Lord, let me be a Martha

With the exception of the Woman of Valor described in Proverbs 31, I don’t think there is a female in all of scripture that Christian women use to beat themselves up more than poor old Martha.

You remember Martha, right?  Yes, yes.  Mary’s sister.  The nagging one.

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!

I mean, can’t you just hear the whine in her voice?!

Martha gets it wrong.  

Her sister Mary, on the other hand, is to be admired.  We imagine her so calm and doe-eyed, staring up at Jesus in full adoration.  This is a woman who doesn’t overload her schedule and has time for a morning devotion (and probably doesn’t yell at her kids either!)

She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary gets it right.

It’s practically a rite of passage in female Christendom to utter the phrase “I just want to be more of a Mary!”.

I feel in my clamoring to be this “Mary” figure, I close myself off from learning what scripture has to teach me about discipleship from Martha.

It is far too easy to take our preconceived assumptions of people in scripture and allow them to not only taint how we see their role in God’s story, but also causes us to miss some important things.

Take for example Euodia and Syntyche that Paul mentions in the close of his letter to the churches of Philippi.  He urges them to be of one mind and I immediately imagine a cat fight between two girls who just can’t get along.  Probably over something dumb, too.

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This is the first picture that pops up in a google search for Euodia and Syntyche.

 

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This is the second.
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You get the picture…

Christian commentaries, blogs and sermons declare everything from gossip to the ‘overly sensitive feminine nature’ to jealousy for this alleged spat between Euodia and Syntyche.

But as I was studying this passage last year one of the women in my group pointed out how there isn’t actually any indication that they were fighting, let alone in some petulant spat.  

In painting them -whether in my own imagination or from the pulpit or in a commentary – as little women who are petty and problematic –  I miss that Paul was simply speaking to two of his co-workers, probably prominent women in the church, and the importance of reminding us to strive for unity in the faith when facing mounting persecution.  What I actually see when I take a unbiased look is a plea for these two women to be encouraged and supported by the church members as they participate in the work of the gospel.  Maybe there were differences or maybe this was just an exhortation to keep running the race.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same
mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal
companion, help these women, for they have struggled
beside me in the work of the gospel, together with
Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names
are in the book of life

Even if they were disagreeing, I miss so much when I allow them to become caricatures in my head and especially when those caricatures serve to perpetuate silly stereotypes.

Going back to Mary and Martha – another pair of women always presented in the context of a petty female spat.  They have almost become two dimensional and unless I go back with fresh eyes to look at scripture, I just keep veering further and further off course in my perspective.

Mary and Martha. One right, one wrong.  And I have to pick which one to be.  I have to condemn one and strive for the other.  That is how it gets set up.

I wish I wasn’t such a Martha!

I want to be more of a Mary!

Who says we have to choose?

Who says we even should choose?

I am not a Mary or a Martha, I’m a Kirsten (okay, I’m also a ‘Kristin’ a lot too 😂)

I love Mary for her devotion to Jesus and her audacity in learning as a disciple.  But actually, just because Jesus doesn’t give in to Martha’s request, doesn’t mean she isn’t also audacious and devoted.

In chapter 11 of John’s gospel, we get a glimpse of the tender love that Jesus has for these two sisters as well as their brother Lazarus.  After Lazarus dies Jesus comes to Bethany,  just look at what Martha does:

 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Martha’s faith is astounding.

Martha’s faith is active.

Martha appears to be a woman SO secure in her standing with Jesus and His authority that she can confidently declare these things to her Rabbi.  She is not afraid, she is emboldened.

 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

Martha is not only theologically astute but this knowledge has transformed her mind and her heart and she believes.  This is a far cry from the image I have in my head of the woman too busy to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Even when we return back to that story from Luke, when I re-read it with fresh eyes and no previous caricatures in mind, I no longer see a frazzled, nagging, nit-picking sister who is missing Jesus – that is simply the narrative I have chosen to accept all these years.

What I see is that same active faith as when she confronted Him about Lazarus.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.

The word used to describe what Martha is doing is simply the greek diakonian – the general word used for serving and ministering, where we get the word “deacon”. It is at the very heart and soul of Jesus’ ministry on Earth to be a diakanos (minister/servant) or to engage in ‘diakonian’ (ministry/service). Anyone who serves – whether as a housewife or a nurse or a teacher or a pastor or a social worker – knows the concerns and distractions that come with such work.  It’s overwhelming the amount of people to care for in this world.  Martha is well aware of the importance of this serving ministry to Jesus.

There is absolutely NO indication in this passage that Martha is stressing over some Pinterest perfect dinner party and has just over scheduled herself and can’t sit and have a quiet time with her Lord.

She is a diakanos.  A servant.  She is someone who is intimately acquainted with Jesus and his ministry and his friendship.  It is true that he does not give into her request, corrects her thinking, and honors what Mary is doing, but that doesn’t mean we have to paint them in such a black and white fashion and pit them against one another.

Mary and Martha were both honored by Jesus, just as I believe Euodia and Syntyche were both honored by Paul.  Let us not fall into the dangerous trap of reading scripture without a sense of nuance.

It’s true we don’t have all the details, but why do I have to believe the two dimensional, shallow version of Martha rather than believing that she is a woman of depth, service, theological understanding and strong faith?

She is a woman on her own unique journey with Jesus.

So even though I love Mary and what we get from his words about her in this passage, I also seek to be like Martha.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit.  May I be SO intimately acquainted that I can make bold claims of you because I have bold faith in you.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit. May I be one who serves and ministers the least of these.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit. So that I too will be a woman who is quick to run to you first – even if you have to correct me a million times on the way because I miss the bigger picture.

Jesus give me a Martha spirit. May I be as much a devoted and audacious disciple as her!

Most of all Jesus, help me to read scripture with fresh eyes, to set aside my assumptions and caricatures to more clearly see the depth of what it means to follow you.

Lord help me to look beyond the black and white easy answers of who is right and who is wrong, who nails it and who fails. Help me extend more grace to the men and women  I see on the pages of scripture and in my day to day life.

Lord remind me that I don’t have to pit one person against another in order to be affirmed in my choices.  Lord help me to not perpetuate harmful stereotypes based on race or gender or theological affiliation.

I am both the pharisee and the sinner, the wounded and the healer, the leader and the follower, the Mary and the Martha.   There is room at Your table for all I bring with me.

The Rock and The House

As a family we love to adventure and hike and watch America Ninja Warrior and as a result my kids are often climbing rocks and trees and anything that will stand still including the walls of our house.  Inevitably there will arise a moment of panic when one of them can’t find a safe place to put their foot on the whatever they are climbing.  My husband will assure them calmly that they just need to feel around for the next safe step, but when you are in a precarious position above the ground and everywhere you move your foot is too small or not right or loose or cracked – even the steady voice of daddy loses it’s power and authority.

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And so it goes when we try to claim the promises of God when we are in precarious positions ourselves.

In the opening of A Grief Observed we glimpse these thoughts of C.S. Lewis:

But go to Him (God) when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence

In those torturous moments of sorrow and anxiety and fear, the promises, presence and peace of God all seem to elude us and taunt us.  My children in their tree climbing adventures, and C.S. Lewis in his grief, find themselves in good company with Jesus Christ as he cried out on the cross

My God My God, why have you forsaken me?

In some moments of pain recently I felt as if I were pounding on that door that Lewis describes, begging for God to speak something – anything!-  to me.

Help me make sense of this!  

I am falling – why do your promises feel hollow?  

I can’t feel you, or see you – shouldn’t you be more present right now?!

It’s great to memorize scripture and know the promises, but when you can’t access them in your hour of need, when they don’t feel meaningful, we have words like those of C.S. Lewis and some similar ones from my journal pages.  All the promises and assurances of God kept whizzing past me. I couldn’t grab a hold of them!  Occasionally I would catch one, or so I thought, only to find that what I assumed was a solid mass was was suddenly a liquid and slipping  between my fingers.

Bolting and double bolting.

After that, silence.

There was no comfort, no peace, no presence, no promise that would minister to my soul in the way I needed, in the way I demanded!   When I first began writing ten years ago, it was to process this exact same thing.  Back then it was because I had suffered two miscarriages and the most painful part of the experience was wondering why I couldn’t feel God, wondering if He had abandoned me in my neediest hour.  But God did eventually break through during that season and in the months before becoming pregnant with Evangeline I have such precious memories of being comforted by Jesus, and He has been faithful to me once again.

A few nights ago a friend called me and prayed for me over the phone and the Lord gave her these words

“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. 25  The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock”

It felt sort of funny in the moment for both of us because we had just finished teaching Vacation Bible School and this was one of the messages we had our kids memorize.

To be honest when I think of this verse I just see the children’s pictures of cartoon looking people building houses and that silly, silly song, it doesn’t feel very adult. Too much giggling when the house on the sand goes SPLAT!  Too simplistic and too formulaic.

But in that moment as she prayed, it was real.

Just as real as the wind beating against my house and the relentless rain, and the rising floodwaters.

The truth clung to me in the way I needed, – not just as knowledge in my head or words on a page.  It landed right in the secret place where it could take root and grow and flourish.

I have built my house upon Jesus.

Proclaiming that just feels so good to me right now!

I have built my house upon Jesus.

His teachings.  His ways.  His heart.  His death.  His resurrection.  His Grace.  His Church.

Yeah, it’s a house with lots of imperfections and failings and crooked parts.   So many that I am justified in wondering how it could ever stand up to a storm and certainly don’t always feel like the wise person described in the passage.  But as shoddy as my handiwork has been, the One upon whom I have built it is firm and I not only “could” trust him (you know, theoretically), I do trust him.

I believed I would be okay.  There will be storm damage to repair, but I would be okay.  

Until I am in those moments of hopelessness when the assurances are zooming PAST ME and OVER ME and AROUND ME but never INTO ME to grab a hold of, not until then can I fully appreciate both what a miracle belief is and how mysterious the ways of God are.  

The Promise that I would not be defeated through the storm because of my foundation in Christ created fertile ground for all the other promises that had been evading my spirit to come take root.

Assurances of a Savior and a Friend who doesn’t give up on me or changes His mind about who I am.

Of a Father who is steadfast, faithful, passionate, creative and interested.

Of a Spirit that is a flowing river that will make a way.

And It poured some much needed lighter fluid onto a flickering torch.

It has been a slow learning curve for me to invite others into the ‘process’ with me.  I am one of those people that prefers to share my problems after I have them all solved and tidy.  So I can just mention the events of my life casually without anyone seeing ‘how the sausage is made’, so to speak.   It is so worth the risk when friends respond to that invitation with gusto, compassion and faithfulness so that they can call me on a troubled Sunday night, and be used by God to tell me that the door is not bolted after all.

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Here I am standing on the top of a rock, Mt. Bigelow to be exact.  And I think I am shouting “I am Moana!” so that my son and daughter would be severely embarrassed by me.

This parable of building homes on the Rock and the Sand comes as the closing word after the Sermon on the Mount, during which Jesus quickly makes it clear that our own righteousness is a facade and that we will find God not so much when we are getting it ‘right’ but rather when we are mourning, desperate for God, thirsty for righteousness, meek, humble, persecuted, hopeless, helpless and sorry.

I don’t understand the silences of God when the nights are the darkest, or maybe I just can’t see how my own emotions and trauma need to settle before I can hear Him clearly.

But as I look closely at the varied strata of Bedrock underneath the life I have built, I can see that each layer is Jesus’ grace in a moment, a year, a day, a tear, a prayer, a leap, a confession, a slow crawl or a quiet yes  – all to the One who has first been faithful to me.

Whenever I feel my foot slipping,
    your faithful love steadies me, Lord.
When my anxieties multiply,
    your comforting calms me down.  Psalm 94

The Ministry of Oreo Cookies

Last week my baby boy somehow, miraculously, turned 6 years old.  He is big and strong and tender and generous and asks curious, philosophical questions about life.   To celebrate we invited some family and school friends over and I sent my husband to the store to get some chips and cookies.  He came back with Doritos and Oreos and so I ripped them open and there they sat in the kitchen.  The kids ran like wild, feral animals around the house, in and out.. and in and out…and in and out…through the patio door, but returning over and over again to my Formica counter until their fingers were caked in orange and their lips and teeth were spotted with chocolate crumbs.

We really hadn’t gotten to know the families from Zachary’s kindergarten class very well yet, so I felt nervous inviting them into my home, nervous about making small talk, wondering if we would hit it off and if they would like me (it’s ALWAYS 7th grade in my head!).

I am under no such illusion that I could locate any actual food listed on the ingredient list of these prepackaged snacks if I were to look, but for some reason it felt so good to offer them up, like they were the perfect items to bring people together, both kids and adults.

So incredibly unceremonious.

So very cheap and humble, I hoped everyone would feel welcome and that is hard to accomplish when I am trying to impress.

Chips and cookies: a familiar, common denominator for people of different backgrounds getting to know one another.  I could have offered something homemade.  I could have upgraded to something without fake cheese and artificial cream filling.  I could have made something Pinterest worthy.

But that day I allowed the ministry of Doritos and Oreos to reign as kids ran amok through my home and parents lingered around the dining room table.

And it was good.

A couple days later, after having walked through a couple of the complex places that life has me right now,  I found myself with tears streaming from my eyes and a deep, deep ache in my heart.   I sat down by myself to think and to feel and, as Sarah Bessey says, to ‘obey the sadness‘.

I told God how I was feeling.  I sat silently.  And then I got up from my chair, walked to the kitchen and took out three Oreo cookies.  I poured myself a small glass of milk and then returned to my seat, dunking each Oreo into the cold milk and then allowing that old familiar flavor to minister once again.

Eating my emotions is never the wise choice, I am well acquainted with this truth. Trust me.

But this wasn’t emotional eating in the same sense.   I mean, yes, I was emotional.  I was sitting in some very real heart ache that has been a constant companion for some time and I just sensed that God wanted to sit beside me, like a mommy whose child has come home from a hard day at school.  He passes a plate of cookies to me and whole milk straight from the fridge, and just sits in the sadness with me.  Listening, nodding along with empathy and compassion.

Not to numb myself from the pain, or solve the pain, or turn to chocolate instead of to Him.  But because He created me to taste, to chew, to crave, to eat.  He created me to feel comfort and nostalgia and to eat and drink and savor and enjoy.  He made food for me, he didn’t make me for food.  So I took the food that was on hand, some left over Oreo cookies, and ate them one by one.  Enjoying the crunch, the cream, the sweetness as a ministry from the Holy Spirit.

Through the Gospels so many of the miracles and stories of Jesus center around mealtimes.  A banquet, a wedding, a Passover feast, fish and loaves on the hillside, at the dining room tables of Pharisees and sinners alike.

And my favorite, when Jesus prepares a breakfast of fresh fish on the shore of the Sea of Galilee for some disciples who have just experienced grief, sorrow, regret and confusion.

I am among them.  

The Lord ministers through food, around food, with food. Salty, smokey fresh fish over an open fire.  Or prepackaged cookies from a supermarket.  As our tongues taste and bellies are filled and senses aroused our Jesus meets us.  He doesn’t shun food or forbid food or ask us to forsake food, he uses food.  This is, after all, the man who said He is Bread and He is wine.  Not to numb our pain or eat or emotions, but because God ministers through the things of the Earth He created, the things I can taste and smell and touch and see.   That which ministers to my body somehow ministers to my Spirit.

“There, there now” He says to me.  “Take and eat and remember me.  I am here with you and have not left your side.  Have another cookie and tell me all about it.” 

We are the women of holy week

I remember Mary the mother of Jesus.  During communion every Sunday and on Good Friday.  The bread and wine- body and blood – I remember Jesus but also in my mind is the first woman in Jesus’ life, Mary.  Mary, who actually and literally and intimately carried this flesh and this blood within her for 9 months and then years later grieved at the cross as she witnessed that flesh and blood slowly and painfully dying.   Her very flesh and blood.  Once part of her, now broken for her.  Once within her, now poured out for her.

When I take communion myself, and when I serve it to brothers and sisters at my side.  When I carry it, consume it, allow it to pierce my heart.  When I surrender and give thanks and even when I fail to understand.  When the bread and wine, body and blood are held in my hands, I remember the death of Jesus, and in some ways I am Mary the mama of my Lord.  

I remember Mary of Bethany.  Practically a sister to Jesus.  She took on the priestly role of anointing Jesus for his burial.  Was she the only one who actually got it?  Was she the only disciple who understood?  Did her cheeks flush and heart pound and eyes burn with tears as she marched through the cluster of men towards Jesus’ feet to prepare him, and perhaps prepare herself, for his death?

When my cheeks flush and my heart pounds and my eyes burn with tears to march forward the only way I know to be right I remember the death of Jesus, and in some ways, I am Mary of Bethany.  

I remember the women at Golgatha.  Many of the other disciples had fled and denied and even betrayed, I remember the women who remained.  Did they console each other?  Were they crying or stoic?   What memories flooded their minds?  What did the gruesome sight before them do to their hearts, to their faith?  In the midst of these questions, they persisted until the end.   They hadn’t left Jesus before, and they didn’t intend to now.

When I want to turn away.  When Jesus asks too much of me.  When his sacrifice disturbs me.  When the temptation to hide and flee and even deny threaten to overwhelm me yet I stay and bear witness with faith smaller than a mustard seed, I remember the death of Jesus, and in some ways, I am the women at the crucifixion.  

I remember Mary Magdalene at the tomb.  Friend of Jesus, redeemed and healed and set free and devoted for life to this Son of Man.  She thinks she is showing up to do the necessary duty of caring for a dead body, but Jesus meets her.  She thinks she is along the path of grief, but the resurrection puts her on a path of hope.  She thinks she is getting a second chance to cling to her savior and rabbi, but Jesus sends her to use her voice in a “man’s world”.  She moved in mere moments from the numbness of tragedy to the delirium of hope to the charge of being the apostle to the apostles.  Thousands of years and thousands of lives would be built upon her preaching, her witness, her faithfulness.  A woman who had been radically transformed and radically faithful from the beginning.

When my devotion to Jesus looks foolish to outsiders, when Jesus moves me from tragedy to hope to mission.  When I want to cling and stay safe, but Jesus sends me out to preach and give witness in the power of new life.  When it’s so easy to believe that I am the wrong person for the job, I remember the good news of the resurrection of Jesus and in some ways, I am Mary Magdalene.  

It is during Holy Week that I often feel closest to Jesus as a woman.  Perhaps it is as Rachel Held Evans describes

 I suspect she knew instinctively, the way that women know these things, that a man who dines at a leper’s house, who allows a woman to touch him with her hair, who rebukes Pharisees and befriends prostitutes, would not survive for long in the world in which she lived.

Surely a woman in this society would understand this better than a man.

Perhaps this is why the women stayed by Jesus’ side after so many of the Twelve betrayed him, denied him, and fled from him in fear. This was the course of things, the women knew

I enter into this story as each of these women, and as myself.   All around there is chaos, death, pride, confusion, arguing, religious pomp and circumstance, facades, betrayal, oppression and lies – as much during that first holy week in Jerusalem as this one in 2017.

But if I can clear away those cobwebs I can see that at the end of the day in the middle of it all there sits my Jesus, and a place for me at his feet.  Just as there was a woman called to carry his body and his blood, just as there was a woman called out to anoint him, just as there was a woman compelled to witness the crucifixion, just as there was a woman chosen to first preach the resurrection.

Just as there were women before me, so I am today, and so there will be women who come after me.

We are the women of Holy Week.  We have chosen what is good.  

Solitude and Silence and Facebook

I recently asked my team (a.k.a. my family) to help hold me accountable to being off my phone more.  My 7 year old  (who is basically ready to run the world) did not disappoint and took this task very seriously and drew 7 identical signs to post around the house (that all have an owl mascot on them), and cut out 20 ‘tickets’ to give me when I messed up.

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This girl loves rules, loves keeping the rules, and loves ‘helping’ others keep the rules.  Where I am weak with accountability and follow through, she excels.  What a blessing that we are on the same team, we balance each other out a bit.  And OH MY GOODNESS has she has stuck to it.  If after picking up my phone to check the recipe on Pinterest, I linger a bit to check twitter – she is RIGHT THERE, looking up at me sternly.

Actually, it feels embarrassing to admit that I need help from something that shouldn’t be a problem in the first place. It feels like I am not mature enough or discerning enough or can’t use my time wisely enough or be Christian enough to just enjoy social media for what it is and leave the negative bits. Sort of  like how we wonder why an alcoholic can’t just have one glass of wine every now and again.

I like how Sarah Bessey describes this in her recent journey to give up drinking alcohol (read this article it’s amazing)

We begin to sense that this Thing that used to be okay is no longer okay. The Thing that used to mean freedom has become bondage. The Thing that used to signal joy has become a possibility of sorrow. The Thing that used to mean nothing has become something, perhaps everything.  It has happened about other habits or dependencies or sins or stumbles in my life as I’ve followed Jesus.

Awhile ago I started seeing social media as The Thing.  I saw just how much I was really on my phone.  In addition to the shear amount of hours consumed, I also saw my reactions to what other people shared.  I saw my own motivations in what I would share.  And they weren’t pretty.  And I can’t unsee those things.  And try as I might, I can’t wish them away or self-help them into oblivion.

Accountability is good and my daughter’s compassion and determination inspire me, it has legitimately helped me, but if accountability and self discipline are my only courses of action in life then I think I am screwed and honestly a little disappointed.  

Because my accountability partner can’t always be there.

Because I can hide in the bathroom (and I do…)

Because I can lie.

Because I fail.

But most importantly and most powerfully, because my phone still tastes good to me.  Or rather, the things that my phone offers taste good to me.   As long as a thirst is present,  I will keep trying to satiate it even if I am going back to water that is muddy.

Unfortunately, simply placing more rules and guidelines and reminders to stay off my phone will always fail me if I don’t attend to the deep thirst and the need to distract myself which lie within.

You know how a yummy donut is heaven for a few minutes, but jiggly thighs inevitably come down the road if you eat enough of ’em (I have experience with this one, trust me!)?  Or how that delicious, spicy, cheesy chile relleno was quickly devoured but left me with heartburn for an entire day (totally worth it!)?  Well, social media leaves my heart and my soul with things that can’t be remedied by some extra leg squats or popping a couple of Tums. It leaves me missing the life I want.  It leaves an ugly gamut of emotions like envy, desperation for praise, loneliness, self-righteousness, superiority, rejection, outrage, greed, sadness, narcissism, and unrest – all sparked and then fueled in this place that wants to promise connection, authenticity and yes even freedom.  Ironically these are the same ugly emotions that drive me to to social media in the first place.   What an unending cycle it all is.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?

    Why so disturbed within me?

I turn to the internet for water, because I am thirsty, but am always left with gritty sand in my mouth. I know where living water is found.  I know where there is a stream that will quench every thirst I have.  But knowing will only carry me so far.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
    so my soul pants for you, my God.
 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When can I go and meet with God?

Jesus has never yet wrestled me to the ground and force fed me, so I don’t really expect him to start now.

Solitude and silence await me.

I must go to that lonely place in the quiet- where the Instagram filters and quick wit and right ideology that form my protective layers are stripped away and I am left bare to be seen by the one who made me.

I must go to that lonely place in the early morning hours – where demands and chores and tasks haven’t yet taken over.

I must go to that lonely place in the dark– where even though I search frantically, distractions and momentary highs cannot be found, so I must rest.

Solitude and silence.  Where I am afforded the opportunity to relinquish my relevance, relinquish my image, relinquish my competence.

At the beginning, my mind screams in the quiet.  The noisy racket of anxieties, fears, concerns, stresses get louder and louder, but there is no volume dial, no power switch!   So one by one I release my grip on them and give them to the Lord. I try to be patient with myself.   I center myself around Him.  I breathe deep.  I sip my coffee.  I wait. I wait longer.

Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

I must go to that lonely place in the quiet – if only to pay attention to my thirsts.

My deepest longings and thirsts are to be seen.  To be favored.  To be celebrated.  To be invited.  To be pursued.  To be valued.  To be valuable.  To have purpose.  To be known.

I must go that lonely place in the quiet – to drink deeply from living water.

My thirsts are quenched as I am seen.  As I am favored.  As I am celebrated. Invited.  Pursued.  Valued.  Known and given purpose.

It is from being filled by the Father’s love for me and my place with Him – not just once but morning by morning in solitude and in silence – that I can look down at my turquoise phone and truly believe that life is not found there, that I don’t need to be distracted, and that there are better things waiting for me elsewhere.   The desire and appetite leave me, slowly.  And less and less I turn to that and more and more I live life apart from it and as Sarah Bessey says “be invited to more shalom, more peace, more hope, more love, more trust, more wholeness”

By day the Lord directs his love,
    at night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

Free Woman/Slave Woman

The words sounded so lovely coming from my mouth; so kind and considerate and selfless.

“I don’t have a roommate preference, I’d be happy to stay wherever there is a need.  If someone needs a roommate, just put me with them!”

I was signing up for my church’s women’s retreat, and part of the registration form includes the ‘roommate’ blank to fill in.   And I wanted to ask a friend to room with me but worried about looking needy or loser-ish.  More than that I was worried about putting my request out there and being rejected.  Flashbacks of getting picked last or not getting an invitation to a party flooded my brain and took over.

Never has adulting felt so much like Junior High as when signing up for a lady’s event at church!!!

See, deep within my heart is just a little girl.  That’s all.  A little girl. She wants to be wanted as a roommate, but bigger than that, she just wants to be wanted as a person.  Preferred, chosen, worthy.  Wanted.

But that little girl lives inside a 35 year old woman, and letting my longing be seen and heard – or even worse, to have that longing rejected – felt like TOO MUCH for that particular Sunday.  So I cut it off at the pass.  Rather than living by the Spirit, I hid behind a veneer of righteousness. I didn’t know legalism could look like that.

‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Matthew 15:8

Outwardly one might see a woman so secure and free that she is led to love with amazing flexibility and thoughtfulness.  Wouldn’t that be nice if it were the truth!   Sadly just beneath the surface lies a fear of being seen as needy, not sure of her value to others, and afraid of rejection.  I was RULED by those feelings in that moment, and anyone who is RULED by another is also known as a slave.

Experience has shown me that we will all be slaves to something, we will be ruled.  Slaves to what other people think.  Slaves to money or success.  Slaves to an image or an idea or an idealogy.  Slaves to fear, slaves to shame, ultimately:  we are slaves to our own brokenness.

So when the bible offers all these nice words like Peace and Freedom – but then I see what is actually ruling my own heart in the most trivial moments – I wonder if I am missing something?

When Paul tries to show the Freedom we have in Christ to the churches in Galatia, he allegorically refers to Sarah and Hagar from Genesis.  While most of the time when I read this story, I can’t get past the weird gross factor of Sarah asking her husband to sleep with her slave Hagar so she would get pregnant with a child for Sarah.  (Eww.  Just….eww!)  But truth is this wasn’t out of the ordinary for this time and place in history.  When a culture is completely steeped in patriarchy and passing on land and property, having an heir is extremely important.  So it was quite normal, wise and good even, to have a servant around to ensure an heir.   (Eww.  Just….eww!)

Outwardly, one might see a prudent woman taking matters into her own hand and doing right by her husband to provide a son and even fulfilling the promise God gave them for descendants, yet sadly underneath, her heart would reveal a woman insecure and afraid and anything but free.

Rather than trusting in God’s Promise, His Goodness, His favor, His Character – I think all she saw was year… after year… after year…after year…of a barren womb.

So, she yanked the reigns out of God’s hands.  Cut Him off at the pass, before she could be scorned and shamed and disappointed a second longer.

In the story, Hagar is the servant, but I think on some level Sarah was a slave, too.

Confession:  I don’t always believe God’s promises, either.  So I too will yank the reigns out of God’s hands to accomplish what I fear He won’t.  But you won’t see addiction or substance abuse or dysfunction, you will see prudent. Or smart.  Or selfless.  Or holy.  Or Loving.   Or volunteering to have a random roommate at a women’s retreat.

What Sarah did with Hagar brings out the ‘eww’ factor,  but my own heart when I control, manipulate, strive and people please under the guise of Good Christian Girl – is nothing short of grotesque.  Eww.  Gross.  I don’t want that any more than Sarah really wanted Abraham to have sex with Hagar and have a son by her.

I realize that everything I do, no matter how nice looking on the outside, can be done either from a place of freedom, or from a place of slavery.

That picture I put on social media?

The workout I just did?

The way I just served?

The great Jesus-y decision I just made – is this because I am free in Christ, or am I enslaved to the notion that God doesn’t really like me and so I need to try a bit harder?

Workouts and pictures and serving and Jesus-y decisions are AWESOME!  All of them!!!

But all over the pages of scripture from the Old Testament through the New, I see painted in bright and vivid colors a God that is looking right past my awesome words and deeds, and is peering deep into my heart.  He is not impressed with my sacrifice.  He is not impressed with my shiny happy picture or how my new dress fits me or how high I lift my hands during our worship service (pretty darn high, by the way).  He’s not saying those things are bad, of course, He just has other questions for me.

What is in your heart, Kirsten?  Are you afraid?  Are you ashamed?  Are you lonely?  Are you doubting?  What is ruling you?  

He cares about the What, but more deeply He cares about the Why.  And that is because He cares about me.

John Lynch in his book Truefaced shares how we have two paths as Christians – one  which leads to Pleasing God and one which leads to Trusting God.  One is entered via human effort and leads to a life of striving, standards, and outward conformity, while the Other is entered via humility and leads to a life of authenticity, grace and ultimately inner transformation.  He writes “If my motive is trusting God (as opposed to Pleasing God) then my value will be living out of who God says I am”

Who God says I am.  

I am prone to forget that I already am all those things that my little girl heart longs for.  Preferred. Chosen.  Worthy.  Wanted.

In those moments when I really, I mean really, understand this – I am free indeed.

And in this freedom I can run up to my friend and set my longing right out there in front of her and say “Hey let’s room together at the women’s retreat!”

or, as one who has experienced adoption, healing and acceptance I can declare, not as a slave hiding behind fake holiness, but as a free woman living by the Spirit:

“I don’t have a roommate preference, I’d be happy to stay wherever there is a need.  If someone needs a roommate, just put me with them!”

 “I don’t want your sacrifices—I want your love; I don’t want your offerings—I want you to know me.  Hosea 6:6

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. Galatians 5

Next weekend I am going on a women’s retreat with 70 of my closest church lady friends, all of whom I love and love me back, rooming with a girl I am getting to know a bit better and resting in the Lord’s love and provision in my life.  I can’t wait!

The Host

Have you ever filled out one of those Spiritual Gifts Assessments?

I remember in the past answering the questions a bit dishonestly ignorantly, not only because I didn’t really have a lot of experience to go on, but also because I had in mind what I assumed were expected or acceptable gifts for a young woman (and also ones that were not really that scary to me -Tongues and Healing, anyone?!) So, lo and behold – Kirsten is gifted by the spirit for Encouragement and Service and Hospitality!

I’d think my naivety was adorable if I wasn’t so busy laughing at how wrong I was.

Recently my husband and I were talking specifically about the gift of Hospitality and while I make an effort to invite friends, families and students into our home on a regular basis, it’s simply not an area where I really shine.

But when I pause to think about it, being a hostess is probably one of the most realistic ways that I can actually be the hands and feet of Jesus.  Because yes, God is King and Creator and Judge and Savior and all that, but God is also our Host.  The one who initiates, creates, plans and invites.

He is the Host who invites himself over when I’d rather just keep the door closed because my house is a mess.

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.

He is the Host at whose banquet table we all belong. 

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

He is the Host who graciously and joyfully receives the awkward gift you bring to the party

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.

He is The Host who knows the hell your life has been, and offers you what you don’t even know you need.

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.

He is The Host of abundant loaves, fishes and oh yes the very best wine.

He is The Host who leaves the best seat at the head of the table to serve the rest.

He is The Host cooking me fresh fish on the beach after I betrayed him to death.

He is The Host slaughtering the fattened calf because after years of running away I have finally returned home.

On a hillside or in a boat or at a well or in the dining room or at a wedding, He is Host.

In my room or in the sanctuary or on the street, He is Host.

When I remember who God is, as I remember his Holiness and Salvation and Power, may I also remember His hospitality.

On bad days I sit and pick at the food, mostly talking while He listens.

On good days I help in the kitchen and go around to talk to other guests, delighting in how much fun this party is!

He is the Host who doesn’t mind me coming through the door exhausted, crying, hopeless, helpless, wounded, scared, rambling, and starving because, after all, He is the one who invited me.   There is a feast ready, His presence close at hand, and He gathers me under His wing like a mother hen.

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Perfect Systems

About once a year I come up with a new and improved brilliant plan to become more organized (and as a result be an overall better human, obviously).  A lot of them involve bins and folders and color coding and sometimes a trip to the craft store.  My most recent scheme was to have a plastic crate in the hallway out to our garage that could serve as sort of a ‘transition’ spot for things that needed to be sent on or returned or shipped elsewhere like library books, loaned tupperware, etc….  Thanks Pinterest!!!  So about nine months ago, while feeling like a G E N I U S over this new created system, I put some books that needed to be returned to friends into the Transition Bin

No clutter on our desk?  Check!

Returning items to people in a promptly manner?  Check!

Except…can you believe that those darn books ARE STILL SITTING in a stupid turquoise plastic crate in my garage?  I completely forgot about my brilliant idea and have yet to return these books to my friends.  (You know who you are, I’m so sorry!)

It was a really smart idea for handling such items provided that the person implementing this was not a scatterbrained, head-in-the-clouds kind of person.

I got pretty frustrated with myself over all this and a parade of unused chore charts, abandoned filing systems and wasted money at Staples floated through my mind, along with one very specific memory.   Back when Jon and I were not yet married, he was out of town for a work conference so I, pulling a CLASSIC new girlfriend move,   majorly cleaned and organized his house without him knowing, permitting or requesting.  Upon returning his immediate reaction was not oozing gratitude over how much better his house looked (it looked sooooo much better!), but rather he pointed out that just because I changed his piles of paper and laundry and books – didn’t mean I would change him.

Ouch!

But he was so right.  I hate that.

All the mail organizers in the world will not change the fact that my husband is, what I will affectionately call, a pack rat.  Alternatively, all the pretty multicolored crates in the world will not change the fact that I am, what I affectionately call, helter skelter.

Perfect systems + broken people = you still don’t have your books back. 

I have recently been studying the story of the Rich Young Ruler from the gospel of Mark.  It starts off like this,

As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 

There is, coincidentally, a Perfect System set up in scripture for us to be good human beings, a little something called The Ten Commandments.  Follow this and you will perfectly honor God and your family and your neighbor!

While Jesus sort of cuts this guy off at the pass…

“No one is good except God alone”

The man goes on anyways…

20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” (aka I am awesome sauce)

But secretly, waaayyyy  underneath it all, I wonder if he is as frustrated with himself as I am with myself?  I wonder if he is tired?  I wonder if, regardless of his striving he knows deep inside there must be something more, something he is missing?

The never ending list of things I have to do to be a good Christian stare me down.  And Jesus is soooooo serious about them all, I bet he is mad at me!  But this Perfect System will not change me.  If anything it just mocks me in my failure and impotency.

Neither does The Law change who I am in my core.  Nor could it truly change this man in scripture.

We’re all doomed I guess.

But fortunately, The Story goes on

21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

To be honest it’s easy to read something along the lines of “Close but no cigar, brah, try again, try harder!!” in how Jesus responds.  But I’m wrong in that.  God is actually not interested in putting more hoops to jump through in order to be saved.  He’s not suggesting ONE MORE SYSTEM of rules to see if WE CAN FINALLY GET IT RIGHT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  But perhaps instead He wants us to see our hearts as He sees them.

22 But at these words the man was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property

I wonder if he was sad over giving away his wealth, or sad because he was indeed able to see the state of his heart.

As Paul says in his letter to those legalistic Galatians

We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good.

After the rich guy leaves,  Jesus says some more hard things and the disciples share their reaction…

They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

So it is true you guys, I am not organized.  And to be honest I probably never will be even though once a year I will spend some cash on those pretty, floral organizers at Target. It’s probably for the best if you don’t loan me your things.  And it’s true that I still follow my husband around the house throwing away cleaning up his piles of clutter.

And maybe that’s okay, I’ll leave it to the Type-As.  Because when I look at who I am today it is truly nothing short of a miracle and sometimes I don’t even recognize myself.  To see the ways that God has completely changed me from the inside out, not through rules, but rather through the mysterious workings of a very Holy Spirit I am in awe and I have hope for myself and I indeed have hope for what happened with this rich guy in the bible.  I have proven to be pretty crappy at changing myself, even when I give it my best effort.

But what is impossible for me is done through God with power, completeness and goodness.

Now THIS is a perfect system!

Perfect System + Broken People = I am a new creation

Amen.

Anne Lamott

Dear Santa, I’m just not that into you

I don’t think it phases my children AT ALL when I tenderly tell them Santa Claus isn’t real.  I can’t imagine why they ignore me on this (sarcasm font in case you’re missing it).  Hmmm…perhaps it is because he is actually at the mall, sitting on an actual over sized green velvet armchair welcoming small children to come sit on his actual lap and feel his actual fluffy white beard.

So yeah it’s true, I’m the meanie, scroogey mom that encourages her wide-eyed sugar plum fairies NOT to “believe”.  #sorrynotsorry

Yet, somehow we found ourselves in the line at the mall yesterday waiting to see the jolly ole’ fellow so my children could tell him what they want for Christmas presents (A puppy, in case you are wondering.  My daughter wants a puppy.  And a crossbow for my son, thank you very much). It was all so very Miracle on 34th Street, what with their eager gift requests and me trying not to roll my eyes in front of the other kids. 

I don’t hate Santa.   I hate the mall.  I loathe the mall.  But I don’t hate Santa.  Promise!

I’m just not that into him.

I love Christmas and the holidays.

I love tradition.  I refuse to abandon my grandmother’s orange ice cream jello for family holidays, multicolored lights on the tree or watching my favorite Christmas movies every year.

I love wild imagination and wild wonder in children, especially my own.

I love the music (although admittedly I am more Vienna Boys Choir than Jingle Bells and Frosty)

So I admit drawing lines can be hard.  We all, whether for ourselves or for our children, have to make decisions about where to draw those lines in life.  Santa Claus, even with his jolly Ho Ho HO and giant sack of presents, doesn’t make it any easier.  But the stark contrast between Christ and Claus (at least how we celebrate Old Saint Nick today) are just too, too great.

The squishy, luxurious, velvet chair at the mall feels out of place and almost offensive next to a simple manger in a cold barn.

The flying reindeer and elves are lots of fun and flash, but cheap and shallow and false compared to the poor shepherds’ awe, the magnificent angels singing and the beauty and faith of Mary – all of whom are centered around the miracle of God himself putting on flesh in the most vulnerable and humble way.

I get that these aren’t huge dilemmas, I mean I have a Christmas Tree and bake gingerbread houses every year, things that obviously have absolutely nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.  But, like I said, everyone gets to draw their own lines.

Yesterday afternoon, when we had returned from our Santa encounter, the kids were out playing in the backyard, when I saw my son doing something he knew he was not supposed to do.  I went out back and barely even had to put on my stern mommy face for him to burst into tears.  I was glad he was showing remorse, but then through sobs he wailed out “Santa isn’t going to bring me any presents!”.

He obviously knew enough about the old man to have heard the whole naughty and nice shtick.  While I will admit I am not above bribing my children, there was an important teaching opportunity here I did not want to miss.

Mommy:   “So what is the consequence from Santa Claus when you are naughty?”

Zachary:  (through more tears) “No presents”

Mommy:  “That’s right.  No presents.  Now what is the consequence from God, when we are naughty?”

Zachary:  “He forgives us”

Mommy:  (by this point my preaching voice is in FULL effect…)  “That’s right babe.  I am so thankful Santa isn’t real, and that he isn’t the one deciding things because we would probably not get any presents!  But God is different.  God gives us presents even though we are naughty.  He gives us presents BECAUSE we are naughty.  He gave us Jesus on Christmas.  I am so thankful for that.  Mommy and daddy will give you presents because we love you, just as God loves us.”

They still love Santa.  They still want to watch The Polar Express and sing Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer and that’s fine.

But I am hoping as they grow up in the world, their hearts will not be of this world.  I am hoping that while they are free to enjoy and be entertained by the fun things of the holidays, they will  be singing like the angels, pondering like Mary and bowing down like the Magi – entirely swept up with the gift of Emmanuel.  God with us.  

Christmas PIcture Books

One of the best parts of my parenting gig is the books.  Now that the kids are getting older, we have dived into the world of chapter books.  Spend an afternoon reading the tales of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Pevensie and Junie B. Jones out loud to my kids?  Yes, please!!!

But we still love our picture books.

Here are some great Christmas ones to check out this year!

Full disclosure #1:  we don’t ‘do Santa’ with our kids.  They have learned about Saint Nicholas, and have fun with the character of Santa Claus since he is EVERYWHERE, but that is about it, and so I purposefully avoid checking out books that are all about Santa and reindeer and stuff.  These are all family oriented or Jesus-y. (Jesus-y is totally a word)

Alright, so here we go…

1. The Crippled Lamb

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Please read this book.  Not only can I not get through reading this book without the waterworks coming on, I can’t even explain the plot to my husband without tearing up.  (Full DIsclosure #2 – if a book makes me cry it earns extra points).  I won’t give the synopsis here because I don’t have a box of tissues nearby so just trust me, go check this one out.

2. The Little Drummer Boy

Book - The Little Drummerboy

Full Disclosure # 3:  I have never really liked this song.

However, this book takes the lyrics to the song and accompanies them with vivid pictures of a little boy tagging along with the Magi to visit Jesus in the manger.  It is fun to read with my kids because I will sing the main line, and then they sing the “pa rum pum pum pum” bit.  And they can bang their hands on the book as if it were a drum.

But why this one is making the cut is pretty much because of the illustration that goes with the line “I played my best for him”, which is also the illustration on the front cover shown above.  As this poor boy plays his heart out for Jesus, the angel wings drawn in the background capture perfectly that mystery and miracle of our simple songs being transformed into a beautiful and holy offering received by King Jesus, just as he would receive worship from the Heavenly Hosts.   Absolutely amazing.  Aaaannnd I ‘m crying again.

3. Probity Jones and the Fear Not Angel

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During a season where I constantly tell my children that these really fun things like Santa and Elves don’t actually exist, to be able to boldly proclaim that YES! angels are real, feels good to me.

This book is longer, but Evangeline is at an age where she will sit through a lot of narrative if it is holding her attention.  While this precious little protagonist misses out on being a part of her church’s Christmas pageant due to a fever, an angel appears and brings her back to the birth of Jesus, where she gets to proclaim the Good News to the Shepherds with The Fear Not Angel who is guiding her.

It’s beautiful and sad and full of hope.

4. The All I’ll Ever Want Christmas Doll. 

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Man, my kids can fight over toys.  This sweet story shows a lesson I REALLY REALLY REALLY want my kids to learn – how relationships and community, especially sibling relationships, are more valuable than toys and getting their own way.  Plus, we don’t spend very much in the way of Christmas presents and keep things pretty minimal so a book that shows other families not rolling in cash or having mountains of toys under the tree is important to me.

5.  Tonight You Are My Baby

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Full disclosure #4:  This book isn’t for the kids.  It is for me.

The refrain “Tomorrow you will be King, but tonight you are my baby” is repeated throughout this poetic and gorgeously illustrated book.  Lines like “This star will bring the others and I will start to share.  But tonight you are mine – to give my tender care” make me love Jesus and Mary even more.  It is a perfect read during the this season to contemplate the Virgin Mary and her thoughts, actions and role in the Christmas Story.  It is also a perfect read for any mother as they realize, or realized, the moments of holding their newborn are precious and few.  Waaahhhhhh! 

As a mom it is easy to make Christmas all about our children and miss out on God speaking to our hearts.  I look over to our stack of ‘grown up’ books and see my advent reading and prayer book, knowing full well how little I will get through this season.  So I am thankful for the simplicity of children’s books such as these and others that pierce my heart and allow me to worship and connect and be moved.

Any Christmas chapter books I should know about?