This may be a Christmas letter, but I personally feel that it’s far more than an update. I hope these words of mine, as I share my heart here once again, will connect with your heart and point you to Jesus.
A letter for 2020 – what a year!
Well, for us, it’s been a year of big transitions, hard conversations, persevering in prayer, and flourishing. All wrapped up together, totally messy, and not in a linear and neat order! The persevering in prayer doesn’t always yield a quick flourishing – for myself, the kids, or those I love. It’s painstakingly long…and good! We would never draw up these plans the Lord has for our joy and sanctification, would we? But they are the best, and He proves faithful again and again. I say all this because I feel like you may be in the messy middle of trust, doubt, hope, fear, and joy. And probably all at the same time.
If I had to sum up the last year in a word, it would be trust. And, maybe perseverance too. Okay, I need two words for sure: trust and perseverance. In more things than a letter can begin to describe. I bet you can likely relate.
We have built a lot…we’ve built trust and perseverance mostly. But we (Ryan!!) also built a sturdy and pretty backyard shed, a gorgeous treehouse, and are currently re-modeling a basement (again) that got flooded. We’ve built character, hope, and strong roots in trusting the goodness of God.
We decided last year, quite a bit before the pandemic, that I would transition out of homeschooling and we would send our kids to Providence Christin Academy, partnering alongside the teachers there in the development of our most precious gift! It’s been amazing. And HARD! Tatum and Caden had always been homeschooled so the transition was huge.
For Tatum, the transition was the biggest because 5th grade is middle school at PCA – so 8 different teachers, a locker, her own laptop, and all the middle school things! She is flourishing, amidst the change, with good grades and sweet friends. She’s starting to play the drums, is finishing a season of competitive cheer, and loves basketball, football, and all things UK and the Dallas Cowboys.
Caden (3rd grade) loves school – he truly loves the schedule, the plan, the rewards, the grades…everything! He loves all things UGA (to the dismay of his siblings and Dad, who are all huge UK fans), legos, Harry Potter, and reading.
Roman (1st grade) is thriving and growing tremendously in the new school environment and after some time, is learning to read. He loved playing flag football this year and really loves driving – with tremendous skill – his Papa’s diggers and working outside. It’s pretty amazing.
Maggie (K) is a fantastic friend to all – loving others and bringing them (and her teachers) a lot of laughter with her crazy stories, silly faces, and great imagination. She loves art, crafts, and playing with Roman.
As for me (Megan), I’m loving my official role as discipleship director at our church, New City Church, and some new opportunities the Lord has given me to lead others. Our church plant moved into an actual building, after 5 years of being in a middle school (and then live streaming because of Covid) right off the square in Lawrenceville – the city where we’ve planted roots and pray for flourishing! As I said, Ryan has built a lot of things this last year – he did have some extra time after all! Ryan and I LOVED our trips to Cancun last January and then to Glacier National Park in Montana this summer. Hiking at Glacier was especially incredible and a major highlight of our year. It taught us a lot about perseverance through the midst of the slowly progressing effect of multiple sclerosis on my body. And lastly, Ryan’s mom, Donna moved to GA and in with us this summer – what a sweet gift to have her here!
As I wrap up, I feel like, for all of us, this was a year of really being known – from fears to politics to loss to redemption and just the plain struggle to live in the tension of all of it. We’ve all been tempted or hide in someone or something – our own strength, productivity, or goals – and I think a pandemic and an election has brought all that out. The question is, what do we do when we see our sin, our fear, or misplaced hopes, our disappointments…or even better yet, those of our neighbors? Do we hide in ourselves or in Christ or cover with fig leaves like our first parents in the garden? I’m sure it’s some of both and God is gracious enough to provide opportunity after opportunity to hide in His son Jesus. My longing is that if you don’t know Jesus that you ask someone who does to tell you about him. And if you do, that you will lay down the fig leaves of hiding and trust more deeply and fully.
More than anything, I want to leave you with truth to hide in:
The same God who is sovereign over the creation of the world and of Jesus’ birth and death is sovereign over everything you’re in the middle of. He is sovereign over the start of a new job and it’s ending; He is sovereign over our perfect health and over our broken bodies; He’s sovereign over the end of Covid and its continuation. It’s our believing that – and in His perfect goodness – that changes everything. May you be filled to overflowing with Hope this season, and always – because Hope is more than a verb…It’s a person – Jesus.
Since it’s been a few years now I’m rarely asked to tell my MS story, but this week I was asked by a group of women, mostly pastors wives, to talk through it, so I dove in and remembered how refreshing and helpful it is to both myself, and others. At the risk of being redundant, I tell it again, because maybe in my story, you will find parts of your story.
It’s been 4 years of celebrating and embracing life MS strong. Strength found in weakness. Strength found in two being more and more one. A strength that doesn’t appear strong. Strength in believing. In some ways this is more of a marriage post because the longer we’ve walked this road, the more I’ve been carried by the strength of another and I cannot rightly use the pronoun “I”, but mostly, “we”.
What I remember the most is how faithful God was – to prepare me, to lead me, to masterfully weave this all together for my good and His glory. Multiple Sclerosis, or any disease for that matter, is not outside of His control. It’s not a surprise and it’s not Plan B (or Z for that matter). It is Plan A.
This story was woven into me from the time I was knit together in my mother’s womb – fearfully and wonderfully made. My soul is just learning it more and more with each passing year, as the disease steadily drips on and my body gets older. It’s not a thief in the night. It is a gift of grace. At the risk of losing you at this point, I’ll dive into the waters of my MS story.
I was diagnosed in September of 2016 when my youngest had just turned one and I had been temporarily blind for about 2 weeks. My best friend laughs and jokes with me now about how I could go blind in one eye and think it was normal. A year before, when I was pregnant with Maggie I had these episodes that looked like seizures where the left side of my body would uncontrollably seize up and curl inward several times a day…honestly, I assumed this was an attack from Satan because it started the same week that we launched public worship services for New City Church. It was super scary and I couldn’t be left alone with my 3 little kids – one who wasn’t quite walking and every time I put him into or got him out of his crib I knew to expect to immediately fall and lie on the ground in writhing pain for 2-3 minutes. I share these details because it’s good to remember God’s faithfulness. He provided friends and family who supported us greatly. He provided a new rhythm of life in which my husband turned from go-getter, driven, and do-all-the-things-in-a-day-you-can, to one who had to be physically present with me most of the time – in the beginning, days of planting a church, which is the time when you typically go-go-go! God is too good to ever let us think we’ve created something that we must work to sustain. All glory to Him.
Jumping back to 2016, before I even noticed the growing blindness in my right eye, I knew God was at work again. He had led me to memorize Ephesians 1 – “…the Father…may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe….and He put all things under his (Jesus) feet…” (1:17-22).
God wanted me to know Him more and He enlightened the eyes of my heart through my physical eyes going dim…the analogy was clear to me and the hope that gave me was, and is, immeasurable. The fact that MS, or whatever happened, was literally under His feet and in His complete control gave and still gives me a confidence, that allows me to be sad, frustrated, and even angry with my broken body, but yet with great hope. It’s a deep lament that is not bitter or controlled by my circumstance.
No matter what, the enemy can not steal anything from me. ALL things are under God’s feet. The wind and the waves know HIS name. The enemy may steal and seek to kill and destroy, but MY King authors, and lavishes, and frees. And He is completely trustworthy, faithful, kind, loving, and beyond satisfying!
Hebrews 2:8-9 “Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. BUT we SEE HIM … Jesus!”
That’s the story to this point, with my reflections, but here’s how this summer went –
This summer nearly knocked me over. In fact, it physically knocked me over again and again.
I didn’t get worse, per se, my body just revealed weaknesses more. No new flare ups, but just a steady trickle of progression in what was already there. I couldn’t walk or hike as long, my husband noticed the stairs becoming a challenge, and the waves in the ocean kept me totally off balance. All new things. Things that completely exhausted me. Things we lamented over together, Ryan and I. Yet the lament was sweet and made the celebration louder and stronger.
We went to Montana because an event we were supposed to go to got “Covid- canceled” and Ryan asked me to pick a place I wanted to go. Glacier – of course. It’s glorious and magnificent, filled to the brim with God’s glory, hard hikes, and peace. I loved it. I loved the challenge of the harder hikes. But, everyone passed us on the trials. Even going as fast as I could go, we couldn’t keep up with people we began conversations with and they eventually soared ahead. I moved methodically, slowly, and sometimes painfully. The amount of brainpower going into something that seems so normal is wearying, just so that I wouldn’t fall (but fall a few times I did).
The beauty was probably greater because we were made to take our journey slowly.
My approval idols came crashing down as person after person passed us on trails and I had to move out of their way without getting tripped up.
The views were all the better because of the time we had to focus on our surroundings.
The marriage was all the sweeter and stronger because we had to be one…sometimes the stronger giving the weaker a piggyback ride and reminding her that she was going to make it no matter how long it took, and even saying he would probably go no faster on his own anyway.
Here we are. We lament. We celebrate. We know that God will make all things new, the broken will not remain broken forever, and His power is made perfect in our weakness…as we wait, with hope. This journey was the beginning of Hope for me, and with hope, it will continue until the day I’m made new.
And I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)
“You don’t have to bow to your feelings.” Sounds pretty simple, right? My emotions have a place, and rightly so, God made us to be feeling creatures, but emotions shouldn’t have the final say about what is true in a situation. God, in his severe mercy, has given me a number of opportunities to practice this lately. As the waves keep crashing, I keep grabbing the opportunities, though sometimes not very well, to sink into the truth.
I have been thinking about this analogy of being a racquetball court instead of a sponge. I think somewhere along the way I got this idea from the book, Loving the Little Years, by Rachel Jankovich. For me, being a racquetball court and not a sponge means I don’t have to absorb other’s emotions around me and take them all in. When I absorb the emotions of my kids, for instance, I become enslaved to them. Or if I absorb the frustrations of others, I think I must “fix it”. Rather, the wall of the racquetball court feels the hit, the sting even, of the ball, yet it lets it go.
If I am a sponge with my kids, it means that when they are happy, I am happy. When they are mad, I am mad. When they are scared, I am scared. We can logically see how this is not helpful when we take a step back. Thankfully, God is not like this with us – taking on our emotions, being changed by them, and responding in kind. Yes, He weeps with those who weep and clearly and vividly displays emotion! Yet, He is not controlled by other’s emotions or His own.
You may not identify with this at all – I am a “2” on the enneagram whose core words are love, approval, helper, and feeler. In some way though, we all absorb the emotions of others or follow our own hearts and feelings. Most people can identify with being trapped in the endless cycle of feel – act – feel – act. 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us to cast all our anxieties on Jesus because he cares for us. I imagine throwing emotion onto Jesus, knowing He can handle it, and asking Him to lead me in the truth, then bowing in submission to that truth, not bowing to my ever-changing emotion.
In his phenomenal book, A Loving Life, Paul Miller says this about Naomi as we see her at the beginning of the book of Ruth,
“Naomi neither suppresses her feelings nor is trapped by them. She didn’t have to act on her feelings. She felt anguish, yet she was free from the tyranny of her feelings…if we follow (our feelings) we become trapped by them.”
Naomi is dealing with great pain and anguish – and most of her anguish comes because she trusts that God is Sovereign and good, but she can’t see it in her circumstance.
There is something liberating about not being trapped in our feelings; being able to feel and lament and love deeply – yes! – but not having to act on every emotion that rears its head up. Satan may prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour – whether through internal suppressed emotion, or explosive words, or anything else, but the truth is: Jesus IS the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus is the Lion. While Satan prowls like a lion, his power is limited by the power of the true Lion – the eternal King.
As I was driving to pick up my kids from school this week, I was in the midst of “knife fighting with the devil” as my husband lovingly says, internally fighting between my flesh-driven instincts and thoughts (the barbarians roaming the streets of my mind), OR looking up to Jesus, attempting to sing and proclaim THE truth louder than the thoughts in my mind, and this worship song by Phil Wickham came on leading me to worship and to the truth of freedom in Christ:
“Out of the silence, the roaring Lion declared
The grave has NO claim on me!
Hallelujah! Praise the one who set me free.
Hallelujah! Death has lost it’s grip on me.
You have broken every chain!
There’s salvation in your name – Jesus Christ – my Living Hope.”
This King has delivered us from the tyranny of ourselves if we belong to Him. We are not held hostage by emotions, or our past, or our sin. We are filled with and empowered by the Spirit to kick out the lies, for me, it’s the fake conversations I’m having with others in my mind, particularly if I’ve been hurt or am angry. We can replace these with the truth:
My Father is in charge.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
All power belongs to God.
The Lord has delivered me from myself; the Lord IS delivering me from myself. All I have to do fall into dependence on and look up instead of down, planning my response in my own strength by staring intently at the circumstance.
Submitting to the Lord and leaning into him instead of our natural flesh driven responses, having to wait and trust, can lead us into sweet moments of worship. Even the sins of others, or choices of others, are allowed by God to impact me because it drives me to Him in dependence which becomes a sweet opportunity for growth and sanctification.
This is soul work. This is good work. And it’s also a knife fight with the devil.
“For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” Psalm 25:11
I’ve done more personal posts lately, but today I want to dive deep into a spring of theological truth that is thirst-quenching, life-giving, and crucial to our life with Jesus. It changes our everyday outlook on life.
It is this:
Christian, He has pardoned you for His name’s sake. Not for your name’s sake. Not only is He faithful to pardon us, because He cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13), but He is Just. Have you thought about how it is God’s justice that secures your forgiveness?
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us for all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Jesus bore the weight of all our sin on the cross; therefore, it would not be just to Jesus if our current sins were left under the crushing weight of the law and of guilt.
Even David, looking forward to Christ, was able to walk in the foretold, coming faithfulness of Christ:
“Prove me O Lord, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is ever before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness.” (Psalm 26: 2-3)
It’s a reminder we don’t walk in our own faithfulness. We are not saved by our own goodness. If we were, then we would be living by the flesh – as if my own penance and guilt could make a way for my forgiveness! But, no! We have a great high priest who is seated at the right hand of God, always interceding for us. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
“Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who dies, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God – and He is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:33-35)
Am I saying that “no one can speak to you about your sin or ask you hard questions?” Absolutely not! (Romans 6:1-4) Far from it! Because we KNOW that we are covered and hidden in Christ, that justice has been satisfied, we are free to walk in the light with others. We are free to struggle with our besetting sin. We are free to be courageous, bold, and even get things wrong.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, whose through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve a living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)
I am proposing that often times we don’t live in a state of awareness of our sin and desperation enough. When we don’t live in that awareness, we think we can be our own savior. Even David said – “prove me and try me.” Because his hope was in the forthcoming justice of Christ, he could be honest about his sin, rather than hide it. A place of brokenness is the most beautiful place for us because we are relying on grace, justice, and our faithful high priest instead of ourselves.
How often do you carry around guilt for your sin, waiting until you “do better next time” to accept God’s forgiveness and Christ’s righteousness on your behalf? That’s a false gospel, friend!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. O foolish Galatians! Who bewitched you? …Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 2:20-3:4)
You were once in a courtroom, and the Judge stepped down and called you his son or daughter because Christ’s righteousness speaks for you. Get out of the courtroom of your own making of fear, condemnation, and cursing. Because it is for freedom He has set you free – to proclaim the good news to the captives of His recusing, redeeming, steadfast, and just love. Christ did NOT die for nothing! His forgiveness over you, if you belong to Him, isn’t only merciful, but it is just – to Christ.
It’s not up to me to stay forgiven! It’s up to Him and since He has been proven faithful and just I get to live in and live out of the power of His just forgiveness!
Silent Saturday. I didn’t coin this term; I read it a couple different places and Ryan and I felt the weight of it. Silent Saturday. Jesus’ body is in the grave. He is buried. Friday night’s despair, agony, fear, and grief rolls steadily into a silent Saturday – a place of darkness, waiting, and apparent hopelessness for Jesus’ friends and followers. For them, it was the Sabbath and they couldn’t do anything.
Since we know the end, sometimes it’s easy for us to skip quickly past this place of grief, darkness, and silence. Yes, we will sit for a moment in the horror of Friday…yet we often jump quickly to the victory and celebration of Sunday. While we should and will celebrate greatly, what would it look like to sit in the depths of darkness and silence with Jesus’ friends?
Life is like this right? The shadow doesn’t immediately pass and turn into victory. The darkness hovers before the triumph. And we don’t always feel the purpose of sitting in the silence.
For Jesus’ friends, every light seemed to be extinguished. In Luke 23 and John 19 we find Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus. Think about that for a moment. Physically and literally these members of the Sanhedrin, wealthy men, are getting blood on them, transporting and gently wrapping their Lord’s body up, giving him a proper and beautiful burial. They are giving greatly and forsaking their titles because it would have been disgraceful, as a member of the Sanhedrin, to associate with Jesus. They gave substantially out of their means to properly bury Jesus. They loved him and their love resulted in courage and action…their belief in him led them to lovingly care for him.
They grieved hard, I imagine, and Saturday was likely lonely and silent for them after they completed Friday nights painstaking and horrific task of burying the Son of God’s lifeless body – cold and stiff. Like Jesus’ friends, we will sometimes sit in the darkness. We will listen to the silence. We will weep over the unknown and the brokenness. We can do this because we trust in Jesus.
Through the prophet, Isaiah God says to us in Isaiah 45 and 42
“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, that you may know that it is I the Lord, the God of Isreal, who call you by name…I call you by name. I will lead the blind in a way they do not know, in paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light…These are the things I do and I do not forsake them.”
(Isaiah 45:3, 42:16)
Your darkness may be dark. Your silence may be deafening. Those are true and real and need to be admitted and grieved. Because, when we know the depths of darkness, we love the glory and beauty of the light all the more clearly. Jesus knew the darkness and it’s because of this we get to know the light. Don’t roll past your Savior’s death without being silent, without feeling the pain. Don’t ignore the shadows that are won’t move in your own heart and life. The light and victory are all the more beautiful when we grieve and acknowledge them. I’ll leave you with some words Paul wrote about what Jesus accomplished in the darkness and silence of Saturday:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. HE disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him. (Colossians 2:13-14)
Embrace the treasures of darkness and let your Savior lead you to the light of His triumph over death this weekend, friends.
Ryan and I did part of this as a short, 10-minute video devotional for our church – check it out here!
“Sometimes God permits what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”
Guilty confession: I sometimes live in a fake future; a future of my own projection where God is not present, sovereign, or good. Maybe you can relate? We don’t say it exactly like that, but anytime we project thoughts, emotions, and turmoil into the future— where God hasn’t given us grace to live yet— we are imagining a fake future where He is not God.
For me, because I have Multiple Sclerosis, living in this fake future can happen when my nervous system stops sending signals to lift my foot while on a hike, or when there’s a pandemic, or just on a normal Tuesday morning … The pervasive thoughts of this fake future can come in and steal my joy, robbing me of the beauty of the present moment anytime that I stop preaching the gospel to my oh-so-prone-to-wander heart.
Well, as it turns out, that fake future is a bad place to live. Not only is it gut-wrenching, but it is simply not true. It’s a bold lie that Satan, my flesh, and the world tempt me to live in. Anytime those three are in cahoots together, say during a pandemic, my fake future is all the grimmer. And if I live there, I will self-protect, self-preserve, and ultimately self-serve, forgetting about God and others in the present. This pretend future becomes ridden with the stench of self – what Jesus came to rescue me from! This future is an awful place where I am the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good and all-wise one… except, since I’m not those things, it is a place of great fear – a place where God is not present.
During our livestream worship gathering last week, we sang Sovereign Over Us and I was convicted that I’m not living as the song declares:
“There is strength within the sorrow There is beauty in our tears And You meet us in our mourning With a love that casts out fear You are working in our waiting You’re sanctifying us When beyond our understanding You’re teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper You have not forgotten us You’re with us in the fire and the flood You’re faithful forever – perfect in love You are sovereign over us.”
In my broken, immunosuppressed body (that fights against my nervous system), I can choose to worship God no matter what. In brokenness, I can worship more deeply, fully, and beautifully. Yet, as I stood singing, my heart was unsettled and restless. “You have to be careful!” my mind shouted.
This is very true. The ramifications of getting sick while I have less B-cells to fight it off (taking forever to get over sickness and incurring permanent damage resulting from white blood cells attacking the covering of my nervous system) are very real. Yet, I can choose whether or not to abide safely in Jesus with this knowledge. My outward actions probably need to remain the same – safe and cautious – but my heart needs a heavy dose of the truth, stability, and safety found only in the One who is faithful forever, perfect in love, and sovereign over us.
The reality is that even if I get sick, and even if my broken white blood cells go rogue and attack my nervous system, and even if my foot and leg (or eye, or hands, or bladder or whatever) stop working permanently, He is still sovereign over even that. Even if I am more permanently damaged, to God be the glory forever because that is what He has planned for me to love Him more deeply and proclaim Him more fully.
Nothing can touch us, as children of God, without God’s permission. Remember Job? Satan had to ASK God for permission to take Job’s stuff, make him sick, allow his kids to die, and more. The book of Job is 42 chapters long, but the story could have been told in merely 6. There are 36 chapters devoted to allowing us to walk with Job through his questions, anguish, and pain. While knowing God is sovereign doesn’t take away the difficulty, or the grief, or the sitting in pain and suffering for a time, it does put those feelings in perspective with the eternal glory that outweighs it all (2 Corinthians 4:17).
I’m thankful for the words of another song, He will Hold Me Fast, that reminds me of the truth: “When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast.” His grip is stronger than my lack of faith. This is encouraging to me as I am bluntly, yet kindly, reminded of my own lack of faith in who God says He is and who He has proven to be, time and time (and time) again.
This body is what God has given me to worship Him in. Broken, and hurting, and not always working right – it is where my soul lives. And, I can worship Him in my present reality: In my strong faith or my lack of faith; in my fears and insecurities or my deep and abiding trust. This is the body, the season, and the place in which He has called me to live, move, breath, and worship. So, I will trust that I am held fast by a sovereign God who is always good, loving, faithful, and in charge.
And when I forget, I will repent and believe again (and again) … with this body that will one day – on the day of God’s choosing – finally and forever be made perfect.
 Sovereign Over Us | Aaron Keyes. Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring
 He Will Hold Me Fast | Ada Habershon & Matt Merker
*I am grateful to have this article appear in enCourage!
I’m excited today to share with you a free e-book devotional I wrote for you and my church, for Lent. You can download and use on your device or print it out. Here’s the introduction:
40 days of quiet.
This is an invitation, more than anything else. It is an invitation to feast on the abundance of God and his Word. It is a calling to a quieted soul. It is an offer to drink from deep streams of mercy and grace; to find stillness, and quiet, and soul rest; to lift your eyes and heart to Jesus.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus was not only fully God but also fully man. He talked to God the same way we do – through prayer, silence, and solitude. He showed us what it is like to commune with God – to create space in our souls for God’s Word and hearing from Him.
So, I invite you to journey with me: 40 days of Lent; not just giving something up and fasting (which is good and needed!) but to also pick something up – a daily offering of prayer, solitude, and Scripture. I’m going to share heartfelt prayers and thoughts from my own journals and also prayers of the saints, prayers from the Psalms, and excerpts from other books of prayer. I’m going to ask heart questions – thoughtful questions to help guide the heart to stillness, as the Lord leads us.
I encourage you to read through a Gospel or two during the course of Lent. Follow Jesus’ life, walk beside Him, sit with Him, watch Him take our place. I’m going to read Luke and Mark. In part, this is because, between these two Gospels, one chapter each day adds up to 40 days of Lent. But it is also partly because these are the two Gospels I tend to read the least and so I’m planning to soak in them some more.
You’re going to see very short prayers some days. Other days, you’ll find much longer thoughts and prayers. Sometimes I’ll quote someone else, or a Scripture, or just a prayer with a question for you to consider. This devotion will primarily follow the weekly themes of Pastor Ryan’s Lent sermons if you are at New City Church. If not, check our our podcast at: to dive more into Lent and the themes of grace.
Short or long, day by day, it’s an invitation – come to the feast.
“For thus says the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.’”
Here’s the link. You can start anytime – it’s 6 weeks of 6 days per week until Easter (with some skip days added in if you start now!).
grace and peace ~
(I’m so grateful to my husband for suggesting I do something more robust like this, my friend Rebekah for reading along the way and encouraging me, and my friend Brandon for editing and making it pretty!)
Advent. A time of purposeful waiting, longing, hoping, anticipation, and mystery. The significance of Advent is not lost on me this year. I go to every December to get drugs infused in to my blood stream that will kill off the B cells in my immune system that are going rogue and attacking my nervous system. This is my Advent activity for the day. And perhaps it’s the best possible advent activity – purposeful waiting with hope.
We sit in an infusion room at the MS clinic and wait several hours while the clear, innocent looking liquid drips in slowly, so slowly it looks like nothing is happening. Nevertheless, it’s a watery looking fluid that is powerful, killing cells that fail me and attack the protective layers of my nervous system. Somehow, it works. It slows the progression of a disease that God, in His sovereignty, allows. And while I still feel the ever-increasing effects of my broken nervous system that cannot heal itself, only hopefully be prevented from further damage by the failing body that houses it, the innocent looking liquid drips…and does its work well.
The significance of sitting in an infusion room with others like me with broken bodies during Advent is not lost in me. Of course, whoever you are, you can resonate, right? Aren’t we all broken somehow? Feeling the brokenness of a failing body reminds me, reminds us, that our Hope comes from outside this world, and we wait with anticipation for the day He will fully and completely restore the broken and make ALL things new. Praise God! Hope has come and Hope will come again. Light has overcome the darkness and light will overcome the darkness.
But for now, He resonates with us. He, the Creator who become created, sympathizes with our weakness because He became like us, human and broken and tired and tempted.
What does Advent mean to you? Is it overwhelming? Fun? Busy? Reflective? Culture tells us: Go! Do! More! Plan an activity every day for your kids! Or, even, we ignore it and just think about buying things or let Christmas slip past unnoticed. But Jesus…Jesus invites us to slow down. To drink in the wonder, the mystery, the darkness, the brokenness, the light, the hope. He invites us to desperation. He invites us to the anticipation of something greater.
Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, and longing. Why do we “wait” when Jesus has already been born? We aren’t Israelites waiting for the birth of the Messiah anymore after all… Oh, but we are. Are you broken? Does your body fail you? Have your loved ones died? Do you struggle with broken relationships? Things just don’t seem to be the way they “should be”?
We wait. We long. We anticipate.
Or do we rush past those deeper longings…to the next store, the next activity, the next…? I LOVE saying “yes” to things I normally say no to – like ‘Santa Belly’ doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, and Christmas cookies, and staying up late to play another game sitting beside the lights of the Christmas tree. But if that’s all that Christmas is about…then I am trying to create my own light, a light that won’t suffice or last because I am not the One who makes Christmas absolutely staggering and awe-filled.
I love what Tim Keller says in his book, Hidden Christmas, “The message of Christianity, is instead, ‘Things really are this bad, and we can’t heal or save ourselves. Things really are this dark – nevertheless, there is hope.’ The Christmas message is that ‘on those living in a land of deep darkness a light has dawned.’ Notice that it doesn’t say from the world a light has sprung, but upon the world a light has dawned. It has come from outside. There is light outside this world, and Jesus has brought that light to save us; indeed, he isthe Light (Jn. 8:12)”
When we don’t allow ourselves to sit and to feel deeply, the height and magnitude of Christmas and God being made human, like us, will not reach the heights it was meant to in our hearts. We short-circuit the joy of the hope that came, the hope that is daily coming to us, and the hope that will one day come.
And when He comes again, He will finally, fully, and completely restore us and those in Christ to a wholeness we cannot yet imagine. Don’t miss the fullness, the beauty of His coming because you can’t slow down and feel the brokenness and pain that He came, He comes, and will come again, to heal.
His rule and reign we will ever sing. All glory be to Christ, our King!
One of my favorite books to read to my 5th graders when I taught school was, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, by none other than the quintessentially odd, Dr. Suess. I love it still, as it projects real life ups and downs into strange cartoonish charactors. I identify with the book and I thought of it recently as I was studying the subject of waiting.
We, as Westerners, are prone to look upon waiting as an inconveince, as something that we are far too good for. Even the great Dr Suess says it like this: You can get so confused that you’ll start in to race down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space, headed, I fear, toward a most useless place. The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go or the mail to come, or the rain to go or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or the waiting around for a Yes or No or waiting for their hair to grow. Everyone is just waiting….
NO! That’s not for you!
Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.
It sounds good on the surface, doesn’t it? But underneath, isn’t it saying that people with a purpose, ability, or tenacity, don’t have to wait?
Don’t we all want to be purposeful – or at the least, have others think that we are?
We fear waiting because it doesn’t appear productive. We think there’s nothing to show for it. People may judge us.
By contrast, scripture points us to a different reality. No, not a lazy or cheap reality in which we don’t work hard; but a reality in which we are paitient because of our hope for what the waiting will produce….Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets, the discipes in the upper room waiting on the Holy spirit, not to mention the entire book of Psalms…? Or the entire nation of Israel waiting all those hundreds of years for Jesus? A quick read through Genesis or Psalms or any book in the older testament will show us how little we know of waiting.
What if we thought of our waiting as purposeful, deep, and good? What would change? How would we change?
In the poignant and, well, ordinary book, Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren says she learned this from a farmer friend:
“Our waiting is active and purposeful. A fallow field is never dormant. As dirt sits waiting for things to be planted and gorwn, there is work being done invisibly and silently. Microorganisms are breeding, moving, and eating. Wind and sun and fungi and insects are dancing a delicate dance that leavens the soil, making it richer and better, readying it for planting.”
Whoa. Don’t you love to think of microorganisms breeding below the surface of your heart? But really, if they didn’t, the soil wouldn’t be as rich and the harvest wouldn’t be as plentiful – or perhaps, there at all…
What season of waiting are you in today?
Because somewhere in your life, there’s a waiting happening, and sometimes…well…
Flourishing often looks like letting the field lay fallow and the work happen in the invisible places.
Sometimes waiting looks like things are diminishing, but God is in even that apparent diminishing….a diminishing to provide glorious growth. A way for our eyes to be opened to the gifts of the waiting – gifts we wouldn’t see otherwise, as my friend Zoe described to me about what a time of waiting is giving her…She’s a runner recovering from an injury and as she’s having to bike more now while she heals, she said she’s seeing things that she missed on her runs through the same exact areas. Things of beauty that she missed while running, and listening to books and podcasts she never would have been able to listen to while running. This period of waiting to heal, while frustrating, is useful – Jesus is giving gifts and working below the surface even in the waiting.
The truth is that Jesus came to do a deeper work in us that we would ever choose for ourselves.
We’re in a season as a family where we’ve pulled back from some opportunities and things we were involved in. The kids whine and wail and I awake in anxiety over the things we’re not doing. In fact, it looks like there’s a barren field there. And yet, paiteince is really putting your hope in something that is yet to come. Believing that the fallow field is not dormant but being made ready for the coming season of planting and eventually harvest.
While Dr. Suess wants us to “escape the most useless place”…
what if we see our waiting doing something only waiting can? what if we watch and we wait with hope? what if there are gifts in the waiting? what if God is doing more below that surface for our good and His glory than we could ever ask for or imagine?
“Joy birthed out of suffering gets richer over time.”
As we’ve just passed the 3rdanniversary, September 1st,, of my diagnosis with MS, I’ve been sitting in the depths of reflection the last few weeks. Vaneetha’s words have been sitting like a an anchor in my soul since I read them at some point in this journey. So, if you’ll indulge me, here’s my reflection on walking with a limp as the joy birthed out of suffering grows much richer over time….Because each year as the limp on my left side (foot drop) grows stronger, the adventure grows stronger too…..
We had the opportunity to do some extra traveling this summer – taking our kids back to Las Vegas, where Ryan and I met and helped plant a church, taking them hiking all over Utah, and taking them to lean over and look into the depths of the Grand Canyon (their favorite!).
If you know anything about my journey with MS, or simply MS and heat, you may be wondering, “why in the world would you try to hike when it’s 100 degrees outside!!??” Well, that’s simply the timing the Lord provided for us, so I geared up with prayer, cooling towels, an extra hiking pole, and water back packs.
I move slow and my leg drags and I have to *think* really hard about lifting it high enough not to trip and yet, in that, the beauty and wonder of God and creation has been exemplified.
For that, I am thankful.
The hard makes the good even better.
Although I won’t say it isn’t annoying…When my body literally will not do what my mind wills it to do, when it means I miss out on things I’d like to try, I can begin to spiral downward. Recently an aqauntaince who had been living with MS before I was ever born, died. As my eyes burned with tears when I found out and thought back to the conversations I was able to have with her, I was simultaneously shot through with joy as I realized that my friend was no longer bound to a wheelchair. She was no longer unable to feed herself. She was running and dancing and jumping and doing the simple things we often take for granted.
The height of my joy has been magnified by the depth of sorrow, questions, and pain.
Walking with a limp allows me to slow down. It allows me to be more thoughtful, more grateful, more aware. It reminds me that I will not be made perfect on Earth, and that’s okay. I cannot begin to imagine the grandeur that is Heaven, and what true wholeness will look like physically, not to mention spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.
But here, I walk with a limp.
Here, pain radiating through my arms shouts to me I am carrying stress and not keeping a quiet heart. My nervous system is *kind* enough to let me know it can’t function like that, so even though it is frustrating, it is a (not so) gentle reminder to let something go.
Because I am in Christ, my limp, my struggle, is for my good and His glory.
Recently, we finished reading the chronicles of Narnia, and as I cried through the book, The Last Battle, my heart also leapt within me because it painted a picture of heaven for me that answered my question of ‘why do I love hiking and beauty and mountains and Utah and the coast of Italy and laughing really hard with friends over a delicious dinner so much?’
Because it’s a shadow of heaven. I’m living in the shadowlands as Lewis puts it and every shadow of good is simply that – a shadow – it cannot compare to the mind-blowing joy and wonder and happiness of Heaven – but it points me to the Creator, who is my Savior and King. The One who has allowed me to walk with a limp on earth that I might be pointed more sharply to Him.
Slowly I come back to Risner’s idea: “Joy birthed out of suffering gets richer over time.”
There are heights of joy – literally – that I would not know if it were not for MS. I would not have hiked Angel’s Landing. I would not have asked to go on a hot desert hiking trip with my 4 kids. I would not have learned to wake board (with far more failure than success I will add). I would not have wanted to scare myself by rock climbing. But they give a thrill and a vantage point that isn’t visible otherwise. These things are a shadow. They give me a glimpse of heaven. Pointing me to a grandeur reality that this is not home. This is not all it should be. But the longing is sweet. It raises my eyes and heart and focus to that which is to come.
My limp is an opportunity to trust.
It is an invitation to long for heaven.
So, if you see me slightly limping or walking funny, don’t be afraid to ask – or just tell me to pause and slow down so my body can cool off.
We all walk with a limp in some form, but will we acknowledge it…?
Come abide with me awhile? It won’t be easy, I can promise you that. BUT it will be deep and full and abundant — right. where. you. are.
Many times I attempt to create an identity out of being a church planter, pastors wife, homeschooling momma to 4 littles, newly diagnosed 33 year old with multiple sclerosis, friend, disciple, discipler/mentor, and yet the Lord is too good to let me do that. None of those have purpose, bring joy, or bear fruit apart from a deep sense of abiding in Jesus’ presence right where I am now as His beloved child.
So will you journey with me? Straight up these lofty, looming, wondrously breath-taking, full of mystery, and lovely mountains? Maybe it’s on a new road, a road you thought was just going to be a quick detour. And yet, here we are, facing the challenge of being led in joy on the road which the Lord, in His tender care, is guiding us, calling us to abide in Him as we journey upward and onward. Deep breath. Here we go!