Mess, Dirt, and Finding Beauty

 
Creativity is intelligence having fun..jpg
 

As Andy Williams once sang, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Our homes are decorated, there are gifts under the tree, our kids are wearing cute outfits, families are coming together, feasts are being prepared, cookies are being baked, and festive drinks are flowing. We spend hours, days, weeks, and even months planning and prepping to make this season the best it can be. We create family traditions and soak up every moment of festive joy. 

But in the beauty of this season, it's all too easy to get caught up in the culture of “perfect”. Or maybe it’s just me, but as I strive to carve out unforgettable family memories, I easily stress over the smallest oversight I may have made. I chastise myself for blemishes in my flawless plans and panic if Christmas doesn’t look like what I want or expected.  

And can’t help feel that I am alone in this. When I talk to friends, when I look on Instagram, everyone seems to be swept up in the festivities. Instead of the season of peace and goodwill it seems like the season of stress, anxiety, and striving.

As a Christian, I believe that this is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. In the middle of a broken world, the Son of God came to earth as a baby. Majesty, beauty and perfection left the heavens and became Man. 

 And His birth was far from what we would ever have expected.  Luke 2:11-12 says, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 

Christ the Lord, the Savior, would be found in a manger. A manger is not a crib or a snazzy baby swing, but a structure used to feed animals. It’s something that you add to your Target or Pottery Barn baby registry, lest give to the Son of God!!! But that is where you would have found Jesus. Beauty, Majesty, and Perfection was inside a dark, dirty, messy animal shelter, not a palace or fancy birthing center. 

This blows my mind and challenges the heck out of me, because I don’t want my life to be messy. I want the perfect Christmas with the clean house, the well-behaved kids, and a plethora of presents. I want a home where people come and there’s always food and laughter. I want my life to look like a Hallmark movie, not like the nativity! I don't want to be surrounded by lack. I want beauty. I want plenty. I want perfection. 

Most people would have missed the birth of Jesus. Most people would have expected a palace, top physicians, and most definitely a clean nursery for the newborn king. But the magi and shepherds were looking for something different. They saw through the mess, the dirt, and the mundane.

I want to be like the magi and shepherds. I want to find something Divine even in the imperfections of life. I want to look past what I expect so I can encounter something priceless.

And maybe something so profound is actually happening, but we are fixated on our own version of the palace that we miss it. Maybe we can find beauty in our hearts and homes, no matter how hard we have planned, scrimped, and saved. Maybe we can embrace a glorious reality despite our expectations not being met. 

So this Christmas, let us remember that the King of kings, the ultimate power, authority, and Creator was found in mess. And if that’s good enough for God, perhaps it should be good enough for us too? 

It's OK to not be OK

Unless I missed it, the song “Everything Is Awesome” from the LEGO movie is no where to be found in scripture. In fact, look at the Psalms and you will read the songs and prayers of a man who knew suffering. King David knew what it was to be misunderstood, betrayed, and left mentally exhausted. And yet, most of the time, put a Christian in a painful situation, and nine times out of ten they will slap a smile on their face and recite a ridiculous number of platitudes. “I’m too blessed to be stressed” or “God’s got me. I’ll be OK” to name but a few.

Funny thing is, nowhere in the bible do we see people speaking in such clichés. Jesus Himself demonstrated that when people were hurting, He hurt too. When Lazarus had died, He didn’t walk in and say, “Hey guys! I’m here. Put a smile on your face and be grateful. I’m about to do something awesome!” No. He talked with Martha and Mary. He heard their hearts. He wept. He felt the pain of those He loved and He grieved (John 11:35).

This has been a hard week. And whilst I seek to encourage people, I have to be honest. The trenches of life, motherhood, and everything in between have been overwhelming. We all have bad days. Sometimes there are bad weeks, months, and even years and it feels like a struggle to stay positive. There are times in our lives when we feel like we are fighting one bad situation after another. And if you are like me, we feel guilty that we are feeling sad, because as a Christian, we should be joyful at all times, right?

But in John 11, Jesus showed us that He prioritized a person’s heart over a result. Before He performed the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, He felt with, grieved with, and comforted those in pain.  In another passage of scripture, Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). How can you be comforted if you don’t mourn? How can you experience the true impact of the comfort of the Holy Spirit whilst you are masking your pain?

The western Church has become so very fixated with results. Some churches want results seen in healing miracles. Other churches want results in numbers of converts and church growth. And whilst it’s easy to criticize church leaders for thinking about the numbers, we all live our lives looking for results. We have specific ‘results’ that we are asking God for and we ask for them everyday. Have my prayers been answered yet? Do I have the promotion that I have been asking God for? Has that family drama been resolved? Do I have the money to buy a new car? Why am I not married yet? Is the doctor going to call me and tell me that I am healed? Please God, let me go full-term and not miscarry another baby.

And whilst praying for these things is a good thing, becoming fixated on the ‘result’ can be so destructive to our hearts. When circumstances don’t change in accordance with our timeline, disappointment and resentment seeps into our hearts. Before we know it, we are mad at God for forgetting about us but we are simultaneously trying to keep a smile on our faces. 

But like we saw with Lazarus, He walked up to Mary and Martha and loved them BEFORE He gave them a ‘result’. He mourned with them, cried with them, and let them know that He was present. 

So today, whatever you are dealing with, whatever result you are not seeing, whatever grief is gripping your heart, put down the mask and let your heart be seen. Know that your God loves you more than your circumstance. As scripture shows, your pain matters. It’s OK to be in pain. It’s not a sin to grieve. But before He performs a miracle, maybe He wants to come close and comfort you? Maybe He wants to grieve with you and let you know that He is with you? 

It’s OK to not be OK, just keep your heart open to God and let Him come close to you.

Temptation and Identity

Until recently, I never saw temptation and identity so entwined as I do now. When most of us think of temptation, we think of temptation to do something super bad like cheating on your spouse or killing someone.  But temptation is far much subtle and yet incredibly so powerful.

It starts with a thought, not an action. 

It starts with our pride and insecurities. 

And as fears, lack and pain flourish, so does our negative behavior. We are powerless to stop the cascading tsunami of thoughts that cause us to question ourselves, others and God.

We cheat. We lie. We cut people down. We steal what’s not ours. We compare. We hurt people. It’s ugly.

Jesus gets it. Seriously. Jesus, the perfect Son of God gets what it is to be bombarded with insecurity and pain. I have read the story of the temptation of Jesus many times. I have heard people preach and teach on this passage. But it wasn’t until I was having a conversation with a dear and trusted friend recently, did the light suddenly illuminate in me.

In Luke 4 it is recorded, “Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (V3). Then a few verses later, “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please.  I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” (V6-7). And then finally the devil says “If you are the Son of God, jump off!  For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” (V9-11).

The enemy wasn’t just tempting Jesus to do something, he was tempting Jesus to BELIEVE something.

Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus knew it and the enemy knew it. And then he did what he’s being doing since the Garden of Eden… He whispered a question. “If you are the Son of God” (V3 and V9) and then tempted Jesus with something He didn’t have - the praise of man.

Identity and lack. 

Who are you Jesus? Are you who you say you are? Prove it. And wouldn’t you want this life rather than the one you are called to live? 

Doesn’t this sound familiar? As we journey through life, our circumstances cause us to question ourselves. Am I enough? Am I loved? Does God listen to me? Why was I rejected?  

The difference between us and Jesus is that He was perfect and we are flawed human beings. He might have been tempted to believe the whispered lies, but He knew His true identity and was able to overcome.

But we too can overcome! We can let go of the tempting pride, fears and insecurities and embrace the truth of who we are. Before we are anything else in life, we are sons and daughters of the living God. We are loved, heard, seen and known by the God of all creation. In 2 Corinthians 6:18 the bible says, “‘I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters.’ Says the Lord Almighty.” We are loved. We are accepted. We are seen and heard by the Father. He knows us. He delights in us. We belong with Him. Like an empty chair around the dining room table, there’s a void when we don’t turn up, and we are missed.

I find it interesting that in all three accounts of the temptation of Jesus, what follows is His rejection by the religious leaders, He forms His community of disciples, He begins to heal the sick and He begins to preach. Interesting….

 

Yoga Pants

I have been thinking about yoga pants recently. I love my yoga pants!  They are so forgiving of my body, comfortable and cozy!  They don’t hold me in, squeeze my squishy parts or make me feel exposed in any way.  I have no muffin top whilst wearing my yoga pants and I feel great!

I think most of us are fans of ‘comfort’. We like what is familiar and what is known. In our comfort zones we feel safe and we are at ease. There’s no stress, no anxiety. We do not feel vulnerable. Life is good in our comfort zones.

But on the flip side, when I am at home, snuggled up in my yoga pants, life can get dull. Yes, rest is vital for a healthy lifestyle. But life in yoga pants robs me of many experiences. My life doesn’t move forward and I don’t grow as a person.

When Josh was serving in combat, he rarely saw a pair of yoga pants. Life in the Army, especially whilst at war, was about advancing. As a solider he was charged to bring peace to a war-torn country. There was an enemy and so he dressed appropriately. He wore layers of clothing, boots and headgear that would protect him, give him insight to defeat the enemy and bring him home safely. Josh didn’t know if he would make it out of the country alive so he did all he could to prepare. He wore such heavy clothing and equipment, that he thought his knees might blow. No… There was no comfort at war.

 
Josh in Army
 

And then I think of me on my wedding day. I loved my wedding dress. I felt like a million dollars walking down the aisle to my groom. But that dress HURT. The boned corset dug into my ribs and the heavy satin skirt prevented me from sitting down. I was so happy to take that thing off at the end of the day, and I am not talking for sexy sexy reasons!!! It was a relief to get that thing off as I could finally breathe and sit down!! But on June 23rd 2012, my life certainly advanced. I became a wife and my life moved from singleness to marriage.   

 
Wedding Day
 

Now war and weddings seem to be polar opposites but both involve advancement and preparation.  There was a cost to Josh serving in Iraq. There was even a cost to me wearing my dream wedding dress! If we had worn yoga pants, the outcomes for both of us could have been very different!

Right now I am facing my metaphorical wardrobe and I am deciding whether to wear my comfortable yoga pants or not. Sometimes I get confused on what God wants for me. Sometimes I think He simply wants me to be happy and I assume this means that life should feel easy.  But this is not the truth. God is a good father who sees the bigger picture for my life. God wants me to know and experience Truth in the deepest parts of my life (Psalm 51:6), He wants me to love people (John 13:34) and He wants me to grow in faith (Hebrews 11:6). These things are hard to achieve while living within my comfort zones.

Our comfort zones are unique to all of us. Sometimes we are content with our relationships and we don’t step out to talk to anyone new. Sometimes it’s our careers and the level of our financial income. Sometimes we find identity in our role within the Church.  Whatever it is for you, it’s scary to step out and put ourselves in a place of vulnerability.  Yoga pants feel nice while regular pants, not so much.

I look at the map of the Apostle Paul's travels and it's clear that he never stopped moving forward with his life goals. He didn't grow stagnant but keep moving on to new cities to meet to people to teach them about Jesus. Paul is also the one who wrote that he presses on to “reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:14, NLT).

 

Apostle Paul's journeys

I am challenged, but I see hope in the unfamiliar.  I don't think I will be galavanting around the Mediterranean, but I see my unchartered waters holding new experiences, people and places that will thrill me, stretch me and (more than likely!) cause me to ask God for help.

So today, let’s press on. Let’s advance. Let’s move forward, get out of our yoga pants and embrace the unknown! It really is so exciting!!!