December 23, 2011


The Old Testament is full of stories of forgetting. It was a cycle: the Israelites, God’s people, would witness a miracle and worship Him. Then, after a while, they’d forget and go chase after other gods. Then they’d suffer for it and cry out to the true God for help. And then He’d display His power to rescue them yet again.

His continual command to them is to remember. “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done…Remember the wonders he has done.” (Ps. 105:1,5)

The word “remember” appears 166 times in the NIV. It's the antidote to many ills: dissatisfaction, self-satisfaction, discouragement, arrogance, pride. It keeps us close to God by reminding us of His goodness and the times He’s been faithful in the past.

As 2011 draws to a close, I want to remember the times that remind me of God’s goodness—the successes, the mountaintops, the glimpses of assurance. Some highlights: 

  • In June, I graduated from college, probably the happiest person to go through that three-hour ceremony in the baseball stadium.

  • In September, I sat down at my computer to start a blog and launch a career as a freelance writer and editor. It was a leap of faith: I didn’t really knowing where I was going, but was trying to obey God’s call and guidance. Today this blog has almost 1,200 hits (thanks to all of you)!  
  • In October, I started tutoring (now have 9 students) and had an article and a poem published on Associated Content (now Yahoo! Voices).
  • In November, I quit my babysitting job and started writing the second draft of my children’s novel (now up to 12,000 words!)
  • Two weeks ago, I received and completed my first professional proofreading project (I flinched at dangling modifiers for days). Now there’s another one coming my way!

These milestones remind me of God’s mighty power and tender love. Four months ago, I had no job and no confidence that I could make it as a writer. Now the elements of a writing career are sprouting up around me like crocuses. It is amazing to watch, because although I planted the seeds and watered them, God has worked (and continues to work) the miracle of growth.

I also want to remember the tough times of this past year, though. In between the milestones, there have been many dry days when I was too tired to write, had no income, wondered if I was doing the right thing at all, or if I should go out and get a “real” job. When I’ve felt sad and alone and sorry for myself, though, is when I have most desperately turned to God (just like the Israelites). When all other support crumbles, when the music dies and you’re alone in the quiet, it’s then that you really understand that God is the Solid Rock, all-sufficient and very present in trouble. Deserts are testing times: for growing and learning to depend, to rely, to trust. It’s in the book of Deuteronomy:

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

It’s in the times of dryness that we learn if we’re really walking by faith, not sight. Sometimes you can’t tell until you experience blindness.

The main thing is, I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget the lessons learned in the desert. And I don’t want to get deluded and think that I worked the successes for myself. God gave me the gift of words and has called me to use it for His glory and others’ blessing. He has opened doors of opportunity and given me fortitude to face the giants. And through it all, He has been incredibly faithful.

So I close the year with a prayer from the Psalms:

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Ps. 115:1).

What do you remember as you look back on this year? 

A few quick notes:

  • No blog post next week: I’m going out of town. See you the first week of January!
  • I’ve signed up for an online blog class that goes through January and February. I’m excited to learn more about blogging, so keep an eye out for updates and improvements throughout the next couple of months! 

December 16, 2011

Christmas from the Outside

Christmas celebrations, at least in America, are glazed with fuzzy feelings. Lights deck out dark windows, sugary drinks abound at Starbucks, songs about cherubs and snuggling and pumpkin pie flood the radio. Even most Christian carols are exclusively about Joy to the World and Peace on Earth at this time of year, sweeping the rest under the rug ‘til January. But that glitzy window display of sentimentalism divides people. Either you’re rockin’ around the Christmas tree, or you’re fogging the glass from the outside, wondering why you can’t hear the music.

Christmas has a way of dredging up life’s most intense sorrows as well as its joys. Landing at the end of the calendar year, it offers opportunities for reflection. Achievements, gains, successes, new opportunities become cause for celebration. But job loss, unwanted moves, illness, addiction, regret, missed opportunities—how do you celebrate those?

As a time when families traditionally gather together, Christmas can also exacerbate the awareness when they’re not. The sentimentalism of the season doesn’t have room for divorce, miscarriage, divisive arguments, breakups, estrangement, or death—leaving those with these relational wounds to carry them around like dirty little secrets under our Christmas sweaters. I lost someone at Christmas when I was very young, and to this day, songs about cozy sleigh rides, Daddy chopping firewood, or even Mary and Joseph cooing over baby Jesus can leave me rubbing my hands on the cold side of the window. At a time of year when mommies traditionally take their little girls to The Nutcracker and couples kiss under the mistletoe, that secret pain can feel illicit at the “most wonderful time of the year.” You wonder if you’re a Scrooge for not feeling the “Christmas spirit”—especially when you know you’re supposed to be celebrating the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth into the world. 

The birth of Christ, though, wasn’t as sugary as the wooden nativity scenes make it out to be—not if you look at it from God the Father’s perspective, anyway. Maybe it isn’t orthodox, but I imagine that He felt very conflicted on that first Christmas. I know He overflowed with joy because He stood to regain relationship with a world full of His beloved children. But—but—at the same time, as the heav’nly hosts sang Alleluia and a teenage girl lovingly cradled her new baby, I think the Father pressed His nose to the glass and wept.

Because that baby, separated from Him by a veil of flesh, was His son, His only son.

And he was going to die.

Perhaps a true celebration of Christmas has room for mixed feelings. It’s a time for rejoicing; for singing Christ the Savior is born and investing in our relationships, whatever they may be. But it’s a holiday of loss, too; a commemoration of the grief that goes hand-in-hand with joy. Christmas is more than tinsel and gift cards, but it’s also more than singing shepherds and a haloed Baby. Because even as we celebrate advent, incarnation, and nativity, we are remembering one Father’s suffering, sacrifice, and separation from his son—something many of us understand very personally at this time of year. With joy in our hearts and tears in our eyes, we celebrate that God, who gave up all He had to welcome us inside—even those of us who have been fogging the glass a long time.

Hallelujah. What a Savior. 

December 10, 2011

Angel Wings

When I was a kid, there seemed to be an invisible fairy who made the house run smoothly. If I left a mess in the playroom, it was gone by morning. Somehow breakfast appeared on the table, and I always had clean clothes to wear. Presto! Magic (also pronounced "mom").

One of the most novel phenomena about moving into my college apartment was discovering that no invisible fairy lived there. When I dumped clothes on the floor at night--how bizarre!--they were still there in the morning. If I didn't get off the couch in the afternoon, there was still no dinner ready by evening. But a lot of the tasks required to keep a home running are quite menial, and I still don't look forward to them. My personal un-favorites: scrubbing the tub and cleaning out moldy vegetables from the refrigerator. Mmm.

Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out

I did learn, however, that those tasks are crucial to preventing messes. (See Shel Silverstein poem: "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out.") Over time, I started developing a sixth sense: housekeeping. I almost felt invisible fairy wings growing from my back.

This week, a lot of things have needed doing at my house. With my grandma moved in and guests and relatives in and out through a revolving door, the task list just seems to grow and grow. All those people need to eat, need laundry done, need places to sleep, need attention and care. These tasks range from the menial to the yucky to the exhausting. Before I grew the fairy wings, I might not have noticed all those things that needed doing. Even still, my instinct revolts, I have better things to do! But this week, I have been blessed to witness many acts of service, from a dear friend who brought us dinner, to my brother quietly standing at the sink washing plates, to my mom blitzing through a 4-hour grocery shopping marathon on all of our behalf.

I was reminded that really, it's not about clean plates or a stocked fridge. Those are the things you can see. But those menial housekeeping--or perhaps home-keeping--tasks are really expressions of love for one another. I know love is what keeps me going when chopping zucchini for dinner seems like a waste of time. It's not just zucchini. It's love for my family, making sure they have a hot dinner to come home to, a way of offering comfort to them after a long day. It doesn't always make those unpleasant tasks pleasant, but it endows them with a sense of significance and worth.

I even think that housekeeping tasks can be acts of worship. Colossians 3:23-24 is one of my favorite verses, because it seems to apply in all circumstances: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for is the Lord Christ you are serving." Wash dishes for God? Maybe God doesn't benefit from the clean dishes...but He loves a heart that does every little thing in service to Him. Taking out the garbage can be like singing a hymn if it's done for a God who sees what is done in secret.

So don't give up on chopping zucchini, on picking up messes, on endless piles of laundry. Maybe the wings you wear when working that magic are less for a fairy...and more for an angel.

December 3, 2011

Though the Earth Should Change

Hospitals shake my trust.

I wasn't planning on my grandmother, age 89, going to the emergency room on Thanksgiving evening.

I wasn't planning on her making a return visit that Monday in the wee hours of the morning. Or on her being admitted to the hospital. Or on her remaining on the cardiac floor for a week. She's still there. Some days she's better, others worse. My mom, who has been driving back and forth every day to be with her, never knows what she's going to find when she gets there, or what medical developments the next day will bring.

But do we ever really know what tomorrow holds?

For the last few months, I've been working on getting my career off the ground. I've had a plan, set goals, and worked hard. This is good. But, as you'll notice if you've been reading my posts, I have a chronic trust problem. Sometimes my manic planning interrupts me relying on the One who knows my future and already has a plan for it. When I think I've got tomorrow under control, I forget that tomorrow belongs to Him. Like the person in James 4:

You who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.

Ain't that the truth.

"Normal" life gives me the illusion of control, predictability, security. But when hospital entered the equation early this week, I was reminded of just how hollow that illusion rings. It's a hologram, a mirage. Even on "routine" days when the alarm rings on time and there's no traffic on the highway, we never know what will happen. Our PDAs and planners lie to us. We make our plans, but sometimes things happen that blow those plans completely out of the water. And sometimes it's in that still, scared place when all the plans are gone that I see God without distraction. Sometimes my "normal" has to be shattered for me to remember that God is God, and to pay attention to what really matters: Him. Just Himself.

In the midst of worry and wondering what will happen next, He is a strong and safe refuge. These words from Psalm 46 bring me peace in a time of storm.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change
and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea...

"Cease striving, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.

Right now I know less about tomorrow than ever. I'm praying earnestly for my grandma (and entreat your prayers as well). But strangely, when the illusion of "normal" is gone, something better is left. God. He is a secure fortress worthy of my trust; a very present help in trouble.