mommas. Mommas who feel like they’ve lost their voice in a child’s life. Mommas who don’t have all the answers. Mommas who don’t have the popular gift to give their kids or maybe any gifts at all. Mommas who feel like failures and mommas who are utterly exhausted.

Christmas comes in the middle of all our frenetic activity. The hope of Emmanuel pierced the night sky in all the craziness of a census, in all the hustle of sold out inns, and all the bustle of crowded streets.

But Mary, weary as she may have been, knew where to turn her heart. It wasn’t to a to-do list or a pity party. She looked around her at the manger and the hay and the smelly animals, at the shepherds and Joseph and the beaming star. Then she gazed down at her son–the Son–and she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Christmas comes to us in our weariness, our craziness, our hustle and bustle and invites us to sit and stare at the wonder of Christ.