Encouragement from my favorite time of year

Advent – right now – is my absolute favorite time of year! If you’re curious about Advent, you can read more about its meaning and how we celebrate here. I also love the list of Advent info and resources compiled at Sacred Ordinary Days. For those who celebrate, I’d love to hear what your family does in the comments! Like my friend Charity, who created an Advent activities calendar for her family (she includes a free download!).

Encouragement from my favorite time of year | Colibri Homestead

As a family, we are reading through Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift for the 25 days leading up to Christmas. The message of hope, the message of Advent, contained in its pages is just what our hearts are needing. These simple and deep words from yesterday’s reading, the reading for December 3, were so beautiful I wanted to share an excerpt with you.

Talking about Adam and Eve in the garden:

“An enemy of God, Satan is like a wily snake that slithers in at the corner of everything and entangles around you. If he can trip you with a lie so you fall away from closeness with God, he can snatch your happiness, steal God’s glory, swipe away your love for God, and leave you robbed.

So that snake sneaked up to Eve, wrapped his own lie tight around her, and hissed his poison right into her heart: ‘God doesn’t really love you. God doesn’t really give you good-enough things. God doesn’t really give the gift of love all the time.

Eve fell for it.”

How am I falling for it? How are you? Are you feeling what Ann writes is the “painful loneliness we call the Fall”? “When you trip, you can fall off the path and end up lost in the long grass.” Don’t we all feel a bit lost at times? Or sometimes a lot lost?

And here’s the promise of Advent, the promise of the Bible, the promise for you & for me right here and right now:

“When we’ve fallen, and when we’re lost, God comes with one question. Not the question ‘Why did you do that?’ Not the question ‘What did you do wrong?’ The very first God-question of the Old Testament, of the whole Bible, is a love question howling out of God’s heart: ‘Where are you?’

God’s love never stops looking for you, trying to find you and gently draw you back close to him.

…Your God looks for you when you’re lost. Your God calls out for you when you’re ashamed and broken and hurting. God doesn’t run down the rebel. God doesn’t strike down the sinner. God doesn’t flog the failure.

Whenever you fall, whenever you fall short, whenever you sin, your God whispers to you with a love that wraps around you like a gentle arm: ‘Wherever you are, I will always come find you. Whatever you’ve done, I will always keep looking until My eyes see you, till My hands of healing reach you, till I can hold you close again to My heart.’

… And what was the very first question of the New Testament of the Bible? The very first question of the New Testament of the Bible was that of wise men asking everyone after Jesus’ birth: ‘Where is He?’

Really wise men and women never stop looking for God. And because your really wise God is love, He never stops looking for you.”

Can you feel Him looking for you? The Advent season invites us to look for Him. And it’s not to late to join in!

May God infuse fresh hope in your life and in your heart and in our world this Advent season! May we feel His love meeting us in all of the places we fall and fall short. May we remember, above all:

“No matter what the day holds, no matter how the season of your life unfolds, God holds you and enfolds you.”

Mmmm. Just sit with that for a bit and let God’s love wash over  you. You are loved!

Happy Advent!

(And thank you to Ann for your words!)

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Filled with hope

I started volunteering at a local day center for women and children experiencing homelessness a couple of weeks ago. My friend suggested it when I was looking for a place to volunteer as part of my plan toward returning to work with the help of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. I have the joy of doing “Guest Relations” work, which basically means hanging out, being a listening ear, sitting with, just being with the women. How lucky am I?! Oh, and we play Bingo and color together. Yesssss!!!

My husband texted me to ask how my time went yesterday. I sent him this text back:

“Today was great. The house was packed because of the rain and cold. It was fun to do my activity with the women*, and more are trusting me with their stories the more they see me and get to know me. I got to watch some Price is Right with some of them. They have male models now. (laughing crying emoji) A woman came in angry that she couldn’t get services til January 1 (she somehow did something to lose them), and when she blew out of there yelling that she was calling the police, etc. the ladies all stopped and prayed for her and her kid. They are broken and beautiful women.”

I see myself in them, my own brokenness. Many of them are dealing with health challenges for example. One woman talked with me about how she started losing her vision, was blind for a time even, shortly after finishing all of her formal art education. She was devastated and wondered what she was going to do with all of her passion and learning. She has since joined a tactile art group with other people experiencing blindness, has had a piece make it into a juried show, and was telling me where I could find her collaborative sculptures around town. What resilience! She pushed through the literal darkness to find joy again. What perseverance for me to learn from.

And I can see ways that I have much to learn from them, these beautiful, beautiful women. I mean, think about your girlfriends. If I’m being totally honest, if I were with a group of mine and we witnessed someone lose their cool and create a scene, I’m knowing that our first collective thought wouldn’t be mercy, grace and to start praying. Ouch…! These women have beautiful hearts! One said under her breath, “I know how I’ve gotten to the place where I’ve done that before.” Humility and a vulnerable “me too” – I need to drink down more of that!

I get to watch the small ways they care for each other every time I’m with them. One woman shared yesterday that she is going to use her little money to buy a soda and a candy for a friend from the day center Saturday; they have time planned to hang out, and that is what good friends do, they share and they give. One woman spent 3 hours yesterday scrubbing down the kitchen until it shined. It is normally a chore that two women do together. I offered to help her twice, and both times she’d say something pretty much along the lines of: “You just go have fun, I’ve got this; I enjoy doing this, it’s my way to give back and take care of others here.” The second time I decided she was for real. When is the last time I’ve cleaned up after 30 other people for 3 hours hand washing dishes with nothing but joy & gladness in my heart? Ummm…never. One woman had her headphones in her ear all day, and spent an hour singing loudly enough that you could hear her throughout the upstairs of the house (and you know how no matter how great of a singer we are, headphones in our ears are not our friends). The only comment I heard was from one woman: “She must have her headphones in still. Just listen to her praising God and doing her thing.” These women are all so different, but one thing they share in common is making space for and actively showing grace for one another. They truly knock my socks off every time I’m there. They spur me on to see the best in others too, and to grow in grace and love and mercy. This is a place where the fruits of the Spirit are alive and well. Not what you thought about a homeless day center? It’s seriously like church sometimes up in there!!

In these last going on two years, I’ve spent a lot of time mostly by myself at home. I’ve spent a lot of time with me. It is so refreshing to be back out in the world with other women on a regular basis. Women who, like me, are broken and beautiful. Women who challenge me to grow in love and faith and perseverance. Women who think different than me and the same as me, but who’s graciousness cover over all our differences. There is laughing and crying and joking and silence and talking and all of the good stuff of life. I read the news and my heart breaks. I look at my Facebook feed and my heart breaks again. But I spend time with these women, and I see God’s goodness all around and am filled with hope. Hope that God’s people can be a people of love and light. That we have the capacity to lift each other up and be salt and light to each other no matter the hard circumstances of our daily lives or the junk of the person in front of us or beside us. I am grateful for the love these women show me, for the love they model to me, for the love they have for each other, for the love that I get to witness and be a part of when I am there. For how that love follows me out the door and helps me see that things can be alright in the world if we’d just take our cue from these women.

Find yourself some people like this!! Find a place to be love, receive love, be a part of love. Ooooh, I am filled with hope! This is God’s upside down kingdom at work, and I am ever grateful for these women.

*we watercolor painted Scripture cards (and faces and tattoos and all other kinds of stuff)

 

 

Letting go of my illusions about suffering and control

This is post 8 in the Suffering Well series. See all of the previous posts here.

Suffering means I’m doing something wrong, or I’m not faithful enough. Suffering comes at people’s own hands, because of the choices that they make. We can pray and work our suffering away. God rewards good with good and bad with bad. If we do things the right way, God will protect us from suffering and harm. We can protect ourselves from suffering through right choices, like a solid savings account, being friends with the right kind of people, living our lives the right kind of way, living safe. It is good to protect ourselves and our children from bad, hurt or suffering. Suffering isn’t something to talk about, but to keep quiet about, or to endure.

Do any of these cultural messages sound or feel familiar?

But what does the Bible have to say about suffering? Crazy countercultural things, like that we should rejoice in our sufferings, because it produces endurance that leads to character that leads to hope, a hope that is bigger than ourselves (Romans 5:3-5). That we should count trials as joy, AS JOY, because they produce a stronger, more steady faith (James 1:2-4). That we experience suffering for all kinds of reasons in all kinds of ways: at the hands of discipline (Hebrews 12:10-11) and trials that refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7), persecution for our faith/being the church (2 Timothy 3:12, John 16:33, 1 Peter 4: 12-13), that in this world there is the reality of death, pain, mourning, crying and that is why the promise of heaven is so dang good (Revelation 21:4). No one, not any of us, are immune from suffering. Even the righteous have many troubles (Psalm 34:19).

And then there are gems like this that make me want to literally fist pump in the air:

We now have this light shining in our hearts (the gospel – the good news of Christ), but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.

Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you…

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 

(Paul speaking in 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18)

That part – though our bodies our dying, our spirits are being renewed every day – I am learning that it is natural for me to focus on the physical, namely the dying, the wasting away, the troubles, the being knocked down. But then there’s the spiritual part that’s happening, that is not as in your face, that can be missed but is where the meat of life is at – I am not driven to despair, I am never abandoned, I am not ultimately destroyed, I AM RENEWED. I can see troubles easy breezy. But instead, I’m learning more and more how to see the spiritual, and I know no better way to do so than to just plain old ask God to help me to have eyes to see and to spend time in his presence, getting to know his ways and letting go of my ways, and even of culture’s ways. And when I have leaned heavy into God and made him bigger than my beliefs and my troubles, I have seen that one of God’s big lessons in all of this for me has been to let go of my big fat illusion that I can be in control. That I am in control. And to trade that in for trust, trust that isn’t just there in the good, but that buoys and anchors me in the deepest and darkest of valleys and the every day in-between. I am learning this through my suffering: This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

Instead of hanging firm to my troubles, to what I can see, I am hanging firm to the word of God that says that nothing – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword – can separate me from Christ’s love. (Romans 8:35) I’ve only lost one thing – my health. With it has come a necessary loss of my understanding of self-dependence, of self-control. But if I lost everything? Paul says: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). As we sit in our suffering, may we see it for what it is, an opportunity for closeness with Christ. An opportunity for gain. An opportunity to really get, at the core of us and our lives that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. May we be able to peel our eyes/hearts/thoughts/minds away from the physical losses and think about the spiritual that God has for us to learn.

May we be able to join with the Psalmist, who says “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50) And with Paul who says in Philippians 4:12-14 that in all circumstances – in need or plenty, well fed or hungry, living in plenty or in want – that God is the source of his strength. Can I be okay, let alone delight, in my weakness, in insults, in hardships, persecutions and difficulties because they make me dependent on Christ’s strength in me and make Christ’s strength shine? (2 Corinthians 12:10).

I don’t know. But I know I’m certainly growing in spiritual maturity, and in large part through my season of suffering. In learning how to let go of my illusions about suffering and control, I’m learning how to hang on to the thing that matters most, Christ’s strength, goodness, love and power.

Before I end, I want to be sure to say that God asks us not just to learn from the sufferings that befall us, but to walk into suffering. I could write a million and a half things on this topic, and maybe one day I will. But here’s a good word from my sister in Christ, Lori, on how you will be burned when you live as Christ asks you to live, but “Do it anyway.” She’s real and honest, and I need her voice in my life. I’m also eating up Shannan Martin’s book Falling Free. Here’s a taste of her story:

The truth had descended on me like an early fog – it’s hard to pine for heaven when you already believe you’re there…For all our adult lives, our radar had been locked on one goal: to ensure our own safety and security…What we saw with fresh eyes was that God’s “more” often looks a whole lot like less…He reminded me who he is – a God who laughs in the face of logic and weighs things like safety and security on an eternal scale requiring all of my faith…Faith points us to a way that’s completely different. It requires us to abandon our lives into the hands of God and whatever he has planned… [For us] it meant trading more for less and leaping off the ladder of upward mobility…it meant discovering the golden thread that connects all of us, the glimmering kinship of being fully known in the eyes of another and believing we share a humanity that transcends race, DNA, habits, opportunities, failures, and socioeconomic strata.

There’s just a few more days to pre-order her book before it officially releases and grab yourself some free goodies in the process. You can pre-order and read more here.

To end, Lauren Diagle’s song First has been an anthem song of sorts as I’ve wrestled through this topic of letting go of my control and focusing instead on God, in all seasons, in all moments. I leave it here for you to enjoy. As I listen, here’s my prayer for you and for me: May my heart desire to seek God first! Before bringing my needs or cares, may I just desire to be with him, to seek him, to worship him. May I be able to learn more and more through my suffering how to look beyond myself and really lose myself in God. And may that in turn lead me deeper into a life of following him, which involves willingly stepping into suffering, into service, following in Christ’s earthly example.

Peace be with you today and everyday, friends!