My Favorite Christmas Tradition

My Favorite Christmas Tradition.png

The following post originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of the Church of God Evangel in a segment called “Viewpoints.” The prompt was to talk about a Christmas experience that has made a lasting impact on my life. For the sake of clarity and consistency, below is the edited version as it appears in the original publication.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:1, 4-5, NIV

I love the way John tells the Christmas story. Sure, it’s missing the angels and shepherds and star, but John’s version gives us so much more, in a way.

The miraculous birth of Christ is an amazing story, but what is even more amazing is that it began long before that night in Bethlehem. It began long before the angel visited Mary, before Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, even before Adam and Eve.

“In the beginning,” John tells us, before anything else existed, there was Light. Not the physical kind that was created on the first day, but a metaphysical kind, “the light of all mankind,” which allows us to see not just what is in front of us, but to see God himself.

In the beginning, God had a plan to reveal himself to humanity through the Light. On that first Christmas, the Light entered our darkness in the form of a baby boy. As The Message puts it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (v.14). Christ came to us, waded deep into our mess, and brought us hope we never could have found on our own. That’s what Christmas is to me – light and hope where there was none before.

That’s also my favorite way to celebrate Christmas: bringing light and hope where there was none before. This year I will share my fifth Christmas reaching out to women in the adult entertainment industry. It’s not the only time I visit them; my friends and I take gifts and treats on every major holiday and several times in between, sharing love and friendship with those often hurt or ignored by the church.

I believe if Jesus were walking around our “neighborhood” in 2016, he would be leading the way through those doors to reach the people who don’t feel wanted, worthy, or good enough to approach him.

When I think about the darkness in our world, there aren’t many things that come to mind so quickly as the sex industry. Every day across the globe, millions of women, men, and children are sold for sex or adult entertainment, either by a pimp, trafficker, or – like many of my friends – by their own choice. The spiritual darkness is even darker than the literal dimness of the clubs I walk into, and it can feel overwhelming. In those moments I turn to John 1, where I am assured the light of Christ “shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (v. 5, NLT).

Christmas is my favorite time to visit my friends, because as we carry that light into the darkness of the sex industry, I picture Jesus entering our dark world, illuminating truth and hope for all.

To Love Me Well… Love My Children

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How can I have a relationship with a God I can’t see?

Last week we celebrated my son’s 6th birthday. The party was more than a month after his actual birthday, but he insisted on having a bounce house and sprinklers, so a belated celebration it was. We settled on Memorial Day weekend with an inflatable water slide that turned our backyard into a swamp suitable for Yoda to train young Jedi warriors, but hey, it was fun, right??

We hosted a gaggle of children in addition to my own crew, all precious to my Sweet Prince. However, the ones who stole my heart weren’t there for the water slide. Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get some play time in…

These two may have been the wettest of the bunch, but there were others who showed up to love my boy with wicked Nerf guns and Pokémon cards before they went about their adulting business. Yes, these special guests are grown men and women, not related to us, no kids of their own, with nothing obligating them to a 6-year-old’s birthday party when they could totally be out doing grown-up things like driving motorcycles or whitewater rafting or shopping for appliances… And yet they came.

They come over and over again, week after week, year after year. They come to birthday parties, preschool graduations, and over for dinner when my socialite 8-year-old begs for “company.” They make Play Doh creations, give us special treatment when we visit them at work (Chick-fil-A, of course), teach the kids’ classes at church, and model a life that is following Jesus. They simply love my children, and in turn, they are loving me.

Love me well

One of the great mysteries of faith is the idea of loving a being which we cannot experience with our 5 senses. Certainly we can connect with the divine in less tangible ways – the work and power of the spiritual realm is often misunderstood and vastly underrated by the exhibitionism of the internet age – but aside from recognizable theophanies, interacting with an invisible God can feel like explaining Pinterest to your great-grandmother… Where do you even begin??

Jesus was once posed a similar question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

The Pharisees get a bad rap for being the bad guys in the Gospels, but truth be told, the whole Pharisaical movement was born out of that one question: how can I have a relationships with a God I can’t see? 

Seeking to understand the Mosaic traditions of Judaism in their contemporary context, the Pharisees wanted to shift the focus of Hebrew worship from temple sacrifice to personal study and prayer. Their endless lists of rules missed the heart of the Law, to be certain, but ultimately, they were asking the same questions we are. Their answer landed on legalism; Jesus pointed to loving people. 

Love my children

To anyone who is a parent, it should come as no surprise that the best way for us to love God is to love his children – each other. He spent over half of the Ten Commandments (plus the majority of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that you never read because it feels rote) telling us how to respect one another, and the critiques of literally every minor prophet in the Old Testament boil down to Israel failing to care for the needs of her most vulnerable people groups.

Jesus’ entire ministry is devoted to loving God’s children. His miracles may be symbolic of large-scale principles, but let’s not forget they were still worked through individuals. He saw the needs right in front of him, and then he met them. We ought to take that as lesson #1 of “How to Be Like Jesus.” In Matthew 25, he gives us this familiar parable:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

If I had the job of writing section subheadings in the Bible, this one would be, “Jesus Tells Us How We Can Love a God We Can’t See.” It’s so simple: love his people.

We are created to live in community, and family is both the primary foundation of community and the primary vehicle through which God demonstrates his relationship to us and vice versa. We are most moved when others minister to our children, therefore, so is God.

If you are new to following Jesus, or if you’re considering it but not sure where to start, look to the greatest commandments – the second answers the “how” of the first! Love God, and love your neighbor. Look at the needs right in front of you, and meet them. Mentor a kid. Help someone who is struggling. Visit someone who is alone. Feed someone who is hungry. Get involved in community. That’s where the magic happens, because that’s where God’s heart is.

God is saying to us now, To love me well… Love my children.

Lying in the Dust

from passion city church instagram

from passion city church instagram

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.”

Psalm 68:19

That was the YouVersion verse of the day on Sunday. When I opened my app in church, I breathed in these words with a deep sigh and closed my eyes. I need to be held today. 

I noticed this verse was already highlighted in my app, and it turns out I highlighted and shared this very same verse on Instagram 52 weeks ago. One year ago. Today.

That was the day I lost my 5th child.

Don’t Give Up

It actually started nearly 6 weeks earlier when I learned I was pregnant. I had been assured that after 3 healthy, uneventful pregnancies before, the loss of my 4th child in March was surely “a fluke,” just one of the 1-in-4 pregnancies that end in miscarriage. We did not plan to conceive again so soon after a loss, but God has always seemed to take the lead in our family planning, so I was overjoyed at this gift. I immediately went to the OB for bloodwork as a precautionary measure. A few days later they called to say my progesterone was low, so I gladly started on prescription supplements.

A week later I went back to the doctor to repeat my bloodwork and ensure the medicine was working. I felt great physically and emotionally, so I didn’t worry one bit about it. One morning I ventured to the grocery story with all 3 of my young’uns – ages 2, 4 and 6 – in tow. We loaded up in a cart and had barely made it in the door when my phone rang. I didn’t even look at who it was before I answered.

“Hello, this is Nurse from Dr. So-and-So’s office. We got the results of your bloodwork, and the numbers went up, but not enough to feel good about it. So, you know, this pregnancy just isn’t viable, so we need you to come in tomorrow for a D&C. I can put you in at 9:00, or…”

I stopped in my tracks, stunned not only by her message but the completely casual tone in her voice, as though we were talking about having a wart removed.

“Uh, no,” I interrupted. “I’m not doing a D&C. You just said my numbers went up.”

The nurse sounded incredulous that a patient would actually stand up for herself and not just blindly do whatever she was told. “Oh… Uh, well, they did go up, but you see it wasn’t enough, so it’s going to miscarry. We need you to go ahead and do the D&C because Dr. So-and-So is going on vacation, so he won’t be around to…”

“NO.” I said firmly. “I said I’m not doing it. I’ll come back in tomorrow at 9 to repeat my lab work. Goodbye.”

I hung up the phone and just stood there in the middle of ALDI’s entrance for a moment. I don’t know if my kids were staring at me or climbing on boxes of food or what. The whole world stood still. All of a sudden I turned around and walked back out of the store. “Come on,” I told the kids. “We’re not shopping today. We have to go.”

I packed them in the car as calmly as I could. I don’t remember breathing at all. We immediately drove to the church where my husband worked. When we got there, our church administrator came to the door. I said I need to see Jeremy right away, and she said of course. “Here, let me take the kids,” she said as she swept them into the church nursery and put on a movie. That simple gesture of helping without my having to ask, without knowing what was wrong – that meant the world to me, and I will never forget it.

I don’t remember how Jeremy made it to the foyer. I just remember collapsing onto a bench and weeping. It was several minutes before I told him what the nurse had said, but it didn’t take him that long to figure it out. We didn’t talk. We sat on the bench and held each other and cried for what seemed like forever. Finally my husband said, “So, what do you want to do?”

I spoke without trembling for the first time since I hung up the phone. “I don’t want to give up.”

Medical Un-necessity

The next few weeks were a roller coaster. More like a series of roller coasters, or maybe a whole theme park strung together in the most dramatic and paradoxical sequence imaginable. I went to the OB every other day for labs. I had a couple of ultrasounds. I never once saw my doctor.

On the off days from getting my blood drawn, I would get phone calls from Heartless Nurse who thought I was being obtuse to hope in the life of my child rather than submitting to an unnecessary surgical procedure. She would tell me that my numbers went up again, but still not enough. I would tell her my God is greater. It seemed like I could hear her rolling her eyes through the phone.

Just before Dr. So-and-So left town, I convinced him (over the phone) to order an ultrasound if my hCG level reached a certain number. He agreed, and we spent the weekend praying for that number. Our family and close friends joined us in fasting for that one number. We came up just shy of it, but they still did the ultrasound. The technician wasn’t able to see enough to determine health or gestation, but she did see something that looked like an embryo in my uterus. A few minutes later we met with Dr. So-and-So’s partner, who both he and many friends of mine have said is the best. I was thrilled to finally sit with a doctor who could see that good things were happening.

“You need to do this D&C as soon as possible,” she said. “It’s for your safety. This pregnancy could be ectopic (tubal) and if it ruptures then you will need emergency surgery.”

My heart sunk, not because I was scared of the possibilities, but because the doctor seemed so determined to do this procedure after I had just seen an embryo on that ultrasound screen. “I don’t understand why this is a concern,” I retorted. “We just saw the baby on the ultrasound, so we know it’s not ectopic.”

The doctor picked up my ultrasound chart and slapped it back on the table. “This means nothing to me,” she huffed.

Tears welled up as I told her about my faith in God and in this child. I was praying for a miracle, and I wasn’t giving up.

She literally rolled her eyes at me. “Well, I guess I can’t force you to do it, but you need to know it is my strong, professional, medical opinion that this procedure is necessary, but you have a right to decline my professional advice. Just promise you’ll come to the ER if you have any abdominal pain at all.”

I nodded and left her office.

Faith Hurts

You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.”

Psalm 119:114

I’ve mentioned before that my husband and I felt a great deal of spiritual anticipation at the beginning of 2014 regarding big things that were in store for our family. Around that time I also felt God leading me to fast for a miracle. This isn’t necessarily a strange thing, as fasting is a spiritual discipline taught by Jesus himself and which every believer should practice. It was weird to me, though, because I’ve never considered myself very “good” at fasting. I have done it, and that’s fine, but I never seemed to get much out of it. I wasn’t terribly concerned about that until the Lord specifically told me to fast, so I figured I should learn more about it. I borrowed some really helpful books from my pastor and studied the scriptures. The unusual part about my call to fast is that while God told me there would be a miracle, he didn’t bother to say what the miracle would be.

I was still trying to learn and figure all this out when I got that first call from Heartless Nurse. I thought I needed to figure everything out to do it “right,” but when I got that news, nothing else mattered. I began a modified Daniel fast (basically, I didn’t eat any bread, sugar, or meat for 10 days) right away. I knew what my miracle was. God wanted to save my baby.

Over the weeks that I journeyed through all the doctor visits and bad reports, I was also on a spiritual journey wherein God increased my faith beyond what I had ever imagined. I spent more time in the Word than ever before. Every second I could possibly break away – early in the morning, late at night, nap time, while the kids watched a movie, any time I could get a moment of quiet – I was reading the Bible and searching for hope in the scriptures. God consistently led me to scriptures and stories of faith and miracles. I was connected with family and friends and complete strangers who shared their own stories of miraculous pregnancies and affirmed my faith. I visited my PCP for a sinus infection, and the Nurse Practitioner cried and prayed with me when she heard my story.

In the face of all the doubt and discouragement from my doctor, I was filled with faith and hope from every other source in my life. It was the most exciting time in my entire life, truly expecting greatness from the God who is able…

…But then He didn’t

On Tuesday, June 17, 2014, I started bleeding. No pain or cramps or other symptoms of a miscarriage, so I reminded myself who is the Giver of Life, and I continued praying and believing. That weekend my husband and I took a short trip to a bed & breakfast in Gatlinburg for our anniversary. We went to Cades Cove on Saturday, and in one of the little churches on the Cove I found an old hymnal open to this page:

I Believe Hymn

Despite the obvious circumstances, I was full of faith when we returned home Saturday night.

Then came Sunday morning, June 22. It was my brother’s birthday. There’s something about birthdays… My husband left early for church, as usual, so I was rushing around trying to get everyone ready for church. I was scheduled to serve in the nursery, so I had to be early. I need to remember to call my brother. The kids all want something different for breakfast. I’ve just got to fix my hair…

I was walking across my bedroom when I felt it. Something came out, but not completely. My heart stopped for a moment and suddenly I couldn’t breathe. When I miscarried in March, I asked God to allow me to see my baby so I would know for sure this was it, and he granted that request. That tiny baby looked exactly like a 6-week-old fetus (technically zygote), and that moment with my teeny tiny little one brought me so much comfort.

This time was not like that. I reached down and pulled out what I had felt. I was horrified. It was a jumbled mass of tissue and blood vessels that honestly terrified me. My husband was gone, my kids were in the other room, I had no idea what to do. I was so shocked by what I saw, I wanted to take it to my doctor’s appointment the next day to have it tested in Pathology. It was the only thing that made sense to me in that moment. What is it EMTs do when someone loses a limb? Don’t they freeze it? That seems extreme… Maybe it just needs to be cold?? I placed it on a tissue while I got dressed, then I got a plastic Ziploc bag and put it in the refrigerator.

I called my best friend and told her I had an emergency and needed her to cover for me in the nursery. She didn’t ask questions but immediately agreed. More of those little things that others did for me to show me grace in my time of need. I called my mom. I was flustered. I know I didn’t make any sense. I didn’t know why I was calling, I just didn’t want to be alone in that moment.

My parents came over and took my kids to church. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to be alone, so I got ready and went on to church. I was late, so I sat in the balcony. My parents sat with me.

Our worship team sang the gospel hymn “My Life Is In Your Hands” :

You don’t have to worry / And don’t you be afraid

Joy comes in the morning / Troubles they don’t last always

For there’s a friend in Jesus / Who will wipe your tears away

And if your heart is broken / Just lift your hands and say

Oh, I know that I can make it / I know that I can stand

No matter what may come my way / My life is in your hands”

Honestly, I was furious. I sat there in the balcony silently crying tears of anger and betrayal.

As confused as I was by what I had seen, as much as I felt in shock, the one thing I knew was that my pregnancy was over. I had lost my baby, or whatever was left of him. All that prayer. All that faith. All that believing. And here I am looking like a fool. I was so angry with God for the miracle he didn’t do.

Healing… slowly

The next day I went to the doctor and brought along my “specimen.” They did an ultrasound to confirm there was no remaining tissue in my uterus. Bloodwork confirmed that the numbers were no longer rising incrementally but had drastically fallen to almost zero. I still never once saw my own doctor.

That afternoon I sat on my patio during my usual time in the Word and just stared at my Bible. I was so broken, I didn’t even know where to start. I turned to the only scripture I could think of – the only prayer my wounded heart could utter:

I lie in the dust.

Revive me by your word.”

Psalm 119:25

I lie in the dust. I felt so crushed, so helpless, so frustrated, and yes, still angry. I poured out my heart to God. I cried and screamed and told him how humiliated I felt that he let me down. Honestly, I didn’t want to do this anymore. I wanted to give up. I wasn’t shy about it. God was right here with me, so he knew how I felt; there’s no sense trying to hide it. I was so mad. Over the next few weeks, I wept bitter tears nearly every day as I cried out to God. But I kept crying to him. Because even in my brokenness, I knew he was with me.

I will bless the LORD who guides me;

even at night my heart instructs me.

I know the LORD is always with me.

I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is filled with joy,

and my mouth shouts his praises!

My body rests in safety.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead

or allow your godly one to rot in the grave.

You will show me the way of life,

granting my the joy of your presence

and the pleasures of living with you forever.”

Psalm 16:7-11

No matter how angry I was, how broken I felt, no matter how much I wanted to walk away, I couldn’t because I know the truth. The truth is that God is good, and his plan is so much bigger and better than anything I could imagine for myself. Even when I didn’t want him there, God never left me. And he will never leave you.

There is joy in the presence of the Lord. You don’t always have to feel happy or like everything is going right. Because sometimes, it’s just not. Sometimes, you are sad and things are a mess. Sometimes you are standing there in the middle of the wreckage of your life, and you don’t even know where to start picking up the pieces. And he is there, and there is joy in knowing that he is with you.

I’m still on my journey of healing. I’m expecting a healthy baby boy in 6 1/2 weeks, and while his existence does not erase the hurt of my losses, he is my constant reminder to joy in the presence of the Lord. A few months ago, on my birthday, I shared with you as I mourned the loss of my 4th child. That day, in the midst of our grief, my husband and I chose a name for our son that means “Jehovah’s gift.” This gift in my womb is kicking and rolling now as I type, and with every flutter and punch, I hear the Lord whispering to me, “I am here.”

My friend, he is here. And he is there, with you. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know the point of the journey I have been on, but I have learned to experience joy even in the midst of pain and to trust the goodness and love of a Savior I don’t always understand. I am not alone. You are not alone. You are never alone. Each day he carries us in his arms.

I love you. I need you.

I waited patiently for the LORD to help me,

and he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair,

out of the mud and mire.

He set my feet on solid ground

and steadied me as I walked along.

He has given me a new song to sing,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see what he has done and be amazed.

They will put their trust in the LORD.”

Psalm 40:1-3

New Beginnings // Painful Endings

new beginnings tobymac

from TobyMac Facebook page

Today is a new beginning. But it kinda hurts.

Early in December, 2004, a 19-year-old college sophomore and her fiancé walked into a new church. (Okay, it was me, so we can drop the third person speak now.) We were looking for a church home to call “ours” as we transitioned into our new life together. We had heard that an old family friend had recently become pastor of this church, so we stopped in to visit.

That morning service included a drummer with 80’s hair and 80’s rocker gloves, a worship parody of a secular song, some awkward moments and imperfections. It also included a hug and kiss from an elderly woman who immediately treated us like her grandkids, a brief conversation with a man who told us how much he loved this church, an apology from the girl sitting behind us regarding that worship parody, an immediate invitation to get plugged in to serving, and lunch with that new pastor and his goofy 8-year-old son who immediately won our hearts.

We were home.

A few months later we were married on that stage. We were invited to start a brand new ministry for pre-teens, and to be honest, I didn’t want to do it. That age is so… Okay, do you remember being 11? Yeah, THAT. But God immediately gave us a heart for those kids, and one extra special kid to make every Sunday with them worth it. Then we were invited to join the staff part-time as Children’s Pastors, another role I didn’t think we were quite suited for, but God knew what he was doing. We fell in love with those kids and our time with them. Some of my favorite ministry moments involve grape juice boxes and Ritz crackers, teaching K-4th graders about communion.

Then the Lord and our pastor invited us on what has proven to be the most remarkable journey of our lives when, in February of 2007, my husband left his job to enter full-time ministry as the youth pastor at “our” church. I’ll never forget that first Wednesday when we introduced ourselves and overhearing a couple of students talking about me, saying, “I think she’ll be AWFUL.” I smiled and stepped into the conversation, assuring them I would only be as awful as they forced me to be. Those students captured my heart and became some of the closest, most valuable relationships we have had in our ministry.

Jeremy and I have been through a lot with this church body. We have seen probably hundreds of students filter through our doors over the years, some flitting in and out for lock-ins and retreats while others endured the blessings and curses of a small-ish youth group. Those enduring ones worked alongside us to grow and develop the group. They welcomed accountability and discipleship and “became their own evangelists,” a phrase I recently heard as a scoffing remark at the impossibility of getting students to do so. Some were overwhelmed by the challenges and gave up. Some wrestled with their faith and came through stronger. Some graduated, moved away, and lost touch. Some are my best friends today.

We have spent countless hours with teenagers on mission trips, service projects, retreats, conferences, Wednesday services, driving for 956,324 hours to the beach, playing basketball at the Civic Center, drinking coffee at Panera Bread with my baby in tow, and spending off-campus lunches at the church. I do not regret one single hour.

Our teens were hungry for the Word and begged Jeremy to start an extra Bible study outside the usual church times. They were the biggest supporters of an off-campus community outreach we started to “adopt a block” in our city and love on that neighborhood. Some of them continued that ministry when other obligations forced us to step out of it. Teenage girls have knitted scarves and made jewelry and stuffed goody bags for me to deliver to my friends in the strip clubs, and they have done so with such love and tenderness and never an ounce of judgment. Our teens started their own Bible studies and outreach projects we have been honored to support. They have made us so proud.

Our pastor trusted us completely with the students in his church, including his own son. He allowed us to try things that were out of the box – some worked, others didn’t – and he had our backs when criticism inevitably arose. He is an incredibly rare type of leader who is exactly the same person on stage and in the office and in his own home. We always knew who we were talking to, even when we disagreed. He didn’t fire us for the time(s) my husband punched (and dented) a metal door or the time our super fun and exciting event landed 3 kids in the emergency room, although he probably thought about it. Thanks for that, man. (However, that super fun and exciting event was henceforth forever banned…)

This church body has raised us from literal teenagers (well, for a few months anyway) to actual capable adults. They have prayed with and for us. I have been honored to serve in the nursery with women who chatted and shot the breeze and didn’t realize they were mentoring me as a mother. They poured in their honest and vulnerable stories of raising their own children, imparting their wisdom of hindsight while encouraging me that it’s okay to not have it all together. The church has supported us spiritually, emotionally, and financially. They welcomed with us the births of our 3 children… and the few who knew mourned with us when we lost two children in 2014. We were all eager to celebrate the healthy pregnancy I am currently carrying, but as one student said, “I wish this baby was OUR church baby.”

Because today is a new beginning as my husband walks through the doors of a different church, to a different office, with a different flock to shepherd. This is a wonderful opportunity for a new beginning, but it comes with a painful ending. Yesterday we were honored by “our” cherished church family as we said goodbye to that home of the last decade. God has called us into a new season of ministry, one which honestly has been difficult for me to accept.

Sometimes a new beginning really feels like a painful ending. But the pain does not negate the beauty of the promise. I have learned that sometimes we need to sit in that pain and allow ourselves to feel it in order to move past it. The last few weeks have been so difficult to wrap my head around starting over, but God’s grace has been so overwhelmingly great that I have never been so sure in my life that we are right in step with God’s purpose and plan. And sometimes the beauty of the promise doesn’t wipe away the pain of the moment. But it is worth the struggle.

To all who have been on this journey with us over the last decade, thank you – with everything that is in me, thank you. To my beloved students – from the redheaded duo of terror (who became the joy of my heart) to the SnapChatting, hashtag-creating, inside-joking loves in my group today – If I could put you inside my heart, I would just squish you with my incredible love for you! To the students and families coming in the next season of our lives, I cannot wait for the beauty of this promise. I love you already…

Now let’s do this.

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. I always pray for you, and I make my requests with a heart full of joy because you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

“It is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a very special place in my heart. We have shared together in the blessings of God [in the good times and the bad]… God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”

Philippians 1:3-11

Wilderness, Depression, & Stars in the Night*

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The purpose exceeds the pain.”

Beth Moore

We are a culture that abhors pain. We are always looking for a quick and easy way out, whether it’s avoiding the gym or popping pills or distracting ourselves with who-knows-what to escape that gnawing feeling of something being wrong.

Even church people are guilty. Christians often get blindsided by difficulties we face in life, and rather than seeking the purpose of our trials, we pray and petition God for a way out. Pain is uncomfortable, and that just doesn’t fit with our Americanized vision for serving the Creator of the Universe.

In fact, our aversion to pain has often caused American church culture to glorify certain workings of the Lord over others, or – worse – superficially write off painful circumstances without searching for the beauty of God’s plan in that moment. It’s great for when you’re on the mountain top, but it will leave you empty when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

The truth is, God is there in that terrible doctor’s report, that tragedy, that lonely road. He’s there, and he is moving and working and doing his miracle-thang that he does… He’s just not standing front and center like in those great moments of healing and deliverance.

Think of it this way: if miracles are stars, healing might be the sun. It’s like HERE I AM! LOOK AT ME!!! and you have to put on your sunglasses because woah, that feels bright! Maybe, just maybe, the pain and hurt we experience is still a star, but it’s more distant. You might not even notice it unless you’re really looking for it. Heck, you might just need a telescope to know it exists, but there it is, 30 million miles away, and what’s it doing out there? Shining brighter than the sun.

The thing about those distant stars is that even when you’re looking for them, you can only see them under certain conditions. If you’re sitting at a park on a warm spring day, watching everyone around you run and play and bask in the sunlight, you might feel alone and isolated, wondering why everyone else can enjoy the day while you are still drowning in your circumstances, your depression, your pain. That doesn’t diminish the others’ joy on this beautiful afternoon, but it can make you feel pretty crummy. I have heard depression described as drowning, only everyone around you is breathing. You don’t want anyone else to drown either; you just want to come up for air.

Believe me, I’ve been there. (I am there?) We have to remember, though, that our painful miracles can’t be seen in the daylight. It doesn’t mean they’re not present, they’re just not visible because of our perspective. To see, recognize, and appreciate the beauty of a distant star, you have to get into the darkness. There, in the cold, lonely night, you can look up and see not only your star, but billions of others that you never would have noticed without that bitter dark.

Here’s to all of us who are sitting outside at night, telescopes in hand, waiting for the clouds to part…

*Thanks, Jefferson Bethke, for this incredible video that my husband showed me yesterday while we talked about this. Thanks for saying this so much better than I can. And sorry I used your title. I hope it’s not copyrighted…