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.”

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Friday Favorites ~ Thanksgiving Edition

Friday Favorites ~ Thanksgiving Edition

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A favorite Thanksgiving memory from two years ago. The firecracker wore her swimsuit inside out and backwards the entire day. 

My little kitchen has been a flurry today whipping sweet potatoes, chopping pecans, and making Matt’s grandmother’s broccoli cheese casserole. I took a moment in all the cooking frenzy to write that recipe in Lydia’s box earlier today. Matt’s late grandmother Kitty made it for me the first Thanksgiving I went to her house. Matt and I had only been dating a couple months, and I was nervous about the first holiday with his family. I really wanted his grandmother (and grandfather) to like me because I really liked their grandson. 😉 So when she passed me a dish and said it was broccoli casserole, I put a big spoonful on my plate even though I was very doubtful about how this would go down. But like everything Kitty made, it was delicious. I ate three servings that first Thanksgiving, and she loved to make it anytime she knew I was coming. We miss her so much, but I love making her recipes and telling my girls stories about her.

In case you have some reading time over this holiday, may I suggest…

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp: I read this the week of the election, and it was the perfect quiet place for my brain and my heart that week.

A story about one of my most favorite homes ever. Mrs. Becky is the mom to one of my most favorite people, and her home is just about the coziest spot imaginable. (Jess and I call it the Hagood Bed & Breakfast.) I loved reading how she made this home their own. In a culture that says everything needs to be Pinterest-perfect in microwave speed, Mrs. Becky whispers a different story–a home that grows and changes as the people within it live out their God-given story.

There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene: I bought this one because it was (and still is) $1.99 for the Kindle version and I saw that it was about Ethiopia. It was an eye-opening and emotional read for me. The book weaves together the author’s personal story of international adoption with the AIDS crisis that contributed greatly to Africa’s orphan crisis.

Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg: Feinberg invites us to “awaken to the nearness of God” which on the cusp of Advent seems perfectly fitting. I loved this one, and the Kindle edition is $3.

And if you’d rather watch something…

Make sure you have Kleenex before you watch this video about a Sudanese man being reunited with his family. Amazing.

The Crown on Netflix: Matt and I are a few episodes in, and we love it. All about the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, it’s fascinating stuff and I really like the actor who plays the queen. Perfect for turkey coma time.

And with that the girls are in bed (not asleep, but in bed), the food is all prepped for tomrorow, and Matt and I are going to watch more of The Crown. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

And if Thanksgiving finds you brokenhearted or missing someone, that’s okay. I texted a friend earlier saying we can be both grateful and brokenhearted. Or grateful and sad. Or grateful and longing. Or grateful and waiting. Our God sees us. He knows what our hearts are feeling. Holidays don’t have to be all “happy” or all “merry.” Our God made us with wonderfully emotional souls, and I bet if we were honest each of us is a mix of emotions with every holiday we celebrate. One of the things I’m most grateful for are friends who are a safe place where I can share my real emotions even if they don’t match the sugar-coated expectations of a certain day on the calendar. Maybe we could each be that for someone else this week. A safe spot for another broken soul.

 

My Thanksgiving Prayer

My Thanksgiving Prayer

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetEvery November, we string a piece of twine along our mantle. Each day we add things for which we are grateful. Things like new sheets, dancing to Stevie Wonder Christmas songs, chips and queso with girlfriends and Lydia’s nightly request for, “one more hug and one more kiss.” I love this simple act because it reminds me of how much I take for granted. For a minute, I have the opportunity to pause and be still. To remember and be grateful. 

Last Friday, we moved the trunk-turned-coffee-table into our bedroom, set up two long tables in the middle of our living room, took out the fine china and gathered a few dear friends and their families for a Practice Thanksgiving. We all tried out new recipes, my culinary contributions being an adaptation of Nigella Lawson’s Coca-Cola ham and a decadent version of sweet potato casserole that tastes just like the famed side dish at Ruth’s Chris.

When we reached that point where you just can’t eat another bite and you’re secretly wishing you had on elastic-waist pajama pants, Liz pulled out her guitar and led a few old hymns for us. I closed my eyes and breathed in the stillness of that moment.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
mount of thy redeeming love.

Come, thou fount of every blessing. Immanuel. God with us. He came to us. In all the vulnerability of a tiny baby, He came. He didn’t leave us. Even in my disobedience and forgetfulness,  my pride and arrogance, my sin and ugliness, He came to me.

I remember my pastor teaching a message soon after our first miscarriage where he asked us, “Are you seeking God’s hand or His face?” I was flattened. I was aching with the sting of death, craving life and newness, desperately seeking the creation only His hand could provide. I wrote that little question on a bright pink sticky note and pinned it to the cork board behind my desk at work. I wrestled with that question. I still wrestle with that question. 

God, I will never be thankful for your Hand until I am thankful for your Face. I will never appreciate your gifts until I am overwhelmed by your Presence. I will never understand Jehovah-Jireh until I am overcome by Immanuel. Thank you, God, for stopping at nothing to be with us.

 

Until It Hurts

Until It Hurts

IMG_7868I sat on the pew, its smooth wood clad in crimson velvet, fitting since our church rested in the shadows of Bryant-Denny stadium. I was a college kid working a part-time job at the Science & Engineering Library. My job didn’t pay much but when things were quiet in the stacks I could work on school assignments at the front desk.  My little paychecks would buy a new shirt every once in a while or a waffle cone of white chocolate mousse from the TCBY that stayed open past midnight.

Every week as I sat in the pew the offering plate would pass down my row, and my heart would grow uneasy. I felt a tug to give, knowing I should give and even wanting to give. But I could never push out of my mind the things I wanted, even needed. I would rationalize, deciding to put in just a little, enough to quiet the restlessness in my heart.

It would be a few years later before I learned what giving really was. After graduation and moving home and wedding bells, Matt and I stumbled upon a person who changed us forever. Miss Nan, with her coiffed hair and perfectly-manicured nails, taught us how to give and Matt and I were never the same.

She didn’t just teach us theology or budgeting principles, although those are certainly important. She taught us from a life spent giving cheerfully and lavishly. She told story after story of God’s faithfulness and dared us to trust God like never before. We wanted what she had. We wanted to see the things she had seen and witness the miracles she had witnessed. We wanted to be used and trusted like she was. We desired an abundant life, one not measured by the wealth of our possessions but by the generosity and gratitude of our hearts.

Watching her life, we began a new adventure. From that season forward we tithed faithfully, not because we had to or felt like we should but because we had tasted adventure and we wanted more. We looked for opportunities to give because we wanted to push the pen further in the story God was writing around us. I know a lot of people get hung up on a tithe being 10%, and I’ll leave that topic to smarter men and women to debate. But I wonder often if God asked us to give a tenth because He knew that was the number that would make us feel something, the percentage that disturbed our comfortable life, the figure that required trust instead of control.

“We must give until it hurts. For love to be true it has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us; it hurt God to love us because He had to give. He gave His Son. This is the meaning of true love, to give until it hurts.” Mother Teresa

Give until it hurts. That is the invitation God lays before us, and it’s the sacrifice He made when He sent us Jesus. That is the lesson Miss Nan lived out for Matt and me. And that is spirit with which Matt and I want to live each and every day. Hands open and hearts ready to watch God take our pennies and dollar bills, but even more our willing hearts, and change the world.

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am asking God to show me how I can give until it hurts… gritty, raw, uncomfortable giving. Maybe for you it’s forgiveness to a family member whose painful words still sting like lemon juice on a cut. Or grace to the sibling who keeps running despite your fervent prayers for him to come home. Or maybe it’s trading in the Black Friday mayhem to give chickens to farmers trying to create a better life in Ethiopia. Wherever you are, I pray you’ll join me as we seek to give until it hurts. Not just for Thanksgiving and not just for November, but forever. Knowing every time we give until it hurts, we impress upon His beloved children the fingerprints of Christ.