Gah! Christmas can be a stressful, breathless, list driven and exhausting time. Or. You can purposefully slow down, reflect and embrace the joy.
Louise Richards’ book A Christmas Story A Day is a thoughtful tool to choose joy this season. This clever book provides a story a day to read through each day in December. It’s a fiction lovers advent!
I was drawn in to this treasure trove of believable characters and stories. Each story calls the reader to ponder the meaning of Christmas. Available on amazon for Kindle or print copy this is a fun way to slow down this Christmas season.
The best part is I have a copy to give away! And the winner is Reta H. You win!
That's the Book: 2nd Corinthians
I've spent the last couple weeks procrastinating writing this post. Honestly I have tried. But I haven't had the courage to fully embrace writing about 2nd Corinthians. This is the second letter Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. Paul wrote the letter to encourage the believers to hold it together during some massive hardships. I've struggled writing this post because it's all about suffering. So it hurts. Also I felt it was important not to be flippant or trite. Suffering is a sacred privilege not to be tossed around lightly.
So I've spent the last three weekends pretending to write and instead looking at twitter feeds of cute animals and playing with new emojis on my phone. I was especially distracted by the hedgehog. But the verses and the post kept sitting there asking me to show up. To think and pray and write and bleed. Sometimes we avoid people who are hurting for the same reasons. It can be uncomfortable to join.
I recently sat on the phone talking with a friend of mine. She was in pain. Needed a friend. I didn't have much to offer - except I love her - and I can stand as a testament that on my hardest days Jesus was enough. I hope the reminder helped. This is the point of 2nd Corinthians. We should carry each other's pain. Use our own as a light to point others towards the hope of Christ. Understand He will be faithful to carry us. He is enough.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:2-5
Two years ago my mother-in-law was suffering from a recent diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer. The whole family was struggling and worried. We were tired. Exhausted really. Overwhelmed with the knowledge of survival rates and heartbroken over the crisis etched in her face.
Several weeks later, in the middle of the night, I received a phone call from my father. He said my mom had fallen down the stairs. He said there was a lot of blood. She was being taken by ambulance to the hospital. I should hurry. Would I call my sister and come to the hospital? I hung up. Got out of bed. Could not stay standing. Hit my knees. Gasped. Prayed a two-word prayer.
And in that very moment I knew. In this painful awful moment at 4:00 am I knew. I knew despite the horror on multiple fronts we were not alone. I knew God's presence would not leave. God provided the strength to stand, to pick up the phone, to call my sister. The verses in 2nd Corinthians are real to me because I've been in these places. My guess is you have as well.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves, we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not despairing, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4: 7-9
How do you keep going when things aren't good? When people lie and break trust? When the diagnosis is elusive? When we can't see beyond this moment?
A couple of weeks ago I sat in a writer's conference and listed to Andrew Peterson describe how he came to write the song The Dark Before the Dawn. (Listen Here).
He wrote it one morning after he woke up to news of a school shooting. You know that sick feeling? The dark is pressing in feeling? He talked about how the only way forward is to remember this is not the end.
"Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come
And this is the dark, this is the dark before the dawn."
What I learned is God's promises don't make all things joyful - yet. And this yet makes it bearable. For heaven is coming. Glory wins. Despair loses.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For this momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2nd Corinthians 4:16-18
If you are reading this and do not have the same hope; please hear me out. We all face hard times. But you don't have to do it alone. 2nd Corinthians is a beautiful invitation to join the victory.
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us, we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2nd Corinthians 6;29-21
I think the reason my two word prayer, "I can't", was so powerful is because I came to the very end of myself. When I ran out, Jesus showed up. This is one of those upside down truths in the Bible. The weak are strong.
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong" 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
I've thought a lot about suffering the past couple of weeks. About what we went through and the ways God made the difference. Sometimes it was simply His presence and strength. Sometimes it looked like a friend pushing a broom, bringing a meal or answering the phone. God showed up when people showed up. I know it was hard to be around me during those days. But I'm grateful people dove in. This post was hard to write. But sharing the truth of God's power in our struggle is an honor.
Turn off your phone for a few minutes. Read 2nd Corinthians. If you are in the middle of a crisis - pray a call for help. His grace will prove enough. If your life is currently stable you may have time to lift someone else's load. Call a hurting friend or get take-out for an overwhelmed neighbor. Wrestle with your own memories and look for how God showed up. Share your story. I know it's uncomfortable to do the work to heal or to help someone else. But it's life giving. Worth the courage it takes to see it through. Second Corinthians is important. Hedgehog emoji's are not.
Andrew Peterson's song The Dark Before the Dawn.
Here you go, the next section of the Bible Project's Read Scripture series. 2nd Corinthians.
Infographic from New Spring Church. These are helpful.
One of my favorite parts of our whirlwind trip to Nashville was meeting so many talented authors. Jolina Petersheim was a lovely, kind and gentle soul. I was so impressed with her warm smile and matching spirit. Read below for our interview and pick up a of one of her books today.
I loved the concept you used to intersect two major genres; namely the Amish/Mennonite fiction with Dystopian literature. Do you plan on a sequel or more mashups?
Unless I see some writing in the sky, The Divide is the conclusion to The Alliance series. I know it doesn’t provide all the answers, and yet I wanted my main characters, Moses and Leora, to find peace even though their future remained uncertain. Peace despite uncertainty is something I’ve personally had to learn. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, all our lives remain uncertain. But trust in our Creator and loving each other deeply—perhaps at an even deeper level because of that uncertainty—is a beautiful way to pass our days.
As for more mashups: I’ve been toying around with a new idea for a couple of years, but it’s a little over my head, so I’m giving it time to ruminate. 😊
Your major character faced a crisis of faith. I don’t want to give away the ending – but has your personal faith been through anything similar?
God has a way of deepening our faith through trails. In December 2014, my husband had emergency brain surgery for a rare, benign brain tumor. We were living in Wisconsin at the time—on a grid-tie solar-powered farm with a woodstove as our main heat source. We had a two-and-a-half-year-old and a four-month-old. Looking back, I’m honestly kind of floored that we made it, but we had friends and family who helped lessen our burdens by babysitting, bringing loads of firewood and food. I was in the middle of editing The Alliance, and Tyndale (my publisher) gave me time to allow our family to heal. Going through that crisis made me really question God’s plan for our lives. So much of my security—my stability—was stripped away. My husband is such a dependable, larger-than-life individual, and I hadn’t realized how much I relied on his strength until I suddenly became the one he had to rely on. One night—the most pivotal of my spiritual walk thus far—I stared out at the snowy darkness after everyone else had gone to bed. I looked out the window, like I was staring into the face of God, and I said, “You must meet us here; You must meet us here.” It was both plea and command. He did. He met us there. Despite having sick babies, and a sick husband, we all slept through the night for the first time since the surgery, and it was what we needed to get back on our feet.
In July of this year, an MRI showed some residual tumor in my husband’s brain. And yet, because I’ve experienced God’s faithfulness, I continue clinging to Him—beseeching Him like I had that winter night in our farmhouse: “You must meet us here; You must meet us here.”
And the beauty lies in the fact that I know He will.
Where does grace fit in your fiction – and your real life?
My characters are such broken people—Rachel, Tobias; Beth, Rhoda; Leora, Moses—because I believe that we’re all broken in one way or another since we live in a world rife with the fallibility of man. I love to take my characters on a journey (or sometimes they take me), and the grace lies in the fact that they usually find healing for their brokenness by The End. God is faithful to take me on a journey along with my characters. Each story I write explores a certain facet of my own grace-filled, stumbling walk.
Another area I’ve found grace is in motherhood. I’ve only been a mother for six years, and yet I am fiercely in love with this calling, which I believe is one of the greatest of my life. Three precious souls that I get to lead closer to God as they witness my own walk! It’s an incredibly humbling and challenging experience.
Wall of Faith: Tara
Today my husband had to get up at 3AM to be at work at 4AM. He was to drive to a location north of Seattle (about 4 hours from where we live) and pick up a large load of steel and sheet metal for his work. He frequently drives for work as he has his CDL license. So off he went with a 40 foot trailer. He didn't check in as often through the day as he normally does. I knew he would have a stressful day and didn't bug him. He sent me a text around 11AM saying that he had arrived and was loading. Hoped to be on the road within the hour to head home.
I didn't hear from him again until 4pm, when he sent me a photo of his truck and trailer loaded to the gills. It looked like a very heavy complicated load. Made me nervous for him just looking at the photo. I also was aware of what time it was, as when you drive with your CDL for work, there are certain rules that tell you how long you can be on the road or "on shift" before you are required to take a 10 hour rest break to sleep. He was pushing it. We talked on the phone briefly before he headed home and I asked if he should stop and stay the night before heading home. He was irritable and really just wanted to be home. "No" he said, "I'm just going to drive straight home." "I didn't get on the road till 6 or so, so I'm okay, I just want to be home." "Okay" I said, "Just be careful and stop if you get tired. If you're close enough to home I'll come get you and you can leave the truck." This was 4:30pm. We hung up and I left work to go pick up our girls.
It was POURING outside. I mentioned to a coworker as I left "hope you're not made of sugar!" and we laughed at the image of him melting when he walked outside. I drove in the pouring rain about 25 minutes to get my youngest. She's still in daycare. I shared my concerns for Josh with my daycare provider. They are like family and were also concerned. We both hoped for the best and I headed off to get my other daughter. I told Avery, my youngest, to say some prayers for her daddy when we were in the car driving to get her sister. I prayed with her and we asked God to keep her Papa safe (I had said "pray for your Dad" and Avery says "You mean Josh?" haha! She is a card). We prayed that he would keep Pop awake as he drove, and help him to make it home safe and sound. We arrived back in Ridgefield, and picked up Shelby, my eight year old. On the way home I shared with her that her Pop had had a hard day and we needed to pray for him to make it home safely. The girls and I arrived home. I had this overwhelming feeling that we needed to pray for my husband right at that moment. I stood with my girls by the backdoor and we held hands. We stood in a little circle, as I reminded them that the bible tells us "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them"(Matthew 18:20) We prayed in turn for Josh's safety. For him to be protected, for God to watch over him as he drove home. To help him drive in the dark and wet weather we were having, as he doesn't like driving at night. To keep him awake and let him arrive home safely.
I knew he would be home super late, and his typically Monday chores would need to be done. I enlisted the girls and talked to them about how we are a team, and our family helps each other, and we are going to do our chores, and Pop's chores too. Avery set in unloading the dishwasher and Shelby cleaned cat boxes. I rounded up trash and we took out the recycling.
10 minutes later I hear my phone, it's a text from Josh, I can tell by the ring tone. It just says "Call me". My heart sinks into the pit of my stomach. I call him "I'm in trouble" he starts in. He had stopped on the side of the freeway, as his load shifted on the trailer from the wind. As he's stopped trying to tighten down his load a state trooper pulled up behind him. A piece of metal had come loose and had come off the trailer. There had been an accident a few miles back. He didn't have many details, just knew that he had to stay put and was waiting to hear from the state trooper who had gone to check on the accident, and also waiting to hear from his employer. I could hear the panic in his voice. He wasn't coming home tonight, we both knew that. His load was unsafe. He explained that it was a lot of sheet metal, which bends and flexes and he had tried his best to secure it. He didn't even know that a piece had been lost. The state trooper had escorted him to a safe parking lot where he could call me.
Being so far away from him and not able to be there to help is an awful feeling. I was instantly angry that this had even happened to him. I had prayed, the girls had prayed. Come ON God! Where are you? How can you leave him on the side of the road? He could have been killed! Someone else may have been killed, we don't even know! UGH! I was so angry for him, and terrified for him too.
I tried to comfort him, reminding him that he was covered by the insurance of the company he works for. That even if there was an accident, that the insurance would cover everything. He may get a ticket because of what happened, but that would be all that we would have to deal with. And we can handle that. "What can I do to help??" I asked him. He needed a hotel room for the night. He didn't know where he was even. Some park and ride along the freeway.
He had to go and take a call from his employer, I checked his location on my phone, (THANKFULLY we share locations with each other, and I could see right where he was, and was able to find a hotel room just up the street). I reserved him a room. He called back, and I suggested he get an uber to the hotel if he was unable to drive the truck. He did just that, and called me again once he had checked in, taken a shower, and had a moment to rest.
The state trooper had come back after we had hung up the phone before he had left for the hotel. She brought back the piece of sheet metal that he lost. The car that it hit had a broken windshield. Nobody was hurt. She said "His insurance will be calling your employers insurance" and she left. She didn't write him a ticket. Everybody was okay. He was okay, and safe in a hotel room.
We got off the phone and I just started crying. I had been so angry in that moment when I heard what had had happened, that I didn't stop and realize that God had answered my prayers.
Josh was safe. Nobody was hurt. He wasn't out driving in the dark and crazy weather. He's able to rest and sleep. He has people coming tomorrow to help him transfer some of the load to another truck and get it all home safely. And that in the exact moment that Josh was risking his life on the side of a freeway with cars zinging by in the dark and pouring rain.. his family was huddled together in prayer, asking God to keep him safe. And God was listening.
And you know what? He did just that. Sometimes answers to our prayers don't look like we think they should. Sometimes he answers our prayers and we don't even realize it. I truly believe that we were all part of a miracle tonight. We trusted Jesus to keep our loved one safe, and what could have happened, didn't. Josh could have been stuck on the side of the road. The vehicle that hit the metal from his truck could have been killed. That vehicle could have hit somebody else and it could have been horrific. I'm sure whoever is in that car probably isn't too happy that I'm sharing his broken windshield as an answer to my prayers, but it really is.
When you pray, be prepared to be awed. Be prepared to hear God's answer, as HE decides to deliver it. It may not come wrapped up in a perfect bow. He may not fix everything that's broken, and he may not right every wrong. But he does hear our prayers and he does answer them. Sometimes the answer is "no." Sometimes it's "not right now." Sometimes it's what we least expect, and feels like a travesty. But in reality, it's exactly what we needed in that moment.
Last week my friend Jill and I flew to Nashville for two days of food and books and fun. We booked our flights separately. But I called the airline ahead to make sure we were seated together. Long flights at 4:00AM are better when you are seated by a friend.
We prechecked and went through security. Headed to the gate. Jill handed over her boarding pass and the agent welcomed her onboard. I handed over my ticket. Small pause.Then the following conversation took place.
Agent: I'm glad you are here. We have a new boarding pass for you. We had to change your seat.
Me: But I'm with my friend. I don't want a new seat.
Agent: Oh. You didn't book your flight with anyone so we assumed you were alone. I'm sorry. The plane is full and your seat was needed.
Me: But I want my seat back. I don't want to move. I want to sit with my friend.
Agent: I am sorry. A handicapped person needed the seat so she could sit by her caregiver.
Me: Humph. I even called the airline to make sure we were together. You have GOT to be kidding me.
Agent: We can give you airline miles.
Me: I don't want airline miles. I just want my seat. The spot between my eyebrows was now seriously creased.
Me: Ok FINE.
I took my new boarding pass and stomped down the ramp. Jill comforted and shrugged and honestly probably wished I'd shut up.
I took a deep breath and started preaching grace to my heart. Seriously, a handicapped person needed the seat. What was my problem? Breathing. Considered my two boarding passes. My old seat was 27A. My new seat was 26A. I can deal I guess. One row isn't a big deal. Sigh. 26 will be fine.
Glanced at Jill's boarding pass. She was seated in 26B.
Yes. My new boarding pass put me next to Jill.
The old boarding pass which I'd so carefully confirmed with the airline had us one row apart. I had thrown a fit, growled at an agent, ignored grace for someone who needed my seat and generally behaved badly. And God had been blessing me the entire time.
For the love. I'm a jerk.
I have a sneaky suspicion I do this all the time. Get annoyed when plans change. Growl at people. Frown and Fuss. Throw a fit when God changes my life in big and small ways. But I know His plans are for my good. I know even the painful and heartache things can bring great joy and glory and growth.
Sometimes the change means you get what you really wanted the whole time.
Row 26 was nice.
As I did my morning walk at the Mall today, I took notice of all the merchants who were setting up for their daily business behind the locked metal gates and mesh screens. And a truth hit me! They are so brave and courageous!
My thoughts had just so happened to be on the events that have happened over the last couple months: Las Vegas, New York, Denver, and a simple church in Texas. We hear of mall shootings, church shootings, school shootings, and the list is endless. Yet, somehow, we as people still have the courage to not let these things stop us from living life!
“God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (I Timothy 1:7)
We are born with distinct coding in our DNA. We can gloss over the fact we have certain traits or bents. We can deny it. We can fight against it, even with some success. But it doesn’t change the fact that the coding is still there.
We are created in God’s image. Period! We have the spiritual DNA of faith. We can gloss over it, deny it, and even fight against it, but it doesn’t change the fact that God’s coding is still in us. It is prevalent everywhere we turn as we see people still moving forward with courage regardless of the adverse and painful events that hit our lives.
Getting up in the morning…. Takes courage.
Going to work and school… Takes courage.
Seeing a therapist or counselor… Takes courage.
Taking care of our families when we may be battling a health problem… Takes courage.
Attending a sports event regardless of past bombings… Takes courage.
Playing in a sports event regardless of past crippling sports injuries… Takes courage.
Paying of a debt…. Takes courage.
Going to the grocery store regardless of past robberies and shootings… Takes courage.
Driving a vehicle regardless of past deadly car accidents… Takes courage.
Saying hi to a stranger… Takes courage.
And the list continues……
The words from the chorus of a recent Skillet song have sunk so deep into my spirit… “If we’re gonna fly, we fly like eagles
Arms out wide.
If we’re gonna fear, we fear no evil
We will rise.
By your power, we will go
By your spirits, we are bold
If we’re gonna stand, we stand as giants
If we’re gonna walk, we walk as lions
We walk as lions.
And how does a lion walk? Always aware and always ready, but not afraid. We still take precautions…. But not in fear.
Next time you feel fear, remember your Godly wiring.
The devil may think he has won a battle, and my heart aches for those precious people whose flames were snuffed out way too prematurely. But, good still somehow surfaces through it all… and ultimately, God already won the war a long time ago.
John Piper is the sort of man equally comfortable in the middle of a graduate theology debate or a giggle group of preschoolers. His approach to faith is thoughtful, inspiring and memorable. Never boring. I've read lots of Piper and I think of him often. If you are ready to take your faith more seriously and still keep laughing this is the book for you.
Have you read other Piper works? Which ones?
Ever felt lost? Out of community? Without a home? This interview with dear friends Renee and Wayne will encourage your heart. Listen in as we chat about grace, the church and finding your way. Check out the links in the YouTube bio for more information about this amazing place.
And if any of you are fantastic camera people - I could use a lesson....help!
I love Jesus. I think my two daughters can change the world. I think you can too.
Sign up to receive Mindy's Quirk-E-Mails