Abide: A Song for Waiting

Lately, I’ve been wondering about a lot of things.

AbideThis Abide series I’ve been doing has been intended to ground me in any wondering- so that I can allow the abundance of who God is to manifest in me, so I can rest in him, and experience real peace.

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But it’s really been a battle. I guess that’s what happens when you stake your claim for the pursuit of the Lord. It’s like setting off a flare at midnight, and all the darkness begins its attack.

Even and especially at Christmas time. I always determine that in spite of a loud season, I will find ways to quiet my soul; in the rush of it all, I will slow. And then before I’ve even finished my sentence, I’ve gotten riled and stressed about something dumb like the dishes not being done and how the trash is full for like the third time today. (This is more significant because living on the 3rd floor means you have to haul it down to the dumpster. Admittedly, mostly my husband takes it down for me, which is why its even dumber that I get irritated about it.) 

Maybe you can relate?

Everlasting Light 2And I feel frustrated, wondering about the things I’m waiting for- or at least, what I think I’m waiting for. Or the ways I feel myself lacking, being too much and not enough.

I wonder about my “gifts.” Is what I’m doing even good for anyone? In this obscure corner of the web, does what I offer matter? Then I ask myself, does it only matter if I’m widely known/read/praised by others? I don’t think that’s what God promises or intends.

Prepare Him RoomThen I think of others who are wondering. Wondering why they’re sick, or why their loved one is sick, why their husband or father abandoned their family, why they lost their job, why the adoption fell through, why their visa was denied, why they can’t seem to get control of their diet, why their marriage is so full of strife. We all wonder- is all this really necessary?

At my church, I’ve been positively soaking up the messages lately, because feel that question, too. We finished a series called “The Deserts We Cross” and in December began the series called “A Christmas Story.” Somehow, they’ve flowed really well.

Because many smaller stories are part of the overall Christmas Story. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth. Theirs was a story of waiting and wondering- a desert time in their lives. They’d longed for a child for years and years, and when we find them in their story, they’ve grown old.

And yet, Luke 1 says,

Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. “

They’d lived through a lot of pain, but they remained faithful, even “blameless.” I personally can’t imagine what it would be like to even be thought of as “blameless” let alone actually being that way.

And for them, the story wasn’t over yet.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” – Luke 1: 11-17

God had heard their prayers. Not only that, but their son got to be an important part of the Best Story Ever. He got to herald the good news to a people who had also long been waiting and wondering if they’d ever get any.

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Even the name “John” means “YAHWEH is gracious.” That is the story of John’s life. God was showed grace to Zechariah and Elizabeth by hearing their prayers and giving them a son, grace to John by giving him the honor of preparing the way for Jesus, and- most important of all- grace to all of us by giving Jesus, through whose amazing grace alone do we dwell with the Lord. Not only that, but he dwells with us and calls us sons and daughters.

This grace is enough for me. It’s enough for you. Whether we feel like it is or believe it is or not. I know there’s probably something you’re waiting on, or wondering about. And I’m not saying it isn’t painful. But somehow, through amazing grace, God uses our pain- nothing is wasted. He creates good out of everything for those that love him.

In his song “Forgiveness is a Miracle” on his Christmas album, Jason Gray says this:

Pain can be a road to find compassion
When we don’t understand
And bring a better end
It takes a miracle to show us”

I’m no different than the rest of mankind. I miss grace sometimes- often times. I even question the miracle proclaimed to me, like Zechariah.

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Maybe he was afraid? Afraid not just of Gabriel, but afraid to believe something so incredible, impossible, so good. Sometimes, when you’ve tended wounds for so long, even an angel can’t pry your eyes open to the goodness God has in store.

centerpiece 2That’s how I feel sometimes. I’m afraid to believe something too good could happen, and yet I long for it at the same time! Maybe the opposite of hope is despair, but I think a large part of the road to despair is self-preservation.

It’s the sneak-attack of the evil one, and a lie. We think we’re keeping ourselves safe, but we’re really just turning our hearts into tombs, squelching the life out of them.

I find myself asking God to revive that “thrill of hope” within me instead.

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I love this story, because Zechariah’s fear and pain doesn’t stop the goodness of God from arriving full force. It doesn’t stop the gift of John and it certainly doesn’t stop the gift of Jesus- salvation.

That encourages me! It reminds me that God is bigger than me- even bigger than my fear, my doubt, my pain, my shut up heart.

I had to include this song, because it’s been an instrumental reminder (pun not intended, but how could I not point it out? that’s a great pun right there…) for me when I feel fear more than faith, when I wonder and wait, when I’m living in a question without an answer. It’s not a Christmas song, but it fits somehow in this theme of waiting and wondering- of abiding.

I wrote this song recently, to process the pain of waiting and wondering, and how they reach for- cling to- the hope of Jesus.

If you want to read the lyrics, here they are:

For countless years he came here 
To kneel and pray in this holy place
He waited and waited and waited
Til the scars of time showed upon his face
Looking deep inside Elizabeth’s eyes
Could he see the broken pieces of her heart 
Did he wonder if heaven heard any of their cries
For a child, did they find it too hard to sing
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
In the wait, they remained faithful
And he prepared the way
In the wait
I’ve been poured out, I’m empty now
I’ve waited and waited for things to change

My heart is starved from the whys and hows

I’ve wondered as I’ve wandered in this desert place

I’ve wondered why mamas bury babies
Or why babies watch their papas walk away
Why everything always seems to be breaking
When I know you didn’t make it that way
Sometimes it’s hard to sing
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
In the wait, we remain faithful
Trusting you’ll prepare the way
In the wait
I’ve wondered as I wandered out under the sky
How Jesus my savior did come for to die
I’ve wondered why at Christmas time 
Peace on earth can be so hard to come by
In our wait, he will sustain us
Until the day he comes to take us home
We are not alone
Cause Jesus is the way we sing
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him Christ the Lord
In the wait we remain faithful
Cause Jesus is the way
In the wait
I know this is a serious place to be right before Christmas; my hope is that it’s not a downer, but that it encourages you if you are in a season of waiting, whether a lot or only a little painful.
Let’s keep singing. Let’s keep abiding.
Merry Christmas.

Abide: How “Emmanuel” Means a Bold Christmas

I am adding one last, new, simple piece to the shop. This one:
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(Remember, from now through January 1st, only digital prints will be available for purchase.)

I love this line in “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” And really, I love that song. (But I don’t have time to letter the whole thing… though that would be a super fun project… I’m thinking large-scale canvas- NO! No more. At least, not this year…)

My most favorite verse is this one:

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel

That Jesus would come down, cast out all the darkness and replace it with his light- being born in us, is such a beautiful picture. But the reason they are great, glad tidings is because it wasn’t only a picture. It wasn’t only a nice metaphor.

Jesus came down and put on our skin… “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The Word. I think about words, especially as I doodle and swirl them onto paper, as I see others doing that on Pinterest and Instagram, often sharing truths that cheer and encourage.

But sometimes? I think I get hung up on the presentation. The sparkle. The polish. The shine. And I miss the message. I read words like “joy” and “peace” and I hear them scattered throughout Hallmark Christmas movies as if they had as much meaning as a Christmas bauble.

But joy and peace are not ambiguous, shiny objects that only exist to be nice thoughts at Christmas time. In light of Christ, they are warriors that ready us for battle- no- for victory.

The Word came down and dwelt among us and gave all words true meaning again.

Even unbelievers sometimes unknowingly proclaim his good news. “Merry Christmas” everyone says. Did you know that the word “merry” means bold? I remember my dad talking about that one Christmas Eve service growing up. At the end of the service, he wished everyone a “Bold Christmas.”

I wish for a bold Christmas, for one that calls the darkness what it is and prepares room for Jesus. I need the Christ of Christmas to bring joy and peace to me- on December 25th? sure- but every other day of the year, too.

To call God by the name of “Emmanuel” feels bold to me. “God with us.” It’s a name only God- out of his deep love and unbelievable grace- could’ve given himself. And God- out of his deep love and unbelievable grace- he gave us Jesus. Emmanuel.

At Thanksgiving, my parents took my husband and I to see Indianapolis Repertory Theater’s renown production of A Christmas Carol. (And my word, if you can, GO see it next year!! It’s as good as it’s reputed to be!)

And among many incredible Dickensian quotes, I had to look this one up later:

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!

God is with us, friend. Let’s let him come to us, break down the doors of our “shut up hearts” and abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.

Wreaths, Ribbons, Bows {An Un-home Tour}

Finally. Finally my Christmas decor is up. After a week that made me seasick (landsick? lifesick?) in some ways, I’m catching my breath today, as I finally put up my gooooorgeous wreath from Dogwood & Oak!!!

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I’ve had my eye on this ever since I saw it on Instagram! I was all like, “Hey wreath, come hang out on my front door; I’ll be your best friend forever!!!” I may’ve come on a little strong, but I was not to be thwarted in acquiring this beauty. Head on over to Dogwood & Oak’s shop on Etsy and fine yourself a wreath-friend of your own! (Yes. Wreath-friend.)

And because I’m so happy to have decorated my house, and to have done so in NOT the exact same way as last year, I’m sharing my highly lowly decorating skills with you all.

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I keep seeing all these bloggers and their beautiful Christmas home tours, their spaces beckoning to me from afar. And I gaze wistfully upon them, ever so dramatically! I think it’s ok to do that. And I think it’s extra ok if you let it inspire you (not derail you into thinking how you really would love to change everything about everything in your home), especially when you encourage yourself to celebrate and use what you have!

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all the picturesIt’s amazing what rearranging can do. And limitations- though sometimes stifling- can also be freeing to your creativity!

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Admittedly, I didn’t do anything amazingly creative this year as far as decor goes… But just a few shifts here and there somehow did my soul good.

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Why am I so literal that physical rearranging feels like internal rearranging too? Hanging a few pictures tells my walls and my home what they’re about, and it tells my heart, too.

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stockingsAnd I feel like I can say with more gusto, “Rejoice!”

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Abide: When You’ve Run Out

Once upon a time, I spent a most satisfying hour at my favorite coffee shop, Cavu Coffee, sipping something delicious and planning out my Christmas Etsy projects.

IMG_4062Oh how I savored that hour! I lovely place, a lovely drink, and a lovely plan full of lovely intentions.

And then, December. What is it about this month that turns on the crazy in the world?? And I know you’ve probably experienced similar moments.

A Thrill close up

You know- when you walk into your house in the middle of a week that ended up full of commitments, which somehow all ended up happening within the same 48 hours, and now your standing in the middle of debris comprised of unopened mail, a mish-mosh of Christmas and fall decor (yet to be put away), various and sundry laundry, papers, and you don’t even know what else? You know what I mean?? When you’ve already had 3 cups of coffee and just feel like another 2 might get you through? Oh, and that there’s still more to go?

Yeah. I’m with you. I can’t even pretend to have new/cute pictures of anything to show you today. But I think it’s good. Because the chaos begs the question- what was I relying on again? My own capability? Responsibility? Ability in general?

Oh, yes. It was Jesus… at least, I’d intended it to be. But I’ve realized in a couple of weak moments this week (today… 2 minutes ago…) that even in weakness, his strength is made perfect. Meaning- not my strength. Like when I get home to my family and feel like I have no good thing left to give them after a full day of work- just utterly lacking- the abundance of Christ is still there.

Prepare Him RoomWhen I run out of time? God provides. Energy? God provides. Kindness? God provides. Money? God provides. Hope? God provides.

When I inadvertently default to the shabby shelter of myself and it collapses around me (like it always does), God provides a shelter in himself. As Colossians 3:3 says,

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”

In light of this, the Christmas Story expands with the fullness of Jesus, the vast expanse of glorious implications for us.

I also just so happen to read this verse this week:

You give me your shield, which is salvation; your answers make me great. You lengthen the steps I can take, yet my ankles do not turn.” -Samuel 22:36-37

You lengthen the steps I can take. Doesn’t your mess look much smaller now?

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Let’s remember today, in the fray of December, that the peace of Christ is available to us even now- that we can abide in him. After all, there’s this:

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). – Matthew 1:23

God with us.

Artist of the Month: Dogwood and Oak! {Becca Woodbury}

It’s time for December’s Artist of month! I’m SO thrilled for you to hear from the heart and art of my dear friend, Becca, the creator behind this lovely wreathery on Etsy called Dogwood and Oak(Is wreathery a thing? Never mind, I’ve decided it is. I mean, what else do you call a shop that sells wreaths? Plus it sounds fancy schmancy.) Becca and I go way back to our days as lowly baristas in tie-dye t-shirts (ick) in East Tennessee. Her quiet but honest spirit always encourages me; her humor and sass always surprise me (don’t let the quiet thing fool you- she’s hilarious).

And if you’ve ever struggled with justifying making time for creativity in your life, this post is for you. Welcome, friend. Enjoy! (And P.S. There may be a gift of the discount variety just for you at the end of this post…)

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As a kid, I loved art in so many forms; you name it, and I was into it. I sketched, painted, made Christmas ornaments, scrapbooked, wrote short stories, read like it was my job, and played piano. As I got older and had more claims on my time, I gradually let many of these hobbies fall by the wayside in order to take care of my responsibilities. The creative activities that still found a place in my life went from activities I got to do to things I had to do, such as reading for school or practicing a piano piece for a recital. Before long, as is often the case with necessity, the joy was gone.

When I had the option, I dropped the things I had once loved. Music had become so stressful and full of outer expectations that I begged to quit taking lessons — and then went years without even touching a piano. I read what I had to for school assignments and nothing more. My life had become so structured that I didn’t feel like I had the mental capacity for creativity. My free time went to mindless activities that numbed me and passed the time, but did nothing to heal or refresh — often the opposite (hello, Facebook).

I lived a life virtually devoid of art — my own or anyone else’s — for years while I worked to reach my academic and professional goals. I immersed myself in three and a half years of undergrad and two years of grad school, allowing myself very little outside activity. As I neared the end of my masters program, my professors talked to my class about the need to have hobbies, particularly creative ones, in order to prevent burnout once we began working. I was surprised, but I made a mental note. It was only when everything came to a screeching halt that I realized how important their advice was.

Long story short, a move to a new city that was supposed to bring plenty of opportunity has been a huge disappointment. I rarely work, spending most days at home while my husband is at his job, and I don’t know anyone. I realized several months ago that I had two options: I could (continue to) spend every minute of every day agonizing over job applications and wondering what was wrong; or I could give myself some grace and allow myself to have hobbies in this unique period of waiting.

(Click the pick to see the Etsy listing!)

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For the first time in a long time, I picked up a book simply because it interested me — and finished it quickly. One book turned to 26 as I began (and soon finished) a reading challenge, my enthusiasm growing with each book. This kickstarted a memory of my interest in writing, the fact that I had considered journalism in college, and I soon began my blog. I remembered the joy of physically creating something, and my Etsy shop was born.

(Click the pic to see the Etsy listing!)

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I wish I could say it’s been easy to tap into my creative side again, but those muscles were severely atrophied. It has been a joy, absolutely, to pick up where I left off all those years ago and to discover new outlets that I love. But, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been scared. There have been times — so many times — when I didn’t feel good enough to do anything creative. You know how “comparison is the thief of joy” and all that jazz? It’s easy to read all about it in an insanely gorgeous font on Instagram and say yes and amen until you actually do something that makes you feel vulnerable.

(Click the pic to see the Etsy listing!)

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The comparison game is far too easy to play, despite the fact that we all know nobody wins. And yet, I sometimes can’t stop the thoughts… I’m not as creative as this other person. I’m out of practice. How will anything I do matter?

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Gradually, I’ve realized that creating, in and of itself, is a thrill. It’s an expression of the God-given heart that is uniquely yours. Your creations may never hang in a gallery or soothe hipsters while they mull over life in a coffee shop, but even if another soul never sees/hears/experiences what you make, it matters for you, the creator. It matters when you pour your heart into something that moves you. It matters when you use your abilities to make something beautiful for God’s glory, whether it’s shared or private. It matters when your whole body and mind feel refreshed and ready to face life, even if all you’ve done is get lost in a coloring book.

(Click the pick to see the Etsy listing!)

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There are always reasons why we shouldn’t create. Time. Resources. Stress. Lack of confidence. But you don’t have to be Taylor Swift to make something important and refreshing for your soul. Love and nurture your inner creator.

It matters.

I know you probably loved reading Becca’s thoughts about this seemingly impractical act of being creative (or even just, you know- reading a book!) as much as I did. So thankful for her and her beautiful shop!!!

And guess what- EXCLUSIVELY for readers of her post today, Dogwood and Oak is giving a 10% discount with the code longlivebeauty at her shop! (Plus, currently ALL Christmas wreaths are marked down!!!) Also, follow @dogwoodandoak on Instagram for further festive additions to her shop and sales!

Abide: Yet in Thy Dark Streets Shineth

I love this time of year. Yet sometimes, when darkness falls early, with an ungraceful thud, I find it to be kind of a bummer.

Especially when it’s 4:30 PM and already too dark to take a decent picture of new pieces for the shop… And even more especially when I’m extra-excited about them.

That was the case for what would’ve been yesterday’s post. (And is now today’s.) This lyric has taken up residence in my heart for the past month or so, as I thought about the dearest phrases of Christmas time.

(This piece will be up in the shop by tonight at 10pm!)

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I said recently that winter is dark. (I know- thanks, Captain Obvious.) And so is the world. And yet– in earth’s darkest time of the year, we celebrate light. We celebrate the Light. The Word came down and spoke a new word to us- hope.

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The world is dark.

Yet. We have the hope of Christ dwelling in us- the hope of glory. That’s a pretty powerful “yet.”

One powerful reason why I love that line.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light. 

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It gives me hope that Christ really can and does abide in me. After all, his name is Emmanuel- God with us. If I can just get out of the way…That’s the hard part.

I had a conversation with a friend this week about how if I just focused on Jesus, delighting in the Lord, and seeking his kingdom I probably wouldn’t be hindered by all the ways I’m broken.

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Do you do that, too? Put yourself back into the chains from which Christ has already freed you? Like being stuck in some impossible level of an old video game where you are forced to wander but can’t get anywhere, I often feel stuck in my own darkness.

Yet. It’s one of the best three-letter-words ever. Jesus takes hold of my circular thoughts and hushes my run-on sentences with this one phrase.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light.

Really? In these dark streets? The well-worn paths of shame I’ve walked in my heart? I’ve been stuck in that part of town for so long. I long to find where he is and stay there in his presence.

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We make it so hard, but I think if I can just focus on the light, I won’t be so confounded by darkness.

That’s why there are so many songs worth singing at Christmas time. Let’s rejoice! Let’s forget and let go of our old paths; that’s not who we are anymore. I know it’s hard, because we get so used to depending on ourselves (which is like driving a car which could die at any time), but abiding means we depend on Jesus for everything now, starting with this moment.

As my friend Wendy always says, “If you can trust Jesus with your eternity, you can trust him with your now.”

I love this verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” which often doesn’t get sung:

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

“So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.”  Isn’t that so good?

I also love, “Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.”  I think I’ve mentioned this before, but something else Wendy shared with me is that the word “meek” in the Bible comes from the word that means “warhorse.” A creature that puts unmovable faith in its master, who can face a multitude of hostile enemies and go charging forward into the fray- because it’s master urged it to.

So, to say your soul is “meek” now paints a very different picture than it used to for me.

Not only am I redeemed, I am a servant with access to the power of the Most High God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. The power to be set free from the petty prison-town of my old ways. That’s the Christmas Story.

And I really should know it, because I sing it to my daughter every night before she goes to sleep:

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong

They are weak but He is strong.

I feel all but made of weakness, yet he fills instead with strength. My default is thrashing ingratitude and blind self-absorption, yet he creates in me a new heart and redeems every failure with his sufficient grace.

I have a heart of darkness. Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the Everlasting Light.

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May the story of Christ give you a thrill of hope today that chases away all your darkness.

 

 

Some holiday housekeeping for Ebenezer Designs:

  1. Remember, every print in my shop is a downloadable, digital print (unless otherwise specified). Obviously, these you can download and print yourself. BUT, if you decide you’d like to order a physical print to be mailed to you, you’ll notice that’s a separate listing for both 8×10 and 5×7 prints.
  2. Don’t forget about the Christmas cards!!! I’m SO excited about these, friends, and I only have about 9 sets left! And those are NOT downloadable. Remember each set comes with 4 different card designs. Rejoice Wreath Love Hans Comfort and Joy A Beautiful Sight
  3. Any item to be mailed- i.e. Christmas cards, physical prints, etc.- needs to be ordered by Wednesday, December 16th at the very latest. 
  4. There may be a special Christmas gift package on sale in the next couple of weeks, so keep your eye out for that!

Let Our Hearts Not Be Afraid

This is a piece and a post I did last Christmas. Remember, I told you I love this album? In honor of it being December 1st and kicking off the official Christmas season, I wanted to share this again. You can click the pic to find this beautiful quote in my shop!
HeWillBeOurSanctuary

“He will be our sanctuary; let our hearts not be afraid.” This phrase reached out to me like a lifeline this season when I heard it in this song by Aaron Shust:

If life is full to the brim of the world, of stuff, busyness, and self, then there’s no room for sanctuary. And how can we be sanctified without sanctuary? Without intentionally surrendering to Christ, we can’t be transformed. If there’s no room to listen, all we hear is noise. When we stop reaching for Him- highest and holiest- we settle for lesser loves, for faulty idols. Instead of being disciples who trust in the One with power over the storm, we act like superstitious sailors, grasping for any port in the storm. If it isn’t the harbor of His Presence, it is sinking sand.

Sanctuary is really about peace. And not just pretty ideas of peace like armchairs by fireplaces, or beaches with soothing waves on sunny days. Those could just as easily be advertisements for bed & breakfast places. Those pictures are faulty, paltry impostors of the real thing. For he himself is our peace. If you were wondering what the Christmas story is about, that’s it.

11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

(emphasis mine)

In him, we too are being made walking sanctuaries. Let every heart prepare him room. Instead of being an empty cavern inside me, the heart becomes a dwelling full of life- “in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Prepare Him Room

This is not a traditional passage people think of when Christmas comes around. Especially since it talks about circumcision. (How festive… Kids, gather ’round the Christmas tree with some cookies and let’s talk about circumcision!!) However, circumcision was never just an odd and painful ritual that the Israelites did just to be in the God’s Chosen People Club. It was to be a physical reminder and symbol that not only were they set apart as children of God, but that even the most intimate, vulnerable parts of them belong to Him. It’s so much easier to gloss over something sinful, or even something that’s not sinful that becomes an idol, like food or money, when I’m so full of stuff, commitments, to-do lists, ego- distractions. How much easier to rationalize or downplay the most destructive tendencies we have?

What God desires (that He’s been pointing out to me lately) is not a 99% heart given to Him. He wants a 100% heart. As many people have said before, “If you’re 99% in, you’re 100% out.” Someone recently explained that in circumcision, the extra layer is also like a layer of sin that surrounds our hearts that prevents us from experiencing growth in our relationship with God. When we cut off that layer like a shackle, what unimaginable freedom is waiting for us!

But the mistake I often make is to think I’ve gotten rid of that shackle and then I forget that I’ll have to guard my heart against it as long as I’m here on earth. And what guards the heart? The peace of Christ.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

(emphasis mine)

Peace that transcends all understanding. Peace that cuts away the layers, the walls that hold us back from the greatest good, the greatest love, the greatest God. It’s hard to let go of the lesser gods. Even though I know they steadfastly fail me, I still fight the lie of Satan which says that God is holding out on me.

And I don’t think Satan is derailed from his quest for our self-destruction when we get excited about an aspect of God (i.e. my epiphany about the peace of God, or a really great sermon series about living radically, or joy, or salvation, etc). Do you know what I mean?

It’s like when a theme or small group study or sermon series helps us understand a characteristic of God more intimately, and it sort of becomes our main thought for awhile. And we grow closer to God, knowing Him just a little better. But I don’t think Satan gets worried about that. Because he STILL finds a way to turn that into an idol.

I don’t remember who, but recently someone mentioned loving not the idea of something- like joy for example- but loving God, who is the Giver of joy. And that stuck with me. Sometimes the concept of something can be so powerful and appealing that I’m infatuated with the feeling I had, instead of really experiencing the real thing.

And- at least for me- it usually doesn’t take long before warm fuzzies are just lukewarm fuzzies… But isn’t that what we do, especially at times like Christmas?

We set out decor full of sentiment, bright shining baubles and strings of hopeful twinkle lights. And some of us may enjoy a day with our families, full of food, presents, and armchairs by fireplaces. Maybe one that’s miraculously void of drama. We may even slow down enough to enjoy a modicum of sanctuary in the fast paced, breakneck scramble of the season. None of those things are bad- in fact, they are really wonderful! And I look forward to them just as much as anyone else! Here is the proof:

be merry 2 lego sleigh christmas tree be merry 1 
  vases closeup cozy bench  cups 2

(The exorbitant amount of pinecones just kind of happened. I know it looks like I went out into the imaginary woods behind my imaginary cabin and gathered them, but for real my mom just brought me like, 2 bags of them… Hi, Mom! *waves frantically* You might also have noticed the handful of little Christmas Legos? Those weren’t originally there. But my husband added them in, because they’re kind of his thing. Hi, Husband! *waves frantically*)

But, I wonder if- in our quest for Christmas- we are left wanting and a little depressed when it’s over, because we got just enough off track in loving the idea of Christmas, instead of the Christ of Christmas. The created instead of the Creator. And all the striving for nostalgia just leaves us stale. We clean up the lights and streamers, which can seem more like unnecessary clutter, and we blame them for not being more than we thought they should be. But if we could just see the glory streaming from heaven above instead, maybe we could reclaim the abundance of Christmas. Reclaim the abundance of Christ.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come

Let earth receive her king

Let every heart prepare him room

And heaven and nature sing.

joy dove star  lego snowman ice skates 1 pinecone christmas 1

Maybe this year, we’ll sing with 100% hearts. We’ll be all in, like Mark Batterson wrote about. Deuteronomy 30:6 says,

“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. “

So many around me echo this desperate desire to let God more fully reign over their lives, to be their sanctuary so they can live. For he himself is our peace. I’ve heard it from friends, from other blogs I’ve been reading, from the amazing message delivered by our minister this past Sunday– and from excellent, beautiful, heart-overflowingly-good music like Aaron Shust’s new Christmas album, going to Andrew Peterson and friends’ Behold the Lamb of God concert (post to come about that!!!), and the gift Justin Mosteller gave me of Jason Gray’s Christmas album– especially this song.

I’ve been convicted to find the shackles; what are those things holding me back from living more abundantly? What physical, tangible stuff is cluttering our life? How can we be more all in together as a couple, as a family? How can we risk and dare and dream God-sized dreams, and then actually take action in pursuit of them?

I don’t know yet how to do all that, exactly. But this need for sacred space, for sanctuary so consumed me this week, that I did something as a way of staking my claim in what I have a feeling is the next chapter for our family. Are you ready? It’s a pretty big deal:

photo 2

I made a mess! No, just kidding. I added to our pile of goodwill clothes. So, not that big a deal. But even physically clearing something away felt like I was preparing a little more room for Him, emptying a little more of myself. My prayer is that we’ll start to clear enough room in our life for movement. For His movement. So we can be, “…built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” more and more.

He will be our sanctuary; let our hearts not be afraid.

Let’s tell each other that story- the Christmas story- this year. And we’ll still put up all the decor and the bright shining baubles, and the nostalgia, etcetera… but we’ll let them be what they are- adornments to the celebration of Christ. And then we’ll be a little more who we are- saved sanctuaries in which God lives by his Spirit. There’s room for Jesus here.

HeWillBeOurSanctuary