Our Story

“Are you ready to tell Our Story?” 

A year ago I was preparing to share my testimony with our small group. It was a chaotic day; one in which I felt inadequate in nearly every way. The kids were crazy, the house a mess, so I stuck my (then) two kids in the stroller and took a walk in order to gain some sense of peace and gather my thoughts.

Then the voice—so familiar and yet so startling: “Are you ready to tell Our Story?” 

It caught me like a lover’s indiscreet kiss. It sent shivers down my spine. I’m not sure if I was even ready then—but I am now Jesus.

Yes Jesus. I’m ready to share Our Story. 

Here is where it all began:

I was eight years old.

Sometime in the recent past I had finally got up the courage to tell my Mom that I was being sexually abused. She believed me, sheltered me, fought for me. Both my parents did. But there were, and are, some things no parent can give to a child in that situation—and it was something I desperately needed. It’s what we all need when we feel stuck in a darkness too deep to ever escape from on our own.

I needed Hope.

I was in the messy middle of recovering from an abuse that I was too young to understand. I knew the darkness that plagued me to the the depths of my soul. I sensed the evil that lurked around each and every corner, threatening to gobble me up. In my childish mind, I just wanted it all to go away.

God found me there on the rough carpet of my bedroom. On my knees in front of the solid wood bookshelf, I was kneeling as I often did when searching. Searching for something to read. A bibliophile from a young age, I looked for the answers to my needs in books, but none of them seemed to meet me here and now. None of them held the answers to the questions I was asking. Bending over, peering down at the volumes on the bottom shelf, turning my head sideways to read all the words on their spines. Then the Bible caught me. That large volume which I considered to be both Holy and wholly intimidating. The thing I had tried to force myself to read, but just couldn’t quite get into. I was only eight years old after all. 

I pulled it out and didn’t know where to begin. Then, a miraculous whisper. Romans. It said. Chapter 8.  It said. 

And I opened up to these words in the 28th verse. 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

(Romans 8:28, NIV)

There on my bedroom floor, kneeling at my bookshelf, God captured my heart. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that somehow, someway, the suffering I was going through, and the abuse I had endured was going to be worked for good. Down my eight year old cheeks streamed tears of peace—tears of joy.

That was the beginning of my love story with Jesus.

About seven years later, I started blogging. Blogging for other survivors of sexual abuse. Blogging so that they would know that they weren’t alone.

Though I think my readership was near non-existent, I haven’t even actually deleted the original blog because it has a sentimental special place in my heart. And now, it’s just so beautiful to me to see how God was planting seeds in my heart to serve others who are, or have gone through suffering; that you would know that you are not alone, and that there is and always will be, a glorious redemption plan for every broken piece of our shattered hearts.

This one thing I know for sure: that God is in the business of making all things new. He’s done it for me, over and over again. I wish that I could say that my childhood trauma was the only really hard or scary thing that I ever faced; in fact when I was younger I was pretty sure that the fact that I had dealt with hardship at such a young age meant that I had gotten that part of my life “out of the way”, and it was going to be all rainbows and sunshine from there on out.

Go ahead and laugh if you want to. I can’t think about that sweet naiveté of mine without chuckling either. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought this way. Because believing that life is will often be dark and difficult? That can make you want to give up right there on the spot.

But for those of us who belong to Christ Jesus, suffering doesn’t get to have the last word. Abuse doesn’t have the last word. Sickness and death don’t get the last word. Whatever current hardship you are facing; it doesn’t get the last word because we live by the Power of the Living God, and there is nothing that is so dark that He cannot bring the light of His redemption to it. We walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and He gives us all that we need to survive this crazy life, and to make it a life worth living. For now, and for Eternity.

How do I know? I’ll tell you. I have so many stories. I’m sure you have them too.

Stories of joy in the pain. Of beauty from the ashes. Of eternal weights of glory being made from these comparatively, light and momentary afflictions.

The truth is that God is the Good Gardener in my life, pruning me that I may bear fruit. Planting me often, in the soil of suffering, that I may bear fruit. Showing me that His presence with me always was, and always is, enough.

And it’s enough for you too.

I’m working on something right now: It’s called Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of Hope in the Soil of Suffering. It’s not finished yet. But if this sounds like something that might help you, I’d love to get it into your hands.

All you have to do is click here, and give me your email address. A few minutes after you put in your info, you’ll get an email welcoming you to my email list, and as soon as I am finished creating this content, I will send it directly to your inbox for absolutely free.

Even better news: if you sign up before I finish making this resource, you may even get to help influence it by sending a reply to my first email and telling me what you are struggling with.

Because these words aren’t just for me anymore, Dear Reader, they are for you.

That together we may bear fruit, by God’s grace and for His glory.

Better Gifts

“Do you want me to be happy?” She demanded.

We were out on a girls shopping run, and I had allowed my daughter to pick a couple things from the dollar section; a unicorn page with heart gel stickers, and a stack of unicorn note cards.

But it wasn’t enough. Each and every thing she saw she wanted for some reason or other. Her reason for wanting the thing? “But I LOVE __________, and I don’t have any ___________ yet!”

I kept saying no. Calmly, by God’s grace, to her innumerable requests. But she was getting angry now.

“YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO ME!” She insisted.

“I’m listening,” I told her, “but my answer is no.”

And that’s when the real question came out:

“Do you want me to be happy?” she demanded.

I replied, “happiness does not come from getting everything you want. Happiness comes from learning to be content.” If you are a parent maybe you are quick to nod along; this is sound teaching. Contentment is a better and more important gift than allowing her to have everything she wants and sees.

Now imagine that you are the child. And God is the loving parent.

How many of us have accused God of not hearing us? When we don’t get our asked for request? How many of us have hated Him for his apparent indifference? How many of us have demanded with fists shaking towards the sky, “DON’T YOU CARE! DON’T YOU WANT ME TO BE HAPPY!?!?”

This metaphor is often used to apply to a child that is asking for something dangerous. Like, “Well of course you wouldn’t give the child matches…”

But what about when the request doesn’t seem obviously dangerous or evil in any way? What about when the request is for something good? Like a glitter unicorn candle making kit? Like answers and a path forward for a sick child?

I would like to propose something: that God also says ‘No’ to good things. Even as He longs for us to pour out our hearts and desires to Him, He often answers those prayers with a ‘No.’ And this is still His kindness to us.

“…which one of you, if his son asks him from bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:9-10 ESV
God knows how to give us good gifts; and sometimes when He is saying ‘No’ that is just another way that He is giving us a better gift.

He is giving us better gifts. The gift of trusting Him in the middle of the unknown. The gift of His tangible presence in the midst of horrible pain. The gift of Hope in the darkest places; the Hope that He is God and He is Good and all will be made into Splendor and Glory in the day of Christ.

Every tear will be wiped away, one day. And now, as we rage against the wrongness of it all; the wrongness of war and slavery. Of illness and death; God cups our chin in His mighty hands and says, “I see you. I am with you. Look at me.”

I wish He would tell us right off the bat what good could possible come from the wreckage of our present suffering; from the suffering of those around me whom I love. But I think if he did, I’d be short circuiting part of the miracle.

Instead, He reminds me of where I’ve been. What hells He has already led me through. And He paints a hopeful vision, that is as beautiful as it is undefined. It’s the wrapping on the better gift that I have yet to understand or open.

Photo c/o Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Six months ago, during one of her tummy flare ups, my daughter asked me if God forgets things.

“No sweetie, no, God doesn’t forget things. Why do you ask?”

“Because we prayed for Him to help my tummy, but my tummy is still hurting… I thought maybe…maybe He forgot.”

“No baby. He hasn’t forgotten you. Sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to. And do you know what that means?”

“What?” She sniffed, wiped a tear from her cheek.

“That just means that He has something else in mind for us right now.”

And as the tears threatened in my own eyes, I knew it was true. And laying next to her on the couch that day, I painted for her a picture: a picture of a God so powerful that not only could He prevent bad things from happening (which of course He could) but that He can take even bad things, and turn them into good things. A God of incredible, beautiful, miraculous, Redemption. That is the God we worship. That is the God that is worthy of my life-long praise; and all of my praise for joyful eternity after.

He has something else in mind for us right now. As the answers refuse to come. As we are left instead with more questions. Because in the midst we know that God is for us, and He is good. Even if.

Perhaps this faith that He is growing in us is the better gift. Or perhaps it is something even more glorious than I can currently fathom.

It’s probably the latter.

When all is unknown, and nothing feels comforting

It feels like a full fledged onslaught. The battle for my mind is raging every moment that I am present to my actual feelings and thoughts; and if I’m not present, then I’m just plain numb.

We heard these words of doubt last week: “I’m stumped.”

From a doctor, especially your child’s doctor, those are words you never, ever, want to hear. She looked sad. She looked tired and concerned. She has labored for us and with us for well over a year, and now, we are at the end of her expertise. The end of her possible answers.

“That’s what specialists are there for,” I heard her say. And I wonder if she wasn’t just saying that for us, but for herself. To remind herself that it’s okay that this time she didn’t have the answers we were looking for. In fact, we seemed at a loss for answers at all.

We have run out of non-invasive options. Our next right thing is to head to the pediatric gastroenterologists at Children’s Hospital, and hope they can help us find an answer. A diagnosis. Something, that will help our baby girl feel well more than 50% of the time.

The last time I was at children’s hospital, I stood as a witness as one of my best friends received the news that her 18 month old daughter had cancer. What had seemed like a fractured ankle from a crib injury ended up quite different than any of us could have anticipated. I can’t say I’m excited to go back there.

No solutions feel very comforting right now. Even if it all goes perfectly “well.” Sometimes the diagnosis makes things a lot better, other times, it’s the devastating last blow that seals just how much “worse” it all is.

And even if it’s not worse. Even if it’s all fine; I’m not excited to put my daughter under extensive and invasive tests. I don’t want to watch as she fades from consciousness from anesthesia. I don’t want to let anyone wheel my baby away on a gurney. I don’t want to put her life in any one else’s hands. As I looked at the faces of the pediatric gastroenterologists on the Children’s Hospital website, I just kept thinking to each face, “Do I trust you to take care of my baby girl? How about you?

The truth is I trust no one. And I know enough now to know that I can’t necessarily even trust myself: I mean, I haven’t been able to keep her healthy have I? No matter how much I slam down the control all around us and our life in attempts to keep her well, it’s never enough. I’m sure there’s been a time more than once over the past year and a half, when I’ve encouraged her to eat something that ended up making her sick. I try not to dwell on those times, but sometimes I do.

All I know is that I know her, and I love her. I remember when she was one-year-old she smelled to me like butter, and sugar cookies. That when she’s happy she doesn’t always smile, but her face is smooth and peaceful. She doesn’t always show her pleasure in the demonstrative ways you’d expect from a five-year-old. And she’s always been that way. I know that she’s happiest when she’s making art. That she’s an extrovert that needs her alone time. That she is more thoughtful and capable of compassion than I often even give her credit for.

A little over a month ago, I found myself making an hour long drive with a car full of sleeping babies. And through the gentle words of a scripture lullaby CD, I heard an almost audible whisper:

If you never find the answers, will you still trust me? 

And through the tears, my whispered answer came, “Yes.” 

The challenge now is one of memory: remembering the peace that comes when I choose to rest in the sovereignty of God. Remembering and keeping before my consciousness moment-by-moment, that God knows her and loves her even more than I do. That He has not abandoned her. And challenging as this thought is, that He has good for her, for us. Even here, smack dab in the middle of this pain; this terrifying unknown.

What that good might be? I don’t know yet. But I’m on the hunt for it. I’m ravenous. I’m parched. And I need to taste that spring of water that never leaves you longing for more. Especially here in this desert season, as I feel myself walking towards this valley of shadows and death. Come near to me Lord Jesus.

I believe He will.

If you too are walking through a season of suffering, or uncertainty, or both; I’m so glad you are here. I hope to create a place here where we can Cultivate a Fruitful Life, and I know that paradoxically, God often does His best work in the soil of suffering. Will you let me kneel down in the dirt next to you? CLICK HERE to sign up.

Praying for you Dear Reader. I know you’ve been through a lot. I have too.

But together, let’s keep before us, the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)

If you are planted in the soil of suffering like I am right now Dear Reader, then maybe, just maybe, God is in the middle of cultivating fruit.

The blank Page; a New Years Eve Reflection

New Years Eve, 2018

Dear Reader,

This may be the first year that I’m actually ready to put away Christmas.

Always, each year of my life until now, there has been this mourning at the end of Christmas day. This sadness that it’s over. And like I keep having to tell my three year old son, it is now 360-some-odd days until the next Christmas Day.

But this year it’s different. This year I find myself looking forward to the New Year with equal anticipation. Maybe it’s because December of this year was so supremely hard. Maybe it’s because we got a new couch and the Christmas Tree is currently making it difficult to see how the living room is going to be arranged. Maybe it’s because this year I find myself especially hungry for a clean page and a fresh start.

As a writer, a clean page both appeals to, and terrifies me.

On the one hand, a clean page is a blank slate, full to the brim of potential and space for ideas and dreams to come true.

On the other, a blank page means there is nothing to show, there is nothing to even edit, because I haven’t even yet begun. Though my first draft is likely to be crappy, and riddled with errors, at least something on the page means I am working in the right direction.

I wonder if this might help you too? In the midst of all your New Year’s celebrations and resolutions—if you are staring at the January calendar page like a blank slate before you—maybe remember this; the first draft is never right. But that doesn’t mean, what you write won’t be beautiful.

That means just this: don’t expect perfection from a New Year when nothing you’ve ever written on that first calendar page has been perfect previously. Don’t expect perfectly kept goals and resolutions. Don’t hold yourself to the standard that you know in your heart of hearts is not achievable.

Instead, be content to start on a draft.

Write some words. Make a few mistakes. Set some goals; change them later if you need to. Push forward in a meaningful direction, even if that meaningful direction doesn’t take you where you think it should.

Show Up.

I have lots of little goals and ambitions for this year. Some small and seemingly inconsequential, some grander; the subject of my wildest dreams that I’m actually daring to believe may happen.

But the most important thing I’m resolving to do in this New Year? It’s something I’ve begun the draft on already. Something I have been chiseling at for awhile. A notion, and an idea that has been taking shape in my heart and mind and I realize now that maybe it will resonate in yours as well.

In 2019, I am going to show up as myself in the world.

Maybe it seems too ordinary. But this idea is not even original to me. I have heard Emily P. Freeman speak on this idea most often, (check our her super short, inspirational podcast The Next Right Thing if you haven’t yet.) In essence, this idea to show up as myself in the world, is an invitation to not only fully be who is is that God has created me to be, but to also extend that to the world. To offer my words and my work. To open my hands like a generous hostess and say, “Help yourself! I made these for you.”

The truth is, though no one would usually be so rude as to insult your cooking to your face (small children excluded of course), people on the internet rarely hold back from a desire to criticize.

I have felt too afraid of doing it wrong. Too fragile to try. Too fearful that all my efforts will be for naught, and that it will all be a giant flop. Cooking is a mastery activity for me. I could do it my sleep.

Figuring out how to make my blog do things…how to create things on the computer and then offer them to you Dear Reader…well that just isn’t my forte. And I’ve given that excuse 1,001 times. But no more.

If I’m going to show up as myself in the world, then I need to show up with my words full of encouragement and hope that God has given me. And if I’m going to extend that to the world in a meaningful way, then that means I need to work harder and more intentionally to, as Ed Cyzewski once said in an interview with Hope*Writer’s, “get [my] words where [my] reader can see them.”

So that’s my big scary goal. And whether you are a writer, a manager, a gardener, a janitor, a cook, a nanny, or an executive…I’m betting it could be your goal too.

Choose this year, to show up as yourself in the world, and offer what it is God has given you to share with open hands and an open heart.

Stop making excuses of why you can’t. I know it’s scary. I know it’s hard. The fear of rejection still makes my heart pound sometimes. But in the end, it really isn’t about us is it? It’s about the God who made us. Who put us here on this planet for a reason. Who has good works set out for us to do. I don’t want to get to heaven only to realize that I buried my talent in the sand because I was afraid. I want instead, to hear those words of what C.S. Lewis describes as “the Divine Accolade”; “Well done good and faithful servant.”

But if we’re going to hear those beautiful words, we first need to be faithful. And the first step to faithfulness? It’s to Show Up.

So here’s to marking up the blank page. To writing the first draft. To making mistakes.

Here’s to trying new things. To not making excuses. To staying present in the things that scare us.

Here’s to pressing on in the midst of discouragement and even failure, knowing that each misstep can be our teacher if we let her.

What might it look like for you to show up as yourself in the World? Is there something God is tugging at you to do, that you’ve been afraid to step out into? How might you begin to mark up that blank page in courage and faith today?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Remember, Cultivating a Fruitful Life is an activity best served by community. So leave a comment. Grab a couple friends over coffee. Share your heart and listen as they share theirs. Because the world needs us to show up as ourselves. And it will be a more beautiful place when we do.

We ourselves are the dwelling places of the infinite God of the Universe. Where we go, we never go alone. And this year, I guarantee, He has work for you to do beyond the failures you may see lining your January calendar.

What could ruin the coming of Christ

There is so much to anticipate about Christmas. The time with family and friends. The presents under the tree. The vacation days. The special feasts that invite us to remember the incarnation with songs sung by candlelight. 

But with every anticipated event comes a certain amount of anxiety; for all of us. To get the shopping done on time. To prepare the food for the guests. To teach our children the meaning behind the celebration, and so much more. The anxieties include the small griefs associated with the plans foiled, the cookies we never baked, the gingerbread houses that were accidentally left in the garage, the advent calendar we didn’t remember to start until halfway through the month.

But sometimes these anxieties run deeper. Sometimes they are the deep fears that are the product of deep griefs. Sometimes the current of suffering and grief drive us through the holiday season at a pace that feels unnatural. It can be hard to sing a Christmas song when it seems like everything around us is wrong. 

Fear and anxiety should not be invited to take a seat at our tables during this joyful time of year, but yet sometimes it seems like they’ve pulled out the seat of honor and made themselves quite at home, always without our consent, and often without our immediate knowledge.

If you are worried about this Christmas, that something might ruin it. That the holiday stress will drag you down. That the traffic will make you angry. That the checkout lines at the shopping mall will frustrate you. Or that your family will be angry with you because you have to work…Fear not.

If you are worried that the grief over a loved one missing around the table will swallow you whole. If you are fearful that the constant suffering that plagues your everyday life might spoil Christmas. If you are alone this year and don’t know who you’ll celebrate with. If your spouse is in prison. If a loved one has cancer. If the budget is too tight for gifts for your kids this year. Fear not.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; nothing can ruin Christ’s coming. Not then. Not now. Not ever. 

Jesus’ birth occurs in the context of a census taken by the Roman empire. The Jews were being taxed by an oppressive regime, who wanted to count and see just how many of them there were as if counting assets, not people.  He was born in a humble town, after a long on-foot road trip. A town so crowded that no one had room even for a very pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth. He was born in a stable, surrounded by the dirt and the hay and the feces of animals. Delivered by his teenage mother in the usual turmoil of the usual way. Caught by a man whom he would grow to call Father, though he himself had biologically nothing to do with him. Unless of course you considered that is was Jesus’ very breath of life that made Joseph’s own chest rise and fall. 

If I wanted to tell a story of a birth plan spoiled, I don’t have to look any farther than the birth of my own Savior. I wonder what Mary thought, in the midst of intensity of labor. I wonder if she held fast to the faith that all this was as God had planned it, or if she doubted, even for a moment, the way the Lord chose for this Savior to come. Did she wonder if his birth was being profaned by the dung and the dust in that moment? Or did she know with certainty that everything was exactly as it should be.

In the fullness of time, he came. Nothing could stop him. Nothing could ruin it. Every strange, painful, and difficult circumstance along Mary and Joseph’s way, only confirmed the prophecies that had already been spoken of Messiah. All of it was by God’s grace, for his glory. 

The maiden girl, the stall, the manger, was exactly the way he had to come.  It was apart of who he was as “Immanuel”, God with us

He was born to breathe that filthy air. Born to feel the pain of a scraped knee. Born to feel the sting of a harshly spoken word. Born to feel the wrongness of people’s anger towards him. Born to submit to the authority of human parents, though He alone was the ultimate authority in all the Universe. All of this before he even would begin his more official “ministry” among us.  And not one iota of those experiences could ruin his coming, because of course; that was why he came. He was born to feel in the flesh, the effects of the curse as far as it was found, even as he came to ultimately break the curse once and for all, forever.  

Nothing could ruin the miracle of his coming. No corrupt governments, no inns full to bursting, no filthy stalls. 

He came for the social outcasts, as well as those who were held in high esteem. The shepherds, who abandoned their flocks for a chance to touch his sleeping face, were just as welcome as the three kings bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

We were going to go cut our own tree this year. We’d been planning it for weeks. We thought we’d take some friends with us. We’d warm up with cocoa after. It would be the snowy family adventure we’d been longing for since the hot hot months of summer. 

Then Friday night came with another auto-immune flare up in our little girl. We were up all night holding her, consoling her. Praying for her. Singing over her. Holding back her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. And when the new mercy light of Saturday morning finally came, I knew there was no way we were going to go cut our own tree. 

So we traded off taking naps and watching the kids. We ate leftovers. We cancelled our plans. And when four o’clock came around, I made my husband a thermos of coffee and sent he and our middle son out in the snow to find the perfect tree from a local tree lot. 

Ellie woke up to find them gone, and though she knew we would have been cutting our own tree if not for her flare up of illness, she took it as a kindness that the boys were out finding the perfect one just for us. Just to cheer us up. 

In the fullness of time; even if our timing seems off for everything, God is always on time. Nothing is by accident. All is for our good and his glory. That baby in the manger didn’t come because he wanted to be apart of some idyllic winter solstice celebration—he came because we are broken, and he wants to heal us. 

If you feel broken down and beat up by life right now: Christmas is for you. If you feel weighed down by the burdens of past hurts laid upon you by others: Christmas is for you.  If you are afraid of the emotional, or physical pain that you are experiencing and very well may continue to experience all throughout the Christmas season, Christmas is for you.

If you are tired of muddling through life in your own strength. If you have nothing left when the dawn finds you, then take heart! Christmas is for YOU. 


The holiness of this Holy Night of the Incarnation mirrors the holiness for which God has set us apart: the holiness is not clean and tidy like the stained glass images of the birth of Christ, but in the midst of the mess and the mud and the blood, it is set apart. And if you believe in Christ Jesus, then you are set apart, by God’s grace and for his glory. And nothing can take that away from you.

Glory. That’s what makes the more obviously sacred and the seemingly profane aspects of our lives  the same in the economy of God. Because God redeems profane people with profane pasts into the sacred work of his coming Kingdom. And the redemptive power of Jesus more than defeats the pervasive power of sin and shame. 

Nothing can ruin the coming of Christ.  Not then, not now, not ever.

Not the oppression of governments. Not abuse. Not job loss or relationship loss. Not homelessness. Not the diagnosis. Not school shootings. Not the death of a loved one. Neither height nor depth, neither angels nor demons, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else can separate us from the love of God, made incarnate, in  Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paraphrase from Romans 8:38) 

Fear not. No matter what trials your Christmas holds, the best gift of Christmas is always and already yours to hold; the very presence of God with you in the midst of whatever you are going through. 

You are not alone. If there’s anything I can be praying for you for this Christmas, please leave a comment below. Or if you would prefer, you can email me at gracekelleywrites@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you, and I’d love to pray for you. 

Blessings on you Dear Reader, as we cultivate fruit this Christmas, may it always be by God’s grace and for his glory, as we rest in the unshakeable Kingdom of God. 

Gracie

{Photos shown in post, in order they appear  c/o Francois Pistorius, Dan Kiefer, Davidsonluna on Unsplash} 

This post is dedicated to my three youngest siblings, and all the survivors of the Arapahoe High School shooting on December 13, 2013. 5 years ago I didn’t know what to say. Now, I do. 

Advent: the waiting

Anticipation is half the joy. At least, when you know the thing that is coming is really really good. 

It was a week before Christmas last year that I learned I was expecting our third child. This child was something we had been hoping for and anticipating; even as the thought of going through all it takes to get a child here, and especially all it took to get our second child here, was more than a little terrifying. 

But still those two pink lines showed up exactly one week before Christmas, and as the waiting to celebrate the holiday and the significance of God incarnate ended, a new waiting began.

It brings fresh to mind the way we wait in the dark. So often. For someone or something. Sometimes we aren’t even sure which. Our lives can feel like a fog more often than not; but we have this secret hope, and this light on each and every step, and we take them. Even though we aren’t at all sure where it will take us, that hope carries us. 

The hope of Advent is ultimately the hope we all carry; the hope for a Savior. Every human heart, whether believing in Jesus as Lord or not, hopes for a future. For the fulfillment of longing; for the arrival of joy. It’s pregnant within us, and no matter how jaded and discouraged we get sometimes, I rarely dies. If it does, that’s when you know you are in real trouble. A human heart cannot live without hope. At least not here.

We have been studying 1 Corinthians with the Women’s Bible Study at church, an just a few weeks ago we talked about how there won’t be hope in Heaven. Because all our deepest longings will have been fulfilled, we won’t need hope. There won’t be faith either, because our faith will be sight. You don’t need faith to believe in something when it’s right there, in flesh and blood, staring you in the face. 

Strange as it may sound, I think it took a little faith to know that Isaiah was going to be such a good gift. It seems foolish I know, for all children are a gift and I believe this to be true. But I didn’t know it enough. I knew it because I believed it, but now I have seen his eyes sparkle in good humor. I have smelled the sweetness of his breath. I have heard the iridescent sound of his laughter. I have kissed his face until he shrieked for joy, and I myself felt my heart full to absolute bursting with it. 

The waiting takes faith. The anticipation of the coming is joyful, but we rarely know enough of what the coming will look like to anticipate it properly. I couldn’t have known what a precious gift Isaiah would be, without knowing him. I couldn’t have known how redemptive and healing his birth would be, until I experienced the very real presence of the Lord during that laboring time, and he continued to lavish gift upon merciful gift, to me. We carry our hopes and our dreams, but we try not to let them carry us away, because we don’t want to be disappointed. And in a broken world, where God’s ways are so much higher and wiser than our own, I think it wise to hold our own plans loosely. But we need to learn this perspective; that we cannot even begin to fathom the joy that is to come.

Did Mary even know? As she carried this child and this promise for nine months in her womb. As she was given confirmations and signs from Elizabeth and Joseph. As the Lord prepared the way for his son to come into the world, in the most unusual way. 

I have seen birth in the hay before. Just this past April, my goat Carmela kidded in the straw of our loafing shed. It had been warm the day before, but that particular day it was windy and cold. The fresh straw smelled clean, but even still i couldn’t get her to lay down in the cleanest spot. And she just kept pawing the ground to make a space for her babies, but all she was actually doing was making things dirtier. I myself was 20 weeks pregnant, and I kept thinking how much I admired her zen…chewing her cud between pushes and contractions. But I did not at all envy her job of giving birth in the straw. Even with all the spare towels I could muster the whole scene was a gory mess when all was said and done. 

I’m sure this scene would not have been the one that Mary pictured for herself when she imagined giving birth to the son of God, even if she was a poor girl from Nazareth. Even a poor girl from Nazareth could have done better than a filthy stall. 

But that was how he came.

When the waiting was over, the way Jesus came was stranger and more wonderful than anyone could have imagined. He came in the lowest of ways, because he is the King of the lowly. And if a King stoops low, we all ought to stoop low.

It was the incarnation of the upside-down Kingdom of God. The world wasn’t expecting a Messiah to show up. The Israelites were expecting a Messiah, but they didn’t recognize him in the way he came or the way he carried himself. 

Jesus, never in a hurry. Never in a rush. Jesus slow and steady. Jesus eating with sinners. Jesus, the King of the Universe, and of the lowliest of sparrows. Jesus dying a torturous death in our place. We couldn’t have imagined how wonderful he was, until we were staring him straight in the face.

We still can’t can we? 

But just like my precious son Isaiah, the longer that we spend time with Jesus, the more we see what an incredible blessing he is. He doesn’t just save us, he heals us. He sees us. He knows us. And he leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of redeeming every last broken piece of our hearts. This is the ultimate gift of the with-ness of Jesus. Of Immanuel. 

We still don’t get it. Not really.  But someday, we will.

Someday we’ll understand fully, but for now we wait. We hold onto hope; onto faith. And just like you might stare at the ultrasound picture and imagined what it will be like,  you can stare into the scriptures and catch angles of him. Glimmers of him. The more you look, the more you make out the shape of him. 

So let the anticipation build, let it be pregnant within us. Let it mold us and make us, even as it unmakes us all together. Someday, we will see him face to face. But in the advent of his second coming, as in the advent celebration of his first coming, we wait.  

{Featured Photo c/o Anton Darius on Unsplash}

Last Night We Rested

It’s Sunday morning, and the sun is streaming like gold to color the bookshelf, the wall, the baby swing, in the most heavenly of light. 

This weekend was crazy for us, as I’m sure it was for many of you if you live in the United States. Giving Thanks with friends and family always takes an extra bit of effort, but it’s worth it. 

Our Sabbath preparations this week looked different then. We drank coffee, seriously considered eating pie for breakfast, and then packed up our kids bags to head up to Fort Collins. It wasn’t Black Friday anymore, which meant that fewer people were on the roads and in the stores, and we did make a couple pit stops to glance around for presents at stores in Denver where we don’t normally have the chance to shop. We stopped for lunch.

By the time we were nearly home, my husband was feeling more than usually exhausted. We thought he might be coming down with something. So because of wonderfully thoughtful inventors of gluten-free and sheep cheese frozen pizza that I recently discovered,(Capellos!) we made one final stop and then headed home for a Sabbath evening, even if we couldn’t have the whole day.

I told the kids we were going to have a pajama party. We all got in comfy clothes and pulled out some old quilts, because there are now too many of us to sit all on the couch with a comfortable elbow room between us. And we ate pizza and snuggled and watched The Santa Claus because it’s finally after thanksgiving and there is nothing holding us back from watching any Christmas favorites anymore. 

Partway through the movie, I felt a nudge from my tired husband. I looked at him, and he looked at me with such love in his eyes, that I knew that every part of tonight was exactly how it should have been. Our children were snuggled under a quilt eating pizza on wooden trays over the carpet. We were drinking tea with honey, and our baby boy was nursing happily. I think it was even snowing outside a little. 

It took a little serving on my part to make everything right, but don’t worry, I left the dishes for this morning. And Sabbath can sneak in in those beautiful moments when we slow down enough to do just exactly what our family needs.

I went to bed early, the suitcases splayed open on the floor and most of their contents displayed haphazardly on the floor in the search for the tooth brushes. The bathroom too was left quite a disaster, as the after-movie bath left half the floor flooded because of some rather *ahem* exuberant splashing on the part of my three year old.

But that is all okay. 

I think I learn a little about the heart of God in Sabbath as I help to create it for my family, as well as enjoy it myself. He calls us to lay all the things down for awhile. To stop and rest and be.

He makes us to remember that He alone is God. And that the world does not need my activity to turn it. He calls us back from our idols of work and productivity, a clean house and even from an easy next day sometimes. As variable as our idols are, the Sabbath is designed to help us root them out. 

My sister asked me on Friday what I thought about someone saying that Jesus fulfilled the Sabbath. (In reference to no longer needing to practice this part of the law.) 

And here is the essence of the thoughts I gave her, more or less: Of course. No one has to keep perfectly the law to be saved. That was the whole reason why God gave the law in the first place, to show us that apart from him we cannot keep the law and that we desperately need a Savior to make us right before God. But just because we don’t have to do something, doesn’t mean that it isn’t God’s heart for us, or that it wouldn’t benefit us. After all, Sabbath was a part of God’s design before sin even came into the world at all. On the Seventh Day God rested from all the work that he had done, and he called it Holy. I personally believe that the Sabbath is a provision from God, one that we are wise to accept and embrace for the sake of fruitfulness in our personal lives as well as continued zeal for the ministry to which God has called each of us. 

I’d like to dive into this more. The “Why?” behind Sabbath may just be the thing that is keeping you from practicing what I believe to be, one of the most fruitful habits of all.

The garden is under the weight of frost and snow. The goats have dried up from their milking. The darkness comes earlier each evening and stays longer each morning as the winter solstice approaches. And it’s time to rest. 

In the midst of Advent, rest may just be the thing that keeps us grounded and centered on the true meaning of Christmas, which though it has very little to do with Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause, has everything to do with being invited by a loving God into a season of joy and feasting as we reflect on how our God is a God who provides exactly what we need: and what we need more than anything is him with us. Immanuel. Rest can help us slow down enough to tune in to all these truths. 

Today we go to Church. And Isaiah will probably take a nap on my lap again. And when we get home we’ll probably take it slow for the second afternoon in a row, and that is perfectly good. Jesus was never in much of a rush, and you don’t have to let the hustle and hurry to celebrate his coming capture you more than his radical love for your precious soul does. 

Blessings on you this First Sunday of Advent. May you rest in the one who gave everything to make you his.