Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace this Christmas

With the holiday season in full swing, I find myself spending an absurd amount of mental energy on twinkle light to branch ratios and how to hide packages from prying eyes. I also find myself in a tug-of-war with my inner self, the self that longs for peace, and my outer self, the self that lives in the real world of holiday hustle.

As we move into Advent, a time of expectant waiting for the coming Christ, I find myself longing more and more for the arrival of the Prince of Peace. This is the name for Jesus that I want to embody this Christmas. It’s the name I want to hang like a banner over our home, over my family, over my heart.

In an effort to hang the banner of peace over my heart, I’m taking a few small steps of intention this season. I won’t add “Stop yelling at the kids” because we all know that’s a given. Join me on walking the path to peace?

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Five Steps to Walking the Path of Peace

Receive: Set aside time for silence.

Wake up a few minutes before the rest of house, wrap yourself in a blanket, switch on the twinkle lights, and sit with yourself in the quiet. I like to sit with my palms open and facing up, in a posture of receiving whatever God has for me this day. If morning isn’t your sweet spot, turn off the Christmas tunes and the third showing of Elf in the evening. We’re so quick to fill every inch of space with ourselves–our anxieties, our to-do list, our feelings. Find a few moments in your day that allow for your restless soul chatter to come to a still point, and allow it to wait expectantly. Christ is coming.

Reveal: Spend time in Scripture

Eugene Peterson says that reading scripture is a way of “listening to God revealing God”, rather than a means of fact gathering or processing information. Approaching scripture from a posture of listening for God’s revelation of himself has the power to transform our understanding of the Bible. Rather than collecting stories, facts, and rules, we read with an ear to the ground, waiting for the thump and vibration of God’s footprints here on earth. This too is waiting. This too brings us to the still point of peace.

Renew: See God’s handiwork in nature

I think we all know the power of a good walk around the block, but I want to experience more than the wonder of my neighbor’s crooked wreaths and leaf piles. A reading of Psalm 8 is good place to start, so is the starlit fabric of the night sky, the small copse of trees in the backyard, a local pine scented garden center, a hike beside a reflective stream. The Psalmist David writes of nature’s ability to stir him to faith and thanksgiving. I find it not only stirs these healthy emotions, but it also hushes the ones that pull at the fine threads of peace.

Re-connect: Surrender through worship

“The heart of worship is surrender, ” writes Rick Warren, and while I absolutely agree, I also absolutely struggle to find listen-able Christian music. Enter Christmas. I’m currently listening to Josh Garrel’s new album The Light Came Down, as well as a stunning selection of Christmas tunes recommended by Kendra at The Lazy Genius (sign up for her email list. It doesn’t disappoint.), and they are watering my parched, worship-hungry soul. Surrender is allowing God to be fully himself, outside of the boxes we’ve constructed for him. It is resting in his sovereignty, and in his plan for the salvation of this world in the form of a flesh and blood child.

Root yourself: Seek out community 

This sounds counter-intuitive, especially for the introverts among us (raises hand), however peace walks hand in hand with belonging. Loneliness does not lead to peace. Rootedness, a deep knowing that there is space for you in this world, calms the restless heart. Lean hard into your places of belonging during this season, they will be a balm to the wounds and bruises we accumulate throughout the year. Walk with a friend, enjoy a quiet conversation, cozy up with your spouse on the sofa, snuggle the kids a little longer, visit your mama, attend the candlelight service at church. Forget the gatherings that stir up insecurities, and instead gather with those who make you feel most yourself, who also walk the path of peace.

There You Are: A Thanksgiving Welcome

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She walked onto the stage with a microphone to magnify her slight Southern drawl. She looked into the eyes of the writers gathered in anxious circles below, and said, “There you are!”

She paused to let the words sink in as she opened her arms, embracing the room in welcome. “We’re so glad you’re here!”

With her words, shoulders around the room relaxed. Lips curled into smiles. We nodded at one another and to the speaker on the stage.  “There you are!” she said. And we knew we’d left our homes only to arrive at a new one.

….

When I enter into a new place, my thoughts often turn inward. My first thought is, “I’m here”, as I assess the emotional tenor of the room based on this internal declaration. I scan the center of the room, and inevitably end up feeling my way around the outer edges, dragging my arrival and its emotional baggage behind me.

Because I instinctively turn inward, I’ve thought a lot about the welcome I received at the writing workshop and how it changed my perspective. “There you are,” I found myself repeating, and my gaze shifted outward, while my body settled into its center. I stopped wondering what others thought of me as I sat clutching my half-used pen and scraggly sheets of paper torn from a friend’s notebook. I looked around the room thinking, “There you are, friend. There you are, fellow artist. There you are, soul sister.”

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I want to extend my thanks and a “There you are!” welcome to you too, dear friend. Regardless of what this holiday season holds for you, whether it is a less than eager reception, loneliness, over-commitment, grief, contentious disagreements, or a warm family welcome, I hope you consider this a place where you feel a spirit of kinship. I hope you find a sense of belonging as we face this crazy, broken world together. I’m just as mixed-up, sad, and defiantly hopeful as you are this November. I’m just as eager to give thanks and receive grace.

There you are, friend. I see you. Consider this your invitation to a seat at the table–you belong here. Let’s feast on hope and offer it to those we’ll be rubbing elbows with this Thanksgiving.

When the Weight of the World Weighs Heavy

The world weighs heavy on you. You turn from page to page, you scroll past outrage, you watch images that flicker like a film strip behind your eyes when you close them at night. You want to turn away, hide your face from the latest stories because they make a fool of your tears. Tears solve nothing, but they water the seeds of compassion in your spirit. You must let the tears do their inner work because it is a holy one.

You want to wring your hands, as your heart twists into pretzel shapes inside your chest. You want to heave the weight of the world off your shoulders because you realize this yoke is too heavy to bear. This is not the light burden, the easy yoke we were promised. It is the full weight of evil unleashed on an unsuspecting world, and you, you are caught between tears and hand-wringing. Fear and apathy.

Here is how you carry the weight of the world. You lay it down. You water it with your tears. You pray for Shalom. You offer what little you have to give–whether it is time on your knees, money for a cause, beauty for brokenness, words for the weary, or unity in sorrow. You offer Jesus, the one who picks up the burden as you lay it down. You pick up these words instead.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26

…….

Repost from the archives: I wrote these words exactly one year ago, but they feel fitting for today. What burdens are you laying down?

The Gift of Diversity: Post-election

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I grew up in a church I loved, but couldn’t wait to leave. It was small and I wanted bigger. It was simple and I wanted flashy. It was my dad’s church, and after the fishbowl experience of life as a preacher’s kid, I wanted a place of my own. It was also racially diverse, and what seemed normal to me as a child, now feels like a gift. My father was ahead of his time, a charismatic pastor who regularly filled the pulpit with women and people of color when he was unavailable to preach. The Word of God fell like rain on the dry bones of our congregation when Dorothea with her strong voice and her beautiful black skin and her degree in theology took to the pulpit. My mom preached too, and I cut my spiritual teeth on the sound of black women and Indian men and both of my parents proclaiming the good news of the gospel.

I grew up in a high school where I felt invisible, and I couldn’t wait to leave. It was big and I wanted smaller. It was scary and I wanted safe. It was academically failing and I wanted rigorous and smart. It was also the most racially and economically diverse environment I’ve ever experienced, and what seemed normal to me as a teenager, now feels like a gift. I learned that skin color doesn’t make a difference on Sunday at church, and Monday morning my classmates reinforced this lesson. What mattered was kindness, and I knew kids of every race who wore kindness like a brand new shade of skin.

I look back at my early years, and I’m so grateful for the gift of diversity. The gift of strong women. The gift of the gospel. For me, these three are forever intertwined, pieced together like poetry. The places I wanted to escape the most, have become the places where I’ve learned to lean into the memory, and draw them forward into today. I didn’t know that these places were the training ground for what we face now as a nation.

The election results have me both fearful and fiercely protective. This is not the America or the Leader or the Church I want for my children. I want them to know we are so much stronger together, and kindness binds us, the gospel binds us, the work of mothers and godly warriors bind us. So, I am looking to the places in my life where these things are already woven together like poetry. I am looking to my friends and social network far and wide, and leaning in to those who are speaking hard truths. I am looking to my church in NJ, the one that looks like Joseph’s coat of many colors, the one that wears love through acts of service, who believes both men and women are armor bearers of the gospel. I am listening and reading and informing myself on issues I never thought to tackle because what was normal to me, I now see as a gift my parents and community offered me.

If you find yourself nodding along with me, or if you haven’t been given this same gift, here are a few places and people I’ve discovered that normalize shalom and diversity and wholeness rather than hatred and division.

Deidra Riggs: The ONE conference

Deidra has been a voice for racial reconciliation in the church for years, and we need her voice now more than ever. If you have the time and a few bucks to spare, this conference might be exactly where you need to sit this spring. Deidra’s book ONE is forthcoming, and I highly suggest you pre-order–it’s available now.

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Osheta Moore: Shalom in the City

Osheta’s work is all about Shalom, about peace-making while still taking a stand for what is right. I love the spirit behind her words, and she is teaching me that being a warrior for peace doesn’t mean carrying a sword into every conversation.

Alia Joy 

Alia is the most raw, vulnerable writer I know who tackles issues of race, faith, mental health, and recovery from sexual assault. She is a guide through some of the most complex, messy, painful discussions and I trust her voice.

There are many, many more voices I’m listening to, but I wanted to share just a few. If you’re ready to take action on a more local level as well, I recommend reading this by former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth. Contact your local leaders, sign a petition, make your voice heard.

And finally, if you feel like you’re no longer at home in the Church at large, may I suggest that you find a local church that aligns better with your beliefs? Don’t believe the lie that God is no longer working through the church or through his people. We’re out there, doing good work, working towards justice. Look for believers who welcome the marginalized, who sit with the poor, who make space for diverse voices. Look for a church that offers conversations like these. Jesus isn’t the problem, friends. It’s how we live out our faith in Him that confuses people.

Still with me? Thank you, dear ones. I know you’re worried about the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into, but there is a path out. It’s the harder path, but it is there. I pray your foot won’t falter as you find it.

On Wholeness and Healing

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“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”” ~Revelation 21:5

This week, I wrote three terrible poems, stalked my littlest big kid and her friends via Find My Phone while trick or treating, fought with my husband, contemplated whether or not I’m depressed, packed for a trip, made up with my husband, recorded a podcast in which I couldn’t unearth anything worth saying, and accidentally got a new puppy. Throw in some laundry and errands, and you have what feels like the longest week in a very long year full of long, hard months.

I’m not depressed, although my feelings seem to speak to the contrary. I am tired. I am disappointed. I am grieving this year before the crystal ball countdown and champagne toasts and midnight kisses. When January began, I named 2016 my “Year of Restoration”. In a twist of irony even I couldn’t have predicted, February to October proceeded to mock me with their middle finger.

On Monday, I reminded God that there are only a few weeks left for a successful finish to the Restoration Project. Which means I’d like a sense of peace, a bold voice, joy, meaningful work, a tricky relationship, and a good night’s sleep restored to me. I want the backside I had in my twenties, motivation to keep running the race of faith, patience for parenting, creative inspiration, and hope for the troubled state of humanity.

Is this too much to ask? Probably. But, I’m asking anyway because I am tired of penning poor poetry. I’m weary of stuffing down my desires, of hiding the longing for wholeness and healing for every part of me. Desire is rarely seen as something holy, but I believe it can be. Brokenness in our relationships, emotional health, and calling can masquerade as something to be celebrated. I have brokenness in my life, but I won’t waste time bowing down to it when my deepest need is healing.

I fell in love with Amsterdam when we visited years ago. Marijuana and red-light district aside, it is a lovely city hallmarked by ever-present bicycles and criss-cross canals. The two appear to be mutually exclusive, one is made for traversing cobblestone streets, and the other made for gliding swans and scenic sightseeing. In a city of nearly one million bikes, 15,000 are discovered submerged in the canal every year. It’s become a tourist attraction of sorts: a “fishing” company pulling bent frames, rusted spokes, and flat tires out from the murky water daily. No one knows how the bikes end up there, whether through negligence or more nefarious means.

This submersion and hidden brokenness brings to mind a baptism of sorts, only in Amsterdam, when the hydraulic claw draws the bicycles up from their watery grave, they are broken beyond fixing. In contrast, baptism is an agent of change and healing. What enters the grave, comes out redeemed and renewed. I believe in this wholeness and healing. I have hope that, with two months to go, restoration of my desires is still possible. I can choose to focus on what is still broken in my life, or I can choose to submit my desires to a baptism. I can submerge them in Living Water, and trust they will break through the surface renewed, revitalized, and holy. All things made new.

Restoration Project is a go.