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REBLOG: The Reason for the Season

I always feel like such a sucky Christian on Christmas. Every year I say that I’ll “remember the true meaning of Christmas” but I soon discover that December 25 is mostly about pecan pie and ripping paper off of boxes & out of pretty bags. The day comes to a close and I find my hand holding again my same baby blue mechanical pencil, realizing the severe lack of Christ in my supposedly Christ-centered holiday.

Every family has their own Christmas traditions. For us, Christmas means Catholic church. This also, for some reason, means that tradition & ritual trumps personal relationships with God which also means that I have to bite my tongue for an hour.

The Priest gave a mini sermon on Christmas Eve entitled “The 5 Reasons We Should Celebrate Christ’s Birth.” The reasons were as lame as his sermon title was trite. The number one reason, the most important reason given was because of the amazingly selfless things that people do by motivation of the Christmas story.

No. That is not why we celebrate Christmas. This is not about people becoming nuns or missionaries or ascetics.

Christmas is the fulfillment of a promise. A promise made THOUSANDS of years before that first Christmas night. A promise that has literally been hanging over humanity since the dawn of time— that God would come to us.

We are lucky that we’ve only ever had to wait 364 days until Christmas. I think of the people who so eagerly awaited the fulfillment of that promise, who died with faith in their hearts that although they had not seen it come to pass, God would deliver. I think of the stories of Simeon & Ana would had served their entire lives in the temple of God, awaiting the arrival of the Promised One only to see the young boy Jesus & know— He is the salvation which God had prepared in the presence of all people.

We celebrate Christmas because without it there is no Easter. Without the lamb, there can be no sacrifice; without the Christ, there can be no salvation; without the promised birth, there can be no atoning death.

We celebrate Christmas not just because a baby was born in the most humble of circumstances but because this baby- the one prophesied of by prophets, hoped in by the hopeless, & promised by the Provider came to usher in a new age: a baby who would unite again man & God. A baby who would grow to be a man, who would then surrender himself to be a Savior.

That is love. That is hope. That is Christmas.

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“Yes, Lord. You know I like you.”

Jesus met up with his disciples for breakfast after being dead for three days. He pulled Peter aside- the Peter who hadn’t exactly been a “faithful friend.” In fact, he denied ever knowing Him.

But Jesus didn’t pull away. Instead he pulled Peter in close and asked him, “Do you love me?”

I can’t imagine the brokenness of Peter’s heart. I can’t imagine the cracks crying out, converging on one another.  I hear the echo of The Words, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

And my heart begins to shatter.

Peter and I. The muscles that keep our lungs breathing, minds reeling, blood flowing. Our hearts dissolving into dust in perfect synchrony.  

And Peter says, “Yes. You know that I do.”

But he didn’t get it. Even after Jesus asked him three times, he still didn’t get it. But Jesus STILL said: Care for my people. Build my church. Love them. Lead them.

The once faithless Peter called to build a community of faith.

This story is shared in only one of the gospels and yet I feel like it’s written on every page of my life. This same question posed over and over and over again.

“Alyssa, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord. You know I like you.”

I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I don’t get it.

Here I am. Denying not three times, not six times, not twelve.  Denying with each beat of my rebellious heart and yet Jesus still says to me: Love them. Forgive them. Care for them. Show them.

He is calling on the broken to bind the broken. He is calling on the wounded to nurse the sick. He is calling on the downhearted to lift the heads of the troubled. He is calling on the often faithless to share their faith.

He is calling on me.

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Twenty Five.

November,

What do you think you’re doing here? Go away.

I’ve spent the last six months thinking about my birthday, about how on the twenty-ninth day of the not-fall-but-not-winter month of November, I will turn twenty five.

I’ve let this number terrify me. I’ve let it bully me into a corner of unfulfillment. A corner where I’ve etched all of my ‘I want to’s and By the time I am’s.’ I’ve never actually made a list like that on paper but I’ve thought them- all the things I want or wanted or needed.

I’ve lived so long peeping into the windows of other people’s lives and saying, “I want that.” Coveting. Stealing with my mind. Robbing my friends and magazines and movies and my past of things that I want for myself. Now. I’ve imposed timelines on my own life and that timeline is always now.

But I tell you this, as I approach the beginning of my assent to age thirty, not one of those things is crossed off. My future is the murky and obscure that my lists tried to prevent.

I could let that be a discouragement. I could hold onto it and cry into it and rock back and forth like a child. I could stuff it into a jar with pitiful pleas of ‘why me?’ and ‘why not?’ and carry it in the breast pocket of my soul. I could. I want to. Envy and bitterness- these come easily to me. Almost natural, a conditioned response.

Or I could recognize my undisturbed, uncrossed-out lists as grace. Each item unchecked as an ounce of God’s compassion. I could begin to count the unexpected blessings that I’ve received or the strange places I’ve been as gifts. Undeserved gifts. That God knew and planned for me a life marked by fullness, one that does not necessarily echo the lives of many around me. I could let them serve as a reminder that my story is individually Authored, inexplicably person. That the things I want are not always the things I need and the things I really need are actually the things that I would have thought to want.

So, here’s to twenty five. To another year of surprises and musings, of unexpected twists and challenges. To standing up and growing up. To traveling and learning and loving and growing and baking and changing. To another of breathing and falling on my face and discovering God’s mercies in beautifully new ways.

To another year living in the obscure, chasing the Light.

[“I’ve learned that God sometimes allows us to find ourselves in a place where we want something so bad that we can’t see past it. Sometimes we can’t even see God because of it. When we want something that bad, it’s easy to mistake what we truly need for the thing that we really want. When this sort of thing happens, and it seems to happen to everyone, I’ve found it’s because what God has for us is obscured from view, just around another bend in the road.” – Bob Goff, Love Does p.35-36]

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Homemade Rice Pudding.

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November 7, 2012 · 8:05 pm

PW Crash Hot Potatoes.

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October 31, 2012 · 8:29 pm

The Next Best Thing

A journal entry from 8/25/11. It’s written by a seemingly different woman living a seemingly different life and, as is quite my style, it is not quite finished:

I’d like to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life. Once I do that, I’d like to get a new job. Once I get a new job, I’d like to find a man. Once I find a man, I’d like to get married. Once I get married, I’d like to have babies. Once I have babies, I’d like to buy a house. Once I buy a house, I’d like to fill it with pretty things. Once I fill it with pretty things, I’d like a pool. Once I have my pool, I’d like to send my kids to good schools. Once they finish school, I’d like to marry them off. Once they’re married, I’d like me some grand babies. Once I have me some grand babies, I’d like to retire. Once I retire, I’d like to travel. Once I travel, I’d like to write a book. Once I write my book, I’d like to relax. While I relax, I will most certainly grow old. Once I grow old, I will most certainly die. As I die I will look back on my life. As I look back on my life, I will be filled with regret that I never lived my life with passion and purpose, just always pressing on to the next best thing.

As I write down these things, though I am living the beginning of this story, I must ask myself the question: what crown will I wear when I arrive in glory? One of earthly riches or righteousness? Of fiscal responsibility or faithfulness?

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Temptations of Temperament

We’re launching a blog by MERCYhouse women, for MERCYhouse women and I am super excited. It is here: MERCYhouse Women- Vessels for Honor. Read it every day. 

I get the honor of being the first topical guest post & I don’t even know what to call it. It took me way too long to write but now it’s done and it feels…well, I’m glad it’s done.

Here it is:

I was supposed to have written this blog post a week ago. It’s still not done. This is so unlike me.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have! I’ve tried a lot. I guess I’m just over-thinking this. I guess I just want to impress you.

I’m just being honest.

You see, sometimes I feel terribly self-aware. Sometimes my introspection is frightening.

And then sometimes I feel like I don’t know myself very well. Sometimes I hear people talking about their passions or talents or even just their favorite things and think, “I have no idea who I am or what I like or what I want to do.”

It’s a tricky dichotomy- knowing yourself so well that you hardly know yourself at all. Moments of insane clarity, weeks of misty obscurity.

I’ve been wrestling with this question of how we move past what we wish we were and embrace the way we were meant to be? I’m nearly 25 and I can’t do it or don’t want to. I can’t tell which.

In all of my reading about temperaments and personalities and weaknesses, I was trying to find myself. But I wasn’t there. I read over those lists of pros and cons, goods and bads and had no idea who or what where I was.

It turns out that I am not a list of characteristics. Neither are you! It’s easy to boil ourselves down to a list of weaknesses or character traits but those things don’t have skin or names or voices or dreams. Those things are the adjectives of us but they are not us. While those things may describe us, they do not define us. We, in our living, breathing, and loving, define those things.

My identity is not in my Sanguine lack of self-control or my Phlegmatic desire to create peace. My identity is in Jesus. In my weaknesses are evidences of His strength. In my strengths are evidences of His gifting.

And each of us is this way. We are incredible works of art, masterpieces. When I read Psalm 139 with all of that imagery of God knitting us together, like a blanket or a warm pair of mittens, I think physical things. God forming my heart and my kidneys and my cuticles, piecing me together and sealing it all in skin but it’s not just physical.

God made my parts, yes!, but He also made my spirit and emotions. He gave me passions and desires and things to be good at. He created me weird and lovely and all of those things that I am that can be observed or felt but not seen.

And I am bad things, too. I am broken and full of sin and a complete wretch. These things I know. These are the things that scream so loudly into my life, that drown out the whispers of my good things- my lovely, God-gifted things. These are the things that I am apt to see, feel, hate about myself.

But. There is hope.

We are creatures in motion and change is inevitable. That new cells are replacing old cells all of the time. That I am not the person that I was 7 years ago…or even 7 seconds ago.

There is hope because the Spirit of God is at work in each of us, as His daughters. This is the story of our lives: change.

I am, you are a creation is constant development.  New creatures. Dead to our old lives, constantly dying to our current ones. And in that death, we are renewed. That’s how Jesus intended it. That’s how this sanctification thing works. A constant laying down of self, a constant picking up of crosses.

We’re moving. Always moving. Always changing. All of us- all the time.

And we’re not alone. We’re in community. First- with our God, the Creator or our fingers and toes and hearts and minds. Second- with each other, other women, sisters in our faith, nudging each other towards Jesus. For that, I am thankful- ever so thankful.

I am different than you are. You are different than me. Each of us created by a creative God to serve specific roles in our common purpose: to know Him more and make Him known among all people.

So yes, know thyself! Understand who you are, who God made you! But look at yourself, not from a list made of columns and rows, but from the eyes of Him who gave you yours.

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Truth.

What is truth?

Rest assured, this is not to be a long exposition. This is not an apologetical scribbling about “absolute truth”. This is not a story of us versus them.

This is quite simple:

We cling to truth because truth is good. Truth is hope. Truth is purpose.

But what is it? We’re obsessed with it but are we sure of what it is?

Unfortunately, this is often how we see truth, how we “fight for” truth:

“I’m right.”

“You’re wrong.”

“I know what I’m talking about.”

“You are a bumbling idiot.”

Jesus called himself the truth. “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” Why is it so easy for us to read and recite these intensely dense statements and sum it up with: FOLLOW JESUS.

Yes, PLEASE! Follow Jesus because He is the ONLY way, the ONLY life. And yes, the ONLY truth.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here: God’s word is truth. It has been tried by time and proven true by sacrifice.

The Gospel of John. Chapter 1. Jesus is the Word of God.

Jesus- God With Us-came to live among us as the word and thereby showed us, taught us truth. He taught us about the character of God. Jesus was, is, will ever be the incarnation of the Holy God.

Jesus is not doctrine.

So, why have we so readily abandoned truth for doctrine?

We are confused. Doctrine is not truth. Doctrine is a series of teachings based upon truth.

JESUS IS THE LIVING, BREATHING TRUTH.

Jesus is the one whom we are to model. Doctrine does not have a name. It does not have a face. It is not sinless. It is not the only son of a Holy God. It is not our savior, although many of us wish it were.

Let us remember that the truth profits us nothing if it is not given with love. Neither does wisdom. Without love, we are a bunch of white noise.

Jesus told us that they would know us by our love- not by our denomination, not by our strict adherence to rules- by our love.

Have we forgotten that we are losing this battle? Have we forgotten that people are hell-bound? Have we forgotten that we are in this war zone as a community? Or do we just simply not care?

Does the idea of “evangelism” make us cringe, slump back in our chairs but the idea of being “right”, of “putting someone in their place” puff up our chests?

Why have we forsaken Jesus’ commandment to love one another in order to cast stones of judgment at one another’s faces?

I used to believe that the church was the best place to be. This beautiful community of little Jesuses, bustling about, patching up one another’s wounds, feeding the bellies of those whose are empty. Yet here we are, the precious church that Christ established upon His ascension to Heaven, the community left when the dust settled to mirror the person of Jesus. Here we are slitting each other’s throats and whispering dirty lies, with smiles on our faces.

Writing that hurts. In all sorts of ways. It hurts because I know that it’s true because I’ve felt it. It hurts because I know that it’s true because I’ve done it.

Then, I remember.

Jesus taught us how to pray. He showed us the truth. He said we must ask our Father to, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Just as Christ has forgiven you so you also MUST forgive one another.

So we must forgive. We must exercise grace if we wish to receive it.

Let us remember that the Pharisees thought they were “right”. They believed they knew the truth. But Jesus said to them, “Woe to you!”

So instead, let us remember the One who brought, taught, showed us Truth. Let’s refocus. Let’s be marked by Jesus- who is our truth, who is our life. Let’s be marked by what He was marked by; let’s be marked by love and grace.

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Dog Days of Summer

A drought.

Days marred by relentless heat, oppressive humidity. And not one drop of rain.

My flowers wilt, my herbs grow thin and yellow.

The land is parched. It aches for rain.

And my heart. It aches. Burns. Like and dry and weary land. I pant for you.

I long for your pitcher of goodness to tilt and spill towards me that I might catch a even just a splash, a trickle of You.

Yet there comes another day in the desert. And another. And another.

My tongue cracks and my lips bleed.

My mind reels with falsities, deceiving itself with empty promises of satiation.

I’m reminded of the rivers that flow beneath my feet. The wellsprings of life below me, within me.

I tear, I gouge to reach the cool, crisp core. Tearing through every doubt that tells me it’s all a lie, that You are not good.

But You are.

You are good.

And it begins to spill out of me and pour into me all at the same time.

I am full to the hilt and overflowing and I can hardly breath in the midst of Your goodness.

Will I ever be truly quenched? I hope not. Will I ever not burn for more of Your gifts, more of Your goodness? Will I ever find fullness in Your giving of gifts, even the slight ones? 

Your love, Your gifts, Your graces.

Like an unexpected and long awaited storm.

Flash flood warnings in effect for all of Your people. For me. All the time.

Especially today.

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Sticks & Stones.

Jesus told us to put down our stones of judgement and pick up our crosses of humility.

I’m not sure that I like that idea.

Crosses are heavy & hard, blister-causing & back-breaking. Stones are light, always accessible, & easy to throw.

Why?

Why is it that we who stand on, root our lives into the ideas of forgiveness and grace live so far from them?

Why is it that I spend my nights, knocking down God’s door pleading for forgiveness and my days daydreaming about punching someone’s lights out in order to “teach them a lesson”?

We are not God. Thank God. I am not God.

It is not our duty or purpose to dole out judgement and consequence for sin.

Let. It. Go.

That’s not our job.

Beware! The scriptures warn.

Be+Aware= Beware.

Beware lest you fall into temptation yourself! Beware lest you think too highly of yourself. Beware.

For the first time in my life, I understand why our churches are empty. It is not because of Jesus. People do not have a problem with Jesus. It is because the hearts of so many believers are empty of the Spirit and full of themselves.

He is not a trick candle. He is a furnace. But stifling it over and over and over, quenching it, putting it out on purpose will only keep it at a slight smolder.

Do we not long for forest fires of the Spirit’s moving in our lives?! Do we not long to see salvation songs sung, sinners meet their Savior?

Well then drop the stones and pick up your crosses. Bear the burden of the depth of your sin. Past. Present. Future. Marvel at the grace that has set you free. Be thankful.

Then, share it. As a friend, as a coworker, as a stranger. Share it:

“This is where you are. This is where I WAS, where I AM. But, I have THIS. I have Jesus.”

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