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Keep Playing.

“This game is hard,” declared my four-year-old.

“It is,” I replied as he put more cherries back on his tree.

One off. One back on. Only one left and then your bucket gets knocked over. It’s not easy filling your bucket in the game Hi-Ho-Cherry-O.

Sometimes life is hard. Lately my “bucket” keeps getting knocked over.

We have had several unexpected healthcare expenses. Sick visits. An ER visit. Four required well-visits. We are part of a health share, and it is a HUGE gift, but shared medical expenses must meet certain criteria. Even with medical shares, we sometimes carry expenses until the need is refunded. We had to pull out savings, but at least we had it.

It seemed we were just on the other side, the bucket was back on the ground upright. We had a plan to fill it back up. Then one of the kids put something in his ear. The pediatrician referred us to the ENT. It will be at least $300. More if they must vacuum it out instead of use forceps. Can you say empty bucket?

We have a gravel driveway, but right now it is more like a mud-pit with some gravel. I thought we might fix that this winter. Instead we are saving for a new oven because after only four years of use ours has begun to die a slow death.

My young son’s words ring in my ears, “This game is hard.”

The way he said it encouraged me. He didn’t throw a fit. He didn’t quit in anger or disgust. He simply stated the fact and kept playing the game. Even when he lost, he just shrugged his shoulders, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. That’s how it works, right, momma?”

It’s been a winter when our bucket keeps getting emptied. But, in life, a hard winter is nothing compared to a great year. I’ve had hard years – anxiety, struggling kids, the loss of a parent, marital strife, and postpartum depression to name a few. Even those years do not make-up the fullness of life.

In the kingdom of God, all of us, who have put on Christ, win in the end. Keep playing. Throw a fit if you must. Life is hard, but one day our buckets will be overflowing.

AN UNEXPECTED KINDNESS.

The week before Christmas I took the boys shopping. I needed tape and wrapping paper. They needed gifts for one another.

The three big boys were given free reign of Tuesday Morning. The two littles and I roamed around.

On one aisle we met a kind lady. She smiled at the excitement of my energetic boys and our adventure. It was hectic, but wonderful. She had raised seven kids, and delighted in the memories we brought her. She was lovely.

As we walked on she said, “I think you’re great!”

“You met us on a really good day,” I playfully replied.

She smiled. She understood. Some days we parent well. Some days not so much.

The outing declined with the two littles falling apart and a confused cashier as we juggled concealed purchases.

I beamed through it all because of an unexpected kindness.

That morning, I received kindness, but I love to give it too.

In the grocery a young child, who follows instruction, will hear from me, “You listen so well!” The child beams. The parent looks at me with that look that says, “Yeah, that time.” Weariness can undo the best of us parents.

“She listened that time. You’re doing a lot of things well. Keep it up. Around five is gets easier if you’re even mostly consistent,” I reply.

Almost always, the weariness lifts with the hope that it will not always be so hard.

The unexpected kindness of being seen, celebrated, and encouraged lifts them a little higher.

I have also been in the store when my kids don’t listen so well. One day when my dad was so sick, and I was more spent than I knew, the cashier smiled and said, “Your kids are always so well-behaved.”

“What?” I replied.

“Your kids are just great,” she answered.

“Could you say that one more time? It’s been a REALLY hard day,” I shamefully responded.

She smiled. I smiled. My kids were not their best selves. I was not my best self. Instead of getting lost in that low moment, an unexpected kindness lifted me higher.

From the daily grind and a bad moment to hard seasons in life, an unexpected kindness can help us not grow weary in doing good.

Let’s encourage one another. When you see a parent victory, great or small, tell them. Your unexpected kindness will make their day. It will probably be a gift to you too.

Love – The Miracle of Christmas

The rituals of Advent candles, ornaments that tell the story of Christmas, nightly prayers. None of those things were mine as a kid. I heard the story of Christmas, but the miracle of Christmas was that Santa could get into my house without a chimney.

When our oldest was six, he asked me if Santa was real. He was sitting on my lap, a sweet little kindergartener. My husband called from the other room, “We use true words in this house.”

“Santa isn’t real, but you can’t tell your friends. For some, Santa is the miracle of Christmas. For us, Jesus is the miracle of Christmas. A baby came to be with us. A baby, a little baby changed everything.”

“Babies can’t do anything,” he wondered aloud.

“They just invite us to love them. That’s the miracle of Christmas.”

That was eight years ago. Our two youngest are certain Santa is real. Kindergarten has taught them well.

They know the story of Santa. They know the story of a baby born of a virgin too.

Last week, our almost four-year-old announced out of no-where, “I love Jesus.”

“Me too,” beamed the vibrant almost six-year-old.

The big boys smiled.

Baby Jesus has captured their hearts. Together we learn day-by-day to respond in love to that baby born in a manager. It’s messy every day just like the first Christmas.

On this Christmas day, all will be bright as we pass out gifts and open them one by one. Conflicts will rise too over a new toy, the last cookie, and unmet expectations. Love will invite us to rise above. That is the miracle of Christmas. Because God is with us, we can love.

My marital offense can be laid down. My children can be my blessing and not my curse. Anything that is not love no longer must rule me because the baby in the manager, who is with me, invites me and enables me to love.

Those moments when I do not love. Jesus invites me to confession and repentance, so my sins no longer hold power over me and I am free to love anew.

The miracle of Christmas. Jesus came as a baby to be with us. Love came and changed everything for anyone who might accept Him.

Love with us. Love for us. Love more than enough for us to share.

A Confession – Longing for Joy.

I wish I had a glorious word on joy. Instead I have a confession.

My joy has been complete.

I have sung in joy for what the Lord has done.

I will gather with others and do this today. I will sing songs of our salvation and His promise to be with us even now, and in that moment, I will know the joy of my salvation.

But this Advent, day to day, joy has weighed heavy before me.

Each night we sing our Advent family song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

This song has become my longing for joy. The longing for God to do what He promised to do, to be who He is.

My heavy heart expects Him to come. My spirit tempted to be downcast reaches for His hand.

My joy will be complete again.

Until then, I fix my eyes on the candles lit in the darkness, because light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

For the joy before me, I endure a broken and contrite heart in the face of my subtle sins longing for a new level of glory – new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new heart to know.

I am weary, but joy is just before me in freedom He alone can give.

This Advent joy invites me to remember that the joy of the Lord is not a fleeting moment, but a sound reality, whether I feel it or not.

Joy invites me to the other side.

This Advent I hold fast to the joy that seems far from me. It’s right here waiting to spring forth when His victory comes.

I will sing the Christmas songs. I will rejoice in the fullness of joy.

But today, this third Sunday in Advent, joy is secure because He is, I am not alone, and faith buoys me while I wait for His joy to be complete again, the kind of joy you shout about.

Cheap joy with a ready smile is tempting. It looks good, but it’s not real.

I’ll take this Advent joy, the waiting-for-it-kind-of-joy, as I seek His face and hold His hand, because joy comes on the other side. He will get me through.

Get the guitar and keyboard ready. Singing and dancing will come. That’s the promise of Advent. We wait. He will come and He will fill us with joy worth waiting for.

A Declaration of Peace

Songs influence us in powerful ways. Some get stuck in our heads. Others capture our hearts and shape us forever.

When I was a freshman in college my grandmother passed away. At her memorial service, we sang “It is Well with My Soul.” I had always loved that song, but in that moment, the words brought peace to my grieving soul.

Years later, I heard the third verse for the first time.  I found a new freedom in life from the “sin that binds.”

When my first-born cried unable to be comforted, which was more than not for the first many months of his life, I sang that song for both of us. I rocked and sang until peace fell over my anxious soul.

“It is well with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Those words became my declaration of peace. Death appeared to have won, but I sang “It is well with my soul.” Sin longed to have its reign over me; I sang “It is well with my soul.” My first-born could not be comforted, and depression weighed upon me, so I sang “It is well with my soul.” Whenever the war waged around or within, I sang my declaration of peace because I knew the peace of Jesus was mine if only I would embrace it.

This week we meditate on peace. Jesus, our God with us, Emmanuel, is the giver of peace.  War wages against us within and around. Some days we feel held captive to the angst of death, sin, and suffering. We long to be ransomed. Advent invites us to expect the Prince of Peace to come, so I sing my declaration of peace, “It is well with my soul.”

What peace do you need Him to bring into your life as war wages around or within you?

What is your declaration of peace?

Friends, peace is for me and you.

The Prince of Peace has come. Peace on Earth has come because God is with us. Peace is His gift to us, the kind that makes no sense. Together let’s embrace Jesus and His gift of peace. Let’s expect His victory of peace in the face of death, sin, and suffering. It’s who He is. It’s what He does. It’s who we can be in Him.

“It is well with my soul. It is well. It is well with my soul.”

Hope.

Expecting carries with it hope for something and often in someone.

A better marriage. Kids who thrive in the face of obstacles like dyslexia. Enough income. A clear cancer screen.

Hope for something is rarely fulfilled. Our expectations and reality just don’t seem to ever perfectly align.

Hope in someone can leave us disillusioned. They didn’t do what we expected them to do.

Hope mocks us when we hope for something and in someone. We become tempted to cease expecting.

“We had hoped He was the one,” they muttered as they walked home their hope disappointed. Their hope for victory in Jesus as the Promised One vanished with His last breath exhaled. Jesus hadn’t done things the way they expected.

They went home too soon, so Jesus came to them.

Emmanuel, God with us, invited them to see Himself and His promises fulfilled from the days of old. “Does it not say?” he recalled to them the promises of God.

As I expect Emmanuel to come and ransom me, I hope not in what I can see, but who God is – God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus, the Promised One. This kind of hope sets you free.

Things change when we hope in God alone, not what He will do, but who He is.

My son still reads behind his peers. The cancer screen was not clear.

I look instead to God. God is faithful. God is good. God is with us. When I can’t see Him as faithful and good, when He seems far, I wait on Him a little longer because hope in God does not disappoint.

Advent is about the long waiting.

The enslaved Israelites waited 400 years. Mary waited nine months. The early followers died waiting.

Hope is faith that waits for God to be God no matter what.

I don’t know if I’m there just yet. My hope may falter. It has before. But, I’m expecting Him to be who He says He is, even if He must to come to me while I mutter “I had hoped.”

Why? Because he does not leave His own. He is Emmanuel, God with us. We can hope in Him, and in the end we will not be disappointed.

Expecting

I am expecting.

It brings hope and fear. The what- ifs run rampant from the beautiful to the horrifying. There is peace and angst. Peace that comes to fill our souls. Angst that tempts the soul to fear once again. I am expecting what has not yet been, what has been promised. Joy rises to overflowing. Heart-ache stands ready until all is secure. But love. Love shrouds over the fear, the angst, the heart-ache on the ready. Love stands with hope, peace, and joy. I am expecting.

Mary and Joseph were expecting. Elizabeth and John were too. Anna and Simeon waited in the temple day after day expecting. The wise men set off because they were expecting.

The candles are gathered. The hymn book is out. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. We are not expecting a baby this year. My womb is empty. I am expecting the Promised One to come and fulfill His promises.

We sing night after night our Advent family hymn.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.”

We sing, and I expect the Christ. I expect the One born in a manger to come and ransom me once again.

I expect Him to be God with us. To make us His people in ways we are not just yet. To set us free from sins that lurk and bind. To heal the wounded. To set the captive free. I am expecting the babe born in a manger, God with us, to be with us today and tomorrow until He comes once again.

This is Advent. To be expecting. Expecting hope in God to not disappoint. Expecting peace to reign amidst our angst in these demanding days. Expecting joy to rise-up even while we mourn feeling lost in exile as sin and death taunt. Expecting love because that is the fullness of our God. He is love our God with us, our Emmanuel.

I am expecting these next forty days. He has not failed me yet. Will you expect with me?

“Rejoice, rejoice Emmanuel shall come to thee oh Israel.”