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….
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?
Because…it is, we can, there are, and He is.
“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…?
My question for you is,
What are you doing with your limp?
It’s time to start discipleships groups up again at my church. My church that was birthed with blood, sweat, and tears out of our living room. My church that was birthed out of mine and Ryan’s discipleship groups, God be praised! Being in a group of women in a discipling relationship – meaning even as the leader they disciple me too – has been transformative beyond words. And it’s how Jesus called us to live and walk.
I love my group – the groups I’ve had over the years…they change a little each year, because of God’s grace, a couple of women decide most years, “I’m ready – I want to give what we have away to more women and that means I leave this group and start a new one.”
I can share more about that if you’re interested; however, my main point of this post is to talk about something that happened as we lived life together.
We re-named our group “fight club”.
Because we, together, were fighting the powers of darkness and sin and shame and hiddenness.
We, together, were standing in the light.
We, together, were praying for and building each other up.
We, together, were fighting for the light to shine and go forth into the deepest crevices of our hearts and minds and in others too.
We, together, were speaking the truth of scripture into one another’s hearts and minds and stories even when it didn’t “feel good” in the moment.
We have scars.
We are healed and we are healing.
It’s good. It’s a good that isn’t a surface level good. A goodness that transcends into pain and hard and mystery. Good birthed out of something hard…the best kind of good.
So, as we start our groups up again this year, I’ve sent two beautiful women out and brought two new women in and kept four women the same. I’ve been contemplating the name of our group this year. We don’t have one yet, but I can sense that we’re close. Maybe we will call it fight club again. I do love my fight club – made up of more than just the women I meet with in my D-group, but because of my D-group, I am enabled to fight alongside others better…..in fact, because of our longing to love and live for Jesus and be loved by Jesus well, I get to invite others into the brokenness and mess and beauty of being a disciple wherever I go and with whoever I encounter – be it my 4 year old or otherwise, someone who isn’t yet a believer, or a good friend.
It frees me to trust more.
It frees me to be broken more.
Because, really, brokenness and repentance lead to revival.
The messy leads to the beautiful.
The brokenness lets God’s treasure shine through – for we have this treasure in jars of clay (2 For. 4:7) .
I love this quote from Roy Hession from the book, The Calvary Road (get and read it now if you haven’t. it is a gem. Also? His wife’s name is Revel which is ah-mazing.) ….
“Sin always involves us in being unreal, pretending, duplicity, window dressing, excusing ourselves and blaming others–and we can do all that as much by our silence as by saying or doing something. While we are in that condition of darkness, we cannot have true fellowship with our brother either–for we are not real with him, and no one can have fellowship with an unreal person. The only basis for real fellowship with God and man is to live out in the open with both. ‘But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another’….Love will flow from one to another, when each is prepared to be known as the repentant sinner he is at the cross of Jesus. When the barriers are down and the masks are off, God has a chance of making us really one” (Roy Hession)
At the foot of the cross, the barriers are broken, the chains are removed, and the masks are taken off. We are each known as a loved and repentant sinner. And we fight with our brothers and sisters, together.
Confess your sins to each other, and as you get honest about where you really are, others are freed to do the same, and you begin to fight the darkness together. (James 5:16 1 John 1:7)
It’s not easy, but it’s essential to abiding in Christ. You are united to Him as a believer, but you can know deeper communion with Him, and part of that involves community. Our sanctification is a community endeavor. Our sanctification is discipleship.
Bring it on!
As I get into the new school year, an analogy from Sandra McCracken has been sticking with me…I heard her speak and sing at our denomination’s national gathering this summer and have been pondering and expounding upon this example ever since.
I often say to other homeschool moms, and this truth goes for all humans, “stay in your lane” or “watch your end of the pool” or “stay on your yoga mat”. Sandra, however, eloquently used the analogy of a garden plot.
I like this because gardens grow and produce something…a lot of somethings! All different and equally necessary to life whether to bring beauty, health, or cleaner air.
We’ve got a garden plot – a time, a place, a spot, a calling – it’s very real and tangible, this spot where God has placed you at this moment in time. That garden plot looks different than my neighbors, or friends, or co-workers…growing different plants or crops, the size, shape, and growth is different. God is his daily new mercies is giving me a bucket filled to the brim to water MY garden plot. Just my spot – NOT the whole field. Not someone else’s garden plot. The raw materials are different, the fertilizer is different, because what God has called me to cultivate is a different fruit or vegetable or flower than the next person. (Side note: Am I saying not to help others? No! Of course not – that may be who God has given you to help grow for the day!)
Beautifully, we’re not robots! Thankfully, we’re not all growing cabbage! But, thankfully, someone is growing cabbage, right? And hopefully, that farmer is looking to what God has called them to do to grow and cultivate what He’s given to them.
My homeschooling/parenting example, which can be taken and shifted to your own calling is this: I didn’t choose my child’s gifting, strengths, or weaknesses, or learning style. I didn’t choose my family history or my own baggage or strengths and weakness and personality. I didn’t choose MS to be a factor in how I school and what I can physically do. And yet, it all plays a part in how I lead, love, and teach my unique kids with my unique self. And God gives grace, manna, for the day for this garden plot I’ve been given – not for someone else’s garden plot, and definitely not for the whole neighborhood’s gardens! Whew. But, I often forget, compare, and get distracted….
Gloria Furman, in writing about gifts, says this in her book, The Pastor’s Wife:
“Why did God gift us? How should we use our gifts?
‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…”by the strength God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen’ (1 Peter 4:10-11)
The first thing that stands out is that gifts are something we have received. Gifts are deliberately chosen by God and given by God, and our part is to receive. This is itself inspires enough courage to stop looking sideways at the gifts or other women (or men). Their gifts were not chosen by them anymore than your gifts were chosen by you. Regretting gifts, comparing gifts, and belittling gifts are an insult to the one who has given them.”
As a child of God, your gifts and your limitations, can give you more than they can take from you, because you are FILLED with the power of God in Christ – that same power that raised Jesus from the dead! (Eph. 1:19-23, Eph 3:14-21) Even our limitations are a gift from Him. (1 Cor. 15:10). Our boundaries have fallen in for us in pleasant places – the boundaries of our garden plots, our health, our gifts, our sin. I long to say this with David in Psalm 16,
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance…Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.”
God is faithful and He will grow us and our garden plots in the perfect timing and season (Mark 4:27). His ways are higher and better than ours so we sometimes don’t see it when we think we should (Isaiah 55:8-9) . Grace upon glorious grace is available to us in Christ! (John 1:16)
Want to see more posts like this one? Here’s some of my favorites I’ve written about this:
planting seeds, burying treasure, and waiting…
grace for the day
you are here.
I can’t save my kids.
I can’t change their hearts.
This, at first, strikes fear in me…but then, relief. As it settles down and I think upon the promises of God, my sin nature, my limits, and His omnipotence, I remember that I cannot produce lasting change. But, I know the One who CAN. And I carry my children to Him in prayer and in conversation day by day. I can’t change their hearts; which is a relief, because honestly? If it were all up to me, I would either become too all important or I would sink into a pit of despair. And probably both within the same hour.
But what I can do is sow generously.
In what has become one of my favorite passages, Mark 4:26-27, Jesus says that the farmer works hard scattering and planting seed on the ground, and as he sleeps and rises night and day, the seed eventually sprouts and grows, and he knows not how. But when the harvest comes, he is ready then too. He doesn’t cause the rain or the sun – there are more things out of his control than in his control…So, he works, he waits, he trusts.
Can y’all relate here? I know I can. There are many variables over which I have no control over – so I work. I pray. I trust.
I sow gospel seeds and treasures.
I sow in prayer. I sow in discipline and consistency. I sow in laughter and giggles and fun messes. I sow in scripture and catechism memory. I sow in one more hug and kiss at bedtime. I sow in repenting often to them, in front of them, and to my husband. I sow in receiving new morning mercies for each day for these kids God has given me.
But, the accuser of the brethren will accuse me. He will remind me how I didn’t read an extra story last night and induce guilt. He will remind me that I’m just not enough for my kids – not doing enough, not repenting enough, not fun enough… and on it goes. And yet – how often do I take on his voice in my mind? How often to I, a child of THE King, actually agree with the accuser of the saints and accuse myself, being pushed by fear and shame, rather than led by love?
I was with a group of parents recently and the conversation turned with a downward and guilty tone (as it often can) to “I should have done more of ____” or “I guess I should be doing ____ better.” And my mind started shouting, “no! stop! This doesn’t sound like Jesus, this sounds like Satan!” So, I bravely said so.
Do we need to repent often? Absolutely.
Do we need to teach our kids the Word and be consistent in discipline? Definitely.
Do we need help from parents who are farther along than us and make changes as our kids grow and as we learn too? Of course.
But, here, the question is: are we being led by love into true self-reflection and genuine repentance, OR guilted into trying to do better in and of ourselves – not trusting that God will use ALL things for our good (and our kids good) and HIS glory. No, all things are not good; we do mess up. But God IS good. And He wastes nothing – not even our mistakes or sin. He is fully and completely good and powerful beyond comparison.
And so, we keep speaking the truth as we read the bible to and with them. We keep pointing them to the truth in our conversations. We keep abiding in the Word of God ourselves that we may know and speak the truth to ourselves and to our kids.
As we do, we plant seeds and we know not when they will produce a harvest, and so God sanctifies us in our waiting and active trusting.
We bury treasures of gospel truths and scripture memory and catechisms because when the Spirit awakens them to the truth, our children will have a treasure trove of His Word stored up within them in their minds.
Sow generously with your life; bury gospel treasure within your kids’ minds; pray, trust, and wait for the Spirit of God to open their hearts and minds, and continue the work He’s beginning in them, through you. You are His chosen vessel to work in these kiddos that He has graciously given to YOU.
May He lead you in love as you abide in Him.