Week 2: How Jesus Writes the Unexpected Into Our Christmas Story

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Advent is a time of expectation, a season in which old truths are gently knit into our weary spirit, preparing our hearts to receive Christ and to celebrate the redemption He brings.

Yet within these days of expectation, we uncover stories that were wholly unexpected — others’ stories and our very own.

The centuries long journey to the manger reveals a host of people who, to us, seem wholly unlikely and unprepared — from the most dysfunctional of families to a God-fearing prostitute, from an adulterous and murderous king to a teenage virgin.

The Christmas story is a narrative of surprise, a whole lot of “Hmmm. We didn’t see that coming.”

A holy nation sprang forth from an old man and his barren, manipulative wife.

God delivered an enslaved people who walked on dry land between parted walls of sea. But they didn’t believe he could provide water for them to drink.

These fearful and fickle people — The Lord saved them, provided for them, protected them, and chose to dwell in their midst. And though they turned their backs on Him time and time again, He never did the same in return.

When we read the story with fresh eyes, we’re appalled at their selfishness, their faithlessness, their utter neglect of Him. And just when we think they’re goners, forever and always and good riddance, His relentless love comes for them again. He keeps on forgiving them.

We don’t expect this. It flies in the face of the justice our hearts want for those who never learn, who keep getting it so wrong.

But there’s so much more that we don’t see coming.

We don’t expect a prophet born as a baby to the barren wife of a priest.

We don’t expect a terrifying angel to pay a visit to a scared girl and tell her she’s pregnant with God.

We don’t expect a perfect boy to grow up into a perfect man, a man who loved the unlovely in a way they’d never been loved, with physical touch, compassion, instant forgiveness and healing, only to be falsely accused and discredited.

We don’t expect him to be murdered by his own people, those He came to save. And we surely don’t expect Him to pardon a godless criminal as they die together on adjacent crosses.

We don’t expect a Father to turn his back on his own perfect son. And to the unlikeliest end — to save the same faithless people He’s loved before the foundations of the world, the ones who turn their backs on his glory because his brand of goodness isn’t exactly what they have in mind.

We don’t expect those people to be us.

waterlogue bridal

When I shared my story with a room full of women Thursday night, I began with a story full of expectation. A young married girl who knew exactly how her story should be written. It unfolded as a narrative full of plot twists and the unexpected, a narrative of fracture and grief, of love turned cold and marriage fallen apart.

Expectation dissolved into separation. And separation dissolved into a revised expectation that this would and should all end in epic failure.

But what have we learned about the story of God and his people?

He shows up in ways we don’t expect. He shows up with deliverance, forgiveness, and redemption.

And Jesus is still in the business of loving people in ways they never expected to be loved. He’s still touching them, healing them, having compassion on them, and making Himself real to the unlovely and unlikely.

That’s how He showed up in my own story. It’s how He continues to show up.

Maybe this chapter of your life seems the unlikeliest of places for Him to dwell. Maybe it feels too far gone, too far flung away from the expectations you had.

I’ve got good news. The far-flung places are his hangout. And the far-flung places are actually never too far from his reach.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39

It’s true and I can speak from experience. When He sets his love upon us, nothing can separate us from it. He’s the Light of the World and He shines his light into the darkest of places —

  • Hearts that are dim and despairing.
  • Families who are too helpless to help themselves.
  • Marriages that have burned out.
  • Nations that think He’s a myth.
  • Scholars who say He’s a crutch.
  • Bodies that are dying too soon.
  • Ends that don’t quite meet and it seems they never will.

 

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There is nothing beyond the power of his redemption. And though He writes stories so very differently than we would usually choose to write them, He writes with a pen that bleeds love instead of mere ink. He writes for our good and for his glory. He writes from a vantage point that we don’t yet have.

Best of all, He writes Himself into our very lives.

In the song, This is How Emptiness Sings, Christa Wells sings this truth so beautifully:

He writes my story into his song, my life for the glory of God.

 

Friends, this is what He’s been doing all along.

In this second week of Advent, will you allow Jesus to defy your expectations? Will you invite Him into your mess? Will you trust his pen with the rewrite and will you behold his glory that unfolds as you do?

He tells us that He is making all things new. That’s present tense. Today. And it’s a promise.

Will you believe Him?

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Weekly Advent Series

Week 1: When Your Life Feels Too Messy to Host the Savior of the World

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If the stories from Scripture that I mentioned in this post are unfamiliar to you, or if you long to know them in a fresh way, might I suggest this resource?

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The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. It’s a book I return to over and over because she writes the story of redemption with such truth and in a way that makes my heart sing. It’s technically for kids but the parents in our house tend to cry every time they read it.

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*book link is an affiliate

Day 24: Should We Change the Way We School? {Part 1} THREE Questions to Ask.

31 days final big button

As one who barely has enough confidence in her own decisions, I tremble at the very thought of this post. Who am I to tell you whether you should consider a change in your educational path?

Not an expert, that’s who.

But as one who clung tightly to a beautiful vision of homeschooling for nearly five years and then did the unthinkable by plopping my children down in public school, I’ve learned a thing or two. Along the way, I’ve talked with others who have struggled with the same issues and certain commonalities emerge.

And so I simply share what I’ve learned, personally and collectively, along this journey. Here you go, three questions to ask yourself. {I’ll offer three more tomorrow.} Only you can interpret and apply the answers. I’m just here to get you thinking in a fresh and honest direction.

1. Am I breaking down?

I can’t provide a clinical assessment. But ask yourself, your spouse, those closest to you — Is this taking too much out of me? If you homeschool, has drudgery replaced delight? Are your days marked by complete exhaustion? Are you depressed? Do you feel like you’re operating at about 20% capacity? If you’re kids are in school somewhere else, are there particular stresses that are consuming an inordinate amount of your physical and emotional energy and it’s showing up — inwardly and outwardly? If you answered yes to any of these, take some time to think, pray, and discuss the situation {and options} with your spouse.

2. Is my marriage suffering because of this?

Mine was. And that’s why I’m putting it out there. For me, homeschooling took so much out of me, there was little to no energy and resolve left for my marriage. There were other variables too. My husband worked all day and two to three nights a week during those years; the backdrop of our life was worn and threadbare. But when margin in your life is already thin and a crisis comes along, you’re left with deficit everywhere you look. Marriage can bear the heaviest burden.

Though the alternatives for your children may be less than ideal in your mind, if your marriage is teetering on the edge, it’s time to make first things first. This might sound impossible. I hear you. But take a step back and consider the alternatives: a broken family, devastated children, the practical and emotional baggage of a marriage on the rocks or busted up altogether. I don’t write these things to throw guilt around if this is your story. There is always redemption. I write these things because I’ve lived these realities. My marriage is here and my family intact by the grace of God alone.

I know this is heavy talk for a nice little series on educational choices. But none of our decisions happen within a vacuum. One part of life affects another part of life and always we must consider this.

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These first two questions deal with non-negotiable issues: your physical, mental, emotional health and your marriage. Call me harsh but your kids and their education don’t trump these. Here’s the last question for today.

3. Is life off-balance? For you, your child, or your family.

 

Homeschool, public school, and private school — there are specific ways each of these options can monopolize our time and energy to the point that balance is non-existent. Maybe the commute has taken its toll. Maybe the full-time mom + full-time teacher gig has taken over your sanity. Maybe the long school day + homework + after-school sports mean that you are never ever together as a family and that your child is exhausted. Maybe your finances are margin-less because of tuition and this affects everything else.

There are legit seasons of sacrifice and busy-ness. This is real life as a family. And as our kids get older and pursue their own endeavors — even when we impose limits — there’s still more on the calendar and less time together. Life gets a whole lot pricier too. These are normal expectations. But sometimes things heat up so gradually that we fail to notice the water is boiling and it’s time to get out. Quick. This is the off-balance I’m referring to.

Once again, take a giant step back. Remember your core values and priorities as a family. Consider the wholeness of each person and your wholeness as a family. Be brave and make the fruitful decisions that feel too hard, even if it feels like you’re the only family.

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Tomorrow we’ll continue this conversation with three more questions.

Have you switched educational paths with your own children? If so, what have you learned?

For all the posts in this 31-day series, go here.

I’m linking up with The Nester and her tribe of 31 Dayers.

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A Simple Question to Start the Week

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This week’s Monday morning began while it was still dark and entirely too early for a human being to stir, let alone muster the motivation to sweat. I’ve been injured for probably six weeks, unable to run or do anything really. Honestly, I’m not really that ambitious. I’m a runner because running releases endorphins and endorphins are good for mental health and I will take mental health over physical health any day. I’ve always joked that I’m a runner and a writer because they’re cheaper than therapy and usually safer than meds. {Truth be told, I’m often a runner and a writer who may also be in therapy and on medication during any given season. What can I say? I have issues.}

But when I’m not running and when I’m sad about not running, the people I live with are not loving me so much. I can hardly blame them. My endorphins packed up weeks ago and are probably vacationing in Aruba and sipping margaritas and reading People magazines. Meanwhile, the barely-there muscle mass I once possessed has now turned to mayonnaise. Aaaaand I feel like a crazy person. We had a wee bit of drama in our house over the weekend and I finally cracked under the pressure of it all. Unable to cope for one more second, I finally sat down on the kitchen floor last night, leaned against the sticky cabinets, and wept for at least fifteen minutes. Yes, in front of the whole family. {In my defense, all the other places in the house were taken.}

This is probably not good. And it’s just one of several causes for self-pity at the moment. Self-pity is really just the worst place to be, isn’t it? It has a way of catapulting me onto the throne of Self and treating my tiny world like it’s my tiny kingdom. As you might imagine, this has gone well. Quite well. Who doesn’t love an overwrought and emotionally unstable tyrant in the house?

Back to this morning. I’m driving home from the gym I just joined today. {And by the way, I’m so not a fan of gyms. In fact, it’s safe to say I’m terrified of them. I’m intimidated by the fancy machines and the fancy buttons and the fancy exercise experts and worker-outers who seem to know exactly what they’re doing. There’s just something about people wearing ginormous leather belts and special gloves, something about the sound of clinking metal and words like “spinning” and “squats” that makes me want to run for the hills.}

I digress again.

As I drive home from the intimidating exercise place inhabited by people wearing large belts, I’m thinking about the reason I’m doing this. I’m thinking about the people I live with and how I’ve been a rather rotten housemate lately — selfish and sad and snappy. I confessed all of my yuck and asked God for help and grace and compassion. I prayed for them. And then I walked into the house and chatted with my husband while he tightened up his tie and prepared for the day. I was extra mindful of all that he’d already done this morning to assist each person who lives here.

Normally I would’ve rattled on about the things happening in my little world or jumped into my own agenda. But this morning I did something different. I needed and wanted to shift my focus off of me. I wanted to love him better and this required feedback. So I looked at him and asked a simple question: What do you need from me this week? What can I do that would help you? 

I’ll tell you the first thing he said. It wasn’t what I expected.

Don’t add anything else to what you already have.

Um, really? That’s the number one thing? Apparently it is. He wasn’t rude or bossy about it; he was gentle but forthright. He asked me to love him and help our family by saying no to other endeavors that may indeed be good things but that will deplete me or add unnecessary stress. When I say yes to good things that shouldn’t be the priority things for me or for my family, right now, in this season, it has a way of affecting the stress level of the whole family. Or so I’m told.

I wasn’t actually saying yes to other people all the time. I was simply saying yes to a host of little endeavors, projects, and goals — good things, all of them — that have subtly been whittling away my capacity to give to the better things, the needful things, like marriage and the hearts of my children and staying sane{ish.}

This is invaluable information when you think about it. Now my husband and I have clear expectations of one another and we’re accountable to those. His answer doesn’t mean that all of my energy pours into serving my family. If it did, I wouldn’t be writing this post or working on a current writing project that we both support and want me to pursue. But he’s lived with me for over 18 years and he knows my limits better than I know them. For most of our marriage I haven’t given him enough credit for this. He’s observed that when I try to stretch those limits or pretend they don’t exist or make other people more important than the ones who live in my own house, we all suffer in a bigger way than I realize. And that’s not loving or healthy or as it should be.

Some people naturally have wider limits, more social energy, more physical energy. But there are universal truths we have to accept: we all have different life circumstances, unique marriages, special health issues, children who who aren’t identical to any other children on the planet. It’s good to own these truths and to live out of them. It’s easy to compare and then live our lives according to someone else’s expectations, threshold, lifestyle, parenting, bank account, or marital dynamics. This is a bad idea. You’ll end up exhausting yourself or people-pleasing or harboring resentment or all of the above.

I wrote a post last summer called 18 Things I’ve Learned About the Not-So-Simple Art of Marriage. I’ve learned the hard way about the importance of valuing my spouse’s opinion above anyone else’s. {All things being equal of course. This does not apply if your spouse is a psychopath or sociopath or evil dictator.}

Don’t value anyone’s opinion above your spouse’s. Not your best friend’s or your mom’s or your sister’s or your mentor’s or some expert. This is your life partner, the person with whom you are one.

His opinion matters not because he is perfect or even right. His opinion matters because he’s your #1 person.

Value him by valuing his thoughts and ideas. And then stand back and watch what happens.

I’d be wise to revisit my own words more often. I feel like I have “life-lessons amnesia.”

Beginning the week with a simple question and conversation about one another’s longings and needs might just be a game-changer. The question can even be a fruitful one to ask of your kids or even your boss. {Maybe not your boss — you decide.} You might be surprised by the answer. And it might be more loving and life-giving and clarifying than you expect, both for you and for the ones you love.

Maybe you’re spinning your wheels trying to love and strive and manage in ways that they don’t even care about or in ways that may actually be hurting instead of helping. Maybe loving well is simpler than you think.

You won’t know if you don’t ask.

And one more thing. Don’t ask if you’re not ready to hear the answer. But I have a feeling, I really do, that it’s not going to be as complicated as you might imagine. I also have a feeling that they’re going to appreciate the fact that you love them enough to ask.

Wouldn’t you?

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