The Secret to Christmas Sanity

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Walking the dog this morning, I began to get frustrated as he pulled on the leash and wanted to sniff everything and everywhere.  We worked on “heel” and just as I began to wonder why he was so unfocused, I realized: I’m unfocused too.  Around this time of year, the To-Do List stays on the front burner and it makes me feel scattered, distracted and just a bit cranky.

Of course, I adore the Christmas season.  I love celebrating the birth of our wonderful Savior.  I love giving gifts and remembering those who have helped my family throughout the year.  I love attending and hosting parties and get-togethers.  I love baking and wrapping and decorating.  I love it all!  However, as lovely as all these things are, it’s too easy to allow those things to push out the real gifts of this season.  The gift of joy: the promised Messiah has finally arrived!  The gift of peace: He has conquered death and promises eternal life.  The gift of love: He desires relationship with us more than we can ever imagine.

Those are the gifts I long for in this season; the ones I also deeply desire for my family, friends, house-guests…and I guess even the dog!  So as I walked in the frigid air this morning, I reflected on how to focus on those gifts instead of the endless To-Do’s.  The only thing I know to do is to draw near.  James 4:8 tells us, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  How wonderful!  Could the secret to Christmas Sanity really be so easy?  I think so.  The simple secret to enjoying a joyful, peaceful season marked by love is to surround yourself with Him instead of with everything else. Staying in prayer, reading your Bible every day, and meditating on Him even when there are 40,000 other things crying for attention is a surefire way to experience His goodness.

So draw near, sweet friends.  And He will draw near to you, bringing His joy and peace and love right along with Him.

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The True Meaning of Emmanuel

It’s hard to believe it, but the aisles are stocked with Christmas, holiday concerts are already being advertised and “Black Friday” seemingly has become “Black November.” It puts me in the mood for hot chocolate and snow days!  Especially around the Christmas season you will hear Jesus referred to by the name Emmanuel, but have you ever wondered why?  Emmanuel means “God with Us.”  Since coming to Jesus fifteen years ago, I have loved that name and its meaning. I love to think of Jesus by my side in all things, “takin’ the wheel,” so to speak.  But a while back God showed me more about this name Emmanuel.  It’s not just a nice name with a cool meaning, but a glimpse of God’s love for you and me, as well as His plan to pursue our hearts.

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At the time, I’d been reading the stories from the Old Testament with my children, and in the evenings my older son and I were also reading much of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers.  At the same time, I was studying the book of Revelation through Bible Study Fellowship.  This is where being in the Word gets so cool.  Reading history and prophecy at the same time will blow your mind!  By having one foot in the history of our faith and the other in our certain future, I was able to catch a tiny glimpse of God’s awesome love story.

Here’s the headline: Since the beginning and until the end, God’s desire is to be with us.  His word reveals time and again that he longs to dwell among us.  In the very beginning he walked with us, and we with him, enjoying an unashamed intimacy and personal relationship.  When we (making poor use of our God-gifted free will) decided to reject God and usurp His role, we introduced all kinds of barriers into this relationship.  It has suffered ever since.

But God’s story didn’t end there.  He still relentlessly pursued us.  God appeared as a pillar of cloud and fire which lead the Israelites through the desert.  He later dwelt among them via the physical temple, but unlike in Eden, His physical presence among the Israelites was limited.  The temple was built in such a way as to ensure God’s innermost chamber (the Holy of Holies) would be inaccessible to all people except to the High Priest (and even then only once a year).  This movable temple traveled with the Israelites everywhere they went, ultimately being replaced by the permanent temple at Jerusalem, built by Kings David and Solomon.  There, again, a curtain blocked God’s holy dwelling-place from public view.

But God’s story didn’t end there, either.  At the right moment in human history Jesus–Emmanuel–was born, fulfilling countless Old Testament prophecies as well as God’s divine plan. God again physically walked among us, no longer restricted to that innermost chamber behind the curtain.  Emmanuel–God with us–had come to once again dwell with His people.  Many people in those times recognized Jesus for who he was, and followed him—can you imagine what that was like?  And since His death, Jesus offers all people everywhere the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit, which is God dwelling in us.  Have you heard that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?  This means it is the physical dwelling-place of God’s spirit the same way that Moses’s temple was a physical dwelling-place for God.

And lest we forget, at Jesus’s death the curtain (or veil, as you may have heard it called) in the temple was torn.  The physical symbol for separation from God was supernaturally destroyed at the moment when God-with-Us fulfilled his purpose of removing all those barriers to relationship with Him.  This is the meat of why Jesus died.  It was to overcome our rejection of God, cleanse us of all those barriers we put up between Him and us, and again dwell with us.  Through Jesus’s sacrifice and this gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to walk with God in this life.

Unbelievably, that’s still not even the end of the story.  If you respond to God’s pursuit by turning toward Him, if you believe that Jesus’s death does in fact reconcile you to God and allow Him to dwell with you, there is even more.  God’s response to your commitment of faith is to honor it: to dwell with you in eternity.  This is what we call Heaven.  Revelation teaches us that the final chapter in this love story is a beautiful afterlife characterized by togetherness with our Maker.  Our intimacy with Him will be restored and the beauty of Eden far surpassed.

God’s story, from beginning to end, is the story of His desire to be with us.

When you see the fullness of His pursuit for intimacy with you, across thousands of years and in the face of repeated rejection, does it change the way you respond to Him?  It fills me with overwhelming gratitude. The God of the Universe didn’t just give up on me.  He hasn’t given up on any of us.  From creation…Old Testament History…Jesus’s life and death…to prophecies yet to be fulfilled…they all speak to this singular truth: God’s deepest longing is for relationship with you, me and all of us. The name Emmanuel, God with Us, it means something.  I pray that today you will allow it mean something for you.

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Welcome New Readers!

If you just jumped over here from my lifestyle blog (That Mommy Blog), welcome!  And thank you so much for taking the time to check me out.  You will find a few of my favorite posts about faith already re-published here, and new content going forward.

I don’t want you to miss a thing, so please look over there in the sidebar——-> to sign up for new posts to be delivered to you via WordPress or email! You can also check out my About Page to learn what this space is all about.

Thanks again for being here; I can’t wait to get to know you better!

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Where We Find Peace

Didn’t mean to drop off the planet for the last two weeks!  Between traveling and school starting, it’s been a busy time.  Despite the blazing heat I feel the seasons changing–new routines and schedules as we settle into school and the coming fall (bless it can’t it get here already!?!)

In the midst of this season of transition I’ve also been reminded that this fickle, random, broken world will disappoint us, will knock us around and sometimes bludgeon us nearly to death.  Last week I found myself at the hospital, hugging and praying with an old friend while her little boy suffered in agonizing pain.

Once again, Lord, we cry out: why?

Why is he suffering?  Why is anyone?  We want to understand…but these things can’t be understood. The other day I stumbled across a re-broadcast of a Charles Stanley sermon.  I love him.  He was preaching about suffering, and about why God sometimes puts us through some things.  (Can’t you just hear him saying “Watch this?”)

I love Charles and that man’s got wisdom, but watch this: not all of this hardship is from the Lord. Does God sometimes allow or cause trouble in our lives?  Sure, I believe that.  But I also know that most of the time, he doesn’t need to.  The world does enough of that on its own.

The good news–sometimes the only good news–is that we are never alone in our suffering.  As we cry out, Jesus is right there crying alongside us.  Remember, He’s already suffered under every sin of this fallen world, including those that make no sense.  And remember, in Him alone we find our victory.  In Him alone we find peace.

In painful moments sometimes all I can do is bring my broken heart and hand it over to the one who knows it best.

Today, if you are asking why, look to Jesus.  He may not answer the why but He has already overcome it…and through Him, so can you.
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P.S. These pictures were taken at Graylyn and in the nearby Reynolda Gardens in Winston-Salem, NC.

Seeking Beauty in All the Small Things

This article originally appeared on That Mommy Blog on November 19, 2015.

Recently I was here talking about the way God has been calling me to seek beauty in the everyday. You might be wondering what exactly that means, beyond noticing actual beautiful objects in the world around us.  Yes, I am into beauty for its aesthetic value, or else I wouldn’t get all foolish over Target’s Christmas section.  Gorgeous.

But what I really mean when I talk about seeking beauty in the everyday is this: catching a glimpse of the holy.  Catching a glimpse of God’s face here on earth, experiencing his peace in the midst of turmoil, turning my ear toward his voice.

How?  Well I have quite a few thoughts about that, too many for one blog post.  But for now I just want to talk about seeking beauty in the small things.  Most of our lives are spent in small moments. Preparing meals, caring for babies, cleaning house, working at jobs we may or may not love.  What I want to say is that these moments, be they boring or irritating or simply required, are the gist of our lives.  I’m one to fall into the trap of waiting on that next big vacation, promotion, or celebration…looking so much forward to it that I discount what’s right in front of me.  But God didn’t place me in one long vacation of a life.  He placed me in a life of small moments, and every single one is brimming with potential.

So I’m trying: when I fold the laundry, to enjoy the smell of it.  The accomplishment of another load washed and folded.  The feel of the fabric in my hands.

I’m trying: when the kids are a wall of noise, to revel in their giggles instead of focusing on their volume.

I’m trying: when the dog is bonkers and needs a walk, to notice what’s beautiful about that walk. Appreciate the exercise.  Enjoy the repetition of the same old route.

I’m trying: when everyone wants to eat yet again and usually just when I cleaned up the kitchen, to at least give a brief “thank you” that we have plentiful food and multiple ways to prepare it.

I suppose this has something to do with mindfulness.  Lots of people have written about that practice. My specific inspiration is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, which says “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Always means always.  Every moment, big or small.  Every moment, happy or sad.  Every moment, pained or healthy.  (That last one is a real thorn in my side.  Also cleaning toilets.  I hate cleaning toilets.)

So if you give this a try today please let me know your thoughts about it.  And if you figure out how to rejoice in cleaning toilets, you must let me know!

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Inspiration for the Messed Up

This article originally appeared on That Mommy Blog on June 22, 2014.

People who know better, do better.”  Have you heard this saying?  It’s from Maya Angelou, who was a sage among us mere mortals, and it was popularized by Oprah.  I think it means that in any given area of life, people won’t do better until they’re educated in that area.  We can forgive ourselves for mistakes we’ve made when we realize we just didn’t know how to act right.

But what happens when we do know better, and we still don’t do better?  I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately, as I struggle with some familiar shortcomings.  I’ll just look up one day and think, “My God, haven’t I already conquered this?!?”  If you are even remotely self-aware, you might begin to notice that when you go astray it’s down a very familiar road.  There are the same stumbling blocks, the same places you’ve been bruised before.  Possibly, you too find yourself walking that dark and dreary road in spite of believing that you’ve already conquered this area of struggle in your life, that God has enabled you to move past this issue or temptation.  For me, I can get so discouraged when I realize that my negative attitude is repeatedly an issue for me.  Maybe for you it’s relational drama, food, anger, or a sexual sin.  What I have noticed is that we don’t all just “do better” even after we struggle, go to God, learn how to behave better, and move on.  Sometimes we find ourselves, against our better judgment, repeating the same old stuff, different day.

I’m not immune from discouragement here, but I do have a few thoughts and I wanted to share them in case you ever find yourself in this scenario.  First, I know God works with us through our issues, even when we repeat them time and time again.  Just as he doesn’t always offer immediate cures for physical illness, he doesn’t always heal our psychological hang-ups after our first bout either.  Sometimes, he is allowing us to continue to grow by showing us there is more work to be done.  Sometimes, he is humbling us and preventing pride from leading to a greater fall.  Sometimes, we haven’t genuinely asked for healing.  Sometimes, he wants us to seek him more, or teach us about a specific type of prayer, or show us any number of truths.  I’m not advocating dwelling on past issues if you are truly over them (if you are, great!  Praise God!)  but I am saying this: you are not alone in repeating yourself.

A second thought here: perhaps, in the places where we struggle most, it isn’t so much about knowing as it is about doing.  Do you struggle with envy?  With attitude? With pride?  Be intentional about asking God to give you contentment, to soften your harsh mindset, to make you humble.  Your shortfalls are guideposts to where your character needs work; use them to direct your prayers for God’s intervention in your life.  Then simply do.  Once you have done better once, it becomes something you can practice and it gets easier over time.  And once you have done better, you can know better because the truth will play out in your own life and give you wisdom.

I’m reading a study right now by Dick Woodward called A Spiritual Compass.  Woodward points out that Jesus himself advised us to first do and then to know.  In John 7:17 Jesus tells us to obey the instructions of the word of God, and then see if by obeying we can tell whether they are true.  That’s shorthand for letting your actions lead you to faith.  Don’t stop trying, because each small victory makes it easier to grasp, deep in your heart where change “sticks,” that the path of righteousness is superior to our chosen path of sin.

Finally, please don’t be discouraged when you try and fail.  I say when, not if.  You are a person, and this is a process.  When I was working as a child advocate I had to learn to meet parents where they are.  I couldn’t meet with a single mom who hadn’t even graduated from high school, who lived in public housing and struggled with addiction, and expect her to be the role model her kids needed.  It was enough to just make sure the kids were safe at home; I couldn’t expect her to have deep insight into why they were acting out or to recognize the importance of curfews or tutor them in algebra.

Similarly, I believe God meets us where we are when we earnestly seek him.  And because we are human (meaning flawed) we may have to earnestly seek him from the same sinful place over and over, broken in self-disgust, humbled by our inability to “do better” this time.  The good news?  He meets us there.  I know, because he has met me here, time and again.  I hope that you can be encouraged to know you’re not alone and no one is perfect: don’t give up!  Seek him, and keep on doing better.

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Pain

walk on the greenwayThis post was originally published on That Mommy Blog on March 31, 2013.

It’s been almost a year since I saw a doctor for fatigue, which led me to a diagnosis of chronic migraines and treatment using Topamax, an anti-seizure medication.  For almost a year I have been tracking my pain on a calendar: red for pain, yellow for fatigue, green for “Hallelujah I actually feel good!”  There have been woefully few greens.  Finally I got tired of the side-effects of Topamax (mostly the inability to focus, which was becoming a true impairment), and I am almost completely weaned off and trying to cope with my migraines without medication.  Lifestyle changes, less stress, that sort of thing.

All this to say, I feel pretty intimate with pain.  I have given it a lot of thought in the last year, read a lot about it, and have been trying to understand it.  Why does God allow pain?  Why do some of us suffer a lot—some every day—and other people seem to just coast through?  Really, it’s the same question people have been asking forever: why is there suffering?  The same question Siddhartha wondered about.  The same question non-Christians ask about God.  Why would a loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God allow suffering and pain?

The main argument here is that God loved us so much that he gave us free will; free will leads to choice; choices lead to pain and suffering.  God’s creation, which could have been perfect had we just left well enough alone, is not perfect because we have exercised free will.  We have chosen to exclude God.  We think we can do better without Him.  We have historically and continually pushed Him away, and He has honored that choice, the same way that He also honors the choice to welcome Him with mercy and grace and forgiveness.  We come to Him freely, and He returns love freely to us.  Without this ability to choose, we wouldn’t have been the beings He longed for.  Because God longed for us to love Him freely, He needed to create free will, and therefore the possibility of pain, suffering and evil.  C.S. Lewis says it this way: “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”  C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.

So all sorts of suffering result from free will, out of which both love of God and love of evil are born.

But what about pain not arising out of free will?  What about my migraines?  Childhood illnesses?  Famine?  What about losing a loved one?  What about a healthy man I know who was suddenly struck down with three life-threatening illnesses at the same time?  I struggle with this question, and some of the “pat” answers have always seemed a little empty to me.  But I was totally floored recently when I read this, and I need to share it with you:

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’, and look on things as if man were the centre of them.  Man is not the centre.  God does not exist for the sake of man.  Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”  Rev. 4:11.  We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest “well pleased.”  The Problem of Pain, 40-41.  (Emphasis mine).

This was a new perspective for me, and while it doesn’t answer the question of why God allows suffering, it gave me a new perspective on suffering itself.  In our culture which celebrates everything “Me,” including documenting every movement on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and in our evangelical culture which celebrates how I love God, how I need him, how I come to him to worship, the idea of me being beside the point is a little…different.  Yes, I believe how I approach God is important.  But to take me out of it a little, and remember that I am also the object of His love…well, that changes everything.

So what does it mean (when I am on Day Six of a crushing migraine and would sooner drive a pickaxe into my forehead than look at this computer) that I was made for God to love me, and not (primarily) vice versa?  It means that my pain is beside the point.  Or rather, it means that I need to continue to worship him, even when in pain. Continue to allow Him to love me, by inviting Him in.  In the face of His magnificent, overwhelming, tender love for me, I find that my suffering truly pales.  I suspect that response is what He’s after.  When we are at our most physically strained, when we are at our most emotionally drained, when we have been beaten down by a world that is fallen and falling around us, the positioning of my soul toward God as it says, “yes, God, you are holy,” that is the fulfillment of His love for us.

I was praying recently, about coming down off of my medication.  Worried about an onslaught of headaches, I asked, “God, please will you cure me?”  God told me no, that I will still sometimes have pain.  But He asked me, in the infinitely patient way He has with my stubborn self, to keep my eyes on Him anyway.  I don’t know how to always do that, but if I try, and manage it even part of the time, I trust that the effort alone will bear enough fruit to nourish me as I suffer.

On Easter, this glorious holiday celebrating the resurrection of Christ, it’s important to mention that God knows our pain.  He experienced every ounce of it on the cross.  You are not alone, no matter what you suffer, for Christ has already experienced it with you.  In fact, God had to become man in order to experience pain in the first place, and He chose to do so facing the pain not only of whipping and crucifixion but also of every human sin and anguish.  He did it in order to know you, the one He truly loves.  He created you to love you, and then He joined you in your sufferings as well.  He is with you now, loving you and wanting nothing more than your love, freely given, in all circumstances.

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Welcome!

 

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Welcome!

My name is Michelle and I’m so glad you’re here.  After writing a mommy blog (see it right here) for the last six years which focuses on home decor, crafts, and parenting, I found myself with new goals and a new calling.  This space is the digital manifestation of those new things: a space devoted to seeking and sharing God’s glory.