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.

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

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

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.

Making Soul Space

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Our basement is where all good things go to die. Chipped china, seasonal décor, outgrown tee-shirts, empty frames, cushion covers sans cushions. All well used and well loved for a season, all dying a slow death under a cover of dust and disuse.

“I’m going to put this in the basement for now” has become a family euphemism for the demise of something we once deemed essential. The set of dishes I never unpacked, yet insisted on shipping across the ocean three times during our two moves abroad. My son’s canary-yellow stuffed bird bearing scissor gashes lovingly repaired by uneven stitching…

Join me at In Touch Magazine for the rest of the story on the art of release, and making space in our soul (not just our basements) for all of the tired things that accumulate over time.

Falling Free: A Book Giveaway

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“Hallelujah, there is no one-mission-fits-all. Heartbreak, loneliness, isolation, and lack aren’t organized by zip code, and he’s begging all of us not to detour around the pain.” ~Shannan Martin in Falling Free

***This giveaway is now closed. Thanks for reading!

I live in an affluent area, surrounded by affluent people, doing whatever it is the affluent do. If the rumors are true, the teens do heroin and shots of vodka on weekends. The fathers do long hours at work, and potentially one of the women they meet there. The mothers do pills or wine or retail therapy.

This is an overgeneralization, of course. There are healthy people living full, meaningful lives in our community. Generous. Kind. Purposeful people. But, in my experience, the rumors often hold a kernel of truth. I know cheaters. I know mothers who pop or sip or over-shop. I know kids who go wild. I know parents who support their wilding.

There is a pervasive poverty of spirit metastasizing and killing families in communities like mine. It is silent, but it is epidemic. It is deadly. I recognize something of myself in the mothers and fathers and kids here. I may not be acting out these dysfunctions in my everyday life (although I have been known to shop my feelings), but I know my heart, and it’s often filled with anxiety and fear. It is prone to wander. It is selfish and consumeristic and fickle.

I recently read Shannan Martin‘s challenging new book, Falling Free, where she chronicles her family’s move from their comfortable, middle class life in a beautiful, old farmhouse to an urban center riddled with crime, drugs, and failing schools. In short order, her husband resigned from his job to become a chaplain at the county jail, they adopted a young man with an arrest record, and they flung open the doors of their home, and became a haven for toddlers, wayward teens, and former criminals.

In her book, Shannan shares her story of how deciding to follow God into his upside down kingdom turned her family’s life inside out and upside down. She writes of the good and the hard, the gut-wrenching and the holy. It’s a strong book, a call to live with the ferocious love of Jesus, a vivid reminder of what it means to truly live with a kingdom mindset today.

Falling Free left me wondering how I can obey Jesus’ call to love the disenfranchised, the poor, the outsider, when my real life is filled with the “Haves” rather than the “Have Nots”. I know for this season of life, we are living exactly where God has placed us. I’m certain that God has brought us here to grow roots, to learn what it means to belong, and perhaps, he has rooted us here to offer others a place of belonging.

I don’t know the answer to my wonderings yet. I don’t know how to meet the needs of the people around me, much less the needs of the people in communities I’ll never meet. Shannan writes, “Hallelujah, there is no one-mission-fits-all.” and I bathe in this grace. While I don’t know my exact mission for living like Jesus in my community, I do know that it begins by asking myself hard questions. It begins by examining my own heart, and looking for opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth in both my community and communities outside of it. There is room for all of us to use our gifts, our abundance, and our rootedness to show others the love of Christ. Pain isn’t restricted to a zip code, and neither is generosity.

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I’m giving away one copy of Shannan’s book, Falling Free, and I would love for you to have it. Prepare yourself for a roller coaster of emotions, because you’re going to feel ’em! To enter the drawing either leave a comment here on the blog, or on my Facebook page. In an entirely unscientific method of drawing a name out of a hat, I will choose and notify a winner by next Wednesday, Oct 5th. Happy commenting!