Real hope for troubled times: Jesus knows

I woke up this morning to all the alerts: not only my own alarm, but warnings about flash flooding and plans rearranged and then the burden of these headlines:

  • Another shooting and more riots in Charlotte, NC – Lord, when will this end? Heal us, Father. We pray for justice to prevail  – for healing that is as real and as deep as the racial brokenness of our country. Give us ears to listen to one another in order to understand, not to judge. Break down all of our defenses through the strength of Love
  • More info on the terrorist suspected of massive plots in NYC and NJ – Father, I’m afraid. It could be our neighborhood next – or our mall. 
  • An apparently failed ceasefire in Syria – there was an attack on the aid convoy. – Lord, for all of those who need aid and help desperately, find a way. Give courage to the men and women risking their lives to deliver this aid. Let us who live comfortable Western lives not grow numb. Show us how we can help our neighbor, though that neighbor be halfway around the world, and keep us from being blind to the neighbor living next door to us or down the street from us. 

This list could go on and on. And our response (or at least mine) is to feel the fear like a pit in my stomach and the instant tension in my shoulders. I want to find a refuge to run to with my family where no harm can touch us, and where we can bring everyone else who needs help with us, too.

I’m not alone in this desire. And there is a refuge promised One Day. Because of this Future Hope, we take comfort in Jesus’ words from over 2000 years ago, and we can serve for justice and peace now.

matthew-24-encouragement

I want to read the promises side-by-side with the headlines. Jesus brings perspective and best of all – his presence in the promised Holy Spirit to all who find refuge by faith in Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ Presence, I can take a deep breath, go downstairs and hug my children and cook breakfast and serve in my little corner of the world.

Because of Jesus’ Presence, I can be fully involved in the here-and-now while also seeking how I can be part of the global concerns because they affect fellow human beings worthy of dignity since they’re made imago Dei.

Where do you take refuge in these troubled times? How do you balance the reality of the here-and-now demands on your life with the global concerns impacting us? 

 

 

Book launch day & a sneak preview

unashamed - long.jpg

Y’all – it’s here. Today is the day that my first book officially launches into the world! I hope you’ll order a copy or two. Even more, I hope that you’ll discuss this with your community, whether that’s a best friend or a small group or your spouse or a roommate. Why? I want this book to be part of a movement in our communities towards gospel-fueled authenticity and away from the shadows of shame that keep us enchained. I want freedom. Healing. Transformation. Joy.

And so I’m giving you a sneak preview to you who are my faithful blog-followers – a section from the introduction and the conclusion. These best capture my heart for Unashamed and my prayer for its readers.

“I have always been terrified of public speaking. I can trace it back to eighth-grade graduation, when I froze on stage in front of my classmates and an audience of hundreds. Standing in front of the mic unable to utter a word, the expectant and anxious waiting, and an uncomfortable and heavy silence — these are what I fear anytime I am about to take the podium. The fear of being publicly embarrassed, of my weakness being unmasked in front of an audience who sees each excruciating moment, is one manifestation of shame in my life. At its core, shame is fear of weakness, failure, or unworthiness being unveiled for all to see, or fear that at least one other person will notice that which we want to hide. Shame is like a chameleon, easily blending into the surrounding environment so that it can’t be directly seen.

Shame commonly masquerades as embarrassment, or the nagging sense of ‘not quite good enough.’ It shows up when you attempt a new venture, or when you’re unsure of your place in a group. Unchecked, it can become an impenetrable barrier between you and others. It is not a topic of conversation at a party, although it is an unwelcome guest in every gathering. You may not know if you suffer under shame, because too often it’s been categorized as guilt (which is its close cousin). It is not the exclusive domain of victims of abuse, yet shame is found in every story of suffering at the hands of another. Shame can linger when you have sinned against another in ways that feel unforgiveable. Shame is complicated.”

From the conclusion:

“We know that there will be no more mourning or tears or death in the life to come. We look back to Eden to see that there was no shame before sin. Unashamed. It’s where we began, and it’s our destiny as the redeemed ones in Christ. The Christian’s ultimate hope for shame is that we will be clothed in the honor of Jesus Christ when we stand before God in all his glory. Shame will be eradicated forever. No more hiding. No more past to haunt us — either that of our own sin or that of sin done against us. Shame will be thrown to the depths of hell where it belongs with the great Accuser of our souls. It will be like emerging from a grim black-and-white film to a vivid and bright happy ending – an ending without end, that stretches into forever.

“This book is a fruit of my own journey away from shame into the freedom of being clothed in Christ’s beauty. I am a people-pleaser by nature and practice, and writing publicly terrifies me because of the fear of criticism and judgment. I want my words to be beautiful and perfect. And yet — like every other part of my life — they won’t be and they cannot be. It is in offering my imperfect thoughts that I am practicing my freedom. It is in offering some of my failures and imperfect portions of my story that I hope to encourage you to do the same. Above all else, it is my unshakeable hope in the power of Jesus Christ to heal shame at its source that emboldens me to risk. For if you begin to taste the freedom of the unashamed in even one relationship, it becomes a seed that can transform your community. We need more neighborhoods, churches, homes, and workplaces where we live unashamed and give others space to live unashamed as well. Let’s be part of the movement away from shame into freedom, honor, and glory.”

Join me? You can order Unashamed here. Or look for it in your local bookstore. I’d love to hear from you once you read it. Thanks for celebrating with me today!

unashamed-quote04

 

 

 

 

the glittering mess of Advent

Every December, it surprises me. Meaning, the juxtaposition of “the most wonderful time of the year” with the reality of how far I am from being able to fully embrace the joy proclaimed to me in every Christmas song and story and glittering decoration. I know I’m not alone in this. For I  hear your stories – maybe not yours specifically, but in sitting with multiple stories of suffering and disappointment and hope deferred throughout almost a decade of counseling and a few decades more of friendship and family relationships, I have a fairly good sense of the ways life breaks us.

And for some reason, I find myself each Advent/Christmas season battling to find the hope that surrounds me like no other time of year. I struggle because at the deepest part of who I am, I know that Jesus’ coming as a baby changed everything for the better (while I also see so much that doesn’t fit with a redeemed world). I find deep comfort that his incarnation – God with us – was a literal game-changer for the human race. That Jesus was “born to set Thy people free/from our sins and fears release us/let us find our rest in Thee.” That I am to “fall on [my] knees/O hear, the angels voices/O night divine/O night when Christ was born.” And I crumble inside with the best of you at the emotion of it all – of God being made like us, like a tiny baby, utterly vulnerable to the ones he created.

But then I begin to get angry and sad. For if Jesus was born to set His people free, why on earth are we so chained up to others’ expectations and our own inward voices of shame? And why do we Christians hurt  each other in the church when we are all simply trying to love one another the best we know how? Why do “Christian” politicians infuriate the culture-at-large with offers to pray in the wake of tragedy and apparently no (or minimal) actions behind these prayers?  Why do news headlines daily proclaim a new form of terror?

And to bring it home and make it more personal: why do I have friends still struggling with infertility?

Friends grieving parents taken too soon?

Friends who have suffered unspeakable tragedies of abuse when they were children who could not protect themselves?

Why are friends stuck in marriages that feel lifeless? (Or why are there friends who are newly divorced despite months/years of trying to reconcile?)

Why does cancer still strike in the most unexpected of ways and times to friends in the prime of their life/ministry?

And if I dare to be courageously honest, I have a few questions of my own. Like how did I get to be so battle-weary and exhausted when I thought I was fighting for the gospel of justice, truth, beauty, and light in the name of Jesus, in the strength of his grace, and for the sake of his glory?

Why does every recent December feel depressing, as a time when I am more likely to feel the weight of the world’s sorrows instead of the hope of the Savior’s joy?

Why does Christmas seem to come up short from how I remember it as a child?

I am beginning to realize anew that the only answer to these weighty, angst-filled questions is in trying to hold in my feeble hands the glittering mess of Advent.

It’s not unlike the abundant blue glitter that one of my 5-year-old daughters sprinkled with abandon around her room earlier this week. There was literally a path of blue sparkle that looked like a rug placed on our white (!) carpet. A glittering path that led to their mini-Christmas tree. As I vacuumed it up, I surprised myself by beginning to laugh instead of growing more angry and frustrated. I laughed because it was beautiful. Any of you who have ever had the *privilege* of vacuuming up large quantities of glitter know exactly what I’m talking about. It glitters and sparkles and changes in the light, and as I vacuumed clean white paths through the blue, the vacuum cleaner began to sparkle, too. (Because it has a see-through compartment.)

And that’s when it came to me.

This is a metaphor for Advent’s tension between the beauty that will be (which began to break through in the incarnational mystery of Jesus) and the mess that we continue to make with this beauty.

These broken places of grief, betrayal, loss, and deferred hope – they are real and they are tragic in an exponentially greater way than a 5-year-old glitter tantrum (oh – did I leave that part out? The reason that she created such a display was out of anger that she was in time out – it was a mess intended to annoy me.).

But this I cling to – in hope against hope – that the mess twinkles, sparkles, glitters in the light of the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree that became our salvation as it became a cross. This tragedy of the tiny babe grown up and offered up willingly as the most tragic of sacrifices for the most unworthy of offenders. You and me.

Ann Voskamp says it well in her Advent devotional:

The Cross stands as the epitome of evil. And God takes the greatest evil ever known to humanity and turns it into the greatest Gift you have ever known. … If God can transfigure the greatest evil into the greatest Gift, then He intends to turn whatever you’re experiencing now into a gift. You cannot be undone. Somewhere, Advent can storm and howl. And the world robed for Christmas can spin on. You, there on the edge, whispering it, defiant through the torn places: “All is grace.”

 

 

Letter to Grief (reposted) and a book to purchase

[repost from December 21, 2014]

All is not calm and bright, is it? This time of year is more often chaotic and dark as we scurry around with our never-ending Christmas to-do lists, flitting from one festivity to another. And for many of my close friends, this Advent season brings unimaginable grief. I feel it with you. And so I jumped at the opportunity to join in a “Letters to Grief” event hosted by Kate Motaung coinciding with the launch of her book by the same name. This letter – it’s for you, my friends grieving loss this season. Whether that loss is of a parent or a child or a pregnancy or a job or a clean bill of health or a dream or a marriage – the loss of hope and community too often follows in its wake. Let this be a small reminder that no, you are not alone, and yes, it feels excruciating. Cry, and sorrow, for we are not Home yet. But grieve with hope, for Home is being prepared for all those clinging to the hope of our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

***

Dear Grief,

You have claimed many friends in 2014, and I have been touched by you as well. The worst part is that the church has too often refused to own you as she should. She has proclaimed a gospel of health and wealth instead of the message of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief who promised suffering for all who take up their cross to follow Him. And in those moments when the people of God feel like they have no refuge, you cackle and seem to win. You whisper lies, saying that there is no hope, and that God is as distant as the well-meaning friends who disappear after an initial rally of support. …

[read the rest over at Kate Motaung’s site where I am featured today as part of her book launch, Letters to Grief, which will be one of my first reads in 2015]

Sorrow-well-300x300

Letter to Grief

All is not calm and bright, is it? This time of year is more often chaotic and dark as we scurry around with our never-ending Christmas to-do lists, flitting from one festivity to another. And for many of my close friends, this Advent season brings unimaginable grief. I feel it with you. And so I jumped at the opportunity to join in a “Letters to Grief” event hosted by Kate Motaung coinciding with the launch of her book by the same name. This letter – it’s for you, my friends grieving loss this season. Whether that loss is of a parent or a child or a pregnancy or a job or a clean bill of health or a dream or a marriage – the loss of hope and community too often follows in its wake. Let this be a small reminder that no, you are not alone, and yes, it feels excruciating. Cry, and sorrow, for we are not Home yet. But grieve with hope, for Home is being prepared for all those clinging to the hope of our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

***

photo from terragalleria.com

photo from terragalleria.com

Dear Grief,

You have claimed many friends in 2014, and I have been touched by you as well. The worst part is that the church has too often refused to own you as she should. She has proclaimed a gospel of health and wealth instead of the message of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief who promised suffering for all who take up their cross to follow Him. And in those moments when the people of God feel like they have no refuge, you cackle and seem to win. You whisper lies, saying that there is no hope, and that God is as distant as the well-meaning friends who disappear after an initial rally of support.

I saw you tragically enter stage left on a late night in May when the Rodriguez family lost their 17-year-old son and brother, and the Jones family lost their police-officer-husband and young father to a madman’s random fire on the streets of Norfolk, Virginia.

You descended like a sudden summer thunderstorm on an otherwise ordinary Wednesday afternoon when a desperate mother decided to end her life and that of her 8-year-old daughter, leaving our entire church community gasping for breath as we suffered under your shadow. You came in waves of tears to the surviving father/husband and daughter/sister, and I know they still feel your touch.

You linger in Manayunk, a suburb of Philadelphia, haunting the friends and family of Shane Montgomery, a college student missing since Thanksgiving Eve. They do not quite know whether to succumb fully to you or to try to resist in hope against hope that there could be good news after so long.

You have been the unwelcome Advent guest to a close friend and her family as the sudden heart-attack death of her beloved mother sinks in alongside the Christmas carols and festivities.

Your problem is that you cannot be predicted nor defined. You come as a unique visitor to each of us, rarely on time and often in disguise. You hide yourself in many forms, putting on a mask of anger to make us feel strong instead of weak. Sometimes you sink deeply into the soul, bringing depression and despair that seems impossible to escape. If left unchecked, you can cause me to live entirely on the surface of life in order not to look within and acknowledge your presence there.

Jesus Christ knows you better than any of us. He is “the man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) He bore the weight of what grieves God on the cross and conquered it fully in His resurrection. He took away the sting of death – sin – saying that you, Grief, no longer have the last word. Hope takes away your bitterness, leaving us a cleansing sorrow in its wake. Hope allows us to acknowledge you without surrendering fully to you. Hope frees us to look you in the eyes as you enter our hearts and communities, and to weep freely with those who sorrow. We the Redeemed can meet you without despair; acknowledge you without empty clichés; join with others who dwell in your shadow without demanding answers or reasons.

So come, dear grief, teach us to sorrow well because of the hope of a risen Savior who will make all things new and eradicate your presence from our broken world entirely when He returns again. You will not own us, though you may visit us more frequently than we would choose. We will not turn away from your presence in our own lives or those of our friends and family. And thus we strip you of your power to isolate, turning your presence into a sign of longing and an invitation to draw nearer to those suffering in your wake.

white space

She lost her mom last night after an unexpected heart attack two days ago. You are never ready to say the most permanent of earthly farewells to such a beloved parent, but particularly not when it’s so sudden. I remember this close friend’s mom as being gracious, caring, kind, compassionate. And now she is Home with the Savior she loved and worshiped, seeing face-to-face what we know by faith. We who are left behind grieve her physical presence with us.

Another friend is waiting along with the rest of Philadelphia and now the nation on any sign of Shane Montgomery who went missing in the early hours of Thanksgiving morning. Vanished without a trace. She grew up with him and their family ties go back three generations. She has participated in search and rescue efforts; she sat with Shane’s mom for a few hours the day after he disappeared. There are no words.

A friend from my community group at church asked simply for “good days” for her dad who is dying of cancer. And that he would make it to February 5th, when he and his beloved wife will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. She is glad for the good moments they share, and she prays that they will continue to savor the present.

White space. How we need it in our lives! Tragedy’s disruption will always force us to make room for it. It is in the white space that we can grieve, and pray, and be present. The white space is needed because the dark spaces will come.

In visiting Anne Smith’s opening of “Corner Gallery” last weekend, it was the backdrop of the white space that gave the paintings their full effect.

Image from Anne Smith's Corner Gallery [December hours Wed - Sat 10am-2pm]

Image from Anne Smith’s Corner Gallery [December hours Wed – Sat 10am-2pm]

In the white space of our lives, we cease from rushing around helter-skelter. I take time to sit and watch my daughters’ impromptu ballet show in our living room. (I may even join in, only if the blinds are closed.) I look the cashier in the eye instead of ruffling through coupons or checking text messages. I purposely leave margin in my life, under-planning instead of over-planning.

In this “the most wonderful time of the year,” how can you and I make white space for the beauty of the Advent to dawn anew in our hearts? For us to rejoice that our King came to us, and for us to long for His next coming when He will heal our broken world forever? No more death, no more cancer, no more missing persons vanishing without a trace. Until then, I cry with the words of this hymn –

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirit by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
*Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.*

day 17 & Five Minute Friday: long

I would be rich if I had a dollar for each time someone (a stranger in Target usually) tells me while my kids are in the midst of a tantrum, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Yes, yes, they are, I want to reply – “IF YOU’RE LOOKING BACK ON THEM IN HINDSIGHT.” I want to add. And probably in an all-caps tone of voice too.

Yet it’s true, isn’t it, the way that what’s long in the midst of it seems short looking back on it. In my own stories of suffering, the moments feel impossibly long when you’re waiting to see if your mom’s chemo treatment will successfully eradicate her cancer, or when you’re unsure of the length of bedrest before your twins will arrive, or when you cannot remember the last time you slept more than 2 hours at a time, or while awaiting news of acceptance to your top college, or simply the last time you were sick in bed with the flu.

londontown.com

londontown.com

I think patience is called “longsuffering” for a reason. Patience is to suffer long. But to keep suffering … waiting … hoping for relief, believing it will come one day and that “long” will turn to “short” from the perspective of eternity. So whatever it is for you that feels long today, know this: first, it IS long. But also secondly, it WILL pass and there is grace for the “long” to become the patience of “longsuffering.”

***

Part of the October writing challenge, extending my favorite Friday writing exercise into 31 days of five minute free-writes. Read more here.

day 7: Haiti

Forty-eight hours before the youth mission trip to Haiti departed, I was asked to join since (a) I had a passport and (b) I was a youth leader volunteer the summer of 2004. So I took a deep breath, said yes, and went to get all of my shots and my malaria medicine.

haiti

photo: haitian-truth.org

As we drove to our destination, the poverty was unbelievable. Mounds of trash, dirt shacks, make-shift homes for the poorest of poor. Each morning I would hear drums from the witch doctors in the distance. The children hung on us in their tattered decades-old donated American t-shirts. We collectively repented of our Banana Republic discontentment and materialistic attitudes.

But the joy. That’s what I remember clearest. The joyful sharing of all that they had (which wasn’t much). The glad singing (for hours) on Sunday morning in church. The hope that filled their faces, spilling over into ear-to-ear smiles. The love they had for each other, for us, and for their Savior who was bringing them Home.

For they knew what I often forget. Home was not the temporary shack on the dirt road they walked back to, but Home awaited them at the end of this pilgrimage of life, tears, suffering, injustice, and poverty. The people of Haiti showed me true riches.

photo: blogs.mirror.co.uk

photo: blogs.mirror.co.uk

home for Christmas

As I write this post, the fire is crackling in the fireplace at my parents’ home in SC, I’ve got my comfortable LLBean img_3111slippers on (thanks, Mom & Dad Nelson!), and I am finally relaxed. Our “Christmas break” is well underway, which began wiimg_31181th a wonderful three days spent with the Nelsons in New Jersey. We went to NYC to see the “Rockettes” at Radio City Music Hall, ate at Seth’s favorite Italian family-style restaurant, Carmine’s, and then had “Christmas” on Friday. Snow came down all day — it truly felt like we were in a winter wonderland. We ate, opened presents, ate, slept, and ate some more … truly a relaxing and celebratory day!

There is really nothing quite like home for Christmas — whether it’s Millington, NJ (for Seth) or Greenville, SC, for me. It was great last night to be greeted by the “Davis family elves” last night at the airport (a.k.a. my brothers and sister-in-law); to attend church at the place that’s nurtured my faith in Christ since I was a child; and to be surrounded by the family I love so much and who lives so far away. There’s just something so comforting about knowing you belong and that you’re known. I loved that when Seth, Bryan, and I walked in just before Sunday evening’s church service, the usher at the back immediately directed us to the pew where the Davis family was sitting. I didn’t have to ask or explain — he just knew us. As much as I love new places and exploration, I equally love the comfort of the familiar. Of the rest that comes from this … like an inward sigh of relief.img_3140

And the complication of our journey to get here last night only makes us appreciate it all the more. Bear with me as a I recount another of my traveling adventures (I’ve had more than my share — in my opinion — but the others will be for another post). We were scheduled to fly out with Northwest Airlines through Memphis, TN, to arrive into Greenville (GSP from this point forward) at 9:30 p.m. However, they oversold our flight from Philly to Memphis, and they asked us if we would volunteer to move to a different flight for travel vouchers. Perhaps we’re mercenaries, but we figured it would be worth it and wouldn’t be that inconvenient. It even promised to be better than the original one since the flight they re-booked us for was a direct flight into GSP arriving around the same time. However, it was with USAirways (and my litany of bad travel has been with them historically). And each time we checked the board over the next few hours, the flight was delayed more and more …. until it was canceled at 7:00 pm. So we stood in line and waited … and waited … and waited … and were able to be rebooked … for a flight going into Charlotte, NC (1.5 hours away from GSP). We were thrilled to be arriving last night. And my family was willing to make the trek in their “sleigh” to pick us up. So a very happy and very tired Seth and Heather were greeted by “elves” around 11:00 pm last night — and finally made our way to home sweet home by 1:00 a.m.! (of course, our luggage wasn’t so fortunate to make the trip with us — but it did follow only a day later and we now have it in our possession — again, not unusual since my bags have not made it with me over the past several flights to GSP I’ve taken over the past few years)

Isn’t Christmas and being home better because of the journey? And isn’t it much better because of the journey that img_31222God made, coming to earth as a baby to be born in a manger, to be called Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer? The journey that God took which would guarantee that one day all of those who believe in Christ would be able to journey Home to the place where we are fully known … that is worth dreaming of, hoping in, and celebrating this Christmas. A home that makes the best earthly homes pale in comparison and which gives hope to those who have had homes which were a far cry from any place lovely or familiar or comfortable. May the One whose birth we celebrate be the One whose Home we long for and anticipate this Christmas!