She Was Born in a Barn

Story has it my grandmother, born this very day almost a hundred years ago, was born in a barn. It was so cold that night, the pail of water they had nearby was frozen. I faintly remember her telling me the story when I was a child. I think long and hard about that arrival, the second daughter, to be followed by a son.

No matter where a person gets started, there’s really no telling where they’re going.

I don’t know the story of my grandfather, the one who gave my Dad his last name and not much else. They married young, she was pregnant fast and it was just too much. My six month old Dad — I’ve read letters that he was bright-eyed, happy and brown as a berry. That’s a complement in the South. Whatever he was, it wasn’t enough for his Dad to stay.

He took off, wrote letters here and there, sent a gift here and there, but started a new family halfway across the country. I met him for the first time, and felt incredibly uncomfortable, at age 12. My Dad picked me up from school to have lunch with him. I don’t remember asking many questions, except if I could go and get my peanut butter and jelly sandwich out of the car.

Sometimes Dads don’t stick around.

Enough times it happens, that some call it an epidemic for this generation: Fatherlessness. They say it’s at the root of so many other issues, and I agree: Men who choose not to be present, not to be fathers, to children that are rightfully theirs.

But there’s another story.

There’s this other barn — this place where the animals stayed, 2,000 years ago and halfway around the world.

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I imagine him there, holding the hand of this frightened young girl, who understands something miraculous is happening and she is a part of the story — but does he really know? When the shepherds arrive? When the Wise Men bring gifts? Does he see the star, too?

What will become of this baby, born in a barn?

No matter where a person gets started, there’s really no telling where they’re going.

This was a place where a man decided to do the opposite of what so many do — he said, “This baby isn’t mine. But I’ll stay, I’ll be present. I’ll be the father here on earth.”

From the very beginning, this is the Gospel that turns our upside down world rightside up.

In a world where fewer and fewer men are staying when they should, God’s story shows a man of character who stands in the gap and stays, when the world might say he shouldn’t.

In a world where teen pregnancy is a hushed and shushed troublesome issue, God chooses to birth Someone miraculous.

I wonder what rumors floated around. And I wonder — if this couple was from Bethlehem, did they have no family there still to stay with? Or were the people there unwilling to welcome them in? An indictment in a culture so renowned for hospitality, what was at the root of this — the woman about to have a baby being given room at the barn?

He was born in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire, which stretched further than it ever had before, or has since, so that it was called Terraram orbis imperium — the Empire of the Whole Earth.

This is the story for the whole Earth, turning rightside up the upside down ways of the whole earth.

Giving fathers to the fatherless.

Did he come from wealthy parents? Would the shepherds find him in the finest home in Bethlehem wearing the nicest robes a baby could wear? No — he arrived to parents so poor they could not afford to make room for themselves, promptly wrapped in swaddling cloths, perhaps best translated as torn and tattered rags, with a feeding trough for a crib.

Was he born into a reigning kingdom? No — to a people, now recently subjugated to Roman rule, so that he was rather less like a citizen and rather more like a subject of whom tribute would be required.

Not even born in the great city of Jerusalem, where the kings of Judea long presided? No — in humble Bethlehem, The House of Bread, comes the Bread of Life. From the City of David, as it was also known, from the lineage of David, came the humble servant who is the King of Kings.

Jesus — the name means God saves. Emmanuel — God with us.

God is with us — and He saves.

And nothing about the story seems like the story most of the world would write for the arrival of the King of Kings.

In fact, it mostly seems like the opposite.

We craned our necks to see what Kate might be wearing on her wedding day, the day she became royalty. And the magazines follow the little prince George. What is he wearing, where is he traveling? What a glorious future awaits an earthly future king!

But this is the story of the King who left all the perfection of heaven to come to a humble birth on Earth. A peasant, a tribute and tax paying subject. A babe the world wouldn’t make room for. Who came not to be served but to serve.

This upsidedownrightsideup story is just so beautiful — so gloriously different from what the world expected, which makes it infinitely better.

You might still be hustling and bustling with gift lists and parties — your list longer than a strand of Christmas lights, filled with things to do.

But know that the Savior of the world came to do the things we couldn’t: and we can rest in the receiving of this, our Greatest Gift.

The striving can cease. That most important, eternal thing that needed doing has already been done.

Let Him whisper words of rest to your hearts today friends. In the stilling and the listening, you’re being the people who make room for the most unlikely King.

xCC

 

The Christmas You Might Be Looking For

“A little more tree… a little more snow…
a couple more reindeer, a couple more bows.
Another dozen cookies just in case the neighbors show…
A little more joy, for Christmas.”

Last weekend, my favorite football team was playing, and with my brother in town, it was certain that we would all be watching. The game was only being televised on ESPN-U (or maybe it was ESPN-3, I can’t remember which), but that meant we were streaming the game live over the internet.

Now if you’ve ever watched live content on the internet, you may have had the (mis)fortune of one interesting discovery: sometimes, one or two advertisers purchase all of the commercial slots for that live broadcast, and you will watch the. same. commercial. again. and again. and again.

And for us, this game?

It was Walmart.

And that little jingle I just typed out from memory up there? We heard it about thirty-seven times. At least. And it keeps going – a couple more verses about getting just a little bit more packed into the holiday season.

But it was only the next day, when it was still swirling in my head, that I considered the meaning behind the message.

It’s the message we get every day, from sometime in October when the decorations first start emerging, until some point in the New Year when they get heavily discounted and disappear.

Walmart is saying what most retailers want us to believe: you will find the joy you’re looking for this season when you find the perfect gifts, the perfect decorations, the perfect activities, and the perfect accessories for your holiday. That’s how to make your holiday season perfect…right?

I think you know the answer to that question, but let’s keep chatting.

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A Saturday later, my Mom, the kids and I strolled down to the Christmas parade in our wee town for the first time ever. They gushed with smiles as they filled hands with candy, waved at the floats and motorcycles, the bands and the people all strolling by. There was red and green, there were elves, jingle bells and music, and Santa finished it all off, waving proudly from his perch atop a shiny fire truck.

It was fun and we smiled and laughed and enjoyed the moment.

As soon as that grand finale fire truck had passed us by, we turned to head back to the car. But before we’d taken a step, my eldest, always quick to speak his mind, piped up very indignantly:

Wait! How come Jesus wasn’t in the parade? Because that’s the whole thing about Christmas anyway.

I was speechless. I hadn’t prompted this question. I’m dead honest when I say it didn’t once occur to me.

We came to a Christmas parade, but he was frustrated because he didn’t find Jesus.

And isn’t that sometimes what happens? And the way I’ve sometimes felt when I’ve arrived at Christmas morning? I’m surprised I hustled and bustled and thought about gifts and decorations and events and planning and lights, but I’ve always felt just a little bit empty because I didn’t spend very much time with Him, or even really deeply thinking about Him.

We can come to the Christmas season, and leave frustrated because we don’t really find Jesus here.

When we got home from the parade, among the pencils and lollipops and Hershey kisses spilled onto the counter, I found a candy cane with a note attached. I hurried to show it to the Bear. The note explained the symbolism of this simple piece of candy — the red stripes for the Saviour who shed His blood for us, white, because He was sinless and pure, and the “J” shape for Jesus, which, turned around, becomes a staff, to represent our good Shepherd, the Lord.

We found Jesus there — just a glimmer of a glimpse of Jesus to ponder — but we had to look for Him.

The big tree and the extra snow and the extra reindeer and the big bows? They might be what makes you feel like you’re “Christmasing” again.

But the acts of kindness, the selfless service, the generosity to the “least of these” and, yes, even a thoughtful piece of candy passed to a child in a parade — these are places where you’ll find a heart like Christ’s.

This is the place where you find the people who are saying The greatest gift has already been given, and I’ve received it. It’s my turn to give gifts to the One born in the manger, the One born to be a gift for the whole world to unwrap.

This is the Hope that has come and does come and will come again — the Christmas we can look for, because He’s always been looking for us.

xCC

 

 

Oh Come, and See the Light

Oh Come, and See the Light

When it’s nighttime round our house, and one of us grown-ups needs to sneak to the kitchen for the glass of water we forgot, the door we needed to lock, or the dishwasher that needs to start humming, we don’t switch on the lights. We use our phones as flashlights and scurry through the darkness, hoping to avoid waking any sleeping children by sending shards of bright light shining underneath their doorways.

The other night on the way back to the bedroom from a flashlight adventure, I glanced out a window pane of the backdoor and just caught the faintest glimpse of a star in the sky. I brought my face close to the window pane, furrowed my brow and stared up to see what I might see, but I struggled to see anything.

Finally I realized the light from my flashlight was too bright. Once I’d fumbled to switch it off, the stars were aglow in the sky. I smiled up, not at just one, but the dozens that I could see with my face close to the window pane, just in that small space where the tall North Carolina trees weren’t blocking the sky from my view.

I marveled for a moment that I had to turn out the wrong light in order to see the right one. My heart whispered thankful to the Lord. He helps us see the light.

 

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Before the hubs and I head on a photography adventure, we often pray, among many things, one specific thing: “Lord, help us see the light.” When you learn to see the light, when you learn to recognize what it does when it streams in through a window, or spills across a subject’s face, or rim lights them all around from behind, or creates gorgeous rays of sun flare that light up an image so glorious — when you learn to see that light, you are able to create so much beauty, and the possibilities are limitless.

Lord, help us see the light.

We’re entering a season with so many lights. Bright glaring ones begging our attention to this sale or that event or this is how they are doing it, shouldn’t we, too?

But the focus of the wise men on a single star brought them on the journey where they found the manger.

Meanwhile, the host of heaven must have lit up the sky when they sang to the shepherds that night in the field. How did all of Bethlehem not see it? Do we sometimes miss it?

There are so many lights this season, it’s true, but there’s just one light we really need to see.

We pray to the see the light because of how it helps us to see everything else. Even helps our cameras to see everything else.

The reason we need to see the right Light is that by that Light we can properly see everything else.

The advent season has begun, and here we simultaneously celebrate the Light of the World’s first coming, and we await His return.

In the deepest places of your soul, this is the perfect time to quiet down, to look, and to listen. Look for the Light this season. See God revealing Himself in a thousand small ways each day. Don’t stop giving thanks because the calendar no longer says November. Remember He holds you together and gives every breath.

Listen for the God-whisper: this is the greatest love story ever told. He has come, shined a light so bright a world of darkness couldn’t crush it. And — we are not without hope, the small word with big meaning behind the lighting of the first advent candle — we are not without hope, friends.

He is God with us, the God who dwells in us, and the God who will come again.

Keep looking, and you’ll see the Light.

xCC

 

I’m looking forward to reflecting and savouring this Advent season with you. I’d love to humbly invite you to subscribe via email and to ‘like’ this little space to follow along. Oh Come, Let Us Adore Him, together.

The Search for Meaningful Tradition (A Book Review and An Elf Alternative)

The Search for Meaningful Tradition (A Book Review and An Elf Alternative)

Each year, with more little eyes and more little ears and more little feet padding their way around our nest, I’ve been hungry to find traditions that would celebrate this most wonderful time of the year with reverence and sincerity. The commercialism seems to get bolder. The advertising seems to get better. And a few weeks ago, my eldest asked if he could start working on his wish list with some help from Amazon.

How do we glorify the Presence and de-emphasize the presents?

We’ll hang lights and remember the Light coming into our dark world.

An evergreen tree will go up, and we’ll remember the One who died on a tree, and how that tree gives us everlasting life.

I’m hungry to communicate the greatness of this incredible Presence — the arrival of the Messiah. This changes everything.  This is why we want to lead lives that honor God. This is why we want to show kindness to the least of these.

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A few years ago, I tried creatively placing the little elf around the house. It just wasn’t a good fit. I watched last year as folks decorated with powdered sugar footprints, came up with creative stunts, and competed to post the best imagery of elf shenanigans on social media. For us, it continued to emphasize the presents. Be good for the presents. The elf is watching. I just couldn’t put so much effort into something that is pointing away from the place I am trying to direct these little hearts’ attention.

Could there be a bright alternative?

Could we aim to forget the stacks of presents? Because this Presence — it’s the Greatest Gift of all time!

This year, in the days leading up to Christmas, we’re starting a new tradition. One that draws a line from Creation to the Cross, and sheds new light on the meaning of the manger.

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Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp, is a Family Celebration of Christmas. Starting December 1st, there is a lesson each day, right up to the 25th. You’re invited to create your own Jesse Tree — a tree you’ve made, perhaps from branches in your backyard — where you can hang ornaments that relate to each of the daily devotions you’ll read as a family. The activities related to each lesson involve things like praying about ways your family can give and serve others over the holidays (and all year long) or making a list of things you’re grateful for.

I’m envisioning creating these opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids at Christmas.

For it all to point to the one thing I want my children to know in this season: Jesus is the Greatest Gift.

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I’m very excited to do this together, as a family, this holiday season. The book is beautifully illustrated, and each lesson includes thoughts to discuss and family activities — all written to point to the significance of the coming of the Messiah, all encouraging us to anticipate and celebrate the arrival of Christ.

In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, last year Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released. This devotional is about “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” and was written with adults in mind. It was named the Christian Retailer’s Devotional of the Year for 2014 and is absolutely worth considering in addition to the family celebration, or on its own. (They do cover the same themes and correlate to one another, but they are definitely not the same book.) The devotion draws you in to deeply considering the meaning of the lineage of Christ, and the love story of His coming.

{Voskamp has been one of my most favorite writers for quite some time and you might enjoy her website (very much) — aholyexperience.com. She is also the author of One Thousand Gifts, which is a life-changingly awesome NY Times Bestseller that would make a great gift and I hope you will read it if you haven’t already. It. Is. So. Good.}

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So friends, consider this an invitation from me to you to consider welcoming some new traditions into your Advent Season. I’m excited about finding something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season and I’m excited to share it with you.

I’ll continue to write and reflect on the glorious goodness of the Savior throughout the season, but I wanted to tell you now, because there’s still time to grab a copy of one or both of these wonderful books, and allow them to bring your family into some meaningful conversation about the Presence, that might draw focus away from the presents! Don’t worry if you don’t jump in on December 1st!

And? I’d love to hear from you! Have any questions for me? Are you hungry to put more meaning into your celebrations this season? What is your family doing to point to the Christ in Christmas?

xCC

 

Just so’s ya knows — This post was not sponsored by Ann Voskamp or Tyndale Publishers. I bought both books and was excited to share them with you in case you’d like to create some new traditions with your family this season. The links to Amazon are affiliate links. You might also find the books priced well at christianbook.com — we just found it cheaper with free shipping at Amazon. :)

Road Maps and Green Lights

Road Maps and Green Lights

I sat up in the dark the other night. It wasn’t late, but everyone else had gone to bed. I was awake with questions. What’s it going to look like questions. And Where to from here questions.

Trusting the unknown future to the known God is harder than it sounds.

Now here’s the thing. I like to know what I’m getting myself into, if you get my drift. If my name is going to be on the list with X or Y responsibility, then, like most folks, I want to know what that responsibility is going to entail. Are there monthly meetings? How long are the meetings? Am I expected to attend every single one?

And if I’m diving into a significant new project, I typically think long and hard about what the ramifications are, before I ever pick up a pencil, a paintbrush… whatever it calls for.

So I sat before the Lord, asking questions. While on the surface I thought I was saying, What am I supposed to do next?, truthfully I was asking that what is it going to look like question, deep in my soul.

I’m brimming over with ideas, thinking about going in twelve different directions, and this simple answer whispers to my soul:

Just Keep Going.

I’m looking for a road map and instead I get a green light.

I’m hoping for a big picture and instead I see a next step.

Isn’t it a funny thing, that statement-suggestion-commandment Jesus made, that if you want to receive the Kingdom of God, you’re going to have to do it like a child?

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We packed ourselves up for a few days in the mountains that week. With colder weather looming, I pulled out tiny gloves, mittens, hats that hadn’t been needed for nearly a year. One suitcase was tightly organized with clothes for all three kiddos for a handful of days. (I was proud of that endeavor.)

On our first walk, the weather was mild. We stood near the lower cascades and dipped our fingers in to taste the cold water that had gushed down from the heights. We were comfortable in light jackets, coats, sweaters, hoodies, not too bundled up, the sun still warming our cheeks.

That evening, we felt the shift — cold weather rolled in. We were on the back porch of the tiny cabin when the leaves started blowing sideways. It was time to come in for dinner and baths and bed.

The next day, I began to pull out those tiny gloves and mittens. The weather changed, and it was time for me to give the children what I had prepared for them – because I knew this was when they needed it.

For our next walk to the upper cascades, coats were on, gloves and mittens covered fingers, tiny hats topped little heads. They had what they needed because I had it to give to them, and I waited until the right time to give it.

And isn’t that what a good Father does? Doesn’t He give His children what they need when they need it?

So when I asked for a road map and got a green light, I remembered my place. I’m not an aunt or mother-in-law or a parent. In the Kingdom of God, I come as a child.

It takes humility to look up, when you don’t get the answer you’re hoping for and to say,

“Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight!”

But He caught me at the right place, and gave me the encouragement in the right timing. So I sat up in the dark, wide-eyed and excited about a plan that God has for me that I know so little about. I sat up excited, thinking about what He might want to do with a soul that just wants to say Use me, and really means it.

I sat up, using my iPhone as a flashlight, furiously scribbling excited prayers into a journal. And I saw the light catch a glimpse of my baby girl’s sparkly little tennis shoes, sitting tidy, underneath a table by the wall, and I said,

Yes, Lord! I can reflect your light even in the darkness! Even if I don’t know what you are doing, I can still reflect your goodness here!

And the eldest of my sweet children sighed a peaceful sigh of sleep on the couch, and I remembered he was just there, just those few feet away, and I said,

Yes, Lord! Long have I used my children as an excuse for not being able to do some of the things I believe I am called to do! Now I see that I can do those things with my children, and I must do those things, because of my children!

There in the dark, that Truth hit me hard, and bright, a Light I hadn’t seen before.

We sometimes hold back, because we don’t know the big picture. We don’t see where the ship is headed. We don’t know what the road is going to look like.

But, when I’ve got to get my children somewhere, well, by all means, I take them by the hand and I lead them right to where they need to go. If it’s urgent, there’s not always a stopping and an explaining, either. Sometimes it’s just I’ve got you by the hand, now let’s get moving.

Could we be a people willing to let the Lord take us by the hand and lead us where He wants us to go?

If we think we have to see the big picture before we take the first step, we are missing the point that we are followers and Jesus is the Leader.

If we tentatively consider each act of obedience, wondering if it’s something that could potentially go viral or start a movement, we need to slow down and remember that faithfulness is what the Lord asks of us.

He doesn’t need His children to come up with grandiose schemes, and He doesn’t need us to be famous to be effective.

If we are willing to let Him take us by the hand, He can lead us best to where He wants us to go, and because He is a good Father, we will have what we need when we get there.

It takes humility to just keep swimming, to receive directions with childlike obedience.

But if you ask for a road map and you get a green light, well, by all means, get going. Stretch your hand out to let Him lead you, and know you can trust the future you don’t know to the God you do.

He loves you. So keep going.

xCC

 

 

 

Day 31: The Part Where You Go Out and Swim It

Howdy, pardner! Welcome! This post is the last in a series called Swim Your Own Race, which I’ve worked my way through, writing each day in the month of October. If you’d like to start at the beginning (good choice) or find a link to each day in the series you can do so, at Day One. And P.S. … it appears, among the many issues with my website at the moment, that my comments might be BROKEN… sorry about that.

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So, if you’ve been following along for a few (or many) of the last 31 Days, you’ve gathered the idea that I’d like to encourage/challenge you to swim your own race. And, since we pulled a lot of concepts out of that one simple metaphor over the past month, there are just a few things I’d like to say in summary so that if this is one of, or, the only post you read from this series, you’ll “get” the main things I want to say.

First — you are second rate to no one. Do you remember the scene at the end of the final movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy where the King has been rightfully placed on his throne and the hobbits are standing there, knowing that they had a part in making that a reality? They’re bowing to Aragorn, and he turns to them, and honors them by saying, “You bow to no one.”

Well my friend, hear those words, and know that they’re for you.

Now, I’m certainly not saying you belong on a pedestal higher than our one true King, Jesus, but what I am saying is that you do not need to compare your story with the stories of the people around you to determine whether or not it matters.

You are not on the bench and you are not second string. 

Your story doesn’t need to have the drama that makes it made-for-Hollywood material. You don’t need to be aspiring toward ridiculously outlandish endeavors that might one day get you famous, or try to create something that will “go viral” and change the world.

You are already changing the world, my friend. You’re here.

So don’t worry about comparing what you’re doing, the race you’re swimming, to anybody else’s. Do your best to ignore the hype from the world around you, trying to convince you that fame and fortune are synonymous with living a life that matters. Remember that faithfulness to the God who loves you and has a purpose for you is the standard for measurement.

Love God. Serve God wholeheartedly. Love the people around you and be faithful to follow where He leads you. Let Him take care of the rest.

Your race is going to look different from everybody else’s, and it’s going to look different this month from next month.

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Those words — abide in me — that Jesus repeated five times, just in the first eight verses of John 15, those words are crucial. How will you know what to do next month? How will you know what faithfulness is going to look like in that job, that place, that situation you haven’t encountered yet?

If you abide in the Vine, you will bear fruit, and be a disciple.

Remember that there are times when postponement makes the best become possible. You will sometimes feel like you’re treading water instead of moving forward. But the Lord is not wasteful with our hearts or our lives — He loves us too much for that. You can trust Him.

Don’t swim back to where you feel safe when opposition comes. Overcoming opposition is always a part of the greatest stories. There is going to be resistance until all things are made new, and anything worth doing is going to meet resistance on the journey.

Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Sometimes it’s hard to feel joyful. Even just thinking about the race ahead of us, we perhaps want to furrow our brow and get determined that we are going to give whatever time we’ve got ahead of us all we’ve got. Believe these words with me: God cares more about you than about what you can do for Him.

He tells us the truth, and the truth should give us joy. 

We know we are redeemed! We know this life is a gift! We should be THE most joyful people in existence! We have the privilege of knowing and loving and serving this amazing God who loves us so much He gave His Son for us!

In the southern part of the United States, we have a saying for a person who might be silly, a child that might be rambunctious, basically anyone who might’ve once had it all together but forgot where they put it. We say, “He’s a mess! She’s a mess! They’re a mess!”

But let’s be honest: WE’RE ALL A MESS!

And that God who created the universe finds us worthy. So worth loving that He would send His Son to reconcile us to Him, even when we were such a mess that we disobeyed Him and totally blew it.

The simple fact that God loves us in our mess is enough to put a smile on my face and even make me start laughing!

Find your joy in His truth today. There is a lot to think about when you’re racing. Your pace, your timing, your breathing, the right moment to start a good hard sprint-to-the-finish… but in this race, you can relax all those concerns and let go of all the worry. Our Coach decided to make it simple for us.

Abide in Me, and you’ll bear fruit. Keep my commandments, and you’ll abide in My love. Apart from Me you can do nothing, but abide in Me, and you will be a force for good that the powers of darkness will not prevail against.

Give thanks. Find your joy in the Truth and rejoice. Swim deep into the knowledge that you are so precious, and so loved, and so destined to be an important part of the most incredible story ever. Ever.

Keep swimming friends. Thanks for joining me in this journey.

xCC