Because of the way that Advent falls, there is not an entire week to write about the theme of peace. Actually, there is only one day. Tomorrow, we celebrate Christmas Eve and we welcome the Christ child. I had the privilege of teaching in worship today and I thoughtimg_7668 that I would offer a bit of my teaching as my writing for today. I love Advent. It seemed fitting that I would spend much of the preceding weeks preparing a teaching about my favorite week, the week we talk about Mary. I hope this writing brings you a moment of stillness before the bustle of Christmas Day.

May our passionate loud chants and our small silent prayers be  revolutionary voices of peace, like Mary, in our world today…

Today is about the gifts of some amazing women. And THIS year, because our Gospel text is from Luke Chapter 1, we get to hear from Mary, the mother of Jesus. In the section of Luke immediately preceding today’s Gospel reading, the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and tells her that she and her aging cousin Elizabeth are both pregnant. Rather than rejecting this news out of sheer fright and a very real concern over the social implications of a sudden, unwed, teenage pregnancy, Mary response to angel in verse by saying:

38 “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 

continuing in verse 39…

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary, no doubt knows what can happen to an unwed girl who begins to show signs of pregnancy, so she travels to see Elizabeth, who is miraculously pregnant herself. Upon Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary, the child in her womb – aka John the Baptist –  leaps in recognition. That’s all the confirmation Mary needed. She sees clearly a most remarkable thing: God is about to change the course of all human history. It is in this recognition, this confirmation, that Mary is moved by this vision of God, the lover of the lowly, that she breaks out in song—a song that has come to be known as the Magnificat.

46 And Mary said,“My soul magnifies the Lord,

47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,

55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

If you were to comb through commentaries on this passage, almost every single one, describes this passage as “revolutionary.”  One goes so far as to call it, “the most revolutionary document in the world.”  Another says the Magnificat “announces powerful revolutionary principles.”

In the Magnificat, God totally changes the values of life – it is a song announcing revolution. This isn’t just a song praising God for the way God has brought up this singled-out girl from obscurity. This is a song about how God will use her and the child she is bearing to right the wrongs of all humankind.

The Magnificat is a song proclaiming God’s justice, This is a song proclaiming God putting things right-side up after they’ve been upside down for so long. Mary’s song makes it clear to us: a world in which there is hunger and food banks and cities with vast wealth on one street and grinding poverty on the next – that the world we live in – is not the world of God’s kingdom. This is a song about bringing down systems of injustice, about breaking chains of generational oppression, a song about what this coming child is actually bringing into the world with him. 

Mary, the poor, unwed, pregnant teenager, a member of an oppressed race, the one with whom God found favor, sings about the justice of God’s in-breaking kingdom in spite of everything she sees around her, in spite of everything she knows to be true about the unjust world in which she lives. 

Mary sings…and her song is more than praise and “thank you.” Her song is a call to recognize the coming kingdom of God. Her song is a call to name the injustices of the world in which we live and expose them to the light of Christ and the coming of his kingdom. 

To experience Advent is to trust that God can do this thing, again. God can again be born in me, in you, in this broken mess of a gorgeous world, again and again and again. 

joy: day five

I did a thing today. I went to the mall on December 22.

I don’t like to go to the mall on September 22, so this was not an act of pleasure. I went to the mall (with all 4 billion other crazies) to wrap gifts for our area homeless ministry. There, next to Santa and Victoria Secret, I stood for 2.5 half hours wrapping all the things.

img_7668I don’t regret this decision. I LOVE to wrap presents. I enjoy wrapping way more than shopping. And there are so many people that hate to wrap gifts, so this is a super easy way for me to help raise money for a cause I love, while doing something that I really enjoy. Except for the people. All the freaking people.

Here is what I learned today:

  • Chanel no 5 is really popular
  • grandmothers love to spoil their grandkids
  • watching men write gift tags for those they love is precious
  • a good nickname is still sacred

With each customer, I learned a story. There was the teenager that was shopping for his grandmother – precious. The dad who brought his two pre-teen boys to buy gifts for his their mom. The mom and aunt that were quickly getting the gift wrapped before the teenage son came back from the store. With each new family, there was an energy of excitement. I discovered in this experiment that people long to bring joy to those they love.

Be it through a new speaker set or a sweatshirt, the hope of each giver was to see the smile on the face of the receiver. Not once did anyone complain about the crowd. There was no mention of the lines. There was not even irritated frustration with parking. I’m sure all of these things took place, but in my line, after the perfect gift had been purchased, there was joy.

So here is your instruction for the coming days: no matter the gift, no mater the fit, no matter the color, no matter the quality, give the one that gave you that gift the joy of your smile. They are giving you that gift out of love and excitement and the very least that we can do is to show them how grateful we are that they braved the mall or ordered early on Amazon for us. May your fuzzy socks and fruitcakes bring about all of the joy of the Lord.

joy: day four

Tonight’s post will not be a lengthy one. Instead, I hope it is but a short reminder that we all joy differently. Let me give you an example…

The way that my sister, the extrovert extraordinaire, shows holiday joy is wig wearing. All the wigs. And all of the costumes. She is an elementary school principal and cannot contain her love for people and a good time. If you have a tambourine at your party, she is likely to shut the place down. img_7668

My many attempts to define my I or E on the Meyer’s Briggs Type Inventory has yet to yield a clear result. Every time I take it, from high school to more recent years, I sit directly in the middle. More often than not, I lean a little to the introvert side. I love to talk on a deep, relational level with people. But I can’t stand surface for the sake of chit-chat. That makes me a less than stellar date to the party. And if I don’t really know the other guests, beware. I will need a full 24 hours to recover.

I say all of this to remind us to be gracious. The next 5 days will be filled with so many people. Many of them may find joy in the family dinner. Some of them will even look forward to the work holiday party. And yet there are others that are worn out at the thought of what to wear. To all of my introverts, may we have good boundaries. May we refuel as we need to. And may we all remember that however we are wired, there is a place for us. It just may not be as the hostess. KNOWING OUR PLACE IS JOY!


joy: day 3

I need to write, tonight, about the first 3 hours that I spent out of the house today. Much of my day was, by the world’s standards, so much joy. But prior to all the beautiful joy that I participated in, I had a few hours of weird joy. At 8:45am, I was scheduled for my annual mammogram. Unfortunately, I failed in the annual part, having been almost two and half years since my last screening. I have been enduring the torture chamber, as I loving refer to the machine, since I was 35. I have a strong family history on both sides and this throws me in the “high risk” category for all the fun. img_7668

I hate this test. For those that have not yet had the adventure, this is the best way I know to describe it: if childbirth did not steal all of your dignity, mammograms were devised to make sure it was gone. Sure, this test saves lives and all – so does a colonoscopy – but both are cruel and unusual punishment. Lucky for me, I’ve had both in the last 10 days.

I digress. For the men in my audience, here is a peak into this process. When you are called from the waiting room, you are taken to a dressing room where you are told to put on a gown (this time they were heated – big bonus). There, you and all of your new best boob squashing friends sit anxiously while you wait for your turn. You have been asked to remove your deodorant, so moments into your wait, you are dripping. This is quite a scene. Neat sidenote – you are told to place your belongings in a locker, and today the lockers had names on them. I immediately went for Wonder Woman. It was broken. My second choice was Mother Theresa. Nope, again. There were only two working and available options, so today, I was Barbara Bush. My other choice was Dolly Parton. I could not.

I had to sit in the holding tank for more than 45 minutes. This is a long time to fidget. I was already irritated that I was there, but the wait only made me less joyful. That was until a new woman walked in the room. I have no idea what her story was. We did not talk at all. But her presence reminded me (no, it kicked me in the rear) of gratitude. As I sat there mulling my last few months of medical ups and downs, I have spent more than one day feeling sorry for myself. That was until about 9:27am this morning. Something shifted as I sat sweating in the warm robe. I had joy.

This was not a warm, fuzzy, have a party kind of giddiness. It was a profound thankfulness for my privilege and access to healthcare. It was from that stranger’s face that I was reminded that I am grateful to have insurance. I am grateful to have money for co-pays. I am even grateful for the intelligence to argue errors in billing and inaccurate charges. Each of these things has been an irritating thorn for me since June. But today, waiting for something I dread, I was smacked with the honor and joy of having a mammogram. Miserable, torturous and slow, I gladly give thanks today that I am one of the very fortunate ones that is ABLE to have all of the healthcare I need.

It is from that place that my entire mood and attitude shifted. I thanked the woman who tortured my chest. I greeted the next woman that came into the holding tank. I even gave thanks as I was told, “DOOON’T BRREEEEATHE!”

I found joy in a mammogram. Now, that’s something you don’t hear every day!

joy: day two

Somewhere in my church-y education, I missed a memo. I don’t think I am the only one that made this mistake. Somehow, I came to believe that this word ‘joy’ meant happy, lovely and gleeful. For as long as I can remember, I listened to phrases like ‘so your joy may be complete’ and ‘joy to the world’ and believed that by loving God and believing in all the right things, I would automatically have an embedded exuberance. This is not the case.img_7668

Especially, when things are not joyful or people around me do not bear joy. By my nature, I am sarcastic and negative and plain grumpy. I am president of the Glass Half Empty Society. When I see a problem or situation, my first instinct is look at all the ways things won’t work or can’t be fixed. I spent many years trying to call down the joyful feelings. I prayed for joy. I worked for joy. I even changed so many things about myself in the name of searching for joy.

Until one day I stopped. Not because I wanted to stop, but because I had looked and done and tried and shopped and spent and used all the things and I was bankrupt in the joy department. It was in that very broken place that I was handed a proverbial “While You Were Out” memo. In these simple but profound words, I began to find joy.

You are enough.

I did not have to do anything. I did not have to change anything. I didn’t even have to pray more or eat better or clean up my mouth. Just in the breath of my creation, God had provided me with all that I needed for joy. Joy is not circumstantial. Joy is not moody. Joy is found by realizing that by trusting in God, All Knowing, we have a one of a kind joy embedded in our being.

Our happiness, our glee, our giddiness is not based on any external factor or condition. The joy that God describes in scripture is a profound sense of wholeness in being known and loved. And, friends, that is the Good News I need on days when the world seems hard and lonely and painful. My joy is not dependent on me. My joy was secured in my very first breath.

Moving from Love to Joy

As you may have noticed, I missed the last 3 days of writing. With one final thought to add to the week of love and an introduction to our next theme due, I decided to capture them both in one post. As a complete side note, but not lost on me, is the reason for my absence. A true combination of both week’s themes, I spent the weekend with some of my favorite people as we celebrated my youngest daughter.

Ally is 13. She has many of the very normal 13 year-old ism’s. There are, however, many reasons that she has had to grow up this last year. Our family life has experienced some changes and challenges. In the midst of that, she too, made a significant shift in her life that really caused an identity defining season. While this is her story to tell (and guess what? She has been writing about the journey!), I have been in a unique season of parenting an independence defining adolescent and trying to help her set her course without captaining her ship. Shout out to all my co-parents in this season. Stay strong. img_7668

My Advent themes came to a glorious apex on Saturday morning when Ally had a particularly successful moment in her sport. I was struck by an overwhelming sense of love AND joy. The pot of emotions had been building for months and in this one moment of joy, my love for her gushed forth in overflowing tears. Even in the bigger moments of past successes, I had never responded in this way. It was like my body and spirit had been holding on tight for months and when I knew that she felt joy, I was mush.

Telling this story is a similar parallel to our faith journey. It was out of my love for Ally that I erupted in joy. That is true for each of us. Especially as it relates to the connection between love and faith. I would go so far as to assert that there is a direct correlation between our human understanding of love and our ability to understand the goodness and joy that the Creator has for all of creation. If your experience of love is jaded, circumstantial, directly tied to your worldly success or a perceived humanly beauty, you may struggle to understand how God could embody unconditional love. Having faith in something that is rooted in love, when you have never experienced true acceptance and grace from a human,  sets up a very real stumbling block.

That moment in Ally’s meet was one of those ah-ha moments for me. I have loved her through this hard season, imperfectly, at best. With each new hurdle of struggle or doubt, I longed for her to be whole. As much as I wanted to clear the path for easy travel, I have learned that in doing that, we are not acting in love. Additionally, when we do that, we steal the joy of the victory. And, oh, was there joy. Not because it was perfect. Not because everything was complete. Not even because it was all happy feelings. Instead, that day, the joy – beautiful joy – was found in the moment where we were reminded that love wins. Love that is pure and full and uplifting. Love that is encouraging and enduring and painful and true. That is the love that always wins. When you have walked in that moment, the joy is real.

That’s what the transition from love to joy is about for me. Fittingly, the Gospel text this week is a mother’s song. So, I will sing with joy in my heart – not because of my situations, but because of a God that is faithful and loving, no matter the situation.

love day four

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.”

‭‭Galatians‬ ‭5:22-23‬ ‭MSG‬‬

This is a familiar New Testament passage of scripture that perhaps you don’t recognize because of the wording. The Message version has a beautiful way of teaching me to think beyond the memorized scripture to the heart that the author is expressing. This passage deals with what are commonly known as the Fruits of the Spirit.

Just as healthy trees produce good fruit, it is my experience that healthy love produces a similar yield. With well tended love, we experience growth and compassion and conviction. With shared experiences, those who are living in the beauty of love remain committed to the work of togetherness. Theses are the fruit AND the treasure of love.

We all know relationships that at one time were thriving in love. For whatever reason, that relationship is broken and bruised. The hurt is so real that new life is impossible. As I think about where relational demise begins, I am often taken back to the slow decay of truth and the unwillingness to stick with the journey of love. We are sold a bill of goods when we believe that love is a destination or point of arrival. I would propose that love is instead a journey of growth. Sometimes that road is smooth and easy to navigate. In these moments, fruit is easy to grow and nurture. But love is often forged in the moments of trial. The darker times – when patience is easy to lose and kindness is the hard work of commitment – is the pruning of the fruit tree. It is only in these times that we are able to trim away what is not serving us and make room for a new branch to bear fruit.

Just as Paul wrote to the church in Galatia, it is in love that our need to get our own way is crucified. We no longer live for ourselves, but as we produce the fruit of good work, of whole love, we abide in the generous and life giving exchange of growing deeper in our love relationships.

love day three

Today, I want to talk about covenant. I have been exploring the depths of this word for the last fifteen years. I have tried many tangible ways to express this complex idea. One of the most prominent covenants in my everyday life is the communion table. For me, this is a weekly sacrament that reveals in a hands-on way the covenant that God shared with us in God’s son, Jesus. It’s bigger than a promise. It’s more than a ritual. A covenant is a mutual expression of trust and commitment from one party to another.

In scripture, this takes place in the wilderness, in the flood, in the garden. These covenants are between God and Creation. There are also covenants between humans. Most notably, covenants are cut in marriage ceremonies. I say cut, because Old Testament teachings showed that sacrifice was paramount in covenant. Traditionally,  an animal was cut in half and those entering into a covenant would pass between the two animal halves, as a way to ratify the covenant. img_7666

Be it between spouses, or parents and children, we see covenant relationships all around us. When one person reaches out in sacrificial ways and offers their life (or trust, wellbeing or protection) for the good of another, perhaps you are witnessing a covenant. The key defining piece of this equation is the third-party. Is the Divine invited into the relationship? That’s what we must establish when we enter into a covenant.

I have been to countless weddings. I have even officiated ceremonies. Recently, I have pondered my role as an onlooker. From the audience, I can enjoy the day of celebration. From the other side of the couple, I have a unique place. Over the last few years, my desire to officiate weddings is all but lost. I don’t want to be part of rubber stamping legal unions – any judge or internet ordained frat brother can do that. I am, however, thrilled to help turn the legal marriage, the contact, into a covenant. That part gets me excited. Everything changes when marriage moves from a tax benefit or legal act to a covenantal expression of two people choosing to walk hand in hand as they serve and bless the world. When a couple chooses to break themselves open and pour themselves out for each other and for the good of Christ’s kingdom, we have something BIG to celebrate.

There is also a sacred covenant that you may have participated in and forget to regularly celebrate. It happened the day that your child was placed in your arms. In that instant, be it by a judge or a nurse or by marriage, you said ‘yes’ to one of the most precious covenants. It has probably changed as the years have passed, but it is still a covenant. On that day, you gave your heart and life to another human. One who would need you, even when they did not want you. As a parent, offering your life to the Creator as a shepherd and guide is one of life’s greatest callings. It does not matter if you child is 4 or 54, your words and guidance and cheerleading and most of all love will cast a shadow on their ability to enter into their own covenants. May we honor that calling.

Whatever the relationship you are navigating in love today, may you know that God’s desire is to move us from extravagant gifts and roses, past report card signing and feeding, to the very real and holy invitation to sacred covenant. May we take seriously the relationships we are called to honor as we commit ourselves to an ever-deepening desire to explore sacrificial, covenantal love.

love day two

What is love? Baby, don’t hurt me.

If you don’t get that, I’m sorry that you missed clubbing in the early to mid 90’s. This piece of musical genus helped many a young man perfect his falcetto, yet I still don’t think it answered the question.  25 years later, I will take a crack at this mysterious question, one theme per day.

What is love? Love is freedom.

When I think about the ways that I am loved and the ways that I give love, this word depicts the best of my loving relationships. When I am loved in a supportive, open and trusting relationship, I am free to be who I have been created to be. Love does not force you to change. Love does not restrict your gifts. Rather, healthy love frees you to be your best. img_7666

A relationship that believes in freedom challenges you to grow. I can remember a relationship I was in as a teen where we regularly would tell each other, “I hope things never change.” That is a sad tale of love. Thriving love relationships are always changing. These relationships are between humans. You only need to attend day 1 of Biology 101 to know that living things are constantly changing. The only time things don’t change is when we die. This is true of love, as well. Relationships with the freedom to grow and change have people that are growing and changing. Freedom is the value by which new life is formed, in cells, in the soul and in the heart.

The best relationships in my life are built around friendships and partnerships that encourage me to freely explore new things. Whether it be a hobby, band, education, skill or a new author, loving relationships are looking for ways to encourage freedom of thought and interest. When change and growth produce fear, love is stifled. The misconception in this area is that change produces distance. Sure, some things take you away from each other, be it in time or energy, but in healthy change there is a reward. The more that your family member or friend is growing into their full selves, the deeper your relationship can be.

My husband loves cycling. He chooses to get up daily at 4am to ride his bike. I think this is stupid. But he adores it, so I am for it. When he has the opportunity to go for a long ride, or get out on his mountain bike, I always say, “How was your ride?” Without fail, his response is always, “It was life-giving.” Lucas did not ride bikes like this when we married 2 decades ago. I did not have a room filled with glitter and crafts. But as the seasons of life have changed and our bodies and talents have morphed, we have encouraged each other to find life. He hates glitter. I hate 4am. But freedom in love is not about what you want. It’s about celebrating what brings other people life.

I wonder if we miss the correlation to faith in this conversation? The more time I spend centered in God’s desire for me, the more I see that there is immense freedom to be exactly who I am. Faith is not about conformity or restriction. It is not about rules or even suppressing the things we enjoy. God loves us just the way we are. God loves us in all that we are becoming. God’s deepest desire is to be woven into the fabric of our souls and remind us daily – hourly – that we are loved.

YOU are loved. You ARE loved. You are so very LOVED. There is so much freedom in that.



the first day of love

I want to unpack this Advent theme more in the coming days, but for today, it seems only fitting that the first day of love happens to fall on my love’s birthday. For the past 21 December 9th’s, my hubby has endured whatever celebration I have concocted, many of img_7666which are anything but what he actually wanted to do. My favorite birthday story was our first year of marriage when I surprised him by filling our tiny apartment for a party. This brilliantly coincided with the Aggie’s playing in the Big 12 title game. I thought this would be a win. It was, however, his worst nightmare as he was forced to give up his lounging couch for my friends to have a place to sit. He watched the entire game from his desk chair. And I have never been allowed to forget it.

Over the past many years, we have learned that love is rarely the Hallmark moments and picture perfect stories of romance. It is not even the happy ending tales of precious parenting and easy life. Love, real love, is the hardest of the hard. Its boundary setting and saying “no” and tears. It’s the times when you stand helpless by your partner’s side as they are in pain. It’s the moments when you have to speak an unwelcome word. Love is standing with, and advocating for, in the times of illness. Love is choosing each other daily.

If we are really honest, these are all self-sacrificing moments. That’s the heart of love. 1931349_1045665737932_3359_nAnd in our come and go, quick to leave, I don’t want to do the hard things society, love is hard to find. The number of relationships – and I don’t just mean romantic ones – that are broken and derailed are many. Our world is filled with examples of people who are frantically searching for the feeling of love and are unwilling to choose the work of love.

I’d like to tell you that 20 years of marriage has been filled with all smooshy loves. That is not the case. I would go so far as to say that we have had 14 great years. And the other 6 have been filled with the hard work of building the blocks of hope and love and joy and peace that are evident when we are operating in our best selves. We are one hell of a team, but we have grown up together and that is not easy work. In doing that, we have chosen each other again and again and again.

So, to the hottest 42-year-old that I know; To the man who I trust with my past and my future; To the one who loves me – crazy, messy, glitter and all, Happy Birthday. You make me want to work at love everyday and the world is better because of it.