When You’re Carrying Something That No One Can See: Christmas Hope for Weary Souls

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…because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.     ~ Matthew 1:20b

 

It was the second Sunday of Advent and these words leapt from the passage and lodged in my spirit.

I could not shake them.

As my children squirmed in their church seats and rifled through my bag for gum and pens, God whispered his attribute to my walled-off heart:

I am a God who conceives unthinkable things. 

Within the virgin womb of an ordinary Jewish girl, the most divine alchemy swirled with light and life infused by the Holy Spirit.

It’s December 5th. I am worn out and wrung out. God whispers truth about himself and about me:

Marian, I am a God who conceives things. This is not simply who I was at a single point in history. It is who I am and will always be. It is what I do within those who I have called for divine purposes. But you must yield to it. 

I thought more closely about the order of things in Mary’s life, scribbling notes and arrows on my worship folder.

The Holy Spirit — > conception — > surrender — > carrying that which no one can see — > labor  /  pain — > new life — > death — > redemption

I whisper back:

God, what have you conceived in me that I have not yet surrendered to? In what ways must I yield?

And I know what it is. I know what I carry that no one can see.

I long to carry something different and God says no.

This is what I have conceived in you. Will you carry it? Will you labor under this burden and choose to receive it as a blessing? Will you trust that there is life and death and redemption on the other side?

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As I write this post, my lip quivers. I do not want to say yes.

In his book, Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning says this about people, pain, and purpose:

Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded…On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.

 

My view of humanity is limited; I can’t possibly match up each person that God has significantly used with a corresponding deep woundedness. But I know there is truth to what Manning says.

I know that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. I know that pain humbles us and that wounds make us real.

I’m not looking to be a person of great significance in the kingdom of God. The older I get, the more uncomfortable I am with attention. But I long to be a meaningful part of God’s work here on earth. I don’t want my story, my labor, or my scars to be wasted.

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Mary didn’t have to say yes.

We’re not robots. God entrusts us with choices even within the mystery of sovereign will. He invited her to be part of his work and she said yes.

And aren’t we glad that she, like Jesus, yielded to her Father’s will instead of surrendering to her own rightful agenda?

Her yes gave birth to the light and life of the world. This is why we sing songs of rejoicing at Christmas.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

We don’t rejoice because all is right with the world —

We don’t rejoice because life has gone as we’d hoped —

We don’t rejoice because we have a robust college fund for our kids —

We don’t rejoice because we have a marriage that’s easy —

We don’t rejoice because we have jobs that are well-paying and secure —

We rejoice because we are a weary and wounded people but we are not abandoned in this state.

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Perhaps you’re carrying a hard and heavy thing you never asked to conceive, much less labor under.

But what if we see our heavy thing as a privilege instead of a weight?

What if we choose trusting instead of fighting?

What if we choose the mindset of freedom instead of bondage — freedom to die to our expectations and even our desires because we trust in a greater purpose?

Mary died to reputation, to convention, to logic, to self, to a comfortable path. She was forced to flee while pregnant and birthed her baby in a crude and humble dwelling. Her newborn child slept in a feeding trough for animals. Who would choose that?

No one.

But with a posture of humility and trust, she yielded to a divine purpose she couldn’t actually see. As she received the unthinkable realities of her own life, she simultaneously received the glorious hope that waited on the other side.

I am the Lord’s servant…may your word to me be fulfilled.

Death always precedes redemption.

Right now I’m wrestling with a sort of death, clenching tightly to fear, to desire, to doubt, and to my own logical solutions instead of placing my big self aside and submitting to the will of the Father.

If you’re in the same place, may the story of Christ comfort us and lead us as we wait for a miracle. May we receive our own lives with trust and hope this Christmas.

That which is conceived in you, though it feels unwelcome, may actually be destined for fullness of life. 

 

You may also enjoy:

Why Compassion is the Answer to a Messy Christmas

Why You Really Are Prepared for Christmas, Even if You’re Not

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Keep Calm and Remove Some Lettuce: 5 Ways to Stay Merry & Bright This Holiday Season

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I’ve already started making THE LISTS and decorating the house in my mind. I’m giving my calendar the evil eye and she’s giving it right back.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

If I sound like Scrooge, rest assured, I LOVE this time of year. I love everything but the stress. {Much of which I bring on myself.} Somehow we have turned the holidays into an Olympic sport and I don’t want to resort to cupping just to get through the marathon of it. I want to savor it, to slow down, to sink into the comfort of my home and my people.

The overwhelm began to tap me on the shoulder last week. Instead of making more lists and running around restoring order, I decided to stop and think and write. This post began as a letter to myself but it turned into something for all of us.

If you want to savor this season instead of stressing your way through it, I hope that one or two of these permissions will help:

 

1. Don’t try to cram too much into a small space.

Here’s what right now begins to feel like if I’m not mindful: a fast food salad.

So many veggies are crammed into the plastic bowl that when you remove the lid, it’s like the lettuce is spring loaded. And if you want to add dressing and croutons and toss it up a bit? Well, I hope you enjoy eating your salad directly from the table and floor.

Fast food salads stress me out. They’re full of yummy things. But they’re crammed so full of good things, you can’t enjoy the actual salad.

Don’t be like Wendy’s, cramming an entire head of iceberg lettuce into an 8-ounce bowl.

If your to-do list feels out of control, it’s time to remove some lettuce.

If looking at your calendar makes you break out in hives, it’s time to remove some lettuce. Reschedule all possible appointments and coffee dates to January. Or later.

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If finding all the perfect gifts brings on a migraine instead of joy, it’s time to remove some lettuce and find a simpler way.

The world doesn’t need the martyr version of you during the holidays. They need the relaxed version.

Repeat after me. “Lettuce stay sane this season.”

 

2. Don’t neglect what keeps you centered.

For me this means two things. {Three if you include coffee.}

1. I have to get my heart rate up and sweat a few times a week or I’m mean to the people I love and get even more anxious than I already am.

2. I have to eat spiritual food. This means me and God’s Word.

Sometimes — okay, often — I try to go without it because I’m “so busy” and I’ll get to it later. But this is like trying to get through the day or a series of days without eating actual food.

Going through my day without spiritual food is like slow starvation. I become a shell of who I really am. I’m malnourished. I’m misguided. I am figuratively nibbling on candy and junk and wondering why I feel terrible.

It’s taken me decades to realize this but God’s Word is my food. It keeps me anchored and nourished. And just like actual food, you have to get up the next day and eat again.

If this sounds like disciplined drudgery, let’s remember that food is awesome. Jesus tells us that He’s the “Bread of Life,” not the “Kale of Life.” {Hallelujah.} This means that time with Jesus can be a feast for your soul.

There are other practices that center me and reset my anxious spirit, like being in nature or finding a quiet place. But over time I’ve found that sweating out my anxiety and being with Jesus are the biggies.

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For you it may be yoga, baking, taking a walk, opening up a book, or locking yourself in the bathroom so that your body can have an actual break from tiny people touching you. I’m sorry I can’t stop them from yelling “Mommy” or sliding their fingers under the door. Maybe your centering thing right now is a babysitter in the middle of the day or a hefty dose of kids’ movies on Netflix.

 

3. Outsource and say “yes” to help.

Get someone to clean for you before the holiday season. Buy up a bunch of frozen pizzas, lasagnas, or burritos to make things easier. Give teachers gift cards or chip in for the class gift instead of coming up with something adorable {and time consuming} from Pinterest.

Buy the pre-made sugar cookies for your kids to decorate.

Order gifts online in your pajamas. Target is super fun but the traffic, the people, the end-caps with the holiday candles I can’t stop smelling — I’m just not mature enough to be there very much during the holidays. Also I have a teensy problem with road rage so it’s best that I stay home.

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My sanity means my family’s happiness. And my happiness too!

I can promise you this. Your people would rather have a fun-loving, even-tempered you instead of everything on their Christmas list. If this means a smaller holiday budget so that you can actually enjoy this season by ordering take-out and getting your house clean, well, I think that’s a happy trade-off.

And if your life stage or circumstances are more overwhelming than normal, I beg you to accept any and all help that is offered. Don’t let pride, shame, or self-sufficiency rob you and others of the gifts of grace, generosity, and mercy.

 

4. Honor your Sabbath.

Take a nap. Don’t cook. Or do if cooking is the thing that feeds your soul. Sink into a book or a movie. Linger over dinner and save the dishes until much later, after you’ve had a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

God doesn’t want us to rest from everyday work and rhythms because He demands our rest. He gave it to us as a gift. We don’t have to rest. We get to rest.

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Again, this looks different for all of us but it’s a gift I’ve begun to anticipate all week long.

Recently I instituted a break from all things digital {except movies because I’m not crazy} beginning Saturday evening until Monday morning. It was glorious. And weird. I had to fight the compulsion to check things — e-mail, social media, etc. That compulsion let me know that my brain and my spirit desperately needs regular breathing room.

Listen up all you weary souls, we need a real break from all the input. And from all the output. The end.

 

5. Remember the way of Jesus.

Recently I read two little verses in John 6 that I can’t stop thinking about. The people were all in a tizzy about their works. They crowded in around Jesus, fully expecting for Him to load them up with right answers and lists.

“What must we do to be doing the works of God?” they clamored.

Jesus replied  with a simple answer that surely bewildered them all.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s it.

Belief is the “work.”

We could unpack that a great deal. Because while belief is simple, it is not easy and it’s definitely not benign. But that’s not my point.

My point is this: The Jesus Way is always a simpler way. 

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We load up our faith with lists and He tears them up.

We load up our salvation with works and He tells us that believing in Him is the work.

We load up our holidays with events and musts and comparison. He reminds us that He came into the world in the humblest of ways — as a helpless, human baby. I can’t think of a simpler way for the Savior of the World to make his entrance into the world.

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We’ll be prone to forget all of this in the coming weeks of busyness, me included. When that happens, simply come back — to your centering practices, to your rest, to your simpler ways, to Jesus.

We’ll all remove some lettuce and begin again.

As we sink into this week of giving thanks, please know how grateful I am for all of you who join me in this space. I get the feeling that you’re as weary as I am from all the “shoulds” and lists. I know that your right-now life is messy and that it feels like someone hit pause on your “hope.”

Let’s un-pause our hope together, shall we? Your right-now life holds unexpected gifts to unwrap. Let’s look for them. I’m so glad to have you along.

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How a 92-Year-Old Woman Taught Me the Real Value of My Right-Now Work

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From January through May I hustled. I got serious about writing. I wrote a series I loved on living in the tension between our right-now lives and our hoped-for work. I set goals and checked important things off the list.

And then summer came. Summer — with her billowy, welcoming arms.

She showed up. My hustle shut down. It was really the best thing for everyone. I let myself be lazy. I let my kids be lazy. We watched Netflix and went swimming and ate lunch whenever we felt like it. I wrote a little bit but mostly I set down the pen and paper and simply received my own summer life. 

I allowed the thoughts to come to the surface and percolate without feeling the pressure to write them down and make sense of them all. And when I did write, I didn’t feel the need to share my words with the world. I steeped in the realities of my right-now life and reflected on the lives of those who have gone before me.The dearly departed whispered things through the summer air and I listened.

I’m still listening.

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For as long as I can remember I have lived in a tug-of-war between vocation and station. By “vocation” I mean career work — teaching, curating, program development, writing — the work I have trained for and been paid actual money to carry out. By “station” I mean my place in life — my roles as wife, mom, and primary keeper of all things home.

For as long as I can remember I have desperately wanted both — a family and meaningful work.

For as long as I can remember I have worried that I wouldn’t be able to have both, that I would have to choose.

And I have. I have made hard choices and I haven’t made them perfectly.

I am still making hard choices.

Back in May, I lost both of my grandparents, Papa and Gigi. After 73 years of marriage, they left this earth just 5 days apart. I realize I’m lucky to have had them as long as I did. At the age of 43, I still had grandparents!

My three siblings and I were their only grandchildren. The four of us decided that I would be the one to compile the grandkids’ thoughts and stories to share at both services. This is what happens when you’re the big sister and you happen to be a writer.

I wrote my Papa’s remembrance in no time. He was a lifelong leader, a WW2 veteran, a teacher, a pastor, and a stand-in father for the fatherless of his community. His funeral service was TWO HOURS because there was so much to say about his life. His service, his vocation, his many roles — they were all lived so publicly. His life touched countless lives. Most of his contemporaries had already passed so I was shocked to see how many people showed up to honor him. His service was standing room only.

Just five days later, I sat down to write my Gigi’s remembrance. I spent hours on it, sobbing through the whole thing and struggling to get the words just right.

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I was a wreck but not because of the grief.

I was a wreck because it was only after her death that I could see her life for what it was.

And it arrested me. It still is.

Here’s an excerpt from what I shared at her service:

Because of her great love – for her Lord, her husband, and her family – she chose, over and over again, to receive a life that perhaps, sometimes, went against the nature of who she was. It’s the one thing I can’t stop thinking about this week.

We don’t elevate this sort of sacrifice much anymore because it flies against our modern sensibilities. We don’t elevate this unyielding devotion to spouse and children and home because women can do so much more than that. And it’s true. We can. Yet she did not choose the path of personal ambition. Instead, she made her family and her home her life’s work.

And because of all that she did, those in her care were able to do all that they did.

I consider myself a modern woman. I have meaningful work in addition to my roles as wife and mother. And while there’s nothing wrong with my other pursuits, reflecting on my Gigi’s life stopped me dead in my tracks. It reoriented me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. She nourished her family with her food and her care. She made a house a true home. She never stopped pouring herself out for her family.

I regret that so many things about her life crystallized in my own mind and heart only now that she’s gone. God has begun to deeply stir some change within me as I consider this woman who poured herself out as a living sacrifice in daily, ordinary ways. She didn’t see her work as menial.

Because she valued those in her care, she valued the tasks required to care for them.

I find this profoundly beautiful and it’s inspired me to embrace certain things I wouldn’t have chosen, to pour out that which I can offer first to my own family, while I still have the opportunity, and to meet Jesus in the daily-ness of laundry and cooking and repetition.

Her life was its own unique liturgy, one that ministers to me even more now that she’s gone.

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It’s only 9:57 on a Monday morning. Here’s what the day has looked like thus far.

  • Got up at an ungodly hour to run with one child who decided to start running! Before school! While it’s still dark!
  • Came home and cooked breakfast because Mondays are hard and breakfast sandwiches make it better.
  • Cleaned out a gross lunchbox and filled it with fresh food to get my high-schooler through her long day of school and after-school practice.
  • Coached one child through a near panic attack.
  • Carried a too-heavy backpack to the minivan and arranged the various to-go beverages in the cup-holders.
  • Kissed my youngest on the head as my husband whisked him off to the elementary school.
  • Prayed out loud and desperately in the minivan because it felt like an extra Monday-ish Monday.
  • Drove one kid to middle school and the other to high school.
  • Set out the chicken for dinner.
  • Made a grocery list even though I was there yesterday. And also the day before.
  • E-mailed the coaches.
  • Spent an hour on the phone with customer service. They shipped my child’s jeans to the wrong address.
  • Completed some paperwork for my actual job.
  • Hauled the trash and recycling to the curb.
  • Ignored the dishes in the sink and the housework all around me because there is work to be done at my computer.
  • Phoned the pediatrician for a new prescription.

 

No one told me that motherhood and homekeeping would be this sexy.

I don’t write out that list to be impressive or to elicit sympathy. Many of you are doing the same sort of gig.

By the time last May rolled around, even though I’d written thousands of words about embracing your right-now life even as you pursue your hoped-for work, I was actually knee deep in resenting my right-then life. I just didn’t realize it. I was complaining, quite a lot if you ask my husband, about the dailyness of dinner and the burden of laundry and the relentlessness of errands.

My family had the distinct impression that they were in the way of what I really wanted to be doing.

I cannot even type that sentence without weeping. These realizations and reckonings have been more painful than I can tell you.

Ever so slowly I had become so zeroed in on my big important goals and my unique gifts and my “right” to run hard after the things that make me come alive, I had neglected the ones who I love more than life itself.

And that’s why I could barely type out my Gigi’s remembrance. It was a watershed moment for me. I went to my husband in tears the night before her funeral, asking him to forgive me —

For the ways I had made the everyday all about me.

For the elevation of my own work over my own people. 

For the ways I had communicated resentment for all the menial tasks that make a family go ’round.

For the ways I had tried to outsource motherhood.

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I have much to say on this topic because this “vocation / station” tension has been a steady struggle for decades, since I was a girl actually. I have zero things figured out. Because I do still believe that it’s fruitful to pursue the things that are life-giving to us as individuals — whether it’s work or painting or training for a marathon or, in my case, writing.

Only you {and your people} can know when a good desire has become an over-desire. Only you {and your people} can determine your pursuits in any given season. I don’t believe there’s ever perfect balance; it will always be trial and error and I will forever be begging for wisdom and grace. It looks different for all of us.

I can only speak for myself but I know, without a doubt, that I had trampled over the needs of others in the pursuit of my own goals. This reckoning has been messy. As a deeply aspirational person, it brings me literal pain to let go.

But I had to accept that while you can outsource your housework and meals and carpooling, you cannot outsource relationship.

Something changed inside of me when I wrote my Gigi’s story. The life she lived is still reorienting me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. It’s been painful but I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I go back time and again to those words I wrote down three months ago.

Because she valued those in her care, she valued the tasks required to care for them.

This has become a mantra for me, words on which I meditate as I dump crumbs from lunch boxes and do the glamorous work of thawing chicken.

After a stint of my boys doing their own laundry for months and failing miserably, I reclaimed the task for now and they are feeling ten shades of loved right now.

With my high school daughter’s schedule and stress level, I told her I’ll make her lunch each morning. Not because she can’t but because I can do these things for her. It’s an intense season of her young life and this is an easy way I can love her and lighten her load.

Nothing has changed since my less-than-enthusiastic attitude in May. If anything my responsibilities at home have increased. But I see it all through a difference lens and it can now feel empowering and affirming instead of denigrating.

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Keeping a home, taking care of others, meeting physical and emotional needs ’round the clock — the everyday isn’t fancy or pin-worthy. You may be killing it as a mom one day and stress-eating Swiss Cake Rolls behind a locked bathroom door the next. You don’t do any of it for the money, the hours, the acclaim, or the gratitude.

I began this post three weeks ago. With so many other tasks before me, I struggled to find the time and energy to finish it. But I need these words today more than I needed them when I began.

As I love those around me through mundane tasks, as I supply their needs day after day, I’m trusting that the God who knows me better than I know myself will supply what I need too. It may not come in the form of a book or finished creative work. It may not come in the form of super successful kids whose academic, athletic, or artistic accolades affirm my sacrifice. It may not even come with me getting any better at running this crazy home and caring for the people in it.

I don’t have any guarantees and neither do you.

But I do have right now and the lens through which I choose to see it. This means I’m more shocked than anyone by the contentment that sometimes comes over me now as I wash the dishes. {Emphasis on “sometimes.”}

This reorienting — it feels like a gift from God. A God who turned himself into a human baby, who turned Galilean water into fine wine, who turned a meager lunch into a feast for thousands.

How ironic that my gifts and longings — the ones He gave me — somehow feel out of his jurisdiction. I realize how small I make God and how big I make myself. How I walk by sight instead of by faith when it’s supposed to be the opposite.

Our God is a God of design and also redesign. I trust him with the “ways I’m wired” but do I trust him with the ways He may want to re-wire me?

I trust him with the divinely inspired work but do I trust him with the divinely interrupted work?

I love these words by Emily Freeman:

Our specific offerings reveal the unique version of our worship, not for the glory of us, but to the glory of God and for the benefit of others.  

From A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live

 

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Yes, our specific offerings do reveal the unique version of our worship. And this is beginning to feel more like art and less like drudgery.

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So to all the weary parents struggling with the dailyness of, well, everything —

To the ones desperately searching for work / life balance —

To those who are changing diapers or running carpool when you’d rather be teaching a class or writing a book —

Know that when you’re feeding and clothing bodies, you’re also caring for souls.

Know that when you pour out your life in thankless ways every day, you are making those around you rich. 

Know that seasons are meant to be received, not rejected.

Know that if you need to set aside some of your own aspirations for a time, you’re creating a spacious place for the souls around you to flourish.

Don’t lose heart or lose hope. This, my friends, is good and sacred work.

In the same way that others trust you to meet their needs, you can trust that the God who created you, who loves you, and who cares for you will also meet yours.

 


I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

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