The Perfect Gift – an Advent series

After an October that should have completely overwhelmed me, I’m amazed to say that this year, the first in three years, I ended the #write31days challenge more excited about writing and blogging than before I began. I can only guess at why, but it definitely seems like God is at work in my heart and, perhaps, my words.

Earlier this week, I talked with my husband about starting another more relaxed series, perhaps looking toward Advent. It’s a little early for me; I typically prefer to keep the Christmas and all its trimmings on hold until after Thanksgiving dinner. I’m realizing, though, that this year will be very different. Due to the continuing upheaval in the state of our house (see Four lessons from a flood and the follow-up, Counting blessings and revealing messes), it seems silly to even think about Christmas decorations – there’s just no room in this mess! Combine that with other circumstances which mean we will most likely not spend Thanksgiving or Christmas with family, and I’m realizing that Christmas needs to happen in my heart this year or it may not seem to happen at all.

And then this gem of a song and You Tube video appears in my inbox. JJ Heller is one of my favorites (and her smile is contagious!). The song was just released today and you can buy it on iTunes. I immediately knew this song would be my theme for this Advent season.

Have we forgotten, we need some sorting out? Clear our minds; we will find what the story is all about…

Do we remember the wonders of His love? Will our voices join with the chorus up above?
Do we remember how on that silent night there was a baby who came to recall us back to life?

Instead of focusing on the gifts to be bought or exchanged, the decorations with which to deck the halls, the tinsel and lights and Hallmark movies, I want to highlight the Savior, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those under the law. Would you join me here every week from now until Christmas for another reminder of the wonders of His love? Together, let’s explore this Perfect Gift, given for you, given for me.

He was the Perfect Gift. He came to bring us peace. Holy Child, our King.

The Perfect Gift - an Advent series

~~~

I’m linking up with Simply Beth for Three Word Wednesday:

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Day 23: God’s grace is greater than my sin

I’d like to take you back in time a couple of years to share something I wrote on the weekend of Easter 2011.

candles

Friday night, minutes before the start of the Good Friday Gathering, Tom and I had a minor disagreement. Not even that, just a miscommunication really. He had to serve & the Gathering was about to begin, so we had to just drop it. Thanks to modern technology, we texted things out over the next 10 minutes and everything was fine by the time the service began.

But…

In the moments before that 10 minute window, I wallowed. My husband doesn’t care. Doesn’t he know I am already having a hard time with other issues and then he throws this at me? Around me I heard friends visiting with one another cheerily. No one cares. I am alone. It only took seconds before I saw the absurdity of my thoughts. How small and selfish and vain my heart is. In that instant, I was broken. Here I came to remember the suffering, agony, and shame that Jesus Christ experienced dying on the cross for the sins of the world, and here I proved yet again, why he died for me. I can’t even come to church and not sin! The truth rang loudly:  nothing I do is ever good enough, nothing I bring is ever worthy enough, nothing I say is powerful enough to forgive my sins, to cleanse me of the blood-guilt.

Here grace steps in. God, in his grace, offers me what I do not deserve and could never earn. God generously gives his son, the only one perfect sacrifice, to pay the debt I owe for my vile actions. Jesus willingly allowed himself to be crucified, for me. He rose again from the dead, for me.

This blows me away.

Bianca Olthoff posted (in 2011) about grace, at her blog, In the Name of Love. I would like you to watch this video she posted, and I encourage you to check out her blog (I’ve lost the link to her original post).

 

What hit me like a ton of bricks was his sentence, “I cannot pay my debt,” and the realization that my debt is as great as this man’s. No less atrocious in the eyes of a holy, pure, and righteous God. And I, too, am forgiven.

Doesn’t that just blow your mind?!

~~~

I’m reposting this today as part of the #write31days series, Crushing your Kingdoms. Click to read all posts in the series.

crushing your kingdoms

Day 6: Stop Building on Sand

If you grew up in the church, you may recognize that story as the parable of the wise man and the foolish man. Read the words of Jesus:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his hoDay 6: Stop Building on Sanduse on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.  — Matthew 7:24-27

Building kingdoms in our own strength or on our own foundations will leave us standing alone, cold and wet. They will fall around us when life gets hard or trials come.

I love urban explorer (urbex) photography, like Niki Feijen,  Chris Luckhardt, and Detroiturbex. I recently stumbled across a series of photographs of abandoned Six Flags New Orleans, which was flooded during Hurricane Katrina. It was originally built on swamp land and is a low-lying area, so the entire property was under water for nearly a month after the hurricane hit.

Katrina Killed the Coaster by Keoni Cabral via Creative Commons license 2.0

When we build our kingdoms on foundations that aren’t stable, whether sand or swamp, we run into similar problems. Growth isn’t sustainable. The first “storm” that hits, sends things crumbling into ruin.

Stop building on sand. Build the foundation of your life and kingdom on the rock, that is, Christ Jesus.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, — Psalm 46:1-2

What areas have you been building on a shaky foundation in your life? Repent and start building on the rock.

Go back, if you missed Day 5.

crushing your kingdoms

Day 30: Rest in Your Mess

Photo credit: Jennifer @ http://www.jenbh.blogspot.com/

I’m a mess.

I stay up too late at night so I’m groggy and cranky when the alarm goes off – IF I hear the alarm go off. I run late – EVERY.WHERE. I lost a lot of weight, got new clothes, then gained the weight back and now nothing fits right. I put off emptying the dishwasher until the sink is full of dishes. “Luckily?,” I have a cat who can’t get it through her thick skull that she’s not allowed on the kitchen counters, so I have to keep the counters clean or she’d be licking anything left on the counter. I nag and complain and am rude to my husband when I think he should be home helping me clean. I get sidetracked by Facebook or Pinterest or blog reading instead of doing something constructive. I procrastinate. I’m jealous. I get angry. I covet my neighbor’s…well, everything.

Let’s just stop there for now. I could go on, but we all get the point – I’m a mess.

You’re a mess, too. I don’t mean to sound rude, but you know it’s true. Even if you don’t let anyone see it, you know it.

We are all messes. That should actually be comforting. Because God meets us in our mess – we don’t have to clean up our act before He wants us or before He will accept us. Romans 5:6-8 says:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Weak = messes. Sinners = messes.

We don’t have to hide our messes from one another in community, though, pretending we are already perfect. God is perfecting us as we grow closer to Him, but we’ll never be absolutely perfect this side of eternity. Pretending to be so is really only adding to the mess.

Be willing to show your mess to your friends. Be real about your mess in community. It only creates more opportunity for grace to abound (Romans 5-6) or, as Mary DeMuth put it, it’s where grace will find a home.

Rest in your mess because God shows His love for you in your mess. Then grow in grace, releasing more and more of your mess into His hands, allowing Him to work in you. My prayer for you from Philippians 1:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace…And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Can you believe it’s Day 30 of the series on Rest?

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Day 25: Truth to Rest Upon

Yesterday, I let you peek inside a dark corner of my heart. And thank you to everyone who commented, both on the blog and off.

Secret Garden

What was purposefully missing was the wrap up. The promises. The blessings. The hope. And I was so encouraged that so many of the comments brought those to light.

God is always with us. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.

Everyone feels alone at some time. Our sin which separates us from God, also separates us from each other.

Comparing ourselves to others comes from hearts prone to sin. Hearts that are deceitful and don’t tell us the truth.

There is grace for when we fail others. There is grace when we fail ourselves. There is grace when we fail God.

Light inside the garden

These are truths to rest upon.

What other truths of God do you need to rest on right now?

Today is day 25 of 31 Days of Rest. If you missed any days, click here to go back to the beginning.

Day 16: A Letter to You (yes, you)

Dear Faithful Blog Readers (and anyone who ended up here because you clicked a common tag OR searched for a random phrase or word on Google and clicked over OR are spammers who keep trying to leave comments on my photos in foreign languages):

Welcome (all but you last creeps. Ok, creeps is too strong and you are welcome if you promise to read the post before you leave your spammy comment which I promise to not read).

Three things are very clear tonight.

  1. I am in a little bit of a silly mood.
  2. My high school letter writing technique of an abundance of parentheses is back.
  3. This post is not about rest (or is it?).

I started a post, trashed it, started another post, trashed it, got lost in my friend’s blog for awhile, checked Facebook, and here we are.

The 31 Days of Rest series is really difficult, especially when I’ve been running to the edges with life, leaving very thin margins, going to bed late and getting up early, and spending almost every evening at the computer working on the blog and other job-like tasks (but they’re all volunteer-based). My weekends have been filled with trying to get caught up. And I watched one 2 hour tv movie last Sunday and then felt like I wasted all this time, not because I thought that was too much tv, but because I have so much to do!

Yesterday, I didn’t post about rest, because I wanted to spend some time promoting Mary DeMuth’s new book. But, Monday? I took Monday off on purpose. There were a few other deadlines that had to be met. I had a little bit of reading to finish up before Lead School at 6am Tuesday morning. I wanted needed to get to bed early (which didn’t quite happen, but it was earlier than most of the month). At some point in the evening, I made the conscious decision to abandon my post (haha, get it?) and take the night off as far as the series was concerned.

The pressure to write meaningful posts is huge this month. I started with so many amazing comments from so many of you (including my awesome mom) about how much a series on rest would minister to you or to others. But, I’m not Ann Voskamp, Mary DeMuth, Lisa-Jo Baker, Emily Freeman, Sarah Markley…(whoops, I got sidetracked trying to figure out other amazing writers that I know. And yes, I left out a TON). When I try to write serious posts, I end up sounding a little bit phony (at least to myself), because – HELLO – I don’t have any of this crap figured out. I’m screwing stuff up on a daily basis. Like I said earlier, I’m trying to write about rest and not getting any of it myself this month.

I mentioned having a reading assignment for Lead School. For this Christian high school and college graduate, Lead School is kind of a refresher course in all things apologetics. Sort of. Not exactly.  But a little bit. This explains it better. It reminds me of some of my Bible classes, only this time I want to be there. There, that may be the perfect description.

This week’s class was on the Gospel. The main takeaway that has stuck with me for the past 40+ hours, is that our response to the Gospel is not a “one and done” event. We are saved only once. But we should be continually preaching the Gospel to ourselves and each other daily. What that means in light of my concerns over rest and writing the most amazing blog post that will refresh your spirit is this (and even here I may mess this up):

I have been saved by the grace of God, which gives me pardon and forgiveness that I did not/do not deserve. Even without deserving it, God gave it anyway. Jesus willingly gave up his life to pay the punishment that my wrongdoing did/does deserve. I have been adopted into the family of God. I am no longer a slave to sin; I am a child of God. I am freed from having to perform perfectly to be accepted, to be seen as valuable. I need to remind myself again that I write to glorify Him using the gifts I’ve been given. It is not to impress others. It is not because God needs me to spread the message of his grace. It is not to win accolades or fame or a book deal. Out of my love for God, as puny and weak as it is, I want to share this Gospel with others. In reminding you of the Gospel, I remind myself.

Come to think of it, I guess if we’re looking for somewhere to rest, the Gospel is about the safest place there is.

What do you know, today was day 16 of 31 Days of Rest. I didn’t expect we’d end up here when I began. Huh.
Tune in next time, when you never know what I’ll say. 🙂

Them, there, are Virginia mountains, them are.

Where were you 15 years ago?

1998_TJ2

Today, Tom and I celebrate 15 years of marriage. Wow, how exciting is that!?!

When it came time to plan our wedding, I knew I didn’t want to get hit with anything, like rice or birdseed, so we opted for a balloon release instead. The idea was that as we went by everyone would release their balloons in a cascade of balloons. Then Tom and I had a trash bag full of them to release ourselves as a big finale.

It would be so beautiful.

1998_TJ3

What we underestimated were the vindictive natures of our closest friends and family.

Instead a gentle balloon release, we were pummeled with the balloons as we raced by trying to escape. I think the pictures say it well. Tom ended up shielding me from the brunt of most of the blows. 🙂

Good times. Good times.

I’ve previously shared on the blog the two-part story of how Tom proposed, and you know how I love weddings. But, rather than go through the sappy details of our wedding, I have a different idea to celebrate our anniversary today.

I would love to hear from you. 

1998_TJ4

In chatting with a friend who celebrated a birthday yesterday, I realized that he was 10 years old when we got married.

It got me to thinking.

Where were you 15 years ago? How old were you or what were you doing in August of 1998? Did something significant happen in your life in the fall of ’98?

Would you celebrate with us today by sharing your story in the comments?

1998_TJ5

I can’t wait to read them!

And to Tom, at first like a big brother, then best friend, and now lover, thank you for the past 15 years. I can’t wait to see what God does in our lives in the next 15!

Much love, Your LBM

(and to this day, no one has guessed what LBM stands for)

Okay, it’s your turn. Tell me your stories!

Take a stab at LBM if you want, but keep it clean. Best guesses ever: Lip Burnin’ Mama and Love Butter Monkey! 😀

What Broken Looks Like

Ugh, seriously, Lisa-Jo? Broken? I’ve been trying to write about being broken all week. Since my story needs more than 5 minutes for the whole, here, in 5 minutes, is a glimpse at what broken looked like for me last week:

Broken is…

On Day Two of a weeklong commitment, turning to your husband and declaring, “I’m done. I’m ready to go home.”

Facedown on your bed, silent tears streaming out, leaving makeup smudges on the sheets. Those smudges serve as reminders of the depths for the rest of the week.

Broken is…

Heart pouring out to God, declaring utter helplessness, complete desperation and total failure to handle things on your own.

Daily tears, daily surrendering self to God again. And again. And again.

Broken is…

Getting smacked in the face with temptation, seemingly out of the blue. You didn’t even see it coming and yet, HELLO – wouldn’t you like to give this a try? (correct answer = no).

Running to your heavenly Father in complete abandon, throwing yourself on his extravagant grace to see you through each moment of every day.

Broken is…

admitting to yourself that you are not your own Savior. That the thing you desire is not your Savior. That the person who means the most to you is not your Savior.

Broken is…

relying on grace.

——

Whew. Broken is hard.

Can you tell this is just the tip of the iceberg? If/when I get a more complete post on brokenness and how it happened with me at camp this year, I’ll add the link here.

Want to read more FMF posts about Broken? Check out Lisa-Jo Baker’s Facebook page. I guess her blog is broken, how apropos. 

early spring tree

Stepping Out of Your Skin

Black Dragon

Photo credit: akunite_reqium_sol (Creative Commons)

It’s time for some serious scab-picking. Yup, gross. Stick with me.

The nicest visualization I can think of comes from C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of The Dawn Treader. Eustace Scrubb, a most annoying, spoiled boy has managed to become a dragon. I know, right? If you don’t know how that easily that could happen, please read the book.

On the last night before everyone else will be forced to leave him behind, Eustace finds himself confronted by a lion. Not just any lion, mind you, it’s Aslan himself. Aslan tells him that he must scrape off the dragon skin to become a boy again. Eustace takes his dragon claws and scrapes. It hurts a little; but continuing on, he eventually steps out and sees a full, ugly, scaly dragon skin lying on the ground. What a relief! But, wait! He catches his reflection in a pool and – he’s still a dragon! He starts scraping again; this time it’s deeper and more painful, with an even nastier skin left behind. He looks into the pond again and despairs to see a dragon still looking back at him.

Finally, Aslan moves forward. He gently offers to do the scraping, but warns that it will hurt even more than before. Eustace agrees. And C. S. Lewis describes an agonizing ordeal that burns and aches, rendering the boy tender and exposed to the core. Then Aslan scoops him up and tosses him into the water which first burns, then cools and soothes. When Eustace emerges, he is a boy again.

(Seriously, go to your library, find the book and read this passage. It’s moving. The movie did a fair job with the effects on this scene; but it’s still better in the book.)

God’s been moving in my heart in good and painful ways. There are scaly layers of pain, grime and the crust of the world on me. It took me finally facing my dragonness to fully acknowledge that I needed to scrape away these layers. But in my feeble strength, I only flicked away a surface layer of filth. It hurt. A little. Perhaps my pride was most wounded. Trying harder did little more.

Now, by faith, with prayer, I give up. It’s time to allow God to do the scraping. It’s agony at times. I keep wanting to take the job back on myself. I do pull away and have to submit yet again to what hurts but ultimately brings healing. Hopefully in the future I will find the boldness to share more of this story.

Where are you? Do you find yourself still comfortable where you are? Are you trying to clean yourself up in your own strength? Or are you with me in the agonizing pulling away of dead flesh, waiting for the newness to come? No matter where you are in the process, your strength is not enough. Turn to God and ask him to help you.

Day 5: When The Pain Won’t Stop

Pain that cannot forget
falls drop by drop
upon the heart
until in our despair
there comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

– Aeschylus

Why is there pain? Why do certain people live with pain every day of their lives? Why are others spared that gnawing ache? (more…)

  • Hi, I'm Janice. I'm part bookworm and part creative. I love both science and music (and the science of music). I'm stumbling around trying to grow closer to God. Click the photo to read more about me.

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