A Sneak Peek Just for You!

AbidingInChristCover

A sneak peek just for you, my subscribers, from one of the chapters of my new book, Beyond the Front Door, which will be available on February 10. Enjoy!

Our culture has instilled in us a pride in our busyness.
We brag about how little free time we have, how many vacation days we have built up from disuse, how many activities in which we have involved our children. We feel, in fact, a sense of shame if we don’t have work or play scheduled on the weekends.
We run and we hurry and in the middle of our running and hurrying we wonder how in the world — how in this fretful, busy world — we could possibly still feel empty. So we ramp up the running and the hurrying in an attempt to drown out the loneliness.
Why is it so hard to jump off this carousel?
We want to cram more and more into our schedules. Regardless of how full our lives are, however, we are increasingly empty inside.
“Busyness acts to repress our inner fears and personal anxieties, as we scramble to achieve an enviable image to display to others. We become ‘outward’ people obsessed with how we appear, rather than ‘inward’ people, reflecting on the meaning of our lives.”
We do not, however, need to prune our lives of all busyness.
The truth, it turns out, is more nuanced than that.
The truth is that busyness is not always a negative occurrence as long as you have regular rhythms of stillness in place in your life as well. The problem comes when you have a life that is full of busyness with a complete dearth of any times of stillness.
Jesus’ own life shows this rhythm of ministry busyness and alone-with-God stillness. A rhythm in which both busyness and stillness involve an intimate connection with God.
When we read the gospels, we discover his almost constant action throughout — coming, going, crowding, teaching, healing — and Jesus is regularly withdrawing from all of this activity, regularly going to a place of solitude to pray.
Rhythm.
When our lives are full of work and activity with no times of respite, we become exhausted and anxious. When we have an overabundance of time, we become bored and struggle to find purpose in life.
Rhythm.
God taught us about rhythms at the very beginning of the nation of Israel.
In the same passage later quoted by Jesus as the Greatest Commandment, Moses is giving instruction about when they arrive in the Promised Land.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Moses tells the people they should keep God in their hearts and minds, they should talk about God, talk to God, listen to God, both when they are still and when they are busy.
… when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way …
This is why these disciplines of silence and solitude and lectio divina are so necessary to our lives.
Having rhythms of being alone with God and his Word are the way we are healed by the Holy Spirit from this illness of being busy.
Daily rhythms, as well as longer monthly and annual rhythms, of being still are the way we put ourselves in a place where God can fill us up with himself.
Having rhythms of taking time out of our busyness to gaze at the Lord, taking the time to sit at his feet and learn how to abide in him, making our home in him, this is the cure for our illness.
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Weaving Trials into a Tapestry (plus a giveaway!)

Please join me in welcoming to the blog my dear friend, Amanda Wen.
Amanda and I lived in the same town in Illinois for several years, worshiping together at the same church. Our lives have matched up almost eerily. We were musicians together, playing on the worship team at our church. We had our babies together, the first three of mine only a few months apart from her three (although she quit having babies before I did!). It wasn’t until we had both moved that we discovered we were also writers together, and now we are birthing our debut books together!
I have written before that people learn best through story, that the Holy Spirit can often teach us things through a good tale that we would never have understood otherwise. Amanda’s novel is a beautiful example of this. Be sure to comment at the end for a chance to win a signed copy of Amanda’s novel, Roots of Wood and Stone!

trials

The tombstone, set on a small patch of windswept prairie in Rural Sedgwick County, Kansas, is stark in its simplicity.
George W.
Died Apr. 6, 1871
Aged 4 days
Child of W. F. and S. E. Stevens
On a facing side, further tragedy is etched in granite for all to see.
Sarah E.
Died May 13, 1871
Aged 30 years
Such grief was sadly common on the Midwestern frontier, and for Sarah’s widower, William, this was just the beginning of his litany of loss. Less than two years later, he’d bury his four-year-old son, Arthur. In 1876 he and his second wife, Dorcas, would lose their infant son, Ivon. In 1877, Dorcas herself would die, followed in 1878 by one-year-old Mark and in 1879 by both his six-year-old daughter, May, and 24-year-old son, Isaac. and twin tragedies in 1879 with the loss of his six-year-old daughter, May, and his 24-year-old son, Isaac. In fact, of William Stevens’ fourteen children, only six would live to adulthood.
How could a person cope with so much tragedy? How could one emerge from loss upon loss with an intact faith? Yet by all accounts William’s faith remained steadfast. Perhaps it was lessons learned from his preacher father, or the helping hand of a neighbor in a time of need. We don’t know exactly, so I decided to fill in the blanks through fiction, a story which ultimately became the historical timeline of my debut novel, Roots of Wood and Stone.
In the novel, a character endures the loss of his wife and son in a matter of days just a few months into settling the prairies of Sedgwick County. And Jack Brennan isn’t shy about his questions. His doubt. His anger at the Almighty. “I stopped talking with God altogether,” Jack says in one pivotal scene. “Either he didn’t exist, or his purpose was to gut me like a fish. Either way, I was through.”
I must confess I’ve been where Jack was, and it didn’t take anywhere near the level of tragedy he endured to bring it about. But I’m comforted by David’s example in the Psalms. He raged at God on occasion. Hurled all kinds of accusations at his Creator. But God didn’t condemn David for his very human emotions. In fact, he called David a man after His own heart.
If we bring our anger, our devastation, our confusion, and our doubts to God, rest assured He can handle them. No matter what vitriol we spew at Him, He remains faithful and steadfast. And in His time, and His way, we will see that faithfulness. We will see His love. His healing. God may not calm our storms, at least not right away, but He will carry us through them. He’s done it for me. He did it for William Stevens.
As for Jack Brennan? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.
A postscript, if I may. Remember those six Stevens children who survived to adulthood? One of them, Mattie, was my great-great grandmother. She and her husband, Francis Little, homesteaded not far from her father, in a large white farmhouse that inspired Roots of Wood and Stone. And Francis’s memoir, A Kansas Farmer, not only provided a wealth of information as I researched for my novel’s historical scenes, but it cemented the family legacy of faith. It’s clear from those almost-century-old typewritten pages that Francis and Mattie themselves carried a strong faith in Christ, and I know from my mom’s research into our history that every generation between theirs and my own has sought to follow Jesus. It is their legacy of steadfast faith I sought to honor in my book, and—more importantly—instill in my children.
Whatever you’re going through, you aren’t in it alone. And I pray that God will help you see how He’s carrying you through. How He’s weaving your trials into a beautiful tapestry.
What do you know about your own family history? Any inspirational stories about your ancestors you’d like to share? Leave a comment for your chance to win a signed copy of Amanda’s debut novel, Roots of Wood and Stone! (Giveaway ends February 5, 2021. Due to shipping costs, we can only mail to a U.S. mailing address.)

Amanda Wen

To find Amanda Wen’s blog and short stories, visit www.amandawen.com. Readers can also follower her on Facebook (@AuthorAmandaWen)Twitter (@AuthorAmandaWen), and Instagram (@authoramandawen).

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Finding Truth in Fairy Tales

I love how much truth can be found in fairy tales and myths.  I love that God chooses to give us glimpses of Himself and His Word in the words of storytelling throughout time.
Reading Fairy Tales
We often view Christianity as rules and laws, as limitations on our freedom.  We wonder why God puts so many limits on our fun.  I once experienced a switch of perspective.
I read Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.  In his book, he points out that in fairy tales, there is always an “if”.  You may go to the ball IF you return by midnight.  You may marry the princess IF you never let her see a cow.
The Princess
All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend on one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden. ~ Chesterton
Everything beautiful and glorious that cannot be understood is dependent upon a condition that equally cannot be understood.
In fairy tales, this does not seem unjust.  If Cinderella asks her Fairy Godmother why she has to be home by midnight, the Godmother may reply “why should you go to the ball for any amount of time?”  If the miller asks “why can’t I let the princess see a cow?” the fairy may reply “why should you get to marry the princess at all?”
Wild and fantastic
Fairy tales never focus on the condition.  The condition is so small as to seem irrelevant.  The focus is on the dazzling, the wild, the fantastic vision.
We don’t focus on the vision.  We focus on the limitation.  We wonder why we must not get drunk instead of marveling at the beauty, the deep color, the richness of the wine.  We wonder why we must only marry one person instead of living in wonder at the existence of sex.
No restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself…keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman…It showed, not an exaggerated sensibility to sex, but a curious insensibility to it. A man is a fool who complains that he cannot enter Eden by five gates at once. ~ Chesterton
What a beautiful change of viewpoint!  To look not at the limitation but at the wonder of the permission.  To not complain about being asked to keep our words pure but to wonder at the startling glory of language.  To not gripe of not being allowed to eat all that we desire but to be astonished at the wild and vast expanse of color and taste of food.  To look upon the dazzling, wild, fantastic vision.
Vision
In Christ, all is made sacred, so search for Him everywhere.  Look for Him in the stories and fables, in the myths and fairy tales that you read.  You will find Him there.

Stories

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: Fairy Tales by Jessie Willcox Smith; Fairy Tale Barnstar by Arman Musikyan; In Fairyland by Richard Doyle; A Fairy Tale by Dorothy M. Wheeler; The Fairy Tale by Walther Firle

edited from the archives

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A Psalm of Collective Lament

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy.
We are lost, are broken, are despairing.
Our world is wandering in darkness.
Our churches are falling into division.
Our hearts are mired in filth.
Rise up, O God!
Defend your people!
Rescue your world!
We are lost without you.
Lord have mercy.
Thee we adore
Thee we adore.
You are goodness and beauty.
You created all,
flinging the stars into space and crafting the ladybug’s wings.
You are power and strength.
With your right hand, you held back the seas.
With the breath of your mouth, you took down city walls.
You are love and mercy.
You took the very powers of sin and death into yourself so we wouldn’t.
You forsook the companionship of your Trinity so we could be with you.
Thee we adore.
Into Thy hands
Into Thy hands.
Though the world grow dark,
I know who you are.
I remember what you have done.
Though my heart be filthy,
I trust your heart toward me and our world.
I know all the reasons I adore you.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth I desire but you.
Whether you come to the rescue today
or wait for another thousand years,
Into Thy hands.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: Grief by Bertram Mackennal; Children at Prayer by Antoine Édouard Joseph Moulinet; Risen Christ on the Lake of Gennesaret by David Teniers the Younger

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How to Surrender to God Under the Weight of This Pain

We had an ice storm followed by a few inches of snow in our part of the country last week.
ice
beauty
It was beautiful.
And it was destructive.
weight
Tree limbs were down, power was out in many parts of town,
and my birch tree.
bowed down
Oh, my poor birch tree.
surrender
I don’t know how to adequately describe to you how much I love trees.
Perhaps with this tidbit: I decided against attending a certain college because there were not enough trees flourishing on campus.
Or perhaps with the way my heart resonates with this: I couldn’t live where there were no trees — something vital in me would starve. ~ Anne (in Anne’s House of Dreams)
It hurts something deep within me to see our birch tree so weighed down, to see branches that once stretched up to the sky now brushing the dirt.
submit
Yet there is also something deep within me that feels much the same way after the events of this past year.
You too?
Impeachment, pandemic, shut-downs and sheltering in place, more shootings, social protests, election …
We are all weighed down and weary, our souls tending to brush the dirt these days rather than stretching up to the sky.
surrender
I look at our birch tree, look at the way she surrenders and bends rather than resisting and breaking, and want to react the same way when circumstance weighs me down.
I want to surrender to God, surrender to what the Spirit is doing inside of me, rather than pushing back and resisting to the point of breakage.
resisting
No matter what the weight, I trust that our God loves us and wants what is best for us.
When all that is heavy in our world and in your life causes you to doubt this, simply turn your eyes toward the cross.
The cross is the answer to your questions of Does God really love me? Is God really good? Does God really have the power to rescue me?
Yes. A resounding yes.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give him all things?
See how heaven ordered such deep pain for the salvation of the world and for your soul, and know that if His deepest pain will never be wasted, neither will yours. ~ Matt Papa
I want to be like my birch tree, surrendered to the Spirit, trusting the heart of God, as he works his glory in me through this current sorrow.
trusting
One day, just as he promised, the weight of this world will melt away in the light of the Son himself and we will spring upward to meet him.
promise
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

all photographs copyright 2021 Made Sacred

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A Season of Right Doubt

Christmas is hard when your world is full of doubt.
jangle
When the world’s darkness seems to encircle the pinpricks of real light, your eyes squint tight against the harsh-colored glow;
your ears are cotton-shielded against the dissonant jangle of happiness and cheer.
dissonant
Christmas is jarring when your life is full of darkness.
Elizabeth Jennings, in her poem November Sonnet, writes “This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.”
The season of right doubt.
Do you know that there is such a thing?
season of right doubt
“Right doubt” is, in part, what this season of Advent is about.
There is a rightness about searching and uncertainty. Nature reflects God’s truth, and so this rightness is reflected in the seasonal increasing of the cold and the dark.
We do, after all, see darkly and in a mirror, so we should never feel too certain about every aspect of this mystery who is God.
We can know, of course, that God is Love, but what does Love look like? What does Love do? How does Love act?
a good uncertainty
It can be good to let go of all your certainty and surrender to what is unknown and unsure.
It can be good to let go of your need for knowing and controlling all the answers.
The darkness has been defeated but has not yet been banished.
Death does not get the final word, but it has not yet been muted.
It is good and right to feel the weight of Advent, the weight of not yet,
the weight of our waiting.
There is a doubt that is good and proper. A right doubt.
Yet never forget that the Christ child was born and because he was born, because God fulfilled his first promise, we can be certain that he will fulfill the rest of his promises.
The Light will come again.
Light
“Tall shadows step and strut/Facing the big wind daily coming on/Faster. This is the season of right doubt/While that elected child waits to be born.” ~ Elizabeth Jennings
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: Christmas photos by Kirk Sewell; Nativity by Charles Le Brun; all other photos copyright 2020 Made Sacred

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When Advent Gives Way

IMG_9123
I want to hear from God.
I want to see luminous brilliance,
be brought to my knees by incomparable glory,
hear divine language thunder loud.
I want King on white horse, sword in fist, charging in to right all my wrongs.
**
What I receive is a soft, still voice deep inside.
What I receive is minor light,
a golden leaf to seize my senses,
a tune to haul up my heart.
What I receive is Baby in manger, dimpled fists, slipping in quietly to die for all my wrongs.
**
In this world God is mostly still hidden, coming to us in glimpse and slant.
The veil is torn but not torn away.
We see in mirror but not in full.
We dwell in dawnlight but not in brilliant sun.
So we wait for one day (soon, I hope?) when Advent gives way to Arrival.
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We Are Waiting and Longing for Advent

We are a people who, more than usual this year, realize that we are living in darkness.
longing
We are longing for a glimmer of light.
We are waiting, holding our breath, for the promised light to appear.
waiting
This is Advent.
A longing for God to come.
A waiting for God to fulfill his promises as creator God and covenant God.
What has God promised?
He has promised to come to us, to rescue us from sin and death, to make us his perfect and holy people.
promise
In a way, we have been in Advent for months.
We have been waiting and longing for God to come down and fix this, fix us, clean up this mess we’ve made.
In a way, we have been living in Advent our whole lives.
In this season of Advent, we wait for Christmas. We practice and imagine waiting as Israel waited for hundreds of years for Messiah. Savior.
How do we know that God will keep his promise? We have waited so long.
Advent
We know that God will keep his promise because he kept it once before.
Messiah came. He came and he defeated sin and death and now we can know that God keeps his promises.
And so we keep Advent this year, especially this year, to remind ourselves that God keeps his promises.
One day he will come again and rescue us and set things right for all time. He will come and we will be his people and he will be our God.
He will come and give us the best gift of all.
Emmanuel
Emmanuel.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

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Thankful

Thanksgiving

As we all celebrate our harvest, whether that harvest be from fields of grain
or of family
or of work
or even of your own spirit,
I want you to know that I am grateful for you.
Peace and joy be yours.

Art credit: Orchard in Flanders by Emile Claus

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The Defeat Itself Becomes Victory

There is much suffering in our world.
suffering
Much pain, grief, loneliness, disease, fear, death.
abnormal reality
These are normal on our planet. No one escapes.
This suffering reveals the defeat of man, the defeat of life itself, and no number of advances in technology or medicine can overcome it.
Yet their very normalcy is abnormal. It is not how our world was created.
perfect creation
Disease and death is not the way we were intended to live, yet our sin has broken our world and our very selves, and here we are.
It is into this abnormal reality that Christ comes. He comes not to remove our suffering but to transform it into victory.
transformation
God through Jesus transforms even our ultimate defeat, death, into victory, into an entrance into his kingdom and into the only true healing.
The Church comes, then, not simply to help us in our pain but to make us a witness to Christ in our sufferings. She comes to make us martyrs.
A martyr, in the words of Alexander Schmemann, is “one for whom God is not another — and the last — chance to stop the awful pain; God is his very life, and thus everything in his life comes to God.”
If we only come to God to stop the suffering, if we only turn to him for comfort in our pain, we miss the chance to become who we were created to be. We miss the chance to become more truly human.
We miss the chance to be made more closely into the image of God.
Rather than merely receiving comfort, we could become a witness to others of Christ himself. We could become one who beholds “the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” We could become the victory for those around us.
pain into glory
We could gain the glory of Christ.
Through (the witness’) suffering, not only has all suffering acquired a meaning, but it has been given the power to become itself the sign, the sacrament, the proclamation, the ‘coming’ of that victory; the defeat of man, his very dying, has become a way of Life. ~ Schmemann
This is the way of God. Flipping the things of this world on their head. Pain becomes proclamation. Suffering becomes sacrament. Defeat becomes victory. Death becomes life.
Don’t settle for a dry crust when you could feast with the King.
Surrender to God, to whatever he wants to do through your suffering, and allow his Holy Spirit to transform that suffering into a sacrament of life.
defeat becomes victory
It takes submission, and this is hard. So very hard. Yet God has promised. Your surrender to him allows him to turn your defeat into victory, and that victory leads you into the only true healing.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

Art credits: Resurrection by Luca Giordano; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2020

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