Embracing Christmas …when it’s less than perfect

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I am all about traditions, routine, order, and knowing what to expect.  When plans change, it can be very triggering for me. Even something as lovely as a vacation can set me on edge and make me feel vulnerable. As much as I smile and delight in the fun on the outside, on the inside I am fighting anxiety and panic with both fists. It is a weary battle.  

Bring on the holidays, and that is a recipe for pure angst. 

There are:

  • Fewer lights on the tree than the many strands I envisioned.
  • Explosions of emotion and memory from opening the boxes of ornaments.
  • Eleven destroyed ornaments so far from our sweet puppy, Maisy Jane.
  • Professional family photos that haven’t been scheduled.
  • Christmas cards that haven’t been created or ordered.
  • No pictures on Santa’s lap.
  • No long lists of oh so fun to find “hot toys” – instead, “just get me this one big item”.
  • Fewer gifts, which means less hiding, less wrapping, and less opening.
  • Painful aches for those who are absent.
  • Tears for the friend who received the awful diagnosis.
  • Sleepless nights tossing and turning in prayer for the heart of a child.
  • Changes in friendships, relationships, and traditions.  

In all of the dazzling merriment, there are disappointments, frustrations, and unmet expectations. 

How should we respond?

Mary was pregnant and traveling on a donkey with swollen feet and an aching back. She did not have a reservation at the Hilton. There was no guest room available for her.  She was going to give birth in a stable without an epidural. 

But in the smelly, messy, and painful circumstances surrounding Mary, light burst forth as she delivered a Love like no other.  

That same Love exists today in your smelly, messy, painful circumstances.
Do you see Him?  Can you find Him there? 

Just this week, I found Him in a powerful therapy session, a gentle rebuke, and an encouraging lunch.

He is with us always. We are never alone.
Like Mary, we can sit in the mess and hold onto to Jesus. 

Whatever this season brings, take the time to embrace Jesus especially when its messy, disappointing and even confusing. Be still in His presence and embrace His Love.  

Embrace Emmanuel, God with us.  

Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Matthew 1:23 KJ21

Remember His Words

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Then they remembered his words.  Luke 24:8

When I finished the last post for Baby Steps, my plan was to continue writing my story.  Instead, I took a break and I have barely opened my laptop.

Sometimes, when I put it down it is hard to pick it back up. 

Truth be told, there are times when I would prefer to just live in the “now” and never look back.  

But God.

When I was writing the Baby Steps series, I saw His faithfulness intertwined with my tears. Yes, I would remember the pain. But, I would also remember the promises He brought to fruition.  

You see, looking back helped me to remember His words. 

In Luke 24, when the women went to the tomb they found it empty.  It wasn’t what they expected and at first they were shocked and confused. The angels appeared to them and said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:  ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”
Then they remembered His words.  
They went back to the share it with the disciples, but they were not believed.  Their words seemed like nonsense to the disciples.  

Jesus is always speaking.  

His still small voice causes my heart to burn inside of me. 

Am I listening?  

Life is loud, and the noise can drown out His voice. My best time to listen is in the morning under the safe hum of the shower and hairdryer. My eyes are closed and my mind is quiet enough to hear. Speak Lord, your servant is listening.  

Then in the noise of life, the lies grow louder and take me under.  Suddenly, I feel sad. Defeated. Discouraged. Hopeless.

It will never happen for you. 
It is impossible.
Did God really say?
Who do you think you are? 
You are crazy.
You are worthless. 

It is an old mean voice that spouts the same lies that have taunted me for years behind my smile. Instead of delighting in the hum of the shower, I am now drowning in the pit of despair.  

The Word is Alive.  

As I was reading in Luke, I came across those five words: Then they remembered His words.  

It was as if that sentence was a neon sign on that page and suddenly His truth overpowered every single lie, one by one.    

Do you remember my Words? 

It’s going to happen.
I really said it. 
You are my child. 
You have a sound mind.
You are worth more than many sparrows. 

His truth ushers in hope.  

Do you remember His Words? 

What has He whispered to your heart? 

Was it about healing? Your marriage? Your child? Your job? Your calling?

Maybe right now the circumstances look bleak. In the weariness, the lies begin to fill your tank with doubt.  The old mean voices start to pound in your head. 

What did He say?  What does His Word say? 

Write out that truth. 
Say it out loud. 
Write it on a notecard and carry it with you.
Sing it.  

Look back and remember His words. 

Believe.

Baby Steps: He will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.

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It’s fitting that I would write the final post in this Baby Steps series on Thanksgiving Day.  I had originally planned to write about the Names of God for 31 days, and I had it all planned out. But, at the last-minute I kept hearing Baby Steps. Baby Steps? Really? Even though I truly did not understand, I reluctantly pressed publish on that first post. I never realized where those 31 posts would take me.  

My type A, slightly OCD self wanted to complete the series in 31 days, but about halfway through I realized it wasn’t even about the 31 days. It was about obedience, and He simply wanted me to focus and pay attention to all He has done in my life and mostly in my heart.

HE ROCKED MY WORLD!  (Literally, at a concert.) 

I saw online that Matthew West and Jeremy Camp were in concert together here in town, and I kept seeing the ad pop up. I felt like I was supposed to go, so on the night before the concert I looked at buying tickets. My kids did not want to go, so I clicked on the option for 1 ticket. There was only one ticket available on the lower level.  It was on the third row, front, and center and it was the same price as the tickets in the upper level.  My youngest said, “Mom you have to go and sit there!”

So I bought the ticket and I went by myself. 

As I sat there waiting for them to come out, it hit me.  One weekend back in 2014, I went away to the mountains by myself for a retreat. On the way there I sang, Broken Girl by Matthew West over and over. I wrote in my journal – God, do you hear me?  

I wondered if he would sing Broken Girl tonight?

Then, I remembered that same weekend in the mountains, I got up on Sunday morning and visited a church. I wrote down the lyrics to their worship songs and promptly purchased them and played them on repeat over and over. The songs were Empty Me and My Desire by Jeremy Camp.

The music loudly boomed in my chest and I sat there and cried and cried throughout that concert thinking of all God has done for me. I’m sure the people beside me thought I needed Jesus, but He was right there! His presence was so real, and I knew I was truly loved.

 Matthew West didn’t sing Broken Girl that night – He sang songs like “when you see wounded I see Mended!” and “but if it’s true You use Broken Things then here I am Lord, I am all Yours.” Jeremy Camp shared his story and he sang songs like, “You’re my defender, You fight for me, I will remember. You’re all I need, You are my healer, My remedy.”

New songs, new season.  So very thankful. 

In the elevator on the way back to my car, a lady said it was an awesome concert and she really enjoyed it.  I said, “Me too!  I just bought my ticket online last night and I was on the third row front and center.”  

She smiled and said, “God saved that seat for you.” 

That is just one way He revealed His love to me while writing this series. In looking back with fresh eyes and a new heart, I saw how He redeemed the worst of my memories. He gave me beauty for the ashes. 

He restores it all, miracle after miracle.

I remember the first time I heard the verse, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.

I thought, “Hogwash. Not these locusts. You don’t know my locusts! You don’t know the years, NOTHING can repay that. NOTHING can restore that.”

I was wrong.    

But, I wasn’t convinced overnight. It took time, and it took many baby steps. With each step, my bitterness, unforgiveness, and rage oozed out, as He took me in His arms and filled me with His love, grace and peace. 

No, it’s not overnight, but it is possible.  
He truly restores, redeems and repays. 

And, He’s not finished. He continues to probe deeper in my heart. He continues to reveal all of the ways He brings wholeness, restoration, and redemption.

Baby steps… it’s like when my children were learning how to walk. I didn’t stand them up and expect them to sprint.  I got down on my knees in front of them, and I caught them in my arms. They knew they could step towards me because I was not going to let them fall. They trusted me. Eventually, I would back up even more knowing they could make longer strides. I cheered for them. 

That is a beautiful picture of the healing God has done in my life, one step at a time.  I stood there before him carrying the most broken, hidden and painful pieces of my life. He came down low, looked me in the eyes, opened His arms wide and asked me to take a baby step towards His light and His truth. With each and every step, I discovered more of His love and His peace.  He brought comfort to the wreckage and He has truly restored all that was taken.  

He has repaid me for the years the locusts have eaten, and He has filled me with joy.  He continues to heal and restore. 

And me? I will continue to write my story. I will give Him thanks and praise His name because he has worked wonders for me, indeed.  He has taken away my shame and He has given me courage, hope and freedom.    

And you? Imagine Him standing in front of you with His arms open wide. Will you take a baby step towards His light and His truth to discover His love for you personally?  

Will you trust Him? You can do it!  

Take a deep breath and a baby step.  

He is faithful.  

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed. Joel 2:25-26 NIV

This is post #31 in the Baby Steps series.  To start at the beginning, click here.

Baby Steps: God has set me free.

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May 9, 2013 

It was the day before my 40th birthday.  I woke up at 4am and started to frantically type on my phone what I would say to my abuser if given the chance.  It was 291 words and it started with, “You sexually abused me and I am not keeping the secret anymore.”  

I went to my counseling session and read it to her. I told her he had been reaching out to me and I was ignoring him. I felt like “Free at 40” was going to happen. She liked that I had it written out on my phone, and told me if I need to read it word for word then that would work too. I promised to keep her posted.  

I was filled with terror and anticipation as I left, and on my way home from therapy my husband texted me a picture of my kids and a rainbow.  It was a beautiful reminder to me that God keeps His promises. He was going to set me free. 

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May 10, 2013

Happy Birthday! I was 40 now and still avoiding him. I went with a friend to do Zumba with students at a local middle school.  In one of the moves, I turned around and imagined several of the young girls with tape over their mouths and it made me tear up. I knew in a room of that many girls, some of them would share my story. They smiled behind their horror just like I did. It angered me and filled me with passion at the same time. 

We went out for dinner afterwards and I was surprised with several friends, balloons and fun. I was 40 when I fell asleep that night, but I still wasn’t free. 

May 11, 2013

I was singing Shackles by Mary Mary on my way to Zumba when I saw my friend at the stoplight.  She had posted earlier on Facebook that her husband was taking her kids so she could have the day to herself for Mother’s Day.  She texted me at the light and told me she was available if I needed help with the kids this weekend. I texted her back to enjoy her time alone!

After Zumba, I stopped by the grocery store and there was another sweet reminder that He was with me: a bird on a fire hydrant.  It was a busy day and I did not eat. 

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My oldest child was dropped off at the house and he came in with a gift for me. It was a purple flower that said “Special day.”  I asked him how he got the present for me, and he said he asked his friend’s mom to stop at Hallmark and he also asked her to pay for it.  It was so thoughtful and sweet.

We came home from the soccer games, and I waited with much anticipation.  

It happened.  

He texted he was on his way over.

I had less than an hour to get ready.  

My kids! I didn’t want them to be here. I called my friend from the stoplight and asked her if we could please quickly drop them off at her house, and she said sure.  

We dropped them off and I walked back into the house and started pacing the floor.  

I listened to Keep Me by Patrick Dopson, and I sang it loud, especially this part:

“You will finish what you started
Complete what you’ve begun
Though the enemy has lied and said I’m done
But I know you better than that!
You’ve kept me safe this far.
It’s time for you to show
just who you are!
Cause you are Jesus!”

I lifted both hands high. 

I dropped to my knees and I prayed out loud to Jesus. 

I clapped my hands. 

I had enormous peace.  

He led me to trust Him. 

He delivered.  

I looked in the mirror as I heard him pull into the driveway. 

Free at 40 was about to happen.  

A new song for a new day rises up in me every time I think about how he breaks through for me! Ecstatic praise pours out of my mouth until everyone hears how God has set me free. Many will see his miracles; they’ll stand in awe of God and fall in love with him! Psalm 40:3 TPT 

This is post #30 in the Baby Steps series.  To start at the beginning, click here.