the Christmas of unexpected Joy

For a long time, 2015 will be remembered as the Christmas when we were barely hanging on, and the Advent of finding joy in unexpected places. I told my physician-brother a few months ago that if there were a clinical diagnosis for “too busy,” Seth and I would have met the criteria for it several months ago. It is just too easy for two over-achievers to keep doing and forget to rest, relax, and take a break. To focus on who really matters: God, each other, our daughters, and the family and friends we love dearly. And I guess I should speak for myself – Seth does a way better job of this taking a break than I do. My counseling heart and artistic impulse are gifts … but they have the dark side of my tendency to say “yes” to more people and projects than I can adequately follow through.

This fall has been the process of me taking a giant step back – a step out of leading our small group, teaching women’s Bible study, over-scheduling with extra-familial commitments and appointments, and a step back that culminated in a decision to take a sabbatical from my counseling practice starting January 1, 2016. There are many reasons for this particular timing – two of them being:

(1) My pastor-husband will be graciously receiving the gift of a sabbatical from our church from February through April (an every 7-years-rhythm they’ve established for the pastors) – and I want to join him for that.

(2) My first book is being released in June, and I needed/wanted space to devote to this venture.

In the stepping back, there is much that I already miss – chiefly among them, the courageous women and men I’ve had the privilege of sitting with and walking together through stories of love, loss, and hope despite the darkest of backgrounds. (I do find myself already counting down the months until I will reengage with this calling again!)

Yet this is the beauty of God’s gifts of realizing our limitations: the limitations form the boundaries of our truest calling.

Until I said no to over-scheduling, I couldn’t have known the joy of just being … of writing … of enjoying the gift of a quiet home the mornings our daughters are at preschool … of being present for their many unscheduled moments (highs & lows) that happen when I’m here to notice them. I couldn’t have known the frustrations that push me deeper into faith in a God who sees – the frustrations that come when I see how poorly I love my family for whom I profess undying love (and when I experience their imperfect love towards me, too).

And herein lies the beauty of this Christmas-Advent season: in slowing down (being forced to, might I add, due to a litany of never-ending illnesses), Joy still came. Despite what felt like barely hanging on in terms of health and the fullness of our days and the way we typically celebrate Christmas (lots of parties both hosted and attended, etc.) – Joy came in being still and quiet enough to notice The Greatest Gift, Jesus. Jesus ushered in the best gifts of this season:

  • grace given and received in the midst of fraying emotions and harried tasks
  • a beautiful painting by a dear friend
  • a necklace for this season, reminding me to “be still and know”
  • a bracelet from my beloved, and all the love that is patient that it represents
  • words to speak to you and to God – expressing my heart and inviting us deeper still into the mystery that is Jesus
  • many hot cups of tea sipped while editing the manuscript of a book I need more than anyone else possibly could
  • gifts from neighbors for us and our girls – and the gift of having great neighbors!
  • family and friends who continue to love us through our imperfect moments and to lavish us with their time, attention, and generosity

For all of these gifts … for the Greatest Gift to match my deepest need … all I can say is what’s been sung for generations (reminding you and me that “faithful” is not what we are in our own efforts, but what Jesus calls us who cling to him by faith):

o come all ye faithful

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The perplexity, fear, and joyful disbelief of Easter morning

Perplexed. Frightened. Startled. Disbelieved for joy. Alarmed. Astonished. Afraid.

All of these describe the response of those who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. Joy is our primary emotion on Easter morning, but fear overshadowed all else on that first Easter morning. Fear and astonishment. Nestled in the middle of the gospel accounts is this, “disbelief for joy,” and that seems to make the most sense to us. It’s what we can connect to as ones who eagerly proclaim resurrection hope.

I wonder what it would be like to stop and sit in the other responses: perplexed at how this could be – at what this could mean. Frightened, startled, alarmed, astonished to find the tomb empty. This shook those first witnesses to the core. We expect it because we know the end of the story, and we can’t bear to sit with the weight of the grief of Good Friday for long. (I was all too happy that we did a pre-Easter celebration with my daughters yesterday – like skipping the uncomfortable scenes of a movie, we press fast-forward to today’s joy.) But what would it have felt like to go to the tomb early on a Sunday morning, while it was still dark, fully expecting to pay homage to the memory of beloved Jesus, and to find instead that it was empty? Of course Mary’s first response is that someone has stolen the body (John 20:2):

“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”

That makes sense. But that Jesus is alive? It is too good to be true. If it’s true, everything changes. And that is perplexing, frightening, and alarming. What will happen next if resurrection has happened? It interrupts with discomfort the order we depended on (even the grief inherent in the old order of things can feel comfortable because it is familiar). If Jesus is alive, what else will change? Do we dare to hope that freedom from Roman oppression will also happen? What does this mean for our mission? Will we die, or will Jesus bring us with him to heaven immediately?

No wonder there are numerous letters written to the early church discussing the implications of Jesus’ resurrection. It changes everything.

What has it changed for you, and for me?

I have hope that I will meet again those who have died. Bethany, Nancy Leigh, Beverlee, Uncle Ashby, Grandmother and Grandfather Davis, Papa, a sister-in-law I never knew (Sarah), Lynn, Karla, Katharine. And you who have lost beloved family and friends will see them again, too – Nan; Liz; Jill; Megan, Kelli, & Patti; Mike & Shelby; the Rodriguez family; Kimberly & Erick; John – thinking and praying for each of you particularly this Easter morning.

I have courage to enter into the messy and broken places of my heart and others’ lives as we grieve to live in between resurrection and full restoration when Jesus returns. I can weep with those who weep, who miss their beloved ones, whose hearts are breaking because of the brokenness of this world. I can sit and mourn without having answers. I can listen and be impacted by the grief of life in a world that’s not yet what it should be. 

I can ask my questions and doubts, and create space for you to do the same. Jesus compassionately showed doubting Thomas his scars. He did not berate him for his disbelief. (For disbelief might be one of the most honest first responses to the reality of resurrection.)

sad untrue quote

photo from

I can choose joy (belief in a bigger purpose, a deeper reality) in the middle of suffering and heartache and frustrations. I have an unshakeable hope waiting for me, guaranteed by the Resurrection. “Everything sad will come untrue,” writesSally Lloyd-Jones in The Jesus Storybook Bible.

I’ll close with one of many teachings on “what now, in light of Jesus’ resurrection?” This one penned by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Easter morning: “be free and have fun”

“Hear the bells ringing, they’re singing that you can be born again!” That melody floats through my head this morning. The melody that drew me into salvation as a child of 4-years-old who inquired what it meant to be born again, and then was … Keith Green’s invitation set to music.

Another phrase that seems to capture what Easter means for me this year, today:

Be free and have fun!

I overheard these words spoken by a grandmother sending her grandson off to play at a park a few weeks ago. And they have reverberated through my mind and heart ever since. Not only as such a good (different) parenting focus, but the words I need to hear from a resurrected Jesus this morning, every morning.

Easter means I am free and so are you who are united to Jesus by faith. Free from sin, free from slavery to the effects of my sin and others’, free from anxiety and worry, free from performance on the treadmill of perfection, free from my past and my failings, free from others’ judgments or opinions, free to say “no” to doing too much, free to love – to serve wholeheartedly – to create.

Free to have fun in the truest sense of fun. To be creative, to delight in a world that can be as delightful as it is broken. To have fun doing harm to evil (thank you, Dan Allender, for this poignant phrase from the “To Be Told” seminar I attended last month).  To have fun with my daughters and not only be a disciplinarian. To have fun with my husband and in so doing make both of our loads lighter. To take myself more lightly and laugh a little easier. To have fun doing what I don’t give myself permission to do in my quest for achievement and success: to have fun painting, reading novels, blogging, sharing a cup of coffee with a close friend, making life and our home beautiful.

What about you? What could it mean to live in the light of Easter morning? Of the empty tomb calling out to you – “be free! and have fun!”? Where are you still living under the weight of “Silent Saturday”? Of the agony of Good Friday?

Three posts I recommend for your perusal. “We are the Sunday morning people” by Lisa-Jo Baker, “Woman, Why?” at (in)courage, and “We Need All the Days of Holy Week” at Grace Covers Me.

Enjoy … be free … have fun! The tomb is empty; Jesus our Lord is risen; death has lost its darkness and sin has lost its power. 


Five Minute “Friday”: joy

Life has been full here. Full in a good way – Seth and I both enjoying the challenges and privileges of our jobs and of parenting two beautiful, funny, exasperating twin three-year-old daughters. Trying not to lose sight of each other in the midst of a busy season. Trying to remember the busy season is that – a season – and thinking about how to proactively create space and a different pace at the conclusion of this spring season of Easter, my retreat speaking, his mission trip to Peru.

So here I am, this Saturday morning instead of yesterday morning, doing my favorite blog prompt by Lisa-Jo Baker. Five minutes to free-write – no editing, no second-guessing, just writing. Today’s word: JOY.


photo credit:

Joy comes hidden. It’s not where you might expect it to show up. It may be part of the grand wedding day, the huge birthday bash, the day you see your name in print for the first time, the graduation, the job promotion, the moment you cradle your newborn and gaze into her wide-awake-to-the-world eyes.

But more often, joy has come for me in surprising places. Like the day after weeks of weeping for a love lost and you realize you can hear the birds singing again. Or the time in the very midst of suffering you thought you’d never live through that you hit something sustaining you under it and through it. Happy? Of course not. But there’s a rock-bottom Joy that holds you as you fall; that keeps you; that assures you you’ll not be utterly undone. 

Joy is what gives courage to face the hard, the impossible, the sad. It will not have the last say. Joy will still be there. Joy will increase more for all the sadness we know now. For, as Sally Lloyd-Jones says in The Jesus Storybook Bible, heaven is a day “when everything sad comes untrue.” She alludes to the mystery that  every heartache and heartbreak and dark season of the soul will somehow increase Joy for the one who finds refuge in the man of sorrows, Jesus, the most joyful one who was also the most sorrowful.

Can I fight for joy (not happiness) even in pain and suffering and loss? Yes, yes, yes. Wait for it. It will come as surely as the sunrise after a long, dark night.